In the 40 years that I have been observing, exhibiting in and judging dogs in the Hound Group, the primary change I’ve witnessed has been the presentation and overall handling of the dogs. It seems the idea has been accepted that the most open side gait shown at the fastest speed is correct for all breeds. The breed standards have been forsaken for the win.
Changes in the Breeds
From the 1990s to the early 2000s, there were several dog breeds in the Hound Group that were in real trouble. For the past several years there has been a remarkable improvement in certain breeds, those being:
Afghan Hound. The Afghan Hound, which was my breed, is enjoying a significant comeback in proper size, carriage and character. I still wish today’s exhibitors would be more aware of correct Afghan Hound movement, which does not include a low and wide open side gait. I long for the dog that lifts itself above the ground and appears to float around the ring with head up, tail carried high and sure of who he is.
Borzoi. Borzoi went through a long period of plainness, with flat toplines, poor movement and bad fronts. Today Borzoi have become one of the standouts in the Hound Group and regained their aristocratic stature.
Irish Wolfhound. The Irish Wolfhound went through a period where size was the predominant goal of the breeder. They became straight in front and rear, had sagging toplines, and the ears were big and houndy. The dog handlers moved them at an untypical speed for the breed. I have seen great improvement all over the country with strong toplines, more of a rose ear and moderate angulation.
Dachshund. The three varieties of Dachshunds are not equal to each other in quality. Some of the Miniatures — primarily in the Smooth variety — are toy-like, with round skulls, buggy eyes, short ears and no sternum. The tail set on the Miniature Dachshunds is deplorable. In too many cases, the tail is set high on the dog’s back as opposed to following the natural line of the spine, and some dogs are timid in temperament. I do not see this as much in the Miniature Wirehaired Dachshund variety.
Beagle. In Beagles, both varieties, I have seen great improvement in squareness and a return to the beautiful soft, round eyes.
American Foxhound. The American Foxhound, sadly, has in many cases lost that beautiful, slightly arched topline. This is a characteristic of the American Foxhound breed, and breeders need to work to regain this.
Saluki. The Saluki was one of the hounds that was shown in a natural manner and usually not by a professional handler. I always got the impression that they were lassoed in the field and brought to the show. Salukis have become Afghanized and today are glamorous show dogs with wide open side gait, moving out in front of their handlers and groomed to the nines.
Rhodesian Ridgeback. The Rhodesian Ridgeback had a very tough start in the Hound Group. Many of them were Mastiff-like, but eventually they hounded up. They are a highly recognized breed in the Hound Group and have retained their strength while gaining beauty and grace. The one area that bothers me is temperament; too many Rhodesian Ridgebacks are timid and show sharpness. I am concerned about this, as it is a powerful Hound breed.
Petit Basset Griffon Vendéen. When Petits Bassets Griffons Vendéens first arrived in the Hound Group, they looked like they needed a good bath and grooming. They were definitely not what you would call a glamour breed. Today, this has totally changed. The PBGV has been coiffed and trimmed to American perfection and is a major contender in the Group.
Whippet. The Whippet has gone through enormous changes in the past 30 years. In the earlier years they were a smaller, less imposing, modest, medium-sized dog. Today, the Whippet breed has gained notoriety as one of the top contenders in the Hound Group. This happened very quickly when some of the grand ladies of the breed moved over for the younger, more driven show dog breeders and handlers who quickly saw they could take this breed and mold it into a flashy, fast-moving and highly competitive show dog. Along the way, much breed type has been lost. The beautiful round eye has become almond-shaped; the neck has grown; the beautiful curves have become Greyhound-like; and many now have the speed and carriage that is contrary to the low, ground-covering movement required by the breed standard. A positive change is that temperament has improved.
Remaining True to the Standard
There are a number of Hound Group breeds that have remained true to their breed standards.
Scottish Deerhound. The Scottish Deerhound has remained true to its heritage by remaining the sweet, elegant, dear dog it has always been. Its curves, size, coat and gait are still correct. The breeders should be commended for maintaining the Scottish Deerhound breed as it was meant to be.
