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Judging the Parson Russell Terrier

Judging the Parson Russell Terrier

This article was originally published in Showsight Magazine, July 2013 issue.

 

Judging the Parson Russell Terrier

When the Parson Russell entered into the AKC Terrier Group in 1997, the comment I heard most often was, “How should I judge the breed?” No two look alike. With so many types, judges seemed to face a challenge in deciding what the correct breed type should be. Adding to this were many breeders that were new to the world of AKC dog shows, and new to the breed, so they were unsure as well. Parsons have certainly gained some consistency since those days, though we still have our challenges—especially when talking about consistent breed type, and form following function. In this article on judging Parsons, I will assume you have read the Breed Standard and do not need me to quote it word for word. Instead, I will highlight the areas of the Breed Standard that I feel are of great importance in judging our breed, as well as areas where I feel the breed in general may be drifting away from the current standard. Since the Parson Russell Terrier was bred to work both above and below the ground, his structure had to be indicative of this dual function.

One key point of this breed’s structure is that the Parson Russell should not have the typical terrier front. With a typical terrier front, the dog has a long shoulder with a 45 degree layback, and a slightly shorter upper arm that is also turned slightly forward, which then limits the amount of forechest that is visible from the side. The Parson Russell forequarters should be long, sloping, and well laid back, with the point of shoulder sitting in a plane behind the point of prosternum, which makes the silhouette of the Parson quite different from that of the other terrier breeds with more of a flat front. The ideal Parson should have a prosternum that can be both felt and seen. (See figure 1.) In judging the Parson Russell Terrier, the first priority should be that of identifying the proper silhouette. The outline should be that of a dog that is of medium bone, and the proportions of a terrier that is not square, but “off square.” Height at withers is slightly greater than the distance from the withers to tail, i.e. by possibly 1–1 1–2 inches on a 14 inch dog.

Judging the Parson Russell Terrier
Fig. 1: Lifting Legs off of the Table

This means that the Parson Russell Terrier stands with plenty of leg underneath him, with no appearance of being short on leg. (See figure 2.) Parsons should be able to travel a large amount of acreage with a tireless and ground covering trot. Currently, one of the major departures from the standard that I have observed is that of a shorter leg. This will begin to impede the terrier’s function in the field as he is moving through tall brush and grasses, keeping up with the hounds, and covering often uneven terrain. The second departure from the standard in looking at the silhouette is the shorter back. While a shorter backed Terrier is often more showy, it is incorrect for the Parson Russell. The Parson Russell is slightly longer in loin than many terriers, which allows for greater flexibility above and below the earth. The Parson Russell should never appear to be cobby, short coupled, coarse, or heavy in bone and substance. When assessing the Parson Russell on the exam table, you would naturally approach the dog straight, greet the dog, and start to examine the head and bite. Our breed standard does state that it is a severe fault for any Parson to be missing more than four teeth, so you would want to look at all the teeth to determine the lack of four or more—please be gentle.

Judging the Parson Russell Terrier
Fig. 2: Good Proportions

The young Parson can be wiggly and wagging; however, they are also sensitive, as well as having very long memories. One judge prying their mouth open and giving a rough exam will be remembered for a lifetime. There is a saying that the eyes are the window into the soul. This is certainly true with dogs. Whether round, oval, or almond, each eye shape gives the dog a different expression. In Parsons, the eyes are to be almond shaped and dark in color. Almond shaped eyes are important in a working terrier as they are less likely to sustain injury than that of a round eye or one that protrudes. The round eye will often look larger—more prominent—and it gives the Parson a sometimes softer look, but round eyes are still incorrect. The Parson standard does state that dark eye rimsare desirable, but our standard is one of the few that allows for the rims not to be pigmented when the coat around the eye is white. The ears are to be small and V-shaped, with the ear tip extending no further than the corner of the eye; however, longer ears are becoming much more common in the breed. The combination of both the round eye and the longer ear on a Parson will start to remind you of another breed altogether, since there are several Terrier standards that ask for a round or circular eye. (See figures 3 and 4.) The second part of the table exam which can be difficult is spanning. Parson Russells, Border Terriers, and the Russell Terrier are the only three Terrier breeds that require spanning as per their breed standard. Spanning is a very important part of the judging process for the Parson Russell. For Parson Russell breeders, it is always very disappointing when a judge fails to span or does it in a half-hearted manner—as if to signify that it means little in their judging process.

