Canine Conformation - What to look out for in a static assessment!

A static assessment is viewing the animal while standing still and ideally standing square. However, if your horse or dog consistently won’t stand square i.e. moving a specific limb/s forward or back or constantly shifting weight they are likely trying to tell you something!

It is important to note the conformation of a dog can be very breed specific (even more so than horses) this doesn’t mean just because it is common in the breed its not causing potential issues.

When looking at the cranial (front) view of the dog and what do you look out for during a static assessment:

When assessing a dog I find it easiest to work top to bottom so head to paws!

Head carriage:

High head carriage – A high head carriage can lead to a lot of tension in the neck and back, this is particularly common in anxious, obedience and small dogs as they spend a lot of time walking looking up at their owners. This will also shift weight off the forelimbs onto the hind if wanting to relieve pressure. ( Image below is a common posture that can cause tension in the neck)

Low head carriage – A low head carriage will shift the weight off the hindlimbs to relive pressure if painful which is often seen in dogs that suffer from hip dysplasia and cruciate ligament injuries. It can also indicate cervical disc disease and back pain. ( Have a look below at the spinal section to see how thoracolumbar back pain can lead to a low head carriage)

Dogs with a low head carriage and that load the forelimbs it is recommended to use a collar over a harness as it has been shown that harnesses increase forelimb loading.

Muscle symmetry of the neck and chest:

Hypertrophic (over development) and atrophied (under development) muscles of the neck and chest help to indicate if a dog is reluctant to use a particular limb correctly or favouring a particular side. If they are favouring a particular side the muscles on that side will be hypertrophic due to increased use and if they are reluctant to use a particular limb that side with be atrophied due to disuse.

Forelimb placement and conformation:

Straight: a straight conformation is most desired, where a straight line is drawn from the the boney landmark superglenoid tubercle of the scapular (red dot) to meet the middle of the paw with no deviation of the limb.

Pigeoned-toed (carpal varsus): from the carpals down the limb deviates from the midline and points inwards or “toed-in”. This is often paired with a base wide stance and commonly seen in the bulldog breed.

Toed out (carpal valgus): from the carpals down the limb deviates from the midline and points outwards, away from the midline. This is often paired with a base narrow stance which is often seen in breeds with long legs and small set chests such as the saluki and Doberman.

Base narrow: this is where the forelimbs lie within the inside of the midline which can lead to reduced support of the elbow. This conformation is often undesirable for working dogs as it has been found to have an effect on reducing forelimb protraction and retraction as well as endurance.

Base wide: this is where the forelimbs lie outside the midline and is often combined with a large barrel chest. A wide stance can indicate a variety of issues such as arthritis as they are trying to relieve pressure on a particular joint or side or a hind end issue such as hip dysplasia as they take more weight on the front limbs the stance widens. This is also a common conformation of breeds such as Bulldogs.

Bowed front: the forelimbs are curved out at the elbows and then curves back inside the midline at the carpals giving a bowed appearance. This can be caused by a genetic deformity, nutritional deficiency or disease. This conformation is often seen in breeds such as the Pekingese.

Lateral (side) view

All dog breeds will generally fit it three categories for height proportions, balance and leg length:


Off square


These need to be taken into consideration when assessing although seen as normal for the breed, they may predispose them to certain pathologies.

Head carriage:

You can also view the head carriage from this view too! Read above for more information.

Shoulder conformation:

Shoulders are often judged by their angle

90⁰: Common in achondroplasia breeds (developmental abnormality of the bones and cartilage) such as Dachshunds, Alaskan Malamutes and Basset Hounds. This means the elbow then lies close to the rib cage and is predisposed to conditions such as arthritis as well as having a direct effect on the stride length due to reduced space for muscle attachment and joint movement.

110⁰: Known as the working dog angle in breeds such as retrievers and setters as it allows a wide open angle which is most efficient for trotting. This sits the elbow just below the rib cage allowing for that longer, fluid movement.

