One my my favorite bloggers, Joanna at Ruffly Speaking, recently wrote a post on soundness. What I loved about this post is that she demonstrated how to evaluate a dog's conformation. I've never been much good at evaluating conformation, not back when I was into horses, and not now that I'm into dogs, but this post was quite good, and inspired me to try my hand at evaluating Maisy.
Now, I've had a hands-on evaluation when we went to our Performance Dog Conditioning class, so I have a general idea of what Maisy's structure looks like (short answer: decent, not great). Still, I wanted to try it myself, so here we go. I'm quite sure that I've messed something up- this is my first try, after all- so please feel free to critique my work!
Here's the reference photo (click on any photo for a larger version):
This picture was taken in June at my aunt and uncle's lake cabin. The very first thing you'll notice about the picture is that she is not standing square. In fact, in photos, Maisy rarely stands square. Part of the problem is that in photos, she rarely stands still, but the point stands. It may be a coincidence, but it may be an indication that she stands askew in order to feel more comfortable.
Joanna says the first thing to do is to draw a vertical line through the shoulder and elbow, and one across the topline:
Already, I'm not sure if I'm doing this right. I chose to draw the topline from the withers, but look how much higher her rear is! Well, I guess I knew that- I was told that she's butt-high at our conditioning class, and in the comments, Joanna comments that she's roach-backed. When I look at pictures of Maisy as a puppy, it seems that this roached back is due to her genetics, and not an injury, especially since Joanna said that puppy-mill poodles often have a roached-back, and I was told Maisy's dad was a puppy-mill poodle. Assuming I've drawn this line in the right place, although it's not particularly pretty, Joanna says this upward curve is still sound.
However, when you look at the quadrants, we start to see problems: she's carrying too much weight on the front. According to Joanna, when you draw these lines, you want all of the head and most of the neck to be in one. If you see that, then you know that the shoulder is laid back correctly, and that most of the weight is behind the neck, not under it. Since I learned at our conditioning class that 60% of a dog's weight is carried on the front legs, good shoulders seem to be vital to soundness. Unfortunately, I already know from that class that Maisy doesn't have good shoulder angulation... and these lines seem to tell the same story.
The next line is the weight-bearing line, and is drawn through the middle of the paw:
This line should appear to be through the body, not the neck like it does here. Again, Maisy's front end is carrying more weight than it ought to, indicating that she may have shoulder problems down the line. (Indeed, she already does- we started seeing a chiropractor last year when she became intermittently lame on the front right foot.)
The next line is the rib line:
This one is drawn vertically at the last rib, and lets us know if the dog has enough lung capacity to do its job. It should be more than half the dog's body, and I'm pleased that Maisy has finally passed a conformation test!
Next, we draw in the shoulder and hip angles. I have to admit, these may not be correct, but I felt Maisy's body, traced the bones, and I think I'm close:
The balance actually doesn't look too bad- both angles are similar. What doesn't look good is when she moves. Joanna looked at Maisy's rally video (I'm assuming from this post) and thought that her back legs had short strides. I've thought that myself, and have noticed that Maisy's back legs sometimes swing from side to side instead of forward. Joanna says this type of movement puts stress on the spine, and based on Maisy's chiropractic visits, I'd say this is true for Maisy.
In fact, in light of Joanna's comments, I went back and felt for the rear angulation several times. Her rear angulation, as drawn in this picture anyway, isn't bad. My understanding is that you want it to be no more than 90 degrees- any more and there isn't enough power for running and jumping. But in our conditioning class, I was told that Maisy has nice rear angulation, and in feeling her body, I have to say, it's definitely not where I would put it based on the picture. If that's true, if she does have good rear angles, then the short strides would probably point toward an injury. Maisy did pull an iliopsis muscle last fall, so perhaps it's related to that? I'll have our chiropractor check her out more closely on the next visit, though, just in case something is still going on.
The front angle, though, is not good. It's open more than 90 degrees, which indicates a high or straight shoulder. Of course, this isn't really surprising, given what we learned when we divided her in fourths, and again when we drew the weight-bearing line.
So, assuming I've gotten the lines somewhat accurate, it's the same picture: weak front, decent the rest of the way around. Given that Maisy's already had issues in the front, I am a bit worried about her long-term soundess. Although we were told at the conditioning class that we could do enough conditioning that Maisy could probably do agility, I have to wonder if it's worth the risk. Add to that Maisy's reactivity, agility definitely seems to be out of our reach. I guess it's a good thing I enjoy both rally and obedience, and that there are enough opportunities out there for us to compete for as long as Maisy's body will allow her.