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.