I have dedicated an entire page to educate on the importance of structure. Whether you are looking for a show dog, or just your next best friend, your dog needs proper structure to maintain mobility and longevity. There are a few types of breeders. Those looking to make a living, those looking to create typey dogs, and those looking to make improvements within the breed. Unfortunately the old addage, you get what you pay for, doesnt always carry over to the world of breeding. Some of those getting big money for their pups are doing so for nothing mor than fad colors, size, or type, without regard to form with function. In the following I will demonstrate the necessities of function through various references.
Knowledge is Power... and More! The Importance of Structure and Function in Dogs
By Pat Hastings
One of the most significant pearls of wisdom I was fortunate to receive over the years was in these words: A sound dog will age more gracefully, be less likely to break down from stress or injury, experience less fatigue and greater efficiency in work, and stay healthier and more attractive throughout its life. The originator of this most eloquent of reasons to breed carefully and thoughtfully has my deepest respects. It is an essential axiom not only in a conscientious breeding program but also in the commitment to structurally evaluate - as knowledgeably and objectively as possible - each litter bred. I do not mean to take anything away from type, however. Type is undeniably at the center of the dog show world - and it should be. After all, breed conformation is founded on type. However type without a sound, functional structure is rather like breeding balloon animals - producing a recognizable form lacking in substance. Even dogs bred as companion animals need good health in order to be companionable. Function is as important as type.
Certainly we've all heard this before. But what does it take to develop both function and type in a breeding program? Engineers can relate to the essential design of the dog. The dog's structure serves a purpose; if that structure is too weak or improper to live up to its purpose, it is more likely to break down. It is cruel to ask any dog to perform any task for which its structure is poorly equipped. The reason is simple: because the human-animal bond is strong, most dogs will do all we ask for as long as they can - they'll jump, herd, hunt, run, walk the neighborhood, jog the track, or take to the agility course until they can no longer do so. They will keep going until their physical structure is incapable of one more step. How soon they will reach that point depends largely on our awareness of and respect for their inherent strengths and weaknesses.
What happens when dogs reach the point of breakdown? The average owner's initial tendency is to get frustrated with the dog. More times than I can count, my husband and I have been approached by owners wanting to know why their dogs suddenly won't take the jumps after so many good performances. These people want to know why their dogs are suddenly being disobedient or just plain lazy. In almost every case we have encountered, the dog's structure has broken down. Most people are genuinely unaware of their dogs' physical condition when such behavior patterns begin to emerge. They don't realize the body is simply telling the dog it cannot do another jump.
I firmly believe that if more breeders had a working knowledge of canine structure, we would see far fewer structural weaknesses in the show ring. Structural weaknesses are not limited to mediocre show dogs - they can be found in top-winning dogs. A judge is compelled to judge a dog on its qualities, but weaknesses must be taken into consideration at some point. After all, conformation is intended to advance quality in breeding. If structural weaknesses are overlooked because type is everything, both breeder and judge are helping to perpetuate these weaknesses and are potentially creating serious problems within an entire breed.
It doesn't stop with the show ring or the obedience ring or the field trial. We all cry out against puppy mills, yet some of the most crippled pet dogs I have come in contact with were purchased from reputable breeders who were completely unaware of the structural weaknesses in the puppies they were selling. The owner bears the financial and emotional burden of surgeries or pain killers and of deciding at which point the dog would be best served by euthanasia. Puppy mills are interested in profits. A breeder's first priority is to the breed. The distinction is vast and the responsibility enormous. No breeder or breed is best served by relying entirely on conformation wins. Breed to a winning stud dog with structural weaknesses and your breeding program goes the way of trouble. And if those weaknesses are not recognized as such, does that make it OK? What do you think?
One of the worst tragedies in the dog world is when a structural problem becomes so pervasive in a breed that it is gradually accepted as a normal aspect of the breed. We ought to be ashamed of ourselves!
The answer lies in education, in making an effort to learn correct structure and the consequences of incorrect structure. For example, a dog acquired for jumping in obedience or agility should have no looseness in the elbows or lack in prosternum, both of which can cause stretched and damaged tissue in the front assembly.
A dog with slipped hocks should never be expected to perform coursing, herding, or repetitive jumping because the lack of stability in the hock joint damages the tissue integrity and eventually causes bone or joint deterioration. A sporting dog with a ewe neck will eventually be incapable of carrying a bird. And high shoulders are one of the most destructive weaknesses that a dog in harness can have.
A dog bred to go-to-ground is fairly useless if its loin is too short or nonexistent. A herring gut or high hocks diminish stamina. A weak underjaw prevents a strong grasp. An over-angulated rear, which creates sickle hocks, causes a poorly synchronized gait, which destroys its efficiency. Shoulders set too close together make it difficult for a dog to eat out of a pan on the floor and impede the ability of a tracking dog to keep its nose to the ground. A tail set too low interferes with an effortless gait. A tail set too high can prevent a dog from pulling a cart.
