Breeder-Judges Discuss Their Priorities
In my experience, the best way to become truly familiar with a breed is to speak with longtime breeders who have not only bred a number of exceptional dogs, but who have also had the opportunity to judge quality dogs not of their breeding. Much knowledge can be gained from these two important areas, as it gives a rare understanding of a breed as a whole. Because the Welsh Springer Spaniel does not have separate styles worldwide or a field/show separation, understandable and productive discussions can freely flow between breeders near and far. I am pleased to introduce four very accomplished Welsh Springer Breeder-Judges from across the globe and share their discussions on the breed with you. Meet the Breeder-Judges:
Statesman Welsh Springer Spaniels, United States
Susan has owned Welsh Springer Spaniels since 1975. She has bred/owned over 100 champion Welsh Springer Spaniels, including multiple National Specialty winners, all-breed Best in Show winners, and OFA Champion of Health winners. Susan is approved by the American Kennel Club to judge 16 Sporting breeds and has judged the breed in the US and internationally.
Benton Welsh Springer Spaniels, Finland
Marjo has owned Welsh Springer Spaniels for 32 years and has been breeding under the Benton prefix since 1992. She has produced many champions worldwide, including the first undocked Welsh Springer Spaniel to win an all-breed Best in Show and National Specialty in the US. Marjo has judged Welsh Springer Spaniels, and other Sporting breeds, in Scandinavia, Europe, Australia, and the US.
Westaway English and Welsh Springer SpaNiels, Norway
Frank imported his first Welsh Springer Spaniel in the early 1980s and has since bred 17 Norwegian Champions under the kennel names Inu-Goya and Westaway. He has been approved to judge the breed since 1993 and has judged in Denmark, Finland, Sweden, Norway, England, Scotland, Wales, Ireland, and the Czech Republic.
Northey Welsh Springer Spaniels and Vizslas, England
Christine has owned and bred Welsh Springer Spaniels since 1976. She first judged the breed in 1983 and awarded CCs for first time in 1989. Christine has bred eight Show Champions, including four with their working qualifier. She has awarded CCs in Breed ten times, and awards CCs in: WSS, Large Munsterlanders, Brittany, Hungarian Vizslas, Hungarian Wirehaired Vizslas, and Chesapeake Bay Retrievers. She is approved to judge the Gundog Group at Championship shows, and judged this at the Scottish Kennel Club in 2011.
What are your priorities when judging the Welsh Springer Spaniel?
Christine McDonald: “I look for a strong, merry and active dog, flowing from tip of nose to end of tail and balanced throughout. Even in the show ring, I like to see evidence of a biddable, merry temperament displayed, certainly with no aggression or nervousness. I like to see substance but also a degree of classiness. The exhibit to be of standard size, or within an inch either way, with strong bone and no cloddiness. Rounded, well-padded feet to protect against thorns and rough terrain. I like to see a well-balanced head with nicely rounded, not too heavy flews, and adequate stop with chiseling below the eyes, which should have a kind, biddable expression. I like neat ears, not set too low. Well-laid shoulders are necessary to enable the dog to run at speed with his nose to the ground, twisting and turning to scent, and well-developed ribbing to give plenty of heart and lung room. I like to see generous hindquarters with good width and depth of first and second thighs, to push the body through heavy cover. The arch of the muscular loin and a generous ‘bum’ is necessary to display true type, and aid propulsion. The coat should be within the parameters of ‘rich red and white’ and the exhibit should ideally be presented to best advantage in terms of condition, trimming, and showmanship. I like to see a feminine bitch and a masculine dog, with neither giving the excuse for coarseness or fineness.”
Susan Riese: “I look for a rectangular red and white Spaniel, free from extremes and who moves in a coordinated and effortless manner.”
What faults are you willing to accept and in what situations are you willing to accept them?
Marjo Jaakkola: “Although I think a good head is important, I would select a Welsh Springer Spaniel with good body structure and movement with a small head fault over a less than average dog with a beautiful head. In young dogs, I can accept differences in toplines because I have found, in most cases, it will improve with age. I can also tolerate a youngster who is a little unsure about being examined by a judge, as long as it is confident when gaiting around the ring.”
Susan Riese: “I will tolerate a soft topline in bitches with otherwise good qualities, but I will not accept a dog with a soft topline. I believe that there is a genetic link between soft toplines in females in the breed. Maybe it is just the hormones! I need to stress that my tolerance is for a soft topline, not a swaybacked topline.”
Frank Bjerklund: “A little shyness in a young dog or bitch, because the history says that they can be a little reserved towards strangers. When it comes to constructional faults, it is always a matter of degree and seriousness. We know that all dogs have faults, but some are only of minor importance to us. Others are more serious, affecting the dogs’ health and, therefore, should be judged accordingly. We are also not teeth fanatics, as some judges are—a correct bite is more important than one or two lacking teeth. A greying coat in a senior dog is also something that I would look past.”
What faults are you never willing to accept?
Marjo Jaakkola: “I am not willing to accept an adult dog who does not display a confident temperament in the show ring. I will not tolerate a dog whose proportions are tall, leggy, and square. This is totally untypical for the breed.”
Susan Riese: “The drags of the breed should not be tolerated. In Welsh Springer Spaniels, these are: Fiddle fronts/bent front legs, leggy or Settery examples, and weak hocks that allow for hyperextension (luxating hocks).”
When examining the Welsh Springer Spaniel, what areas must be felt with hands for a complete examination?