Greyhound. The Greyhound, in general, has had its ups and downs, but overall there was never a doubt what this breed was and is. A coursing natural, the Greyhound shows extreme grace in its movement and carriage and is solid in its temperament. A true beauty and athlete of the Hound Group, it lives up to the saying, “Head like a snake, neck like a drake, back like a beam, side like a bream, foot like a cat and tail like a rat.”
Pharaoh Hound. The Pharaoh Hound has, for the most part, remained true to its standard and its function. The primary issue I have with the Pharaoh Hound breed recently is its size. I would like to see the correct size honored because in too many breeds the larger dog is more apt to win in the Group.
Ibizan Hound. The Ibizan Hound gained notoriety after winning back-to-back Groups at the Westminster Kennel Club (2003 and 2004). Since then, Ibizan Hounds have been Group contenders all over the country. Like the Pharaoh Hound, the taller Ibizan has also been rewarded for its incorrect size. The parent club should be accountable for this as well as educating conformation judges regarding the fact that their breed has a straighter shoulder than most of the other sighthounds.
Bloodhound. I think my overall impression of Bloodhounds is that they have remained somewhat true to their breed standard. The standouts have retained enough properly placed folds on their heads to capture scent and have that wonderful elastic gait that is something unique to the breed. I do see, from time to time, dry heads and dogs that tend to be more coonhound-like.
Basset Hound. The Basset Hound has been fortunate in that it has, for the past 40 years, been watched over by breeders who have not allowed them to stray far from the breed standard. On occasion I have seen poor examples, but thankfully this is not the norm. Bravo to the Basset Hound breeders.
Basenji. The Basenji has retained its feral spirit. I hear of judges who are cautious when examining them because for many years they lived up to their reputation of being sharp. Basenji breeders have done a great job of softening them without losing their independent nature. From time to time I would find many off-balanced dogs; now I see proper square build and carriage.
English Foxhound and Harrier. The English Foxhound and Harrier have always represented their breed standards well. The English Foxhound is recognizable as a coarser version of its American cousin, the American Foxhound, and has never, when I have judged the Group, been mistaken for it. The Harrier is the middleman between the Beagle and the English Foxhound. I have always seen proper Harrier breed type in my ring, although you don’t see this beautiful breed often enough. See a breed comparison of the American Foxhound, English Foxhound and Harrier by clicking here>>
Norwegian Elkhound. Norwegian Elkhounds, although dissimilar to the other hounds in the Group, were bred to be hunters and have retained this characteristic throughout this time period. Therefore, as a conformation judge, I assess Norwegian Elkhounds as viable hounds and judge them accordingly.
Since 2006, six breeds have entered the Hound Group: the American English Coonhound, Bluetick Coonhound, Plott, Portuguese Podengo Pequeno, Redbone Coonhound and the Treeing Walker Coonhound, with several more waiting in the wings. The only qualification to judge these breeds is a reading exercise and test. Then you are deemed qualified by the AKC to officiate. Most judges have never seen these breeds and see them for the first time in the breed/Group ring. I feel this is unfair to the breeds and their breeders who have devoted years to establishing their breed stud books only to have judges evaluate them as generic show dogs. I believe the parent clubs of these new breeds owe it to their breeds to impart knowledge to the judges by offering seminars and ringside mentoring. Like many breed clubs, these newer breeds should have literature that can be passed on to AKC judges that will guide them in the history and function of the breed. Over the years, I have been sent literature directly from breed clubs, and this has helped me better understand the nuances of the individual breeds, which in turn makes me a better judge.
Judging the Hound Group has been a fulfilling part of my involvement in the sport of dogs. I have been fortunate to have judged all over the world and seen some of the most famous dogs in my ring. I was honored to judge some of the most prestigious shows, including Westminster Kennel Club, Santa Barbara Kennel Club and The Hound Association of Great Britain to name a few. In our dog world, we hear so much negativity about judging, about show dogs and about the system, but in my experience this has not been the case. Every time I enter the ring, I enjoy being with the dogs and having the opportunity to learn as much as I can. The Hound Group is my heart, and I look forward to every assignment that includes the Hound breeds and Group as an honor.
From the June 2013 issue of Dogs in Review magazine. Purchase the June 2013 digital back issue or subscribe to receive 12 months of Dogs in Review magazine.