When I set out to define “breed type” — the two most frequently spoken words in the dog fancier’s lexicon — I found myself looking back at the great dogs I had seen through the years, as well as poring over the pages of dog show history. Before I could begin to write Solving the Mysteries of Breed Type, I had to narrow down as closely as possible the qualities the greats of our many dog breeds possessed.
I came to some interesting conclusions. As different as the great dogs of the various breeds were in the final analysis, all were highly respected for their classic combination of:
- Breed character
I came to the conclusion that if dog breed type meant anything at all, it meant that dogs that were given a page in history not only possessed these five elements of breed type, they by and large excelled in them. Did this mean they were perfection in all respects? Of course not. Each had its individual flaws or shortcomings. But without a doubt they shared that one thing in common: They all had the most of the best in their day.
The Big Question
It seems there is little question with the foregoing, but if there is one of the elements of breed type that can engender questions, it is movement. Is it possible for a dog to be typey without correct movement? The answer to that question could be yes if our task was simply to evaluate a dog stacked or standing in a well-taught position.
They all look quite glorious, you know — the short-backed Boxer, the striking silhouette of the Bichon Frise, the lovely picture created by the show-quality American Cocker Spaniel. But allow a good many of those cleverly stacked dogs to move, and the result can be shocking to say the least. We here in North America have become so expert at stacking and posing our show dogs that most if not all give us the ultimate picture of what we are looking for in breed type, but when the same dogs are asked to move, we wonder, “Where did all the quality go?”
“Changing movement changes type.” This is a well-known breeding principle that has existed for decades if not centuries. If one needs proof, simply watch a good-sized entry of Boxers. The first question asked will undoubtedly be, “When did the breed get so long in body?” The answer is found in efforts to have the breed move with extreme flat-out speed. Adding distance between the front and rear legs makes this much easier to accomplish. It also produces a Boxer that is far from square.
The Boxer is not alone in the drastic change that occurs once the dog is off and running. The Bichon Frise stands right alongside the Boxer in the “what you see is not what you get” department. Off the table the neck disappears, the body stretches out to caterpillar length, and the legs disappear. It is absolutely astounding what a trim can do to a Bichon Frise as long as he is posed to perfection.
Please don’t get me wrong; I am not advocating top awards to the dog whose main quality is that he moves best. There is a whole lot more to the picture. Movement as an element of breed type reveals whether or not a dog actually has what he appears to have when standing still. A dog moves properly for its breed only if it is constructed to do so. Again, when you change movement, you change construction. If movement confirms how the dog is made, how can it not be a significant element of breed type?
There are some who say this only applies to dog breeds that have unusual movement: the Miniature Pinscher, Pekingese, Italian Greyhound and Chow Chow among them. To reveal type, movement does not have to be as unique as what’s found in these four breeds.
As an example, let’s take a look at the three setters. The word setter all too often creates an image of the red-headed Irishman flying down the ring, and it’s easy to see why. The Irish Setter is undoubtedly one of the most glamorous dogs being shown throughout the dog world. But what the observer must stop to consider is that there wouldn’t be English and Gordon Setters if the developers of the respective breeds weren’t attempting to create a dog of a different kind and of different purpose.
The Irish Setter was developed to work Ireland’s open and level terrain. His construction enables him to do so, and his movement proves he can. The purpose of the Gordon Setter is significantly different from that of his Irish cousin. The Gordon worked the rocky, frequently inhospitable terrain of the Scottish Highlands. Care and deliberation in movement were important to the breed. Running headlong across the moors could prove extremely dangerous to the dog’s legs and feet, to say nothing of the hunter trying to keep up with the dog in such difficult terrain. Sad to say the movement of many of today’s Gordon Setters proves he is little more than an Irishman in Gordon clothing.
The English Setter, cousin to the Irish and Gordon Setter, is as moderate and conservative as the countrymen who developed him. He neither has need for speed nor care in traveling. His construction shows it.
The movement of these three setters should prove the very point of their existence. One breed moving like the other proves how wrong the individual dog is. So when we are discussing purebred dogs of great type, we are talking about those very special dogs that are known to have had the most of the best. When the discussion is about those dogs that fall significantly short in any of the five elements, we are then talking about the near misses. A definition of the “near miss” I find most appropriate in this instance is one I read somewhere many years ago: “A strike by a missile that is not a direct hit but is close enough to damage the target.
Wherever You Go, There You Are
Along with May flowers and the rest of all those spring things, there was travel this year. First it was Hong Kong, then back to Baltimore, Maryland, for the Cherry Blossom dog show cluster, and from there directly to Jakarta, Indonesia, and from Jakarta back to Indianapolis, Indiana, for the first of the specialties preceding the American Boxer Club’s week-long national.
The Hong Kong shows were all you could ask for in venue and the quality of the dogs presented. I carried a Pekingese bitch from the Champions class clear on through to Best in Show. It turned out that she was not only the top dog of all breeds in Hong Kong for the past two years but also a half-sister to GCh. Palacegarden Malachy, the dog David Fitzpatrick handled to such a sensational record here in the US.
Second to the Pekingese in the Toy Group and all the way up from the Puppy classes was one of the most promising young Bichon bitches that I’ve seen around anywhere. She is Hong Kong-bred, down a couple of generations from Paul Flores’ and Tray Pittman’s famous Paray line. This one could win anywhere.
Hong Kong gave me the opportunity to renew my friendship with Matgo Law, who is credited worldwide for saving the Chinese Shar-Pei from extinction. I met Matgo 37 years ago when I went to Hong Kong to judge. I had visited Matgo and his family at their home in the outskirts of the city, and it was there he deposited a tiny mass of wrinkles into the palm of my hand. I will never forget saying, “Matgo, is this all dog?” I had never seen anything like it in my life. My introduction to the Chinese Shar-Pei.
Jakarta was a surprise in itself considering the distance it lies from the major dog activities of the world. There is some excellent quality in a number of dog breeds and some really outstanding dogs in others. Dobermans and Rottweilers are very high on the list of good ones. Surprisingly, a number of their imports were from Brazil. There is great dog show enthusiasm there without a doubt.
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.
The Modern-Day Fairy Tale: The Myth of Reach and Drive
In the past, when breed type was more important than exaggeration, flash and showmanship, there was more understanding and acceptance of the varying trotting styles than there is today. Read More>>