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  • Writer's pictureComplete Canine

How the Show Dog’s muscular system influences their success

With the world’s biggest dog show – Crufts – just around the corner, thousands of owners from around the world will be preparing their dogs to put their best feet forward in the show ring, hoping that theirs will be the one to catch all of the judges’ eyes.

Cocker Spaniel being walked around the show ring
A healthy muscular system is essential to the show dog's best performance

When assessing each dog, the judge is comparing it to the breed standard i.e. how a particular breed should look and what its temperament should be like. More specifically they are assessing each dog’s:

  • conformation (shape and structure) for its breed

  • condition / appearance

  • posture / stance

  • movement (gait) which should be fluid with plenty of reach and drive

  • attitude (the character typically attributed to the breed)

Why muscle matters

Every dog has around 700 muscles, which make up around 45% of most dogs’ overall body weight. It is the muscles that enable a dog to move, acting as levers upon the bones.

The condition of our show dog’s muscular system has a significant part to play in enabling them to conform to the breed standard, and therefore being viewed favourably by the judge. A muscular strain (a tear to a muscle caused by overstretching it), for example, may prevent your dog from being able to sustain a particular standing position for any length of time; inhibit their ability to push powerfully forward from the hindquarters or reach out with the forelegs, and; may cause them to react aggressively towards the judge if they touch your dog at the site of fresh and painful tissue damage.

Having your dog’s soft tissues assessed and treated by an appropriate canine professional as part of your show preparation, can both help to identify any issues which may compromise your dog’s performance, and help to optimise the good health of your dog’s muscles and associated soft tissues, which could just be the key to making them stand out from the crowd!

Briard standing in show ring
Optimising the good health of your dog’s muscles and associated soft tissues, can help them to stand out from the crowd

Why might the show dog be experiencing muscular issues?

Sources of muscle pain and dysfunction include:

  • Strains (tears to a muscle caused by sudden or repetitive overstretching)

  • Tissue fatigue

  • Bruising

  • Trigger points (painful areas in a muscle where some of the muscle’s fibres have got stuck in a contracted state)

  • Restricted fascia (the connective tissue which wraps around other tissues within the body, such as the muscles, bones and organs, becomes stuck to and tightens around them inhibiting their action

Causes of muscle pain and dysfunction include:

  • Conformation – the way a particular breed or individual is put together physically can make them more prone to issues e.g. long-backed breeds like Dachshunds and Basset Hounds are at increased risk of back problems

  • Confinement for extended periods of time (e.g. in a crate, show housing or car)

  • Not warming-up the muscles prior to performance activity

  • Slips and falls

  • Overuse (too much duration and / or intensity of activity)

  • Misuse (when compensating for a weakness elsewhere in the body)

  • Collisions (e.g. with other dogs when playing, running into furniture etc)

  • Inappropriate activity with other dogs or humans (e.g. being rough-housed by bigger or stronger dogs, repetitive ball-chasing or over-vigorous tug play with humans)

Pomeranian on the stand being handled by a judge
Not weight-bearing fully through a limb can be a sign of injury to a muscle

How muscular issues can present themselves in the show dog

Dogs are very good at hiding pain. Evolutionarily it makes good sense not to draw attention to yourself if you’re injured because predators will target weaker animals.

Even very stoic dogs however cannot conceal all of the clues that giveaway the fact that they are in discomfort.

So, coming back to our Crufts competitor, let’s look at how the show dog may indicate that they are experiencing muscular restriction, injury and pain in relation to the standards by which the judge is assessing them:

Condition / appearance

  • Dull coat

  • Coat not lying flat

  • Fasciculations (twitching) of the skin / muscles

  • Asymmetrical muscle tone and / or bulk

  • Lethargic

Posture / stance

  • Lack of balance

  • Unable to weight bear

  • Unable to stand squarely

  • Uneven topline

  • Roached (arched) or sway (dipped) back

  • Supination or pronation of the feet

  • Incorrect tail carriage

Movement / gait

  • Lame / limping

  • Lack of reach and / or drive

  • Crabbing / sidewinding

  • Pacing

  • Pinning

  • Paddling

  • Winging

  • Hackneying

  • Single tracking

It should be noted that some gait patterns are typical of certain breeds or may be the result of conformation rather than muscular issues, however it is prudent to have a dog assessed for any soft tissue restriction or discomfort.


  • Anxious

  • Restless

  • Aggressive

  • Reluctant to allow the judge ‘to go over them’

In terms of overall performance, the dog may present an unwillingness to show, lack concentration in the ring and generally move and posture poorly.

Bearded Collie laying on show bench with first place certificate
One of my clients winning Reserve Best of Breed and placing First in a pre-Crufts show this week

How massage can benefit the show dog

It is clear therefore that the condition of the show dog’s muscular system and other soft tissues plays a crucial role in their being able to comply with their breed standard, and to enjoy performing in the ring.

Your local Canine Massage Guild therapist can help to ensure that your dog is in the best possible physical and psychological condition to be assessed by the judges through:

  • Locating and identifying areas of soft tissue restriction and injury

  • Utilising appropriate massage techniques to effectively target and treat areas of soft tissue pain, discomfort and restriction

  • Delivering a whole body treatment to optimise your dog’s overall tissue health, condition and performance potential, even where no injuries or restrictions are present

  • Providing you with home care advice to help maintain your dog’s good soft tissue condition and minimise the risk of future injuries

The Canine Massage Guild will once again have a stand at Crufts where you can talk to Guild therapists about your dog and how massage could help to improve their health and well-being, and if you have your dog with you at the show, do bring them along for a free muscular health check too! You can find the Guild in Hall 1, Stand 24.

To find your local Canine Massage Guild therapist, you can search for therapists in your area using the Therapist Register on the Guild website at

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“Restore, maintain, enhance” with Complete Canine Massage Therapy.


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