I am taking a bit of a detour from my usual comments on structure and movement. I have been pondering the advent of the use of “preservation breeder,” which has caused this new angle in my column. If a Pembroke Welsh Corgi looks more like a Cardigan, does it matter how well the dog moves? Breed character is of primary importance in any breed. If, when looking at a dog of a specific breed, another breed immediately comes to mind, that dog lacks breed character. Therefore, if at first glance a dog looks as it should in make and shape, only then should one look to see if it also moves as the breed is expected to move. Movement is an integral part of type, but “make and shape” come first. Now, on to the detour.
The best way to learn is to ask someone whom you think has the knowledge to answer.
Are there any dumb questions? That depends. If someone asks a question because they don’t know the answer (especially those new to the fancy and trying to learn about their chosen breed), I don’t think so. How else are you going to learn if you are unsure about something? Are there any dumb answers? Absolutely yes! We all know those certain individuals who have the answer for any question, whether the answer is truly a fact or is just pulled from their fanciful imaginations. The best way to learn is to ask someone whom you think has the knowledge to answer. Sounds easy, but as we warn the wonderful people who purchase our puppies, social media and the Internet are NOT the best places to find information, as you have no idea if the person answering has been in the breed for 50 years or are on their very first dog. We encourage them to contact us, their puppy’s breeders, and promise to serve as 24/7/365 free tech service for the life of the puppy.
What is the most important question to ask? Think back to when you were a child or as a parent. What was the question your children asked the most? That’s easy for all of us, as the answer is, “Why? Why, Why, WHY?” What is so important, for those of us who breed and show our dogs, about asking this question? I have heard so often the statement that because most of our breeds no longer have to perform the task(s) for which they were developed, why is it so important that they can do so? Herding dogs rarely herd, Terriers rarely go-to-ground in pursuit of game, Sporting dogs and Hounds rarely hunt, and Working dogs rarely work. About the only group of dogs that still routinely perform the task for which they were developed are those found in the Toy Group. I have consistently said over the years that we who proclaim to be “show breeders” must know the whys and wherefores of the essential breed characteristics that make each of our breeds unique.
In her article titled, “Where Did the First Dogs Come From?” Cornell University researcher Laura Shannon states, “The vast majority of breeds of dog are less than 200 years old and come from Europe. But these purebred dogs or even mixes of these breed dogs are in the minority of the dogs on the planet. Most dogs are free-ranging village dogs, which live around and among people but aren’t necessarily what you’d think of as pets.” We also know that some breeds are ancient. Some of the oldest known depictions of greyhound-like dogs were found in Turkey on temple drawings from 6,000 BC and in Iran on a 4,000 BC funerary vase. Some breeds are quite young, such as the Boykin Spaniel, which was first developed in Spartanburg, South Carolina, around 1905-1910. The Boykin Spaniel Society was founded in 1977 and began maintaining a studbook in 1979. They were recognized as a breed by the AKC in 2009. Knowing these facts, we know that purebred dog breeders are a tiny part of “where dogs come from.”
I am very pleased with the increasing usage of the term “preservation breeder,” which I first heard many years ago in discussion with Douglas Johnson of Clussexx fame. We need to use it when we refer to ourselves as breeders—and we should use it often! We are preservation breeders, as we are trying our very best to preserve our breeds for future generations to know and love as we do. If we do not preserve the vital characteristics that make each breed unique, we would eventually wind up with one basic type: the village dog described above. A few years ago, I could not help but notice as we drove through various villages in China’s countryside that the dogs wandering the streets from village to village all looked the same! A dog of spitz type, moderate in size, with moderate bone, prick ears, pointed muzzle, high set tail (either curled or held over the back), and square or slightly off-square in proportion. They were everywhere, from Beijing to Nanning, a distance of approximately 1,500 miles! Would one common dog be enough; one basic breed to suit all situations and human needs and personalities? What a dull world that would be.
Most of us breed dogs simply because we love them. We become enamored of and establish a relationship with one breed (or several breeds) and decide to breed them, thus becoming a caretaker of that breed(s). Some breeds are quite rare, and some are as common as the copper penny. But what, exactly, is a preservation breeder? From the Livestock Conservancy (livestockconservancy.org) they speak of “heritage” breeding, and it is explained as “…trying to produce (livestock) animals that are the animals that you find on your great-grandparents’ farms.” We are taking that heritage and trying to preserve it for the future, placing more emphasis on the future with an eye to our chosen breed’s past and origins. Our breeds are a living link to history, but must be molded to fit into today’s society.
If we are going to take on the mantle of being a “preservation breeder,” then we must know our responsibilities concerning the preservation of our breed. This brings us back to breed type. We must know the “whys” of how our breed is put together the way it is. If you are not sure of the essential physical characteristics that make up your breed, you may find some hints in the first paragraphs of your breed’s AKC standard under the heading of General Description. Here is an example: “Low-set, strong, sturdily built and active, giving an impression of substance and stamina in a small space. Should not be so low and heavy-boned as to appear coarse or overdone, nor so light-boned as to appear racy. Outlook bold, but kindly. Expression intelligent and interested. Never shy nor vicious. Correct type, including general balance and outline, attractiveness of headpiece, intelligent outlook and correct temperament is of primary importance. Movement is especially important, particularly as viewed from the side. A dog with a smooth and free gait has to be reasonably sound and must be highly regarded. A minor fault must never take precedence over the above desired qualities.”
