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Structure, Movement and Breed Type

This page is still under construction so check back often!

Australian Shepherd black tri Faithwalk Aussie breeder Michigan

On this page I will work to make sense of these terms so often used by breeders.  I know a lot of folks who are new to the dog world may not understand the terms and how they are applied to the purebred dog, in this case the Australian Shepherd and/or Miniature American Shepherd.  Bear in mind I am not an expert, but have studied the structure and movement of canines for  many years, as well as seen it in action in my many years of dog watching.  In seeing working sled dogs in action, wolves and many breeds of dogs do their jobs, I have come to understand why dogs are supposed to be built the way they are.  I am still constantly studying and learning more on this topic, as I strive to thoroughly understand good structure and movement and how to apply that knowledge to my breeding program.  I will never stop honing my eye.

  Also, bear in mind there is no "perfect" dog in terms of structure.  All will have some good points and some less than ideal points.  The job of a good breeder is to try to select mates that will keep and accent the virtues and reduce the faults.  Then you have to pick the puppy or puppies that have the best of what you wanted.   Even a litter of puppies from champion parents, and from a long line of show champions, won't be perfect, and not all the puppies may be capable of being show champions.  Each puppy should be evaluated based on the "Breed Standard" to see how well it meets that standard of excellence.   The breed standard is a written description of the "ideal" version of that breed.  It will describe in detail all the qualities, both physical and behavioral, that the particular breed should have.  It is the blueprint of all good breeders.

Just as a basic primer, I will define some terms in my own words and those that may be easily understood by the average dog owner.  By structure we mean how is a dog built, or put together.  We look at various traits such as the topline (line of the back), the neck (length, shape and where it ties into the body), the front and rear legs (looking for their angulation, or how they are shaped and put on the body.)  By angulation, we are measuring the angles of the various joints.  By  movement we mean how a dog moves at various gaits, but is usually evaluated the trot.  If a dog has really good structure, he will usually have good movement, making him able to stay sound and do his job better than a dog with poor structure and movement. 

Breeding for optimal structure for our breed not only makes them look good, but it helps them have the physical qualities to perform their work or even just stay sound and healthy as a pet.  Dogs with poor structure may break down early and suffer from various physical issues such as arthritis of the joints, and other issues, especially if they work or play very hard.  There is a reason dogs should have a certain type of structure and it almost always relates to keeping them sound and fit for their entire lives.

When we say "type" or "breed type", we mean physical qualities which make the dog readily identifiable as it's breed.  There is a written breed standard for purebred dogs, and for Aussies there is one in AKC and one in ASCA.  They are mostly similar and if you want to see them they are on the websites ( and   For AKC Miniature American Shepherds, their standard is at:



Dogs who have the physical qualities that exemplify the breed standard are said to be "typey" and that is a good thing.  Dogs who deviate substantially from the standard are said to lack type.  Some examples with Aussies would include their head style, ear set and size, proportions,  markings, color and coat type, and other features that make them recognizable as Aussies and distinguish them from similar breeds such as border collies.

When we talk about movement, we are talking about the dog's gait.  In dog shows it's usually a trot, rather than walk or run.  If a dog has really good structure and proportions, it should have nice balanced movement. In Aussies that should be as follows:

"Smooth, free and easy; exhibiting agility of movement with a well-balanced, ground covering stride. Fore and hind legs move straight and parallel with the center line of the body; as speed increases, the feet, both front and rear, converge toward the center line of gravity of the dog, while the topline remains firm and level.

If a dog moves well it should be able to work tirelessly all day and also stay sound.  I will add more photos of movement below, as well as making a separate page just devoted to movement photos."

As I have time I will add more photos to illustrate many of these topics.

