At a time when there is much talk of exaggeration in our breeds, much of it in my opinion unjustified, we should always remember the importance of moderation in the context of the various breed Standards. So many of our more straightforward functional breeds require balance that stems from moderation in most aspects – skull to muzzle ratio, height to length, and angulation front and back. This is not applicable to all breeds but it is to the vast majority.
There are few breeds that actually require excessive rear angulation with undue length of first and second thighs or noticeably sloping toplines, yet these are faults that are becoming commonplace in so many breeds, notably within the gundog group, even when the relevant breed Standard calls for a level topline and moderate angulation.
Much of the perception of ‘modern’ breeds is down to the stacked outlines that now dominate our rings, the fashion for topping and tailing originating in the US where professional handlers tend to outnumber the amateurs. So many of our breeds that were once shown free are now automatically strung up and rigidly stacked for the judge’s final assessment so that they are faced with a line-up of clones. Not only does this take away much of the dogs’ individuality, but it also tends to mask their character and personality. Furthermore, not all dogs are happy at being manhandled into position and they can react by tensing their topline, stiffening behind or dropping into a rocking-horse position, none of which do them justice.
All judges are different and most of us have all learnt from a variety of elders and betters, some of us being fortunate in having great mentors who were always happy to share their knowledge and their thoughts on the whole judging process. The actual logistics of judging will vary from judge to judge. From a personal standpoint I always like to first study the line-up when a class comes into the ring, seeing if there is something that instantly catches my eye. On occasions there will be dogs set up that have great appeal but instinctively you feel that they are not really standing to advantage, and this happens more often in the breeds that are now traditionally stacked. Then I like to see the class moving around the ring at least once (preferably on loose leads, but that is a lot to ask for these days) when I can check if those dogs that I felt were not being done justice to when stacked have relaxed and are impressing on the move. After the hands-on examination when all should be revealed I like to see dogs move straight up and down and then stand completely free for me. For me this is one of the most important aspects of the whole judging process as in these brief moments I can see the dog standing naturally, its feet in the most comfortable position, and this is the picture I try to keep in my mind – rather than the one that the handler will later create when he or she has screwed the dog into position.
When it comes to moving dogs, I have never subscribed to the Great British Triangle, preferring to have dogs go straight up and down, stand free, then move around in a circle before rejoining the line-up. Why? Think about it… triangles have corners so a dog will have to slow down and change direction twice when executing a triangle. Consequently they will never have the chance to get into their stride and ‘flow’, and this is especially true in the case of the physically larger breeds given the size of so many of our show rings. With a circle on the other hand dogs can open up and circuit the ring without having to negotiate corners and break stride, so their action will automatically become more fluid and as free as their conformation allows. To me it is perfectly logical.
The positioning of the lead is also important. These days most dogs are shown with the lead high up behind the ears, presumably in an attempt to not break the neck line. This is all well and good if the lead is not too tight. If it is, the dog will often react by throwing its front unnecessarily. For that reason I often find myself asking handlers if they will repeat the up-and-down on a loose lead if a dog’s action coming at me has bothered me. In many cases there will be a marked improvement with the loose-lead. When on a loose lead a dog will move in a much more even and balanced manner than when it is fighting a lead that may be causing discomfort.
Speed again is an area where moderation should be considered. Far too many of our breeds are flown around the ring at breakneck speed which is not compatible with their construction or purpose. And how many times do you see dogs being shown when the handler is noticeably ahead of the dog? The clever handlers are those who allow their dogs to set the pace and they merely follow. Nothing is more impressive than a dog flowing around the ring at its own pace on a loose lead with the handler seen as a mere accompaniment. I wish I had a pound for every time I have asked a handler to move again but at half the speed – and this is by no means confined to the UK – when the dog looks so much better. This is not a race!
While extremes and ‘flash and dash’ dogs may catch the eye superficially there is so much beauty in moderation, when a dog is perfectly constructed with its forelegs well under its torso, demonstrating sufficient layback of shoulder and length of upper arm, its body well ribbed back, correctly coupled, with hindquarters well let-down and correctly angulated. Firm toplines and correct tailsets are also part of the equation as is the correct length of neck for the breed. Few breeds require giraffe-like necks.
The sheer pleasure of finding a dog who exudes breed type, is virtually perfectly constructed and is not overdone in any way (including coat) and moves effortlessly, carrying itself with serenity and style is one of the high points of judging and it is not often that judges find all the component parts in one total package, which is why judging is invariably a matter of compromise. When such a dog does appear however it creates an unforgettable moment.
As is my custom I try to take photographs of all my CC winners when I judge. Not only do they enhance this column, they can be shared with Facebook friends and create an historical record that will be full of memories when I decide to quit.
At the Scottish Kennel Club after I had finished my last breed on Sunday I took the winners outside to get some pictures. The dogs were set up in traditional show poses and I got some decent shots. However I had a feeling that my BOB winner was the kind of dog that would benefit from a free-standing shot as I considered her to be outstandingly constructed and she seemed to have the temperament that would co-operate. Apparently her owner, Jane Dennis, was unable to be at the show (a great shame as she bred both the CC and RCC winning bitches) so Suzy Roffey had handled Mariglen Xanthe for her to gain her title. Of course Suzy has been involved with the sport since her junior handling days and has in adulthood been highly successful with various dogs, notably Setters and Tibetan Terriers. She is a highly capable handler with great hands who never gets flustered. When I asked that she should humour me for a moment as I wanted to try to get a free-standing shot she was clearly sceptical and pointed out that Jane might not be happy if the photograph was not satisfactory. Suzy was however in biddable mood and agreed to try for the shot that I was sure Xanthe was capable of. So Xanthe was walked into a natural stance, we lost the lead, Suzy got her attention and I clicked away.
I was delighted with the result but was sure to let Jane Dennis see it before it was published anywhere. Thankfully she approved, so much so that it was soon on the Mariglen website!
I do feel that with so many of our breeds puppies are from a very early age drilled into submission and automatically stacked long before their owners have ever given them the opportunity to prove if they have the construction and attitude to show free on a loose lead. Many of them do, and if exhibitors just capitalised on this fact and adopted a more natural way of showing they would probably have more than a head start under many judges; they could even help to change fashion.