I had the pleasure of attending a seminar on structure this weekend with Pat Hastings. I find structure fascinating and I’ve always wanted to learn more about how a dog is put together and how that affects the dog’s movement. Structure is also critical in performance dogs as a sound dog will not break down over time. Unlike the training seminars I have attended, I spent a lot of time writing down everything she said. With training, I have a base to build on so I only write down what’s new or something significant I need reminding on. This was something completely different and I ate it up.
I learned so much and a lot of what I’ve heard said before finally made sense. I could see what she was talking about in the photos of the dogs she showed. I could see the structural faults in the dogs she was evaluating. I couldn’t wait to get home and evaluate Risa. The only problem was, so many of the things she was pointing out I was certain Risa had. I was beginning to think perhaps Risa was not cut out to be a performance dog since, to prevent a dog from breaking down, they really need to be structurally sound. I was worried I might have to retire her early; that she really shouldn’t be competing at all. I always knew her temperament should have kept her out of the ring but I never realized how much the way she’s built affects her ability to perform everything I ask of her.
Thinking back on that, I’m pretty glad I never got her into agility. I’ve noticed, now that she’s aging, that she’s starting to experience more aches after heavy activity. She’s not jumping like she used to and her circling behaviors are more wide (including her cornering ability in lure coursing). And she’s always had back problems. I can only imagine what shape she might be in had I competed with her in such a demanding sport especially if we had been able to compete right off the bat.
Fortunately, when I got home and was able to evaluate her with this new knowledge, I found she wasn’t quite as horribly put together and I thought she might be. 😉 She’s far from perfect; no dog is perfect after all. But, overall, she’s relatively well-balanced. I will admit I was super bummed to find out that Risa’s obvious muscling is NOT a good thing. A dog’s muscles should be smooth. If anything is very well-defined or obvious, it’s because the dog is compensating for a structural weakness. If a dog is very muscled in the front but not the rear, it means the dog’s front is weak. Having the same type of muscling front and rear is ideal. . .except if it’s overmuscling since that points to problems at both ends!
Even having such great examples, formulas to follow, and watching Pat evaluate several dogs. . .it was hard to evaluate Risa. Partly because she is less than thrilled about having someone manipulate her. Even me. But also because I lack the skills to properly do it. I’ve never done it before and it’s a lot harder to do in real life (though it is easier to see all angles in real life versus photos). Still, I was able to get a much better picture of the dog I have to work with and I was able to identify some potential problem points.
The following is my evaluation of Risa, the good and the bad:
If you draw a line from her prosternum to her ischium, it should divide her ribcage in half. It doesn’t. This means her upper arm is very short.
Her head is above her topline (though not by a lot) and her neck is in front of her shoulders.
If you draw a line from the ischium and drop it down plumb, it should line up with the top of the dog’s toes. On Risa, it does!
Her upper and lower rear leg bones are also the same length which is ideal (in most breeds anyway).
Her shoulder is very straight which is an issue because it’s less able to absorb the impact of landing. Her upper arm is also placed too far forward in front of the ribcage which can also point to a straight shoulder.
Her pasterns are at a good angle. Not too straight or too weak.
A dog’s hocks should be 1/3 of the dog’s height. Risa’s are the right length.
Her sternum is close to her belly button which gives her a good-sized ribcage. The heart and lungs are never outside the ribcage so a dog with a small ribcage has decreased heart and lung capacity.
Her stifles point inwardly which is good as outward pointing stifles tend to lend themselves to injury.
She may or may not have somewhat slipped hocks. I had a lot of trouble trying to figure out if she did but she seems pretty stable in her hocks.
Risa is neither cow hocked (I knew this before) or barrel-hocked. Though she does show some instability in the rear if I push on one side of her hips.
She does have loose elbows but, surprisingly, does not have a long loin. Dogs with long loins are prone to back problems (which Risa has) but her loin is properly proportioned at 1/3 of her length from shoulder to hips.
If a dog doesn’t sit straight, that points to problems. While Risa sits relatively straight, her left foot points out. I don’t know WHY but I do know, from talking to her chiropractor, that she has the most trouble with her left knee.
I’ve decided that I don’t need to pull her from competition yet but I do need to spend some time working helping her compensate for some of her deficiencies. I’m no longer jumping her (though we can probably still manage to do the 1 or 2 jumps in rally) and I think I need to start using the wobble board again to help her strengthen her core. Along with learning about some of Risa’s structural deficiencies today, I also learned what I should look for in my next performance dog so I can, hopefully, have a long career with him.