Published in The Canine Chronicle in Sept. 2005
Dog judging and X-rays
By Dr. Dan Buchwald
I was attending radiology classes at vet school when I first had the chance to see a VHS tape by respected dog
authority Rachel Page Elliot. The tape was about the dynamics of canine gait and used a technique that employed
X-rays to produce a film rather than just a single still picture.
It was fascinating to see the canine structure in actual motion and to see the coordinated movement of the bones as a
dog trotted on a treadmill and his gait was recorded continuously.
As the film progressed, my feelings were a bit different, and with all due respect to the huge contribution of Mrs.
Elliot to the sport of dogs, I did not think that the film was stirring me in the right direction. On top of that I also
felt that the excessive exposure of the dogs to the X-rays was harmful and that outweighed the benefits of the
Please, don’t crucify me for disagreeing with that particular line of work of Mrs. Elliot. I’d like to express in the
next paragraphs a different approach that I hope will give some food for thought.
I believe that the very essence of dog judging is the result of a fine blend of art and science. These ingredients have
to be perfectly balanced in a judge’s mind in order to produce sound results. Excess of one will come at the expense
of the other.
In order to maintain the proper balance in judging dogs one must realize that what is being evaluated is, in many cases the surface of the animal, the so called
exterior and to do that properly, X-rays and other imaging techniques will not help, on the contrary, they will absolutely hinder by generating confusion.
The most glaring example of this is the description of eye shapes in the different breeds. Some are circular, others are almond shaped others are triangular and so
forth. Obviously, all these animals have perfectly espheric eyes if we were to go past the surface, nonetheless the shape of the eyes as described in different
standards refer to the shape created by the upper and lower eyelids when the eyes are open and the dog is fully alert. Even though this is a very obvious statement,
it exemplifies the importance of evaluating the exterior of the dog.
Another example of the concept is the fact that many dogs have the most dead-straight top lines, however the spinal column underneath is never assembled as a
straight line, it has natural curves that are anatomically necessary and normal.
A very important structure addressed by Mrs. Elliot is the discovery that the scapula does not ever lay at a 45 degree angle with the horizontal, neither is the
humerus in a 90 degree angle with the scapula. That statement does not exclude the fact that the shoulders can, and often do lay at a 45-degree angle with the
horizontal and the upper arm can, indeed form a 90-degree angle with the shoulder. Please notice the different in nomenclature. I absolutely differentiate the
scapula from the shoulders and the humerus from the upper arm.
The scapula and the humerus are the bones that along with muscles, tendons and ligaments and skin form the assembly that determines the front angulation.
When you are judging dogs’ fronts, you try to establish the point at the withers that will determine the tip of the shoulder, next the point of the shoulder is
accessed and thirdly the elbow will determine 3 points and the lines connecting these 3 points will determine an angle that ideally, in many breeds should be close
to 90 degrees. With a bit of training and some “eye for dogs” this can be obtained with ease.
Now to be absolutely precise and correct, angles are mathematical parameters that are determined by the intersection of two straight lines. The shortest distance
between two points is a straight line. Bones on the other hand are not straight. The parameters used to evaluate angles, start with finding specific points,
determining the connecting straight lines and evaluating the manner in which they intersect – those are the angles you are looking for. You can find them on the
dog’s surface and not on an X-ray.
Please let me underline that the correct point to determine the bottom point of the upper arm is the elbow, which is a part of the ulna, a bone of the forearm. If
you are trying to evaluate the front angulation by limiting to the humerus you are just knocking at the wrong door.
The questionability of X-rays gets even clearer when we take a look at the rear angulation. The croup does have some close relationship with the major bones that
structure it, the illium, ischium and pubis, or simply the pelvic bone. The first point that determines rear angulation is the protuberance of the hipbone, next is the
rearmost projection of the hipbone and third is the knee joint. The drawing below shows clearly that that angle barely acknowledges the presence of the femur, yet
for judging purposes the rear angle, as we defined it can very well be in balance with the front angle and be of 90 degrees too.
The positioning of the actual bones does have an impact on the angles and overall canine conformation, there is no doubt about it, however they are not the exact
parameters to evaluate dogs properly.
Please let me be redundant and stress this point one more time: Angulation as defined for dog judging is evaluated on the surface of the dog by determining the
key points of structure, the straight lines those points generate and the resulting angles that arise from their intersection.
A great book to find more about angles and balance as well as the fundamentals of movement is the original Dog Steps by Mrs. Rachel Page Elliot. That book,
along with Lyons’ The Dog in Action is a great sources to expand our knowledge in the basics of canine conformation and evaluation.
X-rays and MRIs are very useful methods of evaluating anatomical structures and pathological changes they may suffer. However, as tools for perfecting dog
judging they have little or no importance as they focus on different parameters and ultimately generate the misconception that a scientific tool may replace the
balance between art and science of dog judging.