Danger of Complacency
by   David Hancock

In my experience, the greatest danger to far too many English 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 They have fixed views, quite often outdated views but even worse than that, closed minds.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.

At a Bullmastiff breed seminar a decade ago, a breed elder gave the view that the only effective night-dog could be one well over 100lbs, stating that a lighter dog could never knock and then hold a man down. The most effective night-dogs were however Thorneywood Terror, Osmaston Grip and Osmaston Daisy, each weighing around 90lbs. A later speaker and well-known judge stated that she didn't believe in withholding prizes, this despite the Kennel Club's rules on this subject. At a previous Bullmastiff breed seminar, where I was a speaker, an older breeder told the gathering that he didn't agree with anything I had said (which is fine by me) but when challenged to say why, could only mutter about having been thirty years in the breed, as if that by itself could present some cogent reason to disagree.

A decade 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.  

I wonder if today's Foxhound breeders have learned the lesson of their 'shorthorn' period, when 'great bone' was strangely desired. If Honiton hound-show judges are never going to examine mouths 'because they just know they are all good', stand by for inbred jaw construction problems in these hounds. If no Peterborough  hound-show judge is going to inspect the feet of hounds, stand by for inbred foot and pastern problems. How on earth can any breeder improve his line if judges decline to conduct a thorough physical examination and merely assume that faults don't exist. Objective judgements can contribute a great deal to breeder awareness.

If all-rounder-judges are devalued by breed clubs, 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 considerable 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?

The Lancashire Heeler judge at Crufts in 1999 noted that "Shoulders varied considerably with quite a large number having very short and upright upper arms." This judge was awarding the breed's first challenge certificates. But how did heelers with such basic faults ever qualify for Crufts? The Kennel Club is striving to improve the standard of judging but any judge who cannot judge shoulders should not be appointed. We want our dogs, for all the importance of breed points, to be able to walk with freedom and purpose. In some breeds, basic faults are reported time and time again by judges in their critiques. Who is safeguarding the future of these breeds?

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?' or the last resort of the out-argued fancier 'how many litters has he bred?' is the more intelligent one: 'Is he right?' 'Mind your own business' is negative and often the sign of an insecure closed mind. 'Leave our breed to us' 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.

Complacency at Crufts, especially when over-played and over-rated by exited TV presenters, is ill-merited. In 2014, over 21, 000 dogs were entered and just under 160,000 visitors attended. But if you examine what the judges themselves are writing in their after-show breed critiques, you get a much more valuable assessment of its status. The 2014 Bloodhound judge concluded: "Movement was mixed, but that could be said for all breeds." If the movement of dogs that qualified for Crufts is being accurately judged then what is the true value of this top show? The Beagle judge wrote: "I found very few with the reach of neck I was looking for...Movement varied with fronts causing the most concern". These are not minor flaws in winning dogs destined to be bred from.  

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. He had over thirty years in the breed...but an open mind! Complacency kills progress and sabotages improvement.