130⁰: Providing an even larger open angle this is the most desired conformation to achieve the most efficient double suspension gallop (video below) for racing breeds such as grey hounds and saluki

Forelimb conformation:

Camped out: the forelimbs lie in front of the mid line. This leads to a shallow or lack of a chest, high head carriage and offset elbows.

Camped under: the forelimbs lie behind the mid line. This leads to a deep set chest, a short neck and a low head carriage.


Kyphotic: Also known as roached back is where the spine is raised up in an arch shape, set higher than the rest of the spine. This can be caused by trauma such as spinal fractures and IVDD, it can also be congenital (inheriting the conformation from parents) but is normally associated with pain.

Lordotic: Also known as swaybacked this is where there is a dip in the spine, set lower than the rest of the spine. Dogs breed for a curled tail are predisposed to lordosis as there is a risk the trait is present in other areas of the spine. This often leads to the development if arthritis in the area.

Hindlimb conformation:

Post-legged: The appearance of a straight stifle (knee) and hock (ankle) a more extreme version of this would also be known as under angulation or “camped under”, imagine the legs placed further under the body. This places strain on the tendons and ligaments surrounding the stifle and hock which can lead to strains and sprains such as torn CCL. A common conformation and injury in terriers.

Straight: Known as balanced angulation the foot sits well underneath the hind end.

Over angulation: An exaggeration of the angle of the stifle in particular as well as the hock. This lowers the hind end and changes the angle of the pelvis which predisposes the individual to back pain and injuries, similar to a sickle hock conformation.

Sickle hocked: The hocks resemble a bowed or curved shape instead of extended. This has a direct effect on the amount of power provided by the hindlimbs, which is the driver of movement, due to the fact the hock is “locked” into position.

Caudal (behind) view:

Tail carriage:

The way a dog holds its tail can be a good indicator for lameness. If a tail is held to one side consistently this can indicate that the opposite limb is either painful or appear lame when assessed dynamically. It could also be an indication to tense and tight muscles pulling the tail over to one side. However, an unusual tail position can also be congenital (genetics make up from birth) or because of a break or fracture. In the image below the tail sits to the left rather than central.

Muscle symmetry of the hindlimbs:

Hypertrophic (over development) and atrophied (under development) muscles of mainly the gluteals and hamstrings help to indicate if a dog is reluctant to use a particular limb correctly or favouring a particular side. If they are favouring a particular side the muscles on that side will be hypertrophic due to increased use and if they are reluctant to use a particular limb that side with be atrophied due to disuse. In the image below the dog has severe atrophy to his left hindlimb hamstrings likely due to disuse as he is reluctant to weight bare the limb which can be seen in his stance.

Hindlimb conformation:

Base wide: this is where the hindlimbs sit outside the midline. This can lead to over developed gluteals and hamstring muscles often resulting in a shorter stride.

Base narrow: the hindlimbs sit inside the midline. This often causes the over development of the adductor muscles (inside thigh muscles) dues to overuse. Often leading to a circumduction movement during locomotion.

Cow hocks: the hock which is the equivalent to the human ankle (as animal anatomy is based on a human on all fours, see image below) are turned inwards from the midline. This can effect the hocks ability to extend and restrict movement which can increase the chance of luxating patella. They often catch their hocks on each other which can cause grazes and hair loss.

Bow hocks: the hocks are turned outwards, away from the midline so the opposite to cow hocked. This can be due to weaknesses of the hindlimb such as the uneven bone ratio or overdeveloped hamstrings. This can restrict movement and give a ‘waddling’ appearance during locomotion where the hindlimbs are not inline with the forelimbs in front.

When buying puppies it is much harder to judge they’re conformation than it is with horse, as it much more common to buy a matured horse than an adult dog. Puppies have a lot of growing and changing to do, this is why it is so important to see what both parents look like and in person, definitely the mother if not the father, to get an idea on how a puppy will grow.