Christine McDonald: “The hands should glide over the dog to feel its symmetry; a smoothness from occiput to base of tail with very gentle curves, NOT a pronounced ‘S’ shape. The neck should be handled when the dog is not strung up, to check for natural length, strength, and lack of throatiness. Although the breed standard states, ‘long,’ it must be understood that this should be in proportion to the dog. The length of neck is necessary for the dog to scent the ground and retrieve; strength is as important as length—all should be in balance. When the breed was first introduced to the ring, they were known as ‘Welsh Cockers.’ It could be the case that the requirement for a ‘long neck’ in the WSS was one part that distinguished it from the ‘moderate’ neck required in the Cocker. Or it could have been the case that there were a predominance of short-necked dogs at the time, and the phrase in the standard may have been inserted to steer breeders away from this fault. Muscle quality, particularly in buttocks, and first and second thighs. Coat texture; silky look and feel, yet dense and weather-resistant.”
Marjo Jaakkola: “Definitely forechest, depth of chest, and length of loin. It is important to feel the length of the ribcage to loin. A correct dog will be long in the rib and fairly short in the loin. The breed experiences a number of problems with length of ribcage to loin. Oftentimes, a dog may appear to have correct proportions, but in reality, the ribcage may be short and the loin may be long.”
Susan Riese: “Working from head to tail, be sure to evaluate the chest and prosternum. Check that the prosternum is not sunken between the front legs, and the chest has a layer of muscling. Feel shoulders to determine layback. Because the breed creeps through brush, the tips of the shoulder blades should not be too close together; two fingers is fine, but should still be smooth. When examining the body, feel and look for Spaniel roundness, finished off with wide thighs and well-developed second thighs. Because of the amount of coat and skillful grooming, be sure to feel the width and muscling of the upper and lower thigh as well as the length and strength of the hock.”
What areas do you feel the breed could use improvement in?
Susan Riese: “I believe the overall quality of the breed has improved over the last few years. I feel current breeders are making an effort to learn more about type, function, and structure, and are incorporating this knowledge into their breeding plans. I am still shocked to see the occasional bad-fronted dog, with elbows out and bent forearms, winning top honors. A bent leg can break down from repeated impact, which could deem a dog worthless in the field.”
At what age do you consider the breed to be fully mature, and what areas do you feel are affected by maturity?
Marjo Jaakkola: “The Welsh Springer can be a slow maturing breed. I prefer to see young dogs that look their age. In my experience, many puppies that mature too quickly often become overdone. I do not heavily penalize an immature youngster who has the right essentials. The topline is one area that often changes as the dog matures. I would say that by the of age 4 to 5, they should be fully mature and looking their best.”
Susan Riese: “I feel the breed takes longer to mature than some of the other Sporting breeds. What changes over time is that the ribs gain more spring. Heads can mature and become more masculine on males. Welsh can look nice at 2 to 3 years and can be specialed at this time, but they usually reach their peak of maturity at 4 to 5 years of age. The word ‘peak’ can cause the image of this being their ‘best’ time in life, when in reality, the good ones keep getting better into veteran classes. Several veterans have won at WSSCA National Specialties over the years. They don’t get older, they just get better.”
Please share your approach to judging a mixture of docked and undocked dogs.
Frank Bjerklund: “We never think about tails when judging. The important thing is that the breed should carry it in accordance with the standard: ‘Low set, never carried above the level of the back.’ (It never stops puzzling us, why some handlers in the US stack their dogs and push the (docked) tail up/forwards, like a Terrier—it is alien to the breed and should be discouraged.”)
Marjo Jaakkola: “Because I come from a country where docking has not been allowed since 1996, I am very used to tails. When judging the breed, I often do not remember if a dog was docked or undocked. It does not make a difference as long as the tail is carried correctly. I feel the most important thing is that you don’t penalize the dog for having an undocked tail.”
What do you feel is commonly misunderstood about evaluating/judging the breed?
Christine McDonald: “Topline springs to mind. The UK breed
standard calls for, ‘Loin muscular and slightly arched. Well coupled.’ This is NOT the same as the oft-quoted, ‘rise over the loin’—it is the muscular loin that gives it a slight arch. The muscular structure gives the Spaniel the pushing power to penetrate tough cover where birds may lay.”
Frank Bjerklund: “Some say that a Welsh Springer should have an S-shaped topline; however, this is incorrect. The standard asks for a strong back that is slightly arched over the loin; the same wording that is in the English Springer Spaniel standard. If a dog has an S-shaped back, it most often means it has a weak back.”
Marjo Jaakkola: “I feel the topline is the most misunderstood aspect in this breed. The topline should not be flat; it should be level, with a slight rise over the loin. There should be no evidence of sloping or dipping.”
Do you have any words of advice for those interested in pursuing their judging license for the Welsh Springer Spaniel?
Marjo Jaakkola: “Don’t be fooled by presentation, excessive coat, and fast (not always correct) movement. A Welsh Springer should display workmanlike movement with good reach and drive. When you are judging the dog, a good judge should be able to see a good dog that is not necessarily handled well by an amateur. Similarly, but in converse, a mediocre dog handled professionally should not cloud your judgment. If you have an overly barbered dog enter your ring, please judge the dog but encourage the exhibitor to present the breed in a more natural way in the future.”
Susan Riese: “Judges and exhibitors need to remember that this is a working Spaniel and that tremendous reach and drive, while flashy in the show ring, is not correct. A good all-day working dog in the field needs to have coordinated, athletic, and effortless movement with adequate reach and drive.”