Sunday, July 18, 2010

Examining Maisy's Conformation

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.


Laura, Lance, and Vito said...

very interesting. I too love her posts and have been meaning to look at Lance's structure since I'm guessing it's not all that perfect.

I still wouldn't count agility out though. If the expert at your conditioning class said it would be ok, then I'm sure it would be fine. Plus you can always lower the jump heights to 4in and choose to only play certain games that will only have obstacles you feel comfortable doing. NADAC has a tunnelers class AND a hoopers class where there is no impact on dogs joints. Or if you want to jump her but not do contacts then there is always jumpers in many venues and other games in CPE where you get to design your own course and avoid contacts. Vito won't be doing the contacts in competition for awhile as his running contact training is taking forever. But we plan on competing soon in all other games but standard :)

Katie said...

I was trying to do this with Luce after reading Joanna's post but I failed utterly. I'm so bad at conformation stuff. She's poorly put together, that's all I know.

I'd like to do it with Steve as well but that would require a photo from the side of him standing still, and, well, he just doesn't do that :p

Sara and Layla said...

Here's another great resource for evaluating a dog's conformation that's a bit more in-depth. Read her other stuff too - I've learned so much from her! While I don't agree with everything she says/does, I think she's spot-on with many topics, and an excellent teacher.

Crystal said...

Laura- I don't really know what to think about agility. On one hand... she's not necessarily unable to do it, if I were to be cautious. Right now, she's probably a year away in terms of reactivity training of being able to handle a group class and/or trial. She'll be four this fall, and I feel like she's going to be getting too old to start agility. Maybe that's foolish- dogs can do agility for awhile, after all. But I do worry about what I'm already seeing in her body so young, and have to wonder if agility is worth the risk. Frankly, I don't know.

Katie- I'm not so sure I did this correctly either. I'm not sure I got the front and rear angles correct, to be honest. I did it a couple of different times, and while I think this is correct based on feel, I got some wildly different results.

Sara- that website looks great! I can't wait to spend more time reading it! Thanks for sharing!

Crystal said...

Sara, so I opened up my picture again, and analyzed it using the instructions from that site. The front angles end up about the same, though maybe just a little bit straighter. Not significantly, though, so I think I've got that one close.

There's a lot more to the rear than I realized. It looks like Maisy is slightly straight in the rear, but really not too bad. It's hard to say since she's got that one foot stepped forward. If she had it back square, I'd say it's very minor. However, a straight rear would explain the roached back. Maisy's always slightly roached, but I think this picture is maybe more exagerrated than how she usually looks because of that foot.

It does appear, though, that she's got too much length in the thigh, which the site says causes a weak rear... and Maisy failed that "hock press" test described (which Suzanne Clothier also described at her seminar).

I can't get step 10 and beyond to work (I got a 404 not found) so I'm not sure how she draws the rear angulation. Still, I think I'm close on these pictures. Maisy seems to have decent angulation, but a weak rear nonetheless, which is really interesting.

Now I want to pick a book up on the subject!!

janaARIES said...

Great post! Now I am curious on how Eva will add up and so will be trying doing my own evaluation. Thanks for the info and breakdown of how you did yours :)

Crystal said...

Jana- I don't know that I did it RIGHT, but it was fun to try! I definitely recommend reading the comments in Joanna's post (she clarifies how to see/feel for the angles), as well as reading the link that Sara left earlier- that is an AMAZING site.

A to Z Dals said...

I know you wrote this post over two years ago... so I don't know if you will still get (or care) about comments.

The trouble with Maisy's front is NOT the angles. Her angles are okay - anything within 15 degrees of 90 is fine. Her problems are related to the layback of her shoulder angle as measured against the ground and the relative length of the shoulder blade vs the upper arm.

It used to be believed that we wanted to have a 45 degree shoulder layback. But then the advent of cinema-radiology (can't remember the real name for the technology) turned that theory on its tail. It has since been discovered that optimal reach and stability for the front assembly on a dog is closer to 30 degrees and not more than 35. The 45 degree angle works effectively for horses who have significant differences in their shoulder attachment, which increases stability somewhat, while reducing flexibility.

The biggest problem Maisy has is actually that her upper arm is so short compared to the length of her shoulder blade - as it is for all dogs of her body type. That short upper arm is what causes so much of her body weight to be carried forward. She also lacks a prominent breastbone, which means there is less there for the shoulder assembly to attach to.

She is slightly high in the rear, but 2 things to consider are how much of that is truly there vs apparent due to the curly hair. In any case, high rears don't really affect dogs in any significant way as far as health of their joints is concerned.

The shortened rear stride is likely due to the previous injury you mentioned. Even if its resolved, there could be scar tissue that inhibits flexibility. And do keep in mind that soft tissue injuries can take a very long time to heal completely.