Oh, they are SO CUTE now!
Also, even though seven weeks in not, strictly speaking, when we evaluate structure in puppies — we do that at eight weeks, and some people think ten is better — nevertheless, seven weeks is a great time to introduce the puppies to the concept of “stacking,” which means also to the concept of “treats.”
Here is a beautiful young Cavalier in a correct stack that shows her extremely good structure. Spoiler, she’s one of mine, now thirteen years old and in a pet home. But this is a great picture to use to discuss structure, especially because she had no coat to speak of at this age. I’m leaving this picture big enough you can see her structure properly.
You see that smooth flow of her topline from the top of her head to the base of her tail? That is a correct topline for every single trotting breed in the universe. I realize you can’t see the top of her shoulder blade, we locate that by touch, but it’s about where that little snip of red color is pointed. This is excellent shoulder layback, which is why she has a nice long neck. Her front is excellent. Her rear is even better than her front. This is just how the rear should look. Great angulation. This is a wonderful youngster. Want to take her hiking on the Adirondacks trail? No problem. She’s built for it. Australian Shepherd, Collie, Siberian Husky, Vizsla, Golden Retriever, whatever, if the dog is supposed to be put together for an efficient trot, this is how that dog should be put together if you want efficient, smooth movement.
A dog put together correctly can go all day. A dog with bad structure will wear out faster, break down earlier, and unfortunately quite possibly suffer some degree of pain for most of its life. Sound structure leads to good orthopedic health for the dog’s entire life. Bad structure leads to orthopedic breakdown. Structure and temperament are therefore BY FAR the most important characteristics when looking at a dog; even type is way less important, and certainly color and markings and other cosmetics are right down at the bottom of things to consider. While I could pick nits when looking at the structure of the youngster pictured above, she is almost exactly what any correct trotting dog should look like. Some breeds — Standard Poodles, Norwegian Elkhounds, Dobermans, Boxers, etc — are built more square, but other than that, this is still basically the correct structure for all those breeds as well. Galloping breeds and digging breeds are put together somewhat differently, by the way, and of course dwarf breeds such as the Cardigan Welsh Corgi. Even so, very worthwhile to have a basic picture of correct, sound structure in your mind when selecting a pet, including a mixed breed.
Now, let’s have fun seeing how puppies look the very first time you try to set them up, by yourself, with a crappy camera in one hand and a treat in the other.
This is actually a pretty good stack! The picture is not really in great focus, but anybody can see this puppy is nice despite the puppy fluff getting in the way. His head is stretched out to get a treat, which pulls his neck down, but it’s a fine length of neck, implying a good shoulder. We really evaluate the front by touch; you set one finger on the top of the scapula and your thumb on the point of the shoulder and then look at the placement of the elbow in combination with those anatomical points. We also check the forechest by touch. How far forward does the sternum come? It should come well out in front of the legs when the legs are in the correct position. Not insanely far — that’s a common-ish fault in Weimeraners — but well out. If the puppy lacks forechest, the entire front may be too far forward on the body. You can’t see that through the fluff, though. (When you see judges touching dogs during a show, this is the the kind of thing they’re evaluating, and this is why they put their hands on a fluffy dog a lot more than on a smooth-coated dog.)
I believe this puppy’s topline is going to be very nice. His rear leg is back a bit too far, but I think his angulation looks good all the way around. Nice puppy. Solid, too, lots of bone. That’s a type characteristic, not a structural characteristic, but it’s good to see.
Ha ha ha! Wow, treats, ooh, let me get the cookie! Boy Two had been asleep, but he sure woke up when he tasted his first liver brownie. This is a terrible stack, but a really cute picture. It’s not your imagination if you think he looks less fluffy: Boys One and Three are fluffy, Boys Two and Four less fluffy. This is natural variation. Regardless, all the fluff will shed out and the puppy will be very short-coated at around six months, then the adult coat gradually comes in.
I did get a better picture of him, but not a cuter picture, so this is the one I’m posting here. (Also, you should see the zillion extremely blurry pictures I deleted. This photo session took about ten minutes per puppy, or forty minutes of my morning.) Boy Two looks overall a lot like Boy One in structure.
What a little pudge! This guy cleans up his food in a hurry and then I have to move him out of the way so the other puppies can get their share. He’s up to four and a half pounds as of this morning, half a pound bigger than the next biggest, a full pound bigger than Boy Four. He’ll almost certainly lose the pudginess between four and six months, but I doubt he’ll ever be a picky eater.
He’s fluffy, exaggerating the hefty look, but if you ignore both fluff and pudginess, he’s quite nice. His front is invisible, but his length of neck looks fine. He’s toeing out in the rear, practically universal in young puppies, I’m not concerned about that. If you look, you’ll see they’re all doing that. I can see his pasterns are straight up and down, nice angulation for sure. We also evaluate structure via movement and this puppy trots very nicely. They all do. Much better than bunny-hopping in a puppy this age; we like to see a straight, smooth trot right from five weeks on.
I like Boy Three a lot. I love his attitude — I think he would make a very good show dog despite the forward marking on his face, and I’m sure he’d make a great performance dog. He’s extremely eager to please and even more eager to earn treats! I got an especially delightful face shot of him this morning, so here it is:
Moving on to the last puppy …
You can see how very heavy his markings are compared to even heavily marked Boy Three! We call this a blanket Blenheim. You see a lot of blanket Blens and blanket Tricolors in the show ring these days. It’s not my personal preference. Nice puppy though! Long neck = good shoulder, plus a smooth topline which also means good shoulder. You don’t want the impression of a sharp angle where the neck joins the body; that always means a very upright shoulder, which is terrible for efficient movement. (Short steps, pounding gait, poor endurance, potential breakdown of front pasterns, if there’s an elbow problem, you’re likely to find out about that too as the constant orthopedic stress produces eventual breakdown all up and down the front.) Nice tail set. They all have good tail set, which is good to see because it probably means a correct croup and pelvis. They stick their tails up when playing, but see here, they all have good low tails when they’re just standing. That’s what we like to see.
Boy Four also has better bone than I really thought he might. That’s not important for function, but it’s correct type for a Cavalier; they’re not supposed to look dainty and fragile. They’re supposed to have some heft to them. This little dude is small, but he’s well proportioned. I like his body a lot, in fact. I would need to put my hand on his front to really evaluate his elbow placement. I think it will turn out to be fine, though offhand the best front looks — to the eye — like perhaps Boy One.
This is a quality litter, honestly. I’m quite pleased to see Leda produce such nice puppies. Two forward markings on the face, but structure and type are much more important than a little cosmetic failing like that. If I wanted a boy, I’d be happy to keep any of the top three puppies here. I think Ish has probably contributed his beautiful head to at least those three puppies. Boy Four has had a narrower head so far, but it may be starting to broaden at this point. Here he is again below. That’s not a bad head at all and I think it will improve.