540 SHAPING THE SHEEP DOGS
SHAPING THE SHEPHERDS' DOGS
“Unfortunately, far more recently than this date (i.e. the end of the eighteenth century, DH), infusions of different blood were introduced into the Collie, usually to satisfy a whim for a special point: the cross with the Gordon Setter was made to enrich the tan; with the Irish Setter in a misplaced attempt to enrich the sable; with the Borzoi to increase the length of head. As a result of the Irish Setter cross the words ‘setter red most objectionable’ came to be included in the earlier standards of the breed, and even today we all too often see the horrible results of the Borzoi cross in the receding-skulled, roman-nosed horrors which masquerade under the name of Collie.”
The above quote reveals one consistent element – all the outcrosses were made for cosmetic not functional reasons. Now that breed health, breed purity and instructions to show ring judges are all receiving much merited attention, there is one extremely important aspect of pedigree dog breeding and showing that deserves attention. It would be sad if we lost breeds to the perpetual pursuit of prettiness backed by prolonged inbreeding, more than regrettable if we lost breeds to rogue genes and monstrous if judges rewarded exhibits displaying harmful exaggerations. But sad, regrettable and monstrous too if our precious breeds are bred to the wrong template; the show ring has changed a number of breeds, not for the better; fashion, fad and pressure from influential kennels can impose a changed type on a breed. Gradual changes, viewed initially as slight exaggerations, develop into bigger ones, reactions to docking in breeds not previously docked and ‘the fashion of the day’ can all contribute to the classic fundamental type in a distinctive breed being reshaped. This reshaping can be whimsical in origin, untraditional in effect, even harmful in its manifestation, but as time passes, can become acceptable. Damage by design causes as much discomfort and distress to dogs as many health problems.
The shape of a breed, its physical form or morphology, should result from its functional design, be protected by its breed standard, guarded by its breed clubs and treasured across the generations of breed devotees as its unique identity. But all too often breed points become breed exaggerations as close breeding overplays its hand. In this way, long ears become ground-draggers, short legs become castors, long spines become centipedal, long coats become overcoats, slack eyelids become dustpans and short muzzles become dental and respiratory handicaps. It is easy to argue that the Kennel Club should be overseeing breed-continuation or protecting the morphological integrity of a breed, if only on health grounds. But the first stop is surely the breed clubs; the KC should look over their shoulders and may have failed to do so. But that shouldn’t let breed clubs off the hook. Who allowed the Collie-Borzoi cross? Who watched as the Shetland Sheepdog became more coat than dog? Who allowed the Welsh Corgi’s legs to all but disappear? How did the two varieties of Shetland Sheepdog (rough and smooth) merge into just the one whilst the bigger Scottish dog was allowed to become two breeds in those two coats? In 1909 the Sheltie was expected to be twelve inches high; now its ideal height is put at 14 and a half inches. Is that for the better of the dogs? Who let the Bearded Collie disappear under a mighty rug of coat? Who was supervising the well-being of dog breeds when all this change was being inflicted?
Pointing the Finger
Respecting the Past
The Bateson Inquiry into pedigree dog breeding in Britain considered such an aspect, recording in its recommendations the need ‘to avoid extremes of conformation that create welfare problems’. An informed morphologist would soon spot an Old English Sheepdog handicapped by sheer weight of coat or see a grossly over-bulked Pyrenean Mountain Dog, just a warm-blooded obstacle. A Corgi with its keel on the ground is no longer a cattle-dog, just an animated draught-excluder. These are ancient breeds, quite admirable breeds deserving of both our compassion and our best endeavours, not grumpy opposition based on contemporary lazy thinking. The Kennel Club may actually be better placed to monitor design flaws than the Department for the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs or Defra, as Bateson recommended. The KC appoints judges and publishes breed standards. Making them responsible for harmful breed design, actionable in the courts, could work wonders. When those in authority create welfare problems, the first resort should always be the firm insistence that it is they who must remedy their neglect and accept responsibility for remedying the sad situation created in fact by them. New bodies take time to achieve results; the design of quite a number of our dog breeds urgently requires reshaping; make the KC right their wrongs! Pressure them into accepting responsibility!
Loss of Type
What is the correct type for each of our native pastoral breeds? Is the less refined head illustrated in the trials dogs of, say, the 1930s the true type for the Border Collie breeders to exemplify? Is the type shown of several of our native breeds, say, in the accurate depictions by the artist Arthur Wardle in his sketches of the late 1800s? He was extraordinarily gifted in capturing breed type in his work on dogs and for this was favoured by many late Victorian and then Edwardian writers and publishers. Sometimes loss of type is easier to spot than the preservation of genuine type. But what exactly is type? The KC defines it, in its Glossary of Terms, as ‘The characteristic qualities distinguishing a breed’. But are those qualities physical, mental or in temperament? Baker, in his The Collie of 1900, wrote that: “It is extremely difficult to define in words the general outline and symmetry of a Collie, but it may be summed up in one word ‘type’.” Again, not conclusive, precise or particularly instructive. My definition would be on these lines: Type is the manifestation in a breed of those particular innate physical and mental characteristics that, without exaggeration, distinguish the traditional form that a breed should take. In using these words I am seeking to preserve and perpetuate the character and conformation that was stabilised and then established when distinct breeds evolved – nearly always in pursuit of a specific function. Every breed needs type to define its identity.
