.........Or does my dog ConFORM to the Standard? WHY is it important ?
Are you one of those people who couldn't care less about having a "show dog?" The Standard for a breed is written for a reason. Usually it is because over the years of developing a recognizable breed (whether it be horses, cattle or dogs), the breeders realized that there were various bits and pieces of a puzzle.
For example: a straight up-and-down shoulder, lacking angulation at the joints, creates a shorter and choppier stride in an animal. On a horse, this would translate to pounding rough ride. A short stride means that the animal uses more energy in traveling the same distance than does a better-angulated individual who has a longer reach and drive. A huge head means that the neck and shoulders have more strain put on the muscles used to balance and support that head.
A dog that uses his teeth to encourage cattle to move shouldn't be too small or too big. A dog that is too tall would tend to have trouble biting low. Rather than bite at an ankle, he might just grab that which is within reach... like an udder, or the flank. These small things are never evident at first, but over the years of dealing with these "small" things, the early breeders aimed for a dog that tended to be a "middle of the road" individual. Thence came the term "nothing in exaggeration." A dog that conforms to the standard SHOULD structurally be able to go out and compete as a show dog as well as work the pastures.
A dog that conforms to the standard will have all he needs structurally to do any job you set before him. A dog that is not structurally correct may still be able to do the job and even do it well, but in the long run, he will eventually begin to break down somewhere.
If his feet are flat, how long will it be before he is crippled? If his shoulder is straight, or his hocks are set wrong, he will not have the reach in front or the rear drive to move at an efficient functional pace for the day. In other words, a short-strided dog will take many more steps than a dog with a reaching stride. He will be making twice the effort and burning double the energy. A heavy "bunched muscle" dog will tire and overheat faster than the dog with the longer leaner type muscling.
The Dingo, Wolf, and Coyote are examples of lean-muscled animals who travel endless miles.
There are certain aspects of conformation that are correct for almost all breeds. For instance,
 The head and neck should always be above the topline.
 The shoulder should lay back to a nearly 45 degree angle.
 The three points at the withers, point of shoulder, and at the elbow should be nearly equidistant.
 The three points at the point of hip, the knee/stifle and the hock should be nearly equidistant.
 The head, the shoulder and the hip will be nearly the same in length.
 The dogs front legs should be almost under his withers, not under his ears.
 The hock should be no higher than 1/3 the total height of his rear assembly.
A dog involved in Flyball, Frisbee, or Agility competition may go great for several years and then quit cold on you when he begins to hurt in joints that are incorrectly set for the wear and tear they receive.
If you are not familliar with correct conformation (or any conformation), we encourage you to learn more. There are plenty of professed experts out there, but we definitely urge you to check out Pat Hastings' method of evaluating structure. She has illustrated books that the novice as well as the experienced can learn from. Pat has her lecture schedule online also. Who knows -- she may be in your neck of the woods next month. Her website is www.dogfolk.com.
Evaluate the conformation on your dog to make sure he is built correctly for the job you are asking him to do. A correctly made dog will stay sound longer than a dog that is incorrect. You will be happier in the long run and so will he.
--Grace Harper, Silver Park Stumpys