One of the frequently asked questions about the U.S. curly coated retriever standard for the American Kennel Club is why it doesn't ask for a 45-degree angled shoulder blade. The basic reason is because the standard revision committee had several members who had done extensive study of shoulder and forequarter angulation and learned 45-degree shoulder blade angulation was almost non-existent, particularly in non-achondroplastic breeds.
This article is the first in a series of six with discussion on the forequarter angulation and the research which influenced the standard revision committee's decisions on forequarter assembly. Please read all six pages of this discussion to get a better understanding of the basis of the standard committee's deliberations and decisions.
Forequarter Angles in the U.S. Curly Coated Retriever Standard
There are four important aspects of the shoulder angulation in the American Kennel Club curly coated retriever standard.
1. The Curly Coated Retriever standard actually calls for a more laid-back shoulder than found in most retrievers.
Let me repeat that: the Curly Coated Retriever standard actually calls for a more laid-back shoulder than found in most retrievers.
That is, the angle of 55 degrees in the standard is sharper and the blade more laid back than the 60-degree shoulder blade angle found in most retrievers.
The standard states what most people will ESTIMATE as the degree of angulation for the shoulder blade, NOT the ACTUAL measurement of the layback of the shoulder. This will be discussed in greater detail in the third item below and in another article.
2. The curly standard asks for a more laid back shoulder than found in most retriever breeds because the curly was developed as BOTH AN UPLAND and retrieving breed.
Upland bird flushers need more endurance but also a bit more speed because they are not just walking at heel alongside the guns—they are expending energy to first FIND the birds, then flush the birds, and then retrieve the birds.
Endurance trotting dogs generally require more angulated forequarters than draft dogs and more angulation than dogs who work at heel for the gun but do not do the flushing work. Speed dogs, like some of the sight hounds, require even less shoulder angulation.
Curly coated retriever ancestry is a mix of water spaniels of some type with a dash of setter. His role was not limited to working from a heel position and finding birds after they were downed; therefore he developed differently in conformation than most of the other retriever breeds. His setter ancestry probably also carried with it a more laid back shoulder in order to provide a front assembly to allow the setter to "set" or drop down in a crouch.
3. The shoulder blade angulation which is most important in canine movement is the angle formed by the spinal ridge running down the middle of the shoulder blade. The muscles primarily responsible for moving the shoulder blade and upper forequarter assembly are attached to this bony ridge.
The forequarter assembly angle should be measured following the spiny ridge down through the middle of the shoulder joint, and then back in the other direction to the socket formed by the humerus (upper arm bone) and the radius and ulna bones.
This measurement is DIFFERENT than that used by most show judges and exhibitors. Most judges are going to do a quick estimate of forequarter angulation by imagining a line from the top of the shoulder blade to the point of the shoulder and back in the other direction to the tip of the elbow. This type of assessment will result in a estimate of the layback to be 5 to 10 degrees SHARPER than it actually is.
So, when we ask for shoulder blade to be laid back at about a 55-degree angle, the REAL angle which is nearly impossible to measure in a quick examination in the show ring, is actually going to be greater and less laid back.
4. Research by a number of different teams and individuals has proven that when actual measurements are used to assess shoulder angulation, the 45-degree blade angle is almost non-existent. (Some will argue it doesn’t exist at all.)
Achondroplastic breeds, like the Dachshund or Bassett Hound, have angles approaching 45 degrees. Their sternums extend BELOW their elbows and they can use their sternums to rest their bodies on while using their front legs to dig.