All dogs have imperfections, as do we all. However, it is important to view those imperfections in relation to what the dog will be asked to do. If we cannot recognize structural weaknesses or faults in our dogs, we risk the quality of their lives, not to mention the quality of our breeding programs. Thus knowledge is more than power - it is a substantial component to the future well-being of our breeds.
WHY Dog Structure is Important to The Family Dog
The Vulcan Mind Meld. What we wouldn’t give to be able to do it. Short of a “Vulcan Mind Meld,” there’s simply no way to impart how to assess sound angulation in a dog using a Facebook post. We try to break it down into snippets here and there, but by and large, it takes time, it takes looking at a lot of different dogs, and it takes the desire to learn more. What we CAN do is to share WHY dog structure is important to a family dog who will never get near a dog show ring.
In a working breed, well built dogs can work long days without tiring. Good proportions lend suppleness to the back, strong hindquarters provide strength for bursts of speed, thrust for jumping, stamina for trailing, while strong pasterns (wrists) reduce the shock of landing. Balance provides smooth, effortless gait not unlike the humming along of tuned-up vehicle. What does any of that matter if your dog doesn’t work on a farm or attend a dog show?
Does your dog like to play fetch? Does she enjoy long walks? How about jogging with you in the morning? Do your dogs love doing “zoomies” in the house? Does your dog jump on and off the couch?
Sound structure impacts all dogs, whatever their role in life. Angulation – the size. length and angles of the bones in your dog’s hips and shoulders, govern how effortlessly your dog moves. Soundness means your dog can take those jogs or long walks with you free of discomfort. It means she can jump on the couch to snuggle with you, and jump off again to follow you into the kitchen without pain. They can play with you longer, climb over boulders and tree stumps with ease, and not have to ignore their own pain to do the things you want to do with them. Soundness matters.
While we applaud the good people who work with shelter and rescue dogs, we’d love to dry up the sources of those unfortunate souls by making education about soundness go viral. Imagine the substandard breeder who can’t sell their puppies because their customers have gotten savvy about what to ask, and what to look for in a puppy. How long do you think those breeders would last? We take a lot of heat for supporting ethical breeders invested in their respective breeds, but without these people, our breeds would deteriorate in quality, if not disappear altogether.
“Fred the Kelpie – Driving the Flock” by Pieter Zaadstra
A dog’s front assembly begins with the top of the
shoulder blade called the withers. The front assembly consists of the forearm, front legs, pasterns, and feet. This series of bones are important as the front assembly carries sixty percent of the dog’s body weight therefore becoming the pillar of the foundtion. The front assembly includes a large number of moving parts and stays connected to the body using muscles, tendons, and ligaments. When standing still the front legs should appear as two straight columns of support from the hip joint, or shoulder, to the ground. This does not mean perpendicular, but a straight line from the
shoulder or hip to the pad.
The topline is formed by combining the withers, back, loin and croup. This is the area from the base of the neck to the base of the tail. In most breeds the preferred topline is level, meaning that this area should be flat and strong. Level does not necessarily mean parallel to the ground. There are exceptions to breeds with level top lines. Some breed standards describe an arched topline or slightly roached.
The rear assembly is another important part of dog anatomy. It involves the vital hip joint which connects the femur to the tibia and fibula at the knee joint. It gives the dog forward thrust and drive. When in motion the entire rear leg assembly should extend and flex through the hock to drive the dog forward. This end of the dog is less fragile than the front assembly because the rear assembly is attachedto the body by two hip sockets which hold the rear assembly together.
When a judge views a dog from behind they are looking to see if the rear hocks appear as two straight columns of support that are parallel to each other and set just slightly outside the hip sockets. See example below, first is correct structure.
Cowhocks are undesirable in all breeds (second example in photo above). They are weak and greatly impair efficiency and power of movement. Cowhocks cause rear pasterns to turn inward toward one another. This fault causes the stifle to turn out and the feet to toe out.
The ability to recognize correct and incorrect movement is an essential element of dog knowledge. Therefore, it is important to know what correct structure looks like when standing and in motion. Said another way, canine movement requires an understanding of the coordinated structure, especially in the front and the rear assemblies.
A well put together dog in good condition can move almost tirelessly for many miles. The movement of the front legs should be fluid, with the feet barely clearing the ground on each forward movement and the bones and joints turning neither in nor out from the line of travel. The legs should move straight forward and back, with the feet tending to move toward a centerline. Anything else increases effort and unnecessary energy expenditure. As with any interdependent system, if a part of the whole is not formed well it will ultimately affect the performance of the entire system. Weak or flat feet, steep or broken down pasterns, poorly angled joints, elbows or feet turning in or out will adversely affect the efficiency of movement and the stamina of the dog.
In this regard, one of the key elements of movement involves how dogs put their feet down as they move their body forward. Correct movement depends on the basic principles of good structure which is determined in part by nature, but generally speaking, effortless movement is good movement, and every dog attempts to move forward with the least amount of effort. Experts have long believed that the better dogs, when gaiting, will have more extension of their front and rear feet and when coupled with a balanced body, will produce more efficient movement.