Is Shiva a “Sound” Dog?

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.

30 thoughts on “Is Shiva a “Sound” Dog?

  1. One of these days, I’ll have a conformationally correct Doberman (that is to say, structurally sound). It is an interesting consideration; when you hear somebody say “Unsound dog”, you imagine a condemned house or something, as though the dog might fall apart at any second. Roof caving in, etc.

    The front and rear angulation IS really hard to eyeball. I’m glad you took the time to draw the lines and stuff out, though, on the pictures. Very interesting!


  2. Thanks for the fascinating look into conformation. I’m going to have to go look at photos of Bella and Beau.

    Bella has a rounded back reminiscent of sight hounds but it’s not something I’m used to – I’m more familiar with “square” dogs. I’m never sure if what I’m seeing is normal or if there’s something funky going on.

    I was always hoping Bella would be my physically fit little beast since Beau gave me so much trauma but she’s having more and more problems. Is this because of her confirmation or just random injuries?

    Beau was beautiful to look at. He was an American Lab and just gorgeous in my eyes – tall and lanky, toned and proportioned but I’ll have to look at pictures to see how he stacked up.

    Thanks for giving me something fun to look at and think about.


  3. One thing to note is that for you to have accurate lines, the photo must be taken at the same level as the dog, these pictures are ever so slightly taken from above so especially from the one with their head supposed to be above the line, her head would be more above the line than it appears.

    I actually don’t think her rear and front angles are too far off (looking at angle alone)–they are both NICELY angled. Shayne has a bit of a straight front end (even though she has a nice shoulder layback) but nice rear angles. There are a lot of things structurally that would make Shayne less than idea for jumping but she’s got huge flips/jumps/vaults and at 7 her structure hasn’t seemed to inhibit her in those things (she does have limited reach but it is what it is).

    I think that there are some breed differences the come into play. Rio, for example, is SUPER straight in the front end (nice shoulder layback) but all sighthounds are very straight… and that doesn’t effect their soundness.

    It’s interesting stuff, structure and functionality and soundness… good things to look into and know especially if looking for a sporting prospect.


  4. Oh, very interesting. You’ve made me intensely curious. I, too, have a free-roaming mutt, probably from a long line of said, and I’ve always thought he was a very nice looking dog anyway.

    I know what I’ll be doing tomorrow…


  5. You know, when they show, they always seem to nudge the hind legs even further behind, and raise their head more, and really, it’s hard to believe that an English Bulldog, a breed who can’t even mate on its own, can still be considered structurally ‘sound’.

    I used to love dog shows as a kid just for the chance to see dog breeds that I most likely would never see just in the day to day life… But the older you get, and the more you know… I find it a little archaic and kinda full of crap.

    It’s like going to wine tastings and having the conisuier tasting all these different ‘notes’ of the wine as if he can taste every single one and isn’t just reading it off of the bottle. It’s all so ‘foo-foo’ it’s hard to take it seriously. lol


  6. You could always give Shiva some Glucosamine just to help her joints.

    Even a pure bred dog can have inherit problems, so I’d not put too much into a dog being sound.


  7. How funny. I read the same article and was going to do the same thing! I am glad you did it. I thought the article was fascinating too. (I love Karen’s Thursday links too.)

    I hope Shiva won’t have any hip or ACL issues. I would be sad to think the active and agile Shiva suffering either of those medical issues. I need to see if my dogs are sound. I suspect Jasper will not be and Daisy may not pass either. Cupcake may be more sound. My vet says she has the coat of a show dog. Oh wait. Show dogs are rarely sound. Count me as 3 for 3 on the unsound side.


  8. I know Joanna at Ruffly Speaking (not personally but she is a Cardigan person). You should leave a comment with a link to this post. I bet she’d be happy to offer an opinion on your analysis.

    I don’t even want to get into soundness with my breed….long and short….Arggghhhh!


  9. The “oops” bred dogs may be the most sound of all dogs. Nature and genetics step in and give them qualities that are closer to the wolf ancestors than many of the purebred dogs have. Shiva is a delight and a gorgeous dog, but you know that.


  10. I’ve been meaning to do this with my dogs, I just need to get someone to help out with taking the pictures first.

    I do think you would have better results if the picture was taken lower, so it is level with the dog. And, I think the rear angle is drawn off. I think it is supposed to be drawn to her knee, and you have it going to her loin. But then, I’m no kind of expert on this either.


  11. Anyone know if these lines have been scientifically proven to relate to dogs with less joint issues or other health issues? I am skeptical about whether it means anything at all but am always happy to be proven wrong.


    • I too am skeptical. It’s one thing if the appearance relates to strength and comfort. It’s another if it’s simply aesthetic. After all, the prize winning appearance for a GSD in the U.S. is one guaranteed to cripple a dog.

      Is that sound? Apparently, according to AKC judges, it is.

      As for Shiva, she’s just beautiful.


      • I think this website goes into more detail about the why these lines make a sound dog. They do actually even address the AKC German Shepherd as a dog with an incredibly weak rear, so are not all about the show dogs, but about dogs who can work safely with no joint issues.

        In fact, reading this website is what lead me to the conclusion that Pallo has slipping hocks- which explains, at least partly, his funky gait. It also lets me know what kind of thing I should watch out for with him, to keep the stress off of that weaker joint.

        I posted the link above, but here it is again in case you didn’t catch it up there. I am in no way affiliated with them, I just think it is great information, and it gives a much more in depth explanation than a single blog post possibly can.


  12. You did a great job with this! I’ve never understood the conformation terms and seeing all the lines really helped me make sense of it all. Though, in the end, we just love them for who they are and not how they measure up.


