Every Thursday Karen over at Doggie Stylish links to some of the more interesting posts she’s read in a week. I look forward to her Thursday posts as I always find one or two articles that make me regard something in a new way. This morning before work, I checked out her blog and discovered a website I’d never visited before called Ruffly Speaking. The post itself discussed the widely debated issue of dog conformation, with a focus on defining “soundness”.
As a lover of dogs and a longtime secret fan of dog shows, conformation is a subject that lights up my dog geek side. After reading the author’s analysis of proper “soundness” – or the architectural quality of an animal, as defined in the post – I couldn’t help but turn my newly informed gaze to my own canine.
Obviously as a formerly stray mutt, Shiva wasn’t bred with any sort of ideal in mind. No doubt she was from an “oops” litter and either abandoned or allowed to roam at will in an infamous part of town. Not the best of beginnings for any dog. Regardless, I have always taken a bit of pride in her athletic prowess. It doesn’t have anything to do with me as a breeder or even as a trainer, but it’s hard not to beam when I see all she is able to accomplish physically. Especially as I have no athletic abilities of my own. I’ve always had this idea that Shiva is structurally sublime.
Does my incredibly biased opinion hold up to scrutiny? That is the question.
One of the first things outlined in the Ruffly Speaking article was topline. Essentially, a dog’s back should be either straight or convex. Level or curved upwards is considered sound. A back that curves downwards… Notsomuch.
It wasn’t easy to get a good picture of Shiva standing still and straight. I ended up having to put a carrot – literally – in front of her nose in order to get her to hold still for a photograph. It turns out, she is not a natural stacker. So much for her big show career. This is the best I could get out of her.
I don’t know if it is possible to tell, but her topline does go slightly down before her shoulders. This is not looking good for the Sheevs.
The first thing the article instructed, was to draw a line from the elbow to the top of the shoulder. And then another straight across the back. If the dog is sound, the entire head and most of the neck will be above and in front of the lines. This means the shoulder is laid back correctly and the heaviest part of the dog is behind the neck instead of under it.
Hmm… Shiva’s head is above this line but only barely. If she wasn’t looking up, it would almost be on the same level as her back. Another strike against her.
In the second picture, I drew a line through the middle of her front paw. This is supposed to be the line of weight that bears on the heaviest part of her body. According to the blog post, with a sound dog that line should go through the front part of her body and not her neck.
This is looking less dismal. The line goes through Shiva’s shoulder more than her neck. One point? Or is this just wishful thinking?
The next line is drawn at the end of Shiva’s ribs. You want to make sure the dog can breathe properly for her active lifestyle. The ribs should end more than half-way down the body. Surprisingly, I couldn’t easily detect Shiva’s ribs from the photograph. To make sure I drew the line right, I had to feel for them with my hands.
Has the scrawny spotted one actually put on weight?
This photo looks pretty good to me. It’s kind of funny how her thigh muscles are just as big as her chest. I don’t know if that has anything to do with her soundness or not.
This last one was the hardest to draw. I am still not sure I got the placement right. To show balance, the angle formed by the shoulder joining the upper arm ideally should be similar to the angle formed by the femur joining the knee. They don’t need to be identical in inclination, more in the size of the angle itself.
Once again, I am not so sure things are looking good for the poor puppy. Her rear angle looks much wider than her front. If I drew it correctly, it is definitely more than ninety degrees, which I learned is problematic.
Despite all her abilities, it looks like Shiva’s structure is off. I have always been a bit worried about her stance, to tell the truth. I fear we may have either hip or ACL issues in our future. She seems to naturally stand with her left rear leg out, as in the picture below. When she sits, she often leans on one hip, extending that leg. While she doesn’t seem to be in pain and it certainly doesn’t affect her activity level, it might be a sign of future problems.
Ah well, I can’t let it bother me too much. She is who she is; structurally sound, or a canine disaster, we’ll keep on having fun. Still, it was an interesting exercise and I am glad I know a little bit more now about how an ideal dog should be built. Perhaps in the future, when selecting my next nutty rescue, I will be armed with a bit more information. Especially if I intend to practice agility again.
Knowing myself, I’ll just end up being suckered in by a cute face and a wild personality. Those seem to be my weaknesses lately.