What Is Conformation And Does It Matter? Part 2
PART 2: Conformation – Does it matter and what is the best type to have?
In Part 1 of this blog we discussed conformation – what it was and how it might relate to performance and the likelihood of injury. This time we will discuss whether conformation matters and what type is best.
So what type of conformation is best? Well this depends on what you want your dog to do. Form follows function, so different conformation types suit different activities. There is no ‘ideal’ conformation for all activities. For example if you need a dog to work all day in heavy conditions including swimming in cold water then you want a powerfully built dog with plenty of muscle, a heavier bone structure, good but not extreme angulation, plenty of sub-cutaneous fat and a waterproof, double coat – enter the Labrador or the Newfoundland. If you want a dog to chase speedy prey over long distances in hot conditions then you want an ectomorph with long, light limbs, a deep chest (for lung and heart capacity), a fine coat and low levels of subcutaneous fat (so they lose body heat more readily) – enter the Saluki.
In some instances conformation that may seem to be flawed is actually appropriate and functional. If you want a dog to go down burrows to chase and flush out badgers then, strange though it may seem when viewed out of context, the dachshund conformation is very effective.
If you are selecting a dog, purebred or not, for a particular purpose then it is well worth considering what conformation is best suited to that purpose. If we want an agility dog what should we look for? An ectomorph sounds perfect (light, fast, jumps high) but how much angulation do we want? If they are well angulated they are faster over the ground but they are also less agile and find it harder to turn sharply.
In some instances conformational ‘faults’ can actually be beneficial. Cow hocks (where the hocks angle inwards and the back paws outwards) reduce the amount of power and forward drive from the back legs. But in sheep herding breeds it allows them to shift more efficiently from stand to down and back again – something they need to do repeatedly as they work their flock. So a small degree of this conformational ‘fault’ can improve performance (or reduce fatigue).
The flip side of this for many of us is that we already have our dog, so what activities are best suited to their conformation? Of course you can do any activities with any dog, but if the activity and the dog’s conformation are mismatched then injuries are more likely and high performance is less likely.
If you do choose to do a particular activity with a dog whose conformation is not suited to that activity then you need to carefully consider just how you train them for that activity. For example if you have an endomorph and you want to do agility you should minimise the frequency you train over full height jumps and consider only training when there is a good and stable footing for them. If your dog has poor angulation consider training activities that will protect their joints but keep them fit – more resistance work and less concussive work.
So conformation is important and it is worth considering for three reasons:
Firstly, if you want a dog for a particular activity then you need to choose a dog whose conformation is well suited to that activity. If you like jogging or cycling and want your dog to come with you then don’t chose an endomorph or even a mesomorph. Choose an ectomorph with good angulation so their joints will be well protected.
If you want to do agility you want an ectomorph, but not one with extreme angulation. Whilst there is some sacrifice in pure speed over the ground this is more than balanced by faster turns and more agile paw placement.
Secondly if you already have your dog then you should try to choose activities for which their conformation is well suited. There are so many dog sports available – agility, lure coursing, earthwork, tracking, obedience – there literally is one for every conformation type.
Finally, whatever activities you do choose for your dog make sure that you train them in a way that acknowledges their conformation with its strengths and weaknesses and minimises their risk of injury. This will lead not only to success but also to a healthy, happy and injury-free dog!
Disclaimer: The information in this article is general in nature and not intended to provide specific veterinary advice. If your dog has specific health issues a thorough physical examination by a trained veterinary professional is recommended. Veterinary clearance before instituting any new activity program is also recommended.
© Dr Sandra Hassett - BVSc, MBA, MIVCA, CCRT