Pat Hastings Seminar: “Structure In Action”

On February 3, I drove down to Austin to attend the Pat Hastings seminar on “Structure In Action”. I’d read her book “Tricks of the Trade”, and I’d heard very good things about her “Puppy Puzzle”, so I was really looking forward to it, especially in light of the fact that I’m trying to prepare myself for finding Rakki’s little sister. Since the hypothetical sister will hopefully be my “real” performance dog, I plan to be as educated, aware and hard-line about selecting her as I possibly can.

Pat Hastings is an AKC judge, a longtime owner-handler and breeder (of many different breeds), and an author. She and her late husband developed a method for assessing puppies’ structure which has proven itself extremely accurate over many years of testing with thousands of dogs.
One thing I found very interesting was that Pat starts with assessing temperament (a subject very dear to my heart), and she does a single test which she feels gives her as much information as is needed to assess basic temperament (she holds the puppy gently and then slowly turns it over and cradles the puppy on its back in her arms to assess its reaction – fearful puppies will grab on for dear life and avoid eye contact, aggressive puppies with squirm and fight and sometimes even attack – what she likes to see is a puppy who relaxes and seeks eye contact, she says that’s the sign of a puppy who is confident and interested in working with people).

Here are some of my point-form notes (these will also appear in the newsletter at some point):

  • - you can only accurately evaluate puppies for structure at 8 weeks of age, within 3 days either side of the exactly 8 weeks mark. This is the only age at which the bones are closely similar in proportion to the way they will be in adulthood, and it is before the puppy has had enough time walking around to begin to develop musculature to compensate for its physical faults. As she says in her “Tricks of the Trade” book: you should evaluate a puppy at 8 weeks, and then basically not look at it critically again (for structure) until it is fully grown, or you will drive yourself crazy with second-guessing your initial assessment. You cannot evaluate bone, size or substance accurately at 8 weeks of age.
  • - you should never evaluate puppies where they live, they should be evaluated by someone who is a stranger to them (especially important for temperament, but also because people who are familiar with them may have become accustomed to them and not actually see the structure). Ideally, you should also have the puppies evaluated by someone outside the breed, because they will likely have fewer preconceived notions.
  • - you need to evaluate for breed type in addition to structure and temperament when evaluating for your breeding program. The soundest dog in the world in terms of structure and temperament is still not a good breeding candidate if it’s lacking breed type.
  • - eliminate the “pick of the litter” idea – don’t evaluate puppies against each other, evaluate them against the breed standard
  • - evaluating breed type:
    • - if any other breed comes to mind when you look at the dog, the dog is incorrect
    • - if all you can see is the dog’s head, you should be able to tell what breed it is
    • - if you can only see the dog’s silhouette, you should be able to tell what breed it is
  • - even in toy dogs and pets, structure is very important: injuries and discomfort from poor structure can have effects on temperament
  • - the only differences between breeds in terms of structure is the angles, proportions and size of the various bones, and regardless of breed (unless the standard says otherwise), 50% of the dog should be above the elbow and 50% below
  • - keep faults in perspective and evaluate them with regard to the breed’s purpose (e.g. high-set shoulders are a serious problem in a drafting/sledding breed, since it causes problems with the harness; shoulderblades too close together is a serious problem in a breed which needs to put its nose on the ground, like scenthounds, since a dog can only lower its head until its shoulderblades touch; ewe neck is a serious problem in a water retrieving breed, since a dog with a ewe neck cannot swim well if at all, and definitely cannot swim while carrying something)
  • - a dog should not be able to raise its head further back than five ticks off vertical (11:55 on a clock face) – if the dog’s neck bends further back than this, the dog is ewe necked.
  • - a truly cowhocked dog (as opposed to a dog who just stands cowhocked) has more muscle mass on this inside of the hind leg than the outside. A truly barrelhocked/spreadhocked/openhocked dog has more muscle on the outside of the hind leg than the inside.
  • - you can only have as much muscle as there is bone surface to attach it to – the straighter the shoulder/smaller the prosternum, the less muscle you can have. All the muscles which attach the upper arm to the ribcage attach at the prosternum (very important in dogs which need to jump, like agility dogs)
  • - all mammals have 7 vertebrae in their necks, and in dogs, all 7 should be in front of the shoulderblade
  • - Basic structural evaluation:
    • - The entire head should be above an imaginary line drawn along the dog’s topline.
    • - The entire neck and head should be in front of an imaginary line drawn through the center of the front leg.
    • - An imaginary line drawn straight down from the point of the buttock should touch the tips of the toes.
  • - Pat has a specific way of picking up puppies to evaluate them, you will need to watch her DVD or read her book to learn it
  • - knees should point toward the inside of the elbow – outward-pointing knees vastly increase the chances of a torn cruciate
  • - if you see a black ring around the outside edge of the eye’s iris, the eye colour will likely darken, if the eye colour is the same all the way to the edge of the iris, the eye colour will likely stay the way it is
  • - if a puppy’s legs look worse with weight on them than when the puppy is suspended (using Pat’s method), the “fault” is likely simply a problem with food, things like knuckling over and easty-westy fronts are almost always nutritional. Changing food can normally solve these problems in a week or so, but if the nutritional issue isn’t resolved before the growth plates close, the problem will be permanent. Pat pointed out that in a “natural” situation, a puppy would eat milk, then would get regurgitated food (i.e. food which has already lost some nutrients), then would get the leavings from a kill (i.e. the lower-calorie less-choice parts of the animal), and would only get the high-calorie/all-you-can-eat food when it was old enough to expend the energy actually hunting the food itself. So feeding a high-calorie premium puppy food is exactly the opposite of what we should be doing. She says that almost all puppies thrive and grow properly on a high-quality adult diet. She also cautions against feeding raw until puppies are at least 4 months old, because it’s just too high in calories unless you are VERY diligent about it.
  • - any breeding program should be like a card table: it has four legs and all must be balanced. The “four legs” are: type, temperament, structure and health.

Ultimately, I strongly recommend Pat’s seminar to anyone who breeds, might breed one day, has performance dogs, or just wants to expand their dog knowledge. I also recommend Pat’s DVD, although it’s not as easy to understand without having attended the seminar.

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