Structural terms Australian Shepherd Faithwalk Aussies breeder Michigan


I'll use photos to show a few things about how to look at structure in a stacked photo. Of course nothing beats hands on, but you can learn to train your eye to see angulation, balance and such, even in photos.

structure Faithwalk Aussies Miniature American Shepherd breeder Michigan

Here I have added circles to mark the points of shoulder and elbow, showing front angulation, and then again on the rear, showing short hocks and then hock to knee to point of buttock or ishium. If these angles are nearly identical, you can say the dog is balanced.  The dog above is balanced, the dog below is not. He has a very short upper arm and upright shoulder

structure Faithwalk Aussies Miniature American Shepherd breeder Michigan
structure Faithwalk Aussies Miniature American Shepherd breeder Michigan

In this photo I drew a line along the topline and at the point of the chest. Ideally you want the dog's head to be in the top left quadrant. If not it may be "short necked" or stuffy, but it's not that the neck is too short. It means the shoulder is too upright and/or the front is laid on too far forward.   The dog photo below shows that well.

The dog in the photo above has a front that is well under him, drops down from the point of shoulder.  The dog in the photo below also has a front that is under him but his shoulder is very upright, giving him that short necked appearance.

structure Faithwalk Aussies Miniature American Shepherd breeder Michigan


red tri movement grooming Mini Aussie Miniature American Shepherd puppy breeder Michigan Faithwalk

This Mini American Shepherd girl has really nice balanced movement, good foot timing, and reach and drive.  She also moves correctly from the shoulder, meaning an unbroken line from top of shoulder blade to toe.

In this section I'll cover some of the topics related to movement. We look for balance from the side, where the distance between each front foot is the same as the distance between each back one, when the dog is at full stride in the trot. We look at foot timing, and then "coming" and "going" which is front and rear movement from the front and back. 

I'll add photos as I have time.

funky movement Australian Shepherd
funky movement Australian Shepherd

These two boys show some pretty  major movement faults. The black tri has more lift in front, is very unbalanced between front and rear, over reaches.  He is slab sided and that is part of the issue with his front. He has a lot more reach than drive.  

The blue merle is "moving down hill" which is often due to short upper arm. He too has  more reach than drive and kicks up with his rear which wastes energy.  He over reaches a bit too, meaning the feet under him over lap.

funky movement Australian Shepherd
funky movement Australian Shepherd

These two girls also have some pretty obviously faults.  The black tri lacks reach and drive though is sort of balanced. She does over reach just a little. She also moves from the elbow indicating a short upper arm, and you can see it in the photo.

The blue merle has more reach than drive though we did finish her AKC Championship.

Front and Rear Movement

Front movement Australian Shepherd Faithwalk Aussies in Michigan

In the photo above we see three different styles of front movement.  The merle on the left is fairly clean, though at times would toe in.  The girl in the middle was good at converging, and normally the girl far right was but in this photo is toeing in a bit.  She was a senior and her movement changed a bit as she aged.

front move collage Australian Shepherds in Michigan

This collage shows "egg beater" movement with some paddling. The dog was shallow chested and slab sided, and his front movement was really off.  It's the same dog above, next to the photo of the blue merle on ice.

education, funky movement Aussie, Faithwalk Aussie breeder Michigan
education, funky movement Aussie, Faithwalk Aussie breeder Michigan
education Faithwalk Aussie breeder Michigan

The black tri far right has very funky pasterns, and it shows in his movement. The blue merle female center and right is also very "egg beater" in her front movement. She has shallow chest, lack of rib spring and short upper arm, which you can see in the standing photo I included.

Head Type

head type Aussie, education, funky movement Aussie, Faithwalk Aussie breeder Michigan

For overall head proportions, the distance between the 3 horizontal lines should be the same, and the same as the distance between the two vertical ones.  This is not the ideal photo but it shows well enough.  The measurements are topskul, from front to stop, and stop to tip of muzzle, and the top of the skull from side to side.

underjaw Faithwalk Aussies Miniature American Shepherd breeder Michigan
underjaw Faithwalk Aussies Miniature American Shepherd breeder Michigan

These two photos show what good underjaw and lack of underjaw look like The head planes on the dog on the right are decent though but she has  weak or is lacking underjaw


"Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called sons of God."

Matthew 5:9


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