There are so many technical terms used in canine conditioning, it can be overwhelming. So I decided to make a Glossary of canine anatomy and physiology terms as related to conditioning that include a visual description, as well as some helpful tips and tricks to aid in recall.
Anatomy refers to the structures of the body… The bones, muscles, joints, etc. Physiology refers to the how those structures work together. For our purposes here… anatomy is “what moves” and physiology is “how it moves”.
In order to talk about what moves (anatomy) and how things move (physiology), first it’s important to talk about the termonology used to define that motion, and various landmarks used. The canine body can produce movements along 3 planes.
Canine Anatomical Planes & Location Termonology
Median Plane: Cuts through the spine, dividing the dog into the right and left halves. In humans this is the sagittal plane… sagittal = sides like Saggitarius. Flexion and extension are the movements that happen along this plane.
Example: in a trot, the dog’s legs track parallel to the median plane
Dorsal Plane: Cuts through the spine, dividing the dog into top and bottom. The top of the dog is referred to as dorsal (like a dolphin’s dorsal fin), and the bottom is called ventral. Lateral spine flexion, internal and external rotation are the movements that happen along the dorsal plane.
Example: When a dog brings their nose to tail, that movement happens along the dorsal plane.
Transverse Plane: Cuts through the spine, dividing the dog into front and back. Spine rotation, abduction and adduction are the movements that happen along the transverse plane.
Example: When a dog lifts their leg out to the side to pee, this motion is happening along the transverse plane.
Proximal: The part that’s closer to the spine. In proximity to. This term is usually used when referring to two body parts in relation to one another. (Proximal and distal are opposites)
Example: The shoulder is proximal to the elbow
“Proximal” is also used when differentiating between two parts of the same bone or muscle
Example: The proximal aspect of the bicep is the part that’s closer to the shoulder.
Example: The proximal aspect of the femur is that part that is closer to the pelvis.
Distal: The part that’s farther away from the spine. Distant to. This term is usually used when referring to two body parts in relation to one another.
Example: The rear foot is distal to the stifle
“Distal” is also used when differentiating between two parts of the same bone or muscle
Example: The tip of the tail is referring to the most distal aspect of the tail, where the base of the tail is the most proximal aspect.
Medial / Medially: Toward the middle. Can be used in reference to motion or to a location of the body. (Medial and Lateral are opposites)
Example: The right foot is abducted too far out to the side. Move it medially to bring it into alignment.
Example: My dog has an injury to the medial aspect of the shoulder.
Lateral / Laterally: Toward the side. Can be used in reference to motion or to a location of the body.
Example: Adjust your placement of reward laterally during horizontal head nods to improve the curve through the neck.
Example: When heeling, my dog bumps me with the lateral aspect of her shoulder.
Cranial: Toward the head/cranium. Can be used in reference to motion or to a location of the body. (Cranial and Caudal are opposites)
Example: When the rear leg comes into hip flexion, the stifle moves cranially.
Example: The girth strap on my dog’s harness sits too cranial for my liking, and is rubbing in her armpits.
Caudal: Toward the tail. Can be used in reference to motion or to a location of the body.
Example: These foot targets are positioned too closely together and the hocks aren’t vertical. Moving the rear foot target caudally should help bring the hocks to vertical.
Example: Let’s adjust this harness so the girth strap sits more caudally, away from the armpits.
Dorsal: Referring to the top side of the body (like a shark’s dorsal fin) / top line area. (Dorsal and Ventral are opposites)
Example: I don’t prefer this particular harness because the leash clip hits the dorsal aspect of my dog’s spine and she finds it uncomfortable.
Ventral: Referring to the belly side / under line area.
Example: To help the core engage, and the top line lift, sometimes it can be helpful to tap the ventral aspect of the dog’s abdomin.
Canine Anatomy: Movement Terminology
To move a limb away from the midline, usually out to the side. A child is abducted from their home is “taken away”, a limb that’s abducted is “taken away” from the midline.
This is an example of hip abduction.
To move a limb closer to the midline. ADD-uction ADDs the legs back together.
This is an example of hip adduction.
Technically the opening of a joint angle. Can refer to the joints in the limbs, or the joints in the spine.
In the spine it’s an arch / sway back / dip behind the withers. Sometimes referred to as a “weak topline”.
In the limbs **in general** and in layman’s terms this refers to “straightening” of the joints.
This is an example of hip extension.
Technically the closing of a joint angle. Can refer to the joints in the limbs, or the joints in the spine.
In the spine it’s a rounding / hunch / rise over the loin. Sometimes referred to as a “roach or roach back”.
In the limbs **in general** and in layman’s terms this refers to “bending” of the joints.
This is an example of hip flexion.
Refers mainly to inward rotation of the ball and socket joint in the hip and shoulder. But can also occur to a small extent in the stifle and in the lower forelimb.
Refers mainly to outward rotation of the ball and socket joint in the hip and shoulder. But can also occur to a small extent in the stifle and in the lower forelimb.
Refers to the rotation of one spinal vertebrae in relation to its neighbor or neighboring vertebrae along the transverse plane. This is most common in the canine cervical spine (neck), but can also occur in the TL junction or tail.
Refers to the bending of the spine to the side along the dorsal plane and can occur along the entirety of the canine spine.
Canine Anatomy: Bones and Joints
Thoracic: The part of the spine that makes up the ribcage. Dogs have 13 thoracic vertebrae.
Where the different portions of the spine meet is called a “junction”. So where the cervical and thoracic spine meet is the “CT Junction”, where the thoracic and lumbar spine meet is the “TL Junction” and where the lumbar spine and the sacrum meet is the “LS Junction”.
Thoracic Limb Anatomy
The term thoracic limb refers to the front leg, and is often abbreviated “TL”. It contains the shoulder blade, shoulder joint, upper arm bone, elbow, forearm bones, wrist, foot bones, and toes.
Dogs tend to carry 60% of their weight in the thoracic limb… more if they are weak in the core or rear end. This leaves the joints in the TL at a higher risk of impact related injury, especially for sport and working dogs.
Pelvic Limb Anatomy
The term pelvic limb refers to the rear leg, and is often abbreviated “PL”. It contains the pelvis, hip, upper thigh bone, knee, shin, ankle, foot bones and toes.
Dogs often times need to be taught to be aware of their rear end, through implementing rear end awareness exercises. The most common orthopedic injury in canines is to the CCL, a ligament in the stifle joint.