Judging the Parson Russell Terrier
Fig. 3: Very Nice Head and Eye

The dog cannot be correctly judged without this procedure. With that said, if you are going to judge Parsons and you are uncomfortable with spanning, then practice and learn how to span properly until you feel very secure in your ability. There are several ways to span a Parson. Some judges ask to have the dog turned sideways on the table, and then the judge comes from behind the dog to span them. However, I much prefer that the dog is moved to the rear of the table, while the judge walks to the back of the table and spans the dog, still facing forward, from behind. Young Parsons are not used to being turned crosswise on the table, and it is a much more familiar sensation for them to simply be moved to the rear of the table. It is also easier for the exhibitor to manage this maneuver. When spanning, please know what the correct depth of chest is for your hands, as depth of chest is not always seen, but is easily felt. Someone with smaller hands is going to have thumbs and fingers that clearly do not meet, and someone with long fingers or large hands is going to have hands and fingers that overlap. So mind your gap! To give you an idea of what size of chest is correct you can use a regular DVD and wrap your fingers around it.

Judging the Parson Russell Terrier
Fig. 4: Very Nice Ear and Eye

If your fingers do not meet when wrapping them around the DVD, then look at the size of the gap between your fingers and that is approximately the same gap that you should have when spanning a Parson with a correctly sized chest. For a person with large hands and or very long fingers, your fingers are likely to overlap around the DVD with no gap. Keep in mind that you cannot properly span a Parson without lifting the front feet off the exam table, as your hands need to fit under the dog’s front legs and feel the very smallest part of the chest. The second reason for spanning is flexibility. We want that chest to have some spring to it; if you span the chest, and feel absolutely no give or spring to it, then that is just as wrong for the breed as a chest that is very large. A dog with a larger yet very flexible chest can still do the work, but a dog with a rigid, hard, or incorrectly shaped chest—no matter what the diameter—cannot do the work well. (See figure 5.) Despite the wording in our standard, I still see Parsons that are excessively groomed. Most of the Parsons I see that are over groomed are not with breeder-owner handlers. If you look at a Parson and it completely reminds you of another Terrier breed, then the dog either has poor breed type, has been excessively groomed, or both.

Judging the Parson Russell Terrier
Fig. 6: Proportions of Idea Grooming

The legs should not be fluffed and sprayed, the coat should be in a truly natural appearance, harsh and showing no evidence of scissoring or clipping. Sculpted furnishings are to be severely penalized (See figures 6 and 7.) Though there can still be some variation in breed type in Parsons, when you look at a Parson that has large round eyes (however adorable that may be), heavy cheeks, or a very coarse and exaggerated head, then the breed type is wrong. Our breed will be greatly helped in achieving better consistency with educated judges that are knowledgeable in the correct breed type. As a breeder judge, I would much rather reward excellent breed type and adequate movement, than poor breed type and a large side gait. Correct movement for a Parson is to be ground covering and tireless—any exaggerated movements either in the front or the rear take away efficiency in covering many miles out in the field for a day of hunting. While I have touched on several specifics in detail, judges still need to know the breed standard and judge the whole dog— not just the parts and pieces of the dog. Be sure to reward the virtues of the dog and penalize those faults to the extent that they depart from the standard. Never judge a Parson on cuteness, as I am very sure that the word ‘cute’ cannot be found anywhere in our breed standard; besides, breeders will respect you more for rewarding correct breed type than cuteness.

Judging the Parson Russell Terrier
Fig. 7: Overgroom and Long Beard