About 4 years ago, I drove to Virginia to pick up Jax, the first dog that would teach me about the conformation show world. In those 4 years, he’s taught me a lot, but what has also taught me a lot about canine conformation is being able to stand ring side, talk to different owners, handlers, and breeders about all of the different breeds, and being able to talk to the judges who judge our dogs and interpret the breed standards.
Conformation isn’t just about pretty dogs trotting around the show ring. Correct conformation is important for sound structure and a healthy dog. Each breed is different, but I will describe a breed that can be pretty straight forward and many of the traits can be applied to many other breeds and mixed breeds: The German Shorthaired Pointer.
The dogs in the following photos have all been bred by the same breeder, and she has kindly given us permission to use them in this post. If you’re not already familiar, now might be a good time to brush up on your conformation vocabulary!
The lines drawn on the dog show the angles that a breeder or dog show handler looks for when looking for correct conformation. These lines should flow and create a picture of balance.
The line from the withers to the pasterns (down the front legs) should be straight, with all points – withers, elbow, pasterns – lining up on that line.
The triangle on the chest shows the angles of the shoulders. The top line from the point of the withers to the point of the chest shows the layback of the shoulders; the shoulders should not be too steep or too flat.
The next two lines show the length of loin – this is measured from the point of the last rib to the first point of the hip. The above dog is male, and so he should have a moderate length of loin, in proportion to the body. Bitches will have a longer loin, but still in proportion to the body.
The hind end assembly is important, and you’ll often hear people talking about a dog’s angles in this context, meaning their rear angles. There are two important points here: the curvature from under the tail to the hock, and from the hock straight down to paws meet the floor. A dog should not be over-angulated, meaning that curvature shouldn’t be overdone. On the flip-side, a dog shouldn’t be straight in the rear, either.
The GSP in the example photo above has good rear angulation. The following two photos are to compare-and-contrast, and are of American Bullies. The first shows a dog who is over-angulated in the rear, and the second photo shows a dog which does not have enough angulation, but is not quite straight, either.
The front assembly of the dog, in addition to the angles of the shoulders, the toes of the dog should be pointing forward, and they should not toe-in or toe-out.
The topline of a dog is also something to take into consideration, and this will also be important. In general, the topline should not be arched (or over-arched for those breeds that should have a slight arch to their topline). Likewise, the dog should not sway-backed. The topline should be straight and level*.
*It is necessary to keep in mind that all of these rules will not apply to each and every dog or breed. For example: while a Golden Retriever should have a fairly straight topline, an American Pit Bull Terrier should have a slight arch to their back. This is why we have a written standard for each breed, and why a good judge will always refer to these standards if they’re not sure.
Combining all of this will equal a dog that moves properly. “If you’re not built right, you won’t move right.”
The lines in this photo demonstrate the balance of movement. The top line shows the balance along the topline of the dog – the spine. Ideally, the nose should be balanced with the spine and along the tail, but in this photo, the handler may be lifting the head a bit with collar. In a video, we may see the nose actually does fall in balance, which is also why photos can be deceiving.
When gaiting, or “moving out,” the front and rear legs of the same side should meet – that is to say, the back foot should fall where the front foot is leaving from (as shown in the photo of Phoenix, above). Both pictures above are also beautiful examples of “reach” and “drive.” Reach is the description of the front legs, while drive is the driving force of the back legs. A dog should not over/under-reach, nor should a dog over/under-drive.
Lastly, all feet should be level on the ground, as shown in the first gaiting photo of the German Shorthaired Pointer. The line along the ground shows us that all feet are level; next, looking at the photo of Phoenix the Am Staff without lines, you can clearly transfer that visual to his feet as well.
Now, you should be able to take away this information and better watch a conformation class. Westminster will be held on February 16th & 17th, with Best in Show being held on the 17th starting at 7:30pm EST. It would be a great time to put your new-found knowledge to the test!
**It is important to note that these traits will not be the same for every breed – especially breeds like a Corgi or a Dachshund. These can be mostly be applied to “boxier” breeds, but all breeds should follow their written breed standards.