  13. I quite enjoyed that conformation post, too! Since Shiva is sniffing the carrot, she put her legs a little too far under her body. If you moved her legs back a little more, like in the last picture, she straightens out.

    Next Saturday, Dexter is going to meet his breeder so *we* are going to get a professional opinion. When I get a little time, I’m going to square up Dexter to see what he looks like.


  14. Shiva is a very pretty girl. As people have commented, the picture is taken from a bit too far above her — her angles and proportions are distorted by the angle. Because she is stretching upward and forward for the cookie, her weight is on her front and again angles are pulled off. Her rear feet are too far underneath her to accurately judge her rear angles: her hocks (from the foot to the sharply defined point that is really known as the hock) should be vertical rather than at a slight angle like they are here.

    Her back appears to have the convex-upward slope of a sighthound. Look at pictures of greyhounds and whippets, and you will see their withers are often lower than the highest point on their backs. It’s a swayback (concave upward) that is going to be weak. If you ever look at one of the big flat trailers used for hauling things on the highways, you will notice they are bowed upward (convex upward) when they are empty. That’s because the weight of the load will flatten them out. Life may flatten out our dogs backs, especially in the longer-backed ones.

    Your angles picture needs to have the angles redrawn. The point on her withers should be a little further back, to the high point of her shoulder blade rather than on vertebrae, which will bring that angle a bit closer to 90 degrees. In the rear, the highest point should be drawn to the *back* of the pelvis, where the femur attaches to the pelvis. Here it’s drawn more to where the pelvis attaches to the spine, by the sacrum. Your knee/stifle point is a high, too. Try flexing Shiva’s leg to see where the knee joint is and draw the line to there. In dogs the knee is about halfway down what looks like a thigh to us, based on our anatomy. Some people will refer to the upper thigh (above the knee/stifle) and lower thigh (below the knee/stifle and above the hock). You’ve done a pretty good job with your points at the elbow (front) and hock (rear).

    The lines are to show where the leg bones are, pretty much from end to end. If you feel up Shiva some more, you can begin to get a better feel for the end points and then redraw the lines.

    The turning out of one leg may mean an injury or weakness. Has Shiva ever seen a chiropractor? sometimes a subluxation can cause the dog to hold her weight unevenly. One thing I see in Shiva’s structure that I would watch is her front feet and pasterns. Do you see where her wrists have a lot of forward bend? If you do agility or some sport that involves a lot of jumping or heavy landing on her front, watch those to make sure she doesn’t strain them or stretch the ligaments.

    All in all, I like Shiva’s looks for general “dog on the go” activities. How does she look when she’s moving, at a trot, say? Do things like they move well together? Is your eye caught by one body part or area, or are you overall caught by the smoothness of how she moves? My own dog is not structurally correct per her breed standard (kind of straight in her angles), but she just looks cool and competent to me when she moves. And like you, I love my dog and will keep her even if a leg or two falls off 🙂


  15. Delilah would fail on the very first one. I’ve noticed from the very first picture I ever saw of her that her back sags. She does not stand straight and tall, but oh is this dog athletic. So what if I can’t get a decent picture of her, I’ve seen her clear (with ease) brush piles 6 feet wide and 3 feet high. She’s amazing.

    I certainly hope you don’t have hip or ACL issues in your future, perhaps her trim frame will help prevent that.

    I think you are right, as long as you are having fun with her that is what is important.


  16. It’s very interesting to watch a dogs build, and you can influence a dog’s soundness, especially how it hold its back through massage, etc.

    If you’re wondering if Shiva is bothered by hip problems you should pay extra attention to her gait. That’s how I spotted it with Derria. If Shiva’s main choice of movement is a pace, or if she moves a leg in a kind of small circle, instead of straight back and forth, then she may be in some discomfort, and may benefit from a joint supplement like glucosamine or a food rich in glucosamine and omega fatty acid. But don’t go seeing ghosts where there are none. On the other hand, it may be she has some tired muscles and all you need to do is give her some massages. Do you warm up before agility? Stretch after? Bad movement can be a lot of things, but it should be dealt with.

    P.S: If she paces on the lead, that’s normal. Big dogs usually do to keep our speed.


  17. Hehehe – trust you to put so much effort into dissect your mutt’s conformation!

    To be honest, Shiva wasn’t properly stacked – her hind legs were too close to her front legs in your photo. Her hocks (the bit between her toes and her ankle) should be parallel to the ground, and hers aren’t. So you set her up to fail with all your line drawings!

    To be honest, Shiva seems like a pretty well made dog. The thing that bothers me about her is that she stands with her front-feet-toes pointing outwards (east west) instead of forward.

    The irregularly you’ve noticed in her hindquarters is probably a mild injury that has been exacerbated by muscle mass. You know when you hurt your left leg, so you put more weight on your right leg, and then both your legs hurt, and it seems to go forever because you’re always favouring one leg? Well this kind of process can cause one leg to be more muscular and your ‘dominate leg’, and that’s probably why you’re seeing the irregularity in her hindquarters. Maybe taking her to a chiropractor may start to see this improve.

    Glad you enjoyed the Ruffly Speaking article. It’s a very good description of doggy soundness, and you’ve obviously taken a lot on board.


  18. What an interesting post! I know Kolchak comes from two lines that on their own were considered “sound”, though what traits he may/may not have inherited as a hybrid of the two, I don’t really know. It would be interesting to do this. Hmmmmm, I might try to get good photos tomorrow!


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  20. Me myself do have a chihuahua pet. Just like yours, my chihuahua accidentally got injured because I forgot to taking good care with it and makes me worry to death. But luckily sooner his injury slowly healed and become energitic once again. Lesson learned, if you decided to have a pet, always consider that you’ll also decided to take the resposibility to handle and taking good care of your pet. 🙂


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