Conformation — literally, the structure of the dog — is important. It’s so important that the show ring takes it’s name from that: big-c Conformation. But conformation is not just important for show dogs, it’s important for all dogs, and especially performance dogs. Without proper conformation — without proper structure — your performance dog’s performance is impacted. Conformation is half of what determines your dog’s ability to do his job (the other half is temperament — drive).
A Rhodesian Ridgeback who is straight in the shoulder isn’t going to be able to trot as effortlessly as a dog with moderate shoulder angulation, which means they won’t be able to get out in the field and trot as long as a dog who is well put together. Poor conformation affects the straight-shouldered dog’s ability to do his job. A Borzoi who is too long in the loin isn’t going to be able to course as effectively as he should be able to. Balance, too, is important. A Dalmatian who is straight shouldered but well-angled in the rear isn’t going to be able to get his front end out of the way of his back end effectively; in order to coordinate the drive coming from his rear, he will have to adopt a high-kneed hackney gait to keep his front feet in the air long enough to not trip over himself. This uses more energy and is more tiring than it would be if he had balanced front and rear angulation, resulting in a dog that tires faster than he otherwise should.
Too often I see comments from my performance dog friends that indicate they’re ignoring conformation in favor of drive, but you need both. You need a dog who is built to do the thing you want him to do, and the desire to do it. All the predatory instinct in the world won’t help your dog course better, if he literally can’t get out of the way of his own feet.
The best breeders want to make dogs capable of being titled “on both ends.” In other words, they want titles that are placed in front of the name (typically this is a conformation title or a working title — not a PERFORMANCE title), and titles that go behind the name (these are usually performance or obedience titles). I’ve attended lure coursing events with Jackson’s breeder and watched his dam and litter sister tear up the field. (Unfortunately, Jackson was more like his sire than his dam, and couldn’t care less about “the bunnies.) Several of her dogs have attained coursing titles in addition to their conformation titles. Other breeders, show breeders even, who aren’t interested in competing in performance events themselves make a point of sending their dogs to performance homes, just to prove that they’re doing it right.
Don’t buy into the notion that, for performance dogs, all you need is drive. Conformation matters. It matters a lot.