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Why is Dog Structure Important?
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Fran Jewell’s dog Brinx takes his turn herding sheep. Notice the power from his rear and the reach his shoulder allows him because his structure was correct for the function of sheep herding. Sheep herding is an incredibly athletic sport.
   
Saturday, September 17, 2022
 

STORY AND PHOTO BY FRAN JEWELL

I just watched a home video taken of a coyote jumping a six-foot fence up onto a shed roof next to the fence and then further up onto the rooftop of the house.  This was an astounding feat of athleticism that not many animals can do. 

As many of us know, the coyote is a formidable predator invading many urban areas.  The availability of videos capturing these incredible animals is almost overwhelming.

Coyotes are not dogs, but watching and studying the coyote serves to help us realize what makes the coyote so formidable is also what makes a dog a good companion for the active or competitive family.

What does this have to do with dog training?  Always, my interest is in helping dog owners choose a dog that fits their lifestyle for a long and happy relationship.  My interest as an instructor is to help in that process any way I can. This is a way to prevent dog behavior problems in the future.

I teach the “Total Dog Puzzle,” which is comprised of eight critical components to dog training and the relationship with your dog.  One of those components is health.  If a dog has a health or structural issue, it can contribute to many training issues.

 It has long been known by REPUTABLE breeders that a dog’s structure is paramount to his ability to perform the task they were bred to do.  As a dog owner, whether you have a dog from a rescue or a reputable breeder, having some idea about what is proper structure (especially for each breed) can save you literally THOUSANDS of dollars in orthopedic surgeries and pain and suffering for the dog.

Choosing a dog should come from some basis in knowledge as well as our heartstrings.  We may also need to adjust our expectations of our future companion based on what he can physically do.

A simple example of this is a companion dog you might want to accompany you trail running.  A dog with a very straight shoulder and no flexion in his pastern would not be a dog that can travel long distances over rough terrain.  A dog needs a shoulder that forms a triangle from the wither to the elbow and to the point of the shoulder in front to have good flexion and the ability to absorb shock from the pounding of the trail.  The pastern also needs to have flexion for him to be able to absorb that shock from running. 

The same is true for a dog with a very straight backend, especially at the knee.  A dog whose leg is completely straight without any bend or “turn of stifle” can experience more knee damage in extreme physical exercise. 

Of course, there are so many other components to a healthy structure, which might also include how early a dog is spayed or neutered or even the environment a puppy is exposed to in the whelping box. There are many studies easily available for your perusal.

A dog without excellent structure can still be a wonderful companion, but expectations of what you want the dog to do with you may need to change based on that structure affecting his athleticism. 

Who can help you with examining structure?  Your veterinarian can help, especially an orthopedic veterinarian because they see day after day which dogs need structural surgeries for knees, hips, shoulders, and elbows.

Another good resource are the breed clubs for your breed or mix of breeds. Each breed of dog should have a published standard including diagrams, which were created to help the dog be able to perform the function he was bred for.  And, yes, even a reputable and responsible breeder who pays close attention to the health of the puppies they breed can help. 

I am not here to tell you that you must have a purebred dog.  What I am trying to emphasize is that there are simple points in the structure that you can learn and look for when you choose any dog-- rescue or purebred.

Knowing what functional structure is will help your companion live a full life.  And knowing what your expectations are for your new dog is imperative when making that selection. Choosing a dog simply because of his color, coat, size or because you feel sorry for him may make both your lives difficult or expensive depending on your expectations of what you want that dog to do for you.

Take your time and do a little research when you head forth to bring a new dog into your family.  The happiness for both of you, your family and the dog, depends on it!

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