Structure in Action: the making of a durable dog

By Guest Blogger Jan Ensign, CPT

I attended a seminar called “Structure in Action.”  Author Pat Hastings (Structure in Action: The Making of a Durable Dog) spoke about canine body structure and movement.  I found this seminar riveting to say the least.  While the focus was on the skeletal structure of our canine friends, what I took away from the day was to be much more aware of soundness in our dogs or the lack thereof.  Some of us ask an awful lot from them (agility trials, hiking, biking, retrieving, hunting, etc.) and do not know we were inadvertently tearing down our dogs.

Let’s take, for instance, a Retriever who has a yew neck.  If you point his nose in the air, physically it should only be able to point to 11 o’clock.  If this dog’s nose can point all the way up to 12 o’clock, or further touching his back, this is a yew neck.  This indicates weakness in the neck and you would see the dog compensate by holding his head up higher in order to gain support from the shoulders, rather than letting it out in front of the body.  Now imagine you are asking this dog to retrieve a duck or, even worse, a large goose from the water.  Since this dog does not have the strength in his neck to support the weight of the water fowl very well, he will continue to try to hold the bird up in the air again using his shoulders, thus preventing him from being able to see where he is going.  This dog will also splash a lot with his front legs, trying desperately to keep his head above the water so as not to drown.  A dog with a correct neck will swim quietly and his jaw will lay on top of the water out in front of him. He will carry the bird with much more ease.

Another example would be a dog with a rear that is higher than his front end.  Some breed standards do call for this such as the Chinese Shar-Pei, Chesapeake Bay Retriever, and Havanese. So, in those breeds only, it would be considered correct structure. A high rear will put more stress on the front end assembly, however, making jumping much harder on this dog.  Not only is there more pressure on his joints when landing the jump, but he also has to work harder to lift up his front end to get over the jump.  In addition, a high rear causes the hind legs to be more under the dog causing diminished rear drive and thus decreased power to take off efficiently for a jump. It is easy to see that this type of structure is not made for agility or running along side the bicycle for example.

It is so very clear to me that structure is something we should always take a look at so we can select more carefully what our dogs can do for us, not what they are willing to do for us.