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Dog Anatomy

Canine Physique - The Body of your Dog

Because dogs have been selectively bred for thousands of years, there are a tremendous variety of body types and sizes. There are two-pound Chihuahuas, 180-pound Mastiffs and dogs of every size and shape in between. Some dog breeds, such as the Dachshund, have short, stubby legs while other breeds, such as the Borzoi, appear to walk on stilts. With over 400 recognized breeds, the physical possibilities are enormous.

There are some factors, however, that are true for all dogs, regardless of their genetic predisposition. All dogs are quadrupeds that originally evolved from wolf-like creatures domesticated by prehistoric man. Dogs are classified as digitigrade carnivores because they walk on their toes. (Bears, raccoons and weasels walk on their heels.) Because of their "tip toe" leg structure, the dog is able to cover long distances at a fast pace.

Dogs have supple spines that make them extremely agile. Because of the spine's flexibility, dogs can move their hind legs far forward when running, giving them substantial power and speed. Since dogs do not have the canine equivalent of a collarbone, the joints between their front legs are extremely flexible, an advantage while twisting and turning through underbrush in the pursuit of prey.

Breeds such as the Greyhound, have well muscled, long legs and deep chests for speed and endurance. Even breeds with short legs, such as the Basset Hound, can outrun most humans. The powerful muscles in a dog's hind legs give them an incredible ability to jump. Many can leap three times their own height. (Although all dogs like to jump, it can damage the joints and ligaments of giant dog breeds and overweight dogs.)

Although sometimes limited by their size and specifically bred bodies, dogs have great stamina and strength to track and hunt prey. Some can run and work all day without stopping. No matter how delicate or seemingly domesticated a dog may appear, all dogs remain strongly connected to their majestic lupine roots.

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