In 2011, the fanciers of the Pyrenean Mountain Dog produced a brief but quite excellent, well-illustrated brochure on their breed, valuable because of its remarkable honesty and as an admirable example to other breed fanciers whose breed has temporarily gone ‘off the rails’. In it they argue that true type and the essence of the Pyrenean is being lost in the British show ring. They stress that the show ring must not promote selection on the grounds of fashion and exaggeration. They considered that fashion was winning over true type, mainly through judges who have never learned or who have lost sight of the breed’s original purpose. They point out that over the years, the handsome, working, ‘rustique’ dog has been steadily replaced by a glamorous over-coated and back-combed dog. They remind fellow fanciers that any dog able to work on high, exposed mountainsides must have a lean and muscular build and a weatherproof coat, and they end with a plea for them to respect the ‘dog of the mountains’. I salute them for this publication and applaud their criticism of judges who resort, in their after-show critiques, to words such as ‘cobby’ and ‘upstanding’ that simply do not reflect the Breed Standard for the breed.
By William Arkwright, (a highly experienced and very knowledgeable sporting dog expert) in his judge’s critique on Collies in The Kennel Gazette of November, 1890:
From the annual report on Collies, written by Trefoil, The Kennel Gazette, January,1891:
By the judge of Collies, Manchester Dog Show, May, 1888:
By SE Shirley, writing the critique on Collies at the Kennel Club’s 35th Show in The Kennel Gazette of April, 1891:
By the judge of Bearded Collies at a Championship (Ch) Show in 2012: “I penalised wide fronts, coarse/heavy shoulders and short upper arms, these faults being commonplace in some that have been winning…Far too much emphasis is placed on looks and not on make-up”
Priority given to Type
Many breeders of pedigree dogs in Britain put 'type' at the top of their list when it comes to placing, in order of priority, their breeding desiderata. Despite that, it is disappointing to note just how many breeds have lost their essential 'typiness' over the years. Breeds like the Shetland Sheepdog, the Rough and Smooth Collies, the two Corgi breeds and the Bearded Collie get less and less like the early specimens of the breed with each generation. If you study depictions of Queen Victoria’s Rough Collie Darnley II you can see at once how this breed has been changed by show ring criteria. On the other hand, breeds like the Border Terrier, the Deerhound, the Curly-coated Retriever, the Dalmatian, the Schipperke and the Pug seem able to resist human whim and retain the truly traditional look of the breed. Exaggerations exaggerating themselves play a part, as the Collie’s head illustrates. Unwise blueprints play a role too, as the 100+ words on the head and skull of the Collie demonstrate increasingly each year. For me, there are two very simple criteria to be brought to bear here. Firstly, if you admire a breed and respect its ancestry, why make it look like something different? To do so is an entirely irrational act. Secondly, if you love dogs and one breed above all others, how can you possibly justify breeding dogs of that favoured breed with an anatomy which is not only quite unlike that of their ancestors but one which threatens their health and well-being? To do so lacks any real affection, merely indicates self-interest and the absence of any real empathy with subject creatures.
Type can manifest itself in movement and stance; it is unwise to try to ‘stack’ every breed identically in the ring or to expect a common gait between breeds. I have seen judges try to correct a Border Collie in the ring for proceeding in a stealthy crouch, a style totally in keeping with the breed. The Greater Swiss Mountain Dog has to have a 10:9 body length to height ratio; if not ‘stacked’ naturally this ratio is disturbed. The Shetland Sheepdog has all but lost its forechest, lying in front of the point of shoulder, but crafty ‘stacking’ can conceal this fault. I see Shelties too with their legs too short but made to stand ‘tall’. I expect to see a ‘show of pads’ when the Corgi is being moved in the ring; when it is not displayed I strive to look closer. I see GSDs over-reaching when ‘gaited’ and sometimes they even win a ticket. This is a serious fault in a working breed. But unless the dog moves crab-wise or not straight ahead, few judges penalize it. The flying trot in this breed so often conceals a multitude of flaws. The heavily-coated breeds all too often get away with poor conformation when clever ‘stacking’ before the judge conceals the position of the hind feet relative to the torso, the effortless classic Collie movement cannot take place with hyper-extension at the back. Type isn’t just about coat colour, head shape, ear carriage or set of tail.
Satisfying the Breed Standard
A number of breeds strive, through their Breed Standard’s words, to make a breed unique or ‘racially special’, as my vet put it rather cruelly recently. If you read the Standard of, say, the Old English Sheepdog, you can soon pick up such a tendency. Under Gait/Movement, these words appear: “When walking, exhibits a bear-like roll from the rear.” Some breed fanciers put a value on this when claiming it as Bobtail-type. But let another vet, RH Smythe, in his informative The Dog – Structure and Movement of 1970, comment on this: ‘In the case of the O.E. Sheepdog the reason for the roll is rather different (i.e. from that of the Bulldog, DH). In this breed exaggerated hock flexion causes the body to descend slightly on the side which carries the weight, while the opposite hock is being lifted.’ This Breed Standard, under the same heading, states that: ‘At slow speed, some dogs may tend to pace.’ Pacing, that is the hind and fore limbs on each side advancing together, is tiring, unnatural and wearing to the locomotive muscles. It is not an acceptable feature in a breed once famous for its long-distance walking feats. Type must never conflict with soundness. Every sheepdog breed was shaped by function, adapted to climate and terrain. Sheepdogs don't need to 'gait' at speed wearing a harness, suffer a superfluity of coat or bone, display long narrow heads or feature near-leglessness. We have betrayed them by straying from their evolved breed design and shame on us for that!