All You Need To Know About Dog Conformation

All You Need To Know About Dog Conformation

Author WDF Staff


A large part of the general public thinks dog shows might not be necessary. They believe that parading dogs that are judged is somehow animal abuse. Mind you, some breeds and exhibitors use a lot of hair products for dogs, but that doesn’t mean they don’t have the dog’s best interest in mind. Dog conformation is necessary for all those that understand what conformation is. If you’re interested in learning what conformation is, why it is necessary, and what the problems with it might be, stick with us for a little longer.

What is dog conformation?

The official name for dog shows is conformation. It is called that because, despite some opinions, dog shows are not beauty pageants. They are events that will measure dogs by how close they are to the ideal breed specimen described in the breed standard. Cynology judges have an expert eye, which means they can spot a dog’s weaknesses by looking at them from all angles. During conformation, even the dog’s teeth are checked. The dogs will be graded, and the best will be declared a champion.

Conformation also means an individual dog’s structure. It is defined in a breed standard and described in detail. It will include everything, from the tip of the dog’s nose to the tip of its tail. All breeds we now know and love have a written breed standard that describes what an ideal specimen should look like.

Why is dog conformation necessary?

If you’re not a cynology insider, conformation might seem unnecessary. However, if you ever saw a dog that looks like it’s moving smoothly, looks healthy, and has a great character, you can be pretty sure it has something to do with dog conformation. Most dog owners cannot notice subtle hiccups or potential for weaknesses down the genetic line, but dog breeders and judges sure can.

aussie shepherd dog show

Dog conformation has one goal - to preserve healthy pureblooded dogs.

Despite the many animal rights movements that protest loudly against dog shows, they still remain crucial for healthy dog breeding. Dogs with flaws are often excluded from breeding, which means the “bad” genetic material will not get passed down the breeding line. Through selective breeding, dog breeders managed to “breed out” many genetic diseases and issues specific breeds had. Dogs have never been healthier and have never lived longer than they do now. That is, in part, thanks to conformation, breeders, and cynology judges.

Are all breeds judged the same?

Dogs are very versatile, and they differentiate a lot within one species. Looking at a Great Dane and a Chihuahua might make you think these two animals are not a part of the same species. Dogs are so different because they were bred for various purposes. Some are hunters, others protectors, and some were bred exclusively for companionship. In dog conformation, a judge will account for that. Each breed will be judged by its own standard, and all dog breeds have different expectations.

For example, a Greyhound is a sprinter. Its conformation should be a lot different from the conformation of a Presa Canario, which was bred for protection. Small toy breeds are bred for companionship, and many small Terriers are hunters. Their movement is different; body constitution, heads, jaws, and muscles need to support the dog’s primary purpose. Without conformation, what would happen to the pureblooded breeds we bred for thousands of years is a big question.

BREEDER TIP: A dog’s conformation should be “fit for purpose.” Most dog breeds were developed with a specific purpose, and the body constitution should fit that purpose. The idea behind a Dalmatian or Rhodesian Ridgeback is to cover great distances. That means they need to be muscular and have great stamina. Their body should reflect that. Greyhounds are built for speed, which means they need to cover shorter distances faster. That is why their conformation is as it is.

What are the problems with conformation?

The main problem in dog conformation is exaggeration. While short legs and long bodies in Dachshunds served the purpose of hunting badgers in their dens, somewhere along the breeding line, humans have gone astray. We started exaggerating the positive and wanted characteristics of specific breeds.

soft coated wheaten terrier dog show

For example, the short legs in Dachshunds served a purpose, but at one point, the purpose shifted from hunting to dog show and breeding. If short legs were scored well in conformation, then even shorter legs would be better, right? Flat faces in Pugs and Bulldogs are cute, so dog breeders made them even flatter. These exaggerations were often done to sell puppies from dogs with high scores and dog show titles.

Health issues

The main issues that come from these exaggerations are health issues. Flat faces are cute, but if they are exaggerated, the future puppies will have breathing issues. They cannot exercise during hot weather because their muzzle doesn’t cool the air properly anymore. Perhaps the most telling breeding issue is the modern-day Pug. While there are breeders that are working tirelessly to get the breed back on the healthy path, the overbreeding and irresponsible breeding might have done severe damage to the whole breed.

Luckily, cynology professionals, breeders, veterinarians, and breed advocates are aware of that issue. They are working towards legislation and drafting laws that will allow them to closely monitor and regulate dog breeding. Unfortunately, most unhealthy dogs come from puppy mills, backyard breeders, and individuals who want to make money by using dogs as puppy-making machines.

What can we do?

The best thing dog owners and future dog owners can do is educate themselves. We are aware that money plays a significant role in our lives, but sometimes, going for the cheapest option isn’t the best solution. Typically, there is a very good reason why a puppy is sold cheap. In most cases, the “breeder” doesn’t know what they’re doing. They produce unhealthy puppies and keep the breeding dogs in terrible conditions.

As a future dog owner, you should find out as much as you can about dog breeding. Find out why certain dog breeds cost as much as they cost. Ask what goes into the price of a puppy, and talk to the breeder. You can be sure they will appreciate someone interested in learning about the breed and being a responsible dog owner.

Another reason why we need conformation is that only the healthiest dogs from responsible breeders participate. Lousy dog breeders will not show their dogs. They will not put the effort that goes into participating in dog shows. Conformation will give the breeder a confirmation their dogs are healthy and have a chance of producing healthy puppies. While there might be certain issues with conformations, the benefits still heavily outweigh the drawbacks.

World Dog Finder team

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