145 THE PERILS OF EXPOSING FAULTS
THE PERILS OF EXPOSING FAULTS
I was recently taken to task by a former Master of Foxhounds for criticising the technique of judges at the Honiton Hound Show. He took issue with my dislike of the (to me) demeaning practice of showering the ring with hound-meal to animate the hounds. In reply to my concern that the judges didn't examine mouths or place hands on the exhibits, he stated that all hounds had good mouths so an examination wasn't necessary and that 'judges can clearly see the hounds are in good shape.' This line of reasoning doesn't seem to embrace KC-licensed conformation shows or lurcher and terrier shows, where function dictates form.
Against that background, it is very easy to understand how faults and uncharacteristic features develop in breeds, almost unseen. At the end of the 19th century and on into Edwardian times, the Foxhound went through what has been termed its 'shorthorn era'. Experienced Foxhound breeders became convinced that the only good Foxhound was one with a massive forehand, heavy round bone in the forelimbs, knuckled-over knees and toeing-in on the forefeet. For men from that background to subscribe to such transparent idiocy shows how even in a wholly functional breed, breed fanciers can become hopelessly lost.
This author went on to write: "It has been the aim of the hound-breeder during the last forty or fifty years to get as much bone into the wrist, and as short, as possible..." He was misusing the expression 'hound-breeder', for no French pack of scenthounds, no German hound breed and no American Foxhound was bred to this flawed design. It took the stature and reputation of the great Foxhound breeder 'Ikey' Bell to restore sanity to the Foxhound fraternity on this subject. But if men using their dogs functionally can get so lost, it is less surprising when breeders of companion or ornamental dogs do too.
Am I right about terriers in the show ring? What are the judges saying? Here are some of their comments. Cairn Terriers (1999): "I found some awful movement, both front and rear. Front movement with stilted action and no forward reach, as well as pinning in, elbows out was not uncommon." Miniature Bull Terriers (1998): "Upright shoulders, lack of bone and substance and bad movement seem to be the norm..." The Airedale Terrier judge at Crufts in 1998 noted "...the absence of really well laid back shoulders..." The West Highland White Terrier judge at the same show observed that "...Upper-arms were short and pelvises upright..." At the South Wales Kennel Association show in 1997, the Airedale judge gave this view: "Movement in Airedales had deteriorated to the extent that I cannot honestly say that any one of the ones I judged could be classed as having excellent movement. The best I would rate as passable and the worst as appalling."
The 1994 Airedale Crufts judge made some points for me in the show critique: "I am sorry to say that the anatomic structure of most of the Airedales shown in the ring, even if they were champions, was more or less incorrect...It is only possible to produce a well laid back shoulder...if upper arm and shoulder blade are the same length." Sadly five years later the Airedale Crufts judge was to report that "Movement, as always, is not as it should be." Ten years ago, in my book 'The Heritage of the Dog', I wrote of my concern over the front action and incorrectly placed shoulders in this breed. My publisher sent on to me an irate letter from an Airedale breeder to the effect that the breed was fine and didn't need my interference. Who was right?
In my experience, the greatest danger in far too many breeds comes, not from the newcomers bursting to learn and discuss their recently-acquired knowledge, but from the 'thirty years in the breed' brigade. So often the latter have not thirty years experience but one year's experience repeated thirty times. They have fixed views, quite often outdated views but even worse than that, closed minds. When I speak at breed seminars, I am invariably disappointed by the older breeders in the room and greatly encouraged by the younger ones. When I attend breed seminars, I can sometimes hardly believe what I am hearing - and these are the training grounds for future judges.
A couple of years ago I had the privilege of interviewing the late Gwen Broadley when making a commercial video on the Labrador. She was then in her 90s but so very alert and lively. Her experience was extensive, her knowledge considerable, her opinions well-formed. But what was so striking was her open mind, her willingness to discuss her breed and her obvious enjoyment of the views of an 'outsider'. I was immensely impressed; her humility was quite remarkable in one who had done so much, seen so much, yet never stopped learning. For me, it is a treasured experience. This distinguished lady didn't hide behind her experience, she built on it.
If all-rounder judges are devalued by breed fanciers, then a valuable 'outsider' view is not being capitalised upon. If breed specialist judges and all-rounders provide important comments for breeders which is then ignored, then a breed is in peril. I have mentioned my concern about an epidemic of upright shoulders and short upper arms in breeds of sporting terriers. Show critiques have also highlighted the prevalence of upright shoulders in 11 other breeds and short upper arms in 10 breeds. Judges have also lamented the 'choppy' action in Alaskan Malamutes and 'terrier movement' in Beagles. The latter comment by a judge is in itself worrying; is it becoming the expectation to see a marked lack of extension in terrier breeds? Is an abbreviated front action becoming a terrier characteristic?
No doubt I will be told to mind my own business because I am not 'in' the breeds I refer to. But perhaps a more valuable comment than 'What's he know?' is the more intelligent one of 'Is he right?' 'Mind your own business' is negative and often the sign of an insecure closed mind. 'Hands off our breed' is defensive and does nothing to open up a breed to informed constructive comment. Neither presents a healthy option for a breed whose fanciers wish to enter a new millennium with ambition for their breed. Unless we are very careful harmful faults are going to become accepted as breed characteristics. There should be no such thing as 'terrier movement' only sound movement, however short the dog's legs are. No dog should be forced to take three strides when one will do.
The late Tom Horner, a distinguished terrier judge, wrote in his 'All About the Bull Terrier': "Dogs with really good shoulders and good length of upper arm hardly ever go wrong in front, whereas dogs with short upper arms and short steep shoulder blades with a wide angle between the two bones frequently do..." The Staffordshire Bull Terrier expert, HN Beilby, wrote in his book on the breed: "Front legs may be well boned and muscled, but if they are coupled with badly placed shoulders they lose a considerable proportion of their usefulness and efficiency." This of course applies to all breeds; I do hope that whether the advice comes from within breeds or without, we can get back to breeding dogs with 'useful, efficient' front legs, just as Beilby recommends. Assuming or pretending that all is hunky-dorey in the pedigree dog world is a recipe for disaster; living with inbred faults or knowingly overlooking flaws does nothing for our servant the dog. Dogs need us to protect them - sadly quite often from their own breeders!