If you know the writer, you probably know that the quote above is from the Pembroke Welsh Corgi standard. Compare the above to the Cardigan Welsh Corgi standard’s introduction: “Low set with moderately heavy bone and deep chest. Overall silhouette long in proportion to height, culminating in a low tail set and fox-like brush. General Impression – A handsome, powerful, small dog, capable of both speed and endurance, intelligent, sturdily built but not coarse.” If you know the writer, you probably know that the quotes above describe the two Corgis. If you guessed this while reading the first description, you knew immediately the second was the Cardigan when you read the three words in the second paragraph, “low set tail.” If you paid attention, you should also realize that the Cardigan has heavier bone and a bit deeper chest than the Pembroke. You will discover several more differences in the breeds if you delve more deeply into each standard. Each of the differences would most definitely be breed characteristics, vital to delineate the differences between the breeds!
What about this one:
“General Appearance: A compact, closely knit dog of medium size, a leggy dog having the appearance, as well as the agility, of a great ground coverer. Strong, vigorous, energetic and quick of movement. Ruggedness, without clumsiness, is a characteristic of the breed. He can be tailless or has a tail docked to approximately four inches. Size, Proportion, Substance: Height – 17½ to 20½ inches, measured from the ground to the highest point of the shoulders. Any __________ measuring under 17½ inches or over 20½ inches shall be disqualified from dog show competition. Weight – Should weigh between 30 and 40 pounds. Proportion – So leggy is he that his height at the shoulders is the same as the length of his body. Body Length – Approximately the same as the height when measured at the shoulders. Body length is measured from the point of the forechest to the rear of the rump. A long body should be heavily penalized. Substance – Not too light in bone, yet never heavy-boned and cumbersome.”
This describes a square dog of medium size, which is so important a breed characteristic that a dog outside of the correct parameters in height is to be disqualified. He has no tail, or it is docked short (up to 4”). The term “leggy” implies that a short-legged dog is anathema in the breed, hence another valued breed characteristic. The use of the word “never” in the last sentence also speaks to a breed characteristic in an animal of moderate bone; rather be light than heavy. This breed must be quick and agile and cover a great amount of ground with each step, therefore well-angled at both ends. Anyone who has ever seen a Brittany hunt would know all of this to be true!
Here is one more breed description:
“General Appearance: A medium size ___________ giving the appearance of elegance and fitness, denoting great speed, power and balance without coarseness. A true sporting __________ that covers a maximum of distance with a minimum of lost motion. Should convey an impression of beautifully balanced muscular power and strength, combined with great elegance and grace of outline. Symmetry of outline, muscular development and powerful gait are the main considerations; the dog being built for speed and work, all forms of exaggeration should be avoided.
Size, Proportion, Substance: Ideal height for dogs, 19 to 22 inches; for bitches, 18 to 21 inches, measured at the highest point of the withers. More than one-half inch above or below the stated limits will disqualify. Length from forechest to buttocks equal to or slightly greater than height at the withers. Moderate bone throughout.”
There are many hints as to the identity of this breed. A dog of moderate height, this breed also has a disqualification for height outside of the stated limits. Moderate bone and a dog bred for speed and work, this description also uses “muscular power and strength” as well as “great elegance and grace of outline. Symmetry of outline, muscular development and powerful gait are the main considerations.” This should definitely lead you to Whippet.
I often offer on social media to answer any questions a person new to my breed may have. Someone sent me a personal message asking why the shape of the foot mattered in the Pembroke Welsh Corgi. My first thought was, “What a silly question.” I quickly realized that it was not only not silly, it was quite a good question. This was my answer: “The shape of a dog’s foot depends on the work the dog was bred to do and the terrain over which the dog had to work. There are three basic types of foot—cat, hare, and oval (there are other foot shapes, usually for a specific purpose; like the large, flat “snowshoe” foot of the Tibetan Terrier). The cat foot is round and compact with well arched, closely-held toes, with the two center toes being only slightly longer than those on the outside. It is similar to the paw of a cat. (Examples of a cat foot: Doberman Pinscher, Australian Cattle Dog.) It is for dogs that need the endurance to work long hours and distances over hard or varied surfaces. It leaves a round paw print on the ground. A hare foot is one in which the two center toes are longer than the two outer toes, with less arching than you would see on a cat foot, making it look longer overall. It resembles the foot of a hare (rabbit paws) and is mostly seen on dogs that need speed and agility. The oval foot falls between the hare and cat foot for a dog that needs bursts of speed and agility for quick changes in direction, and [one that] works long hours as well as traversing over all sorts of terrain for long distances—which is why a Pembroke Welsh Corgi has an oval foot, an essential breed characteristic. (By comparison, a Cardigan has a larger, rounded foot.)”
If you have someone asking you a question and are unsure of the answer, please don’t hesitate to tell them you aren’t certain, but you will try to find the answer or tell them where you think they may find it. Don’t just blow them off, as I almost did. Remember when you started in the wonderful world of showing and breeding dogs and how hard it was to find the answers to your questions? For me, it was nearly impossible, as there was no Internet on which to ask a question and there were very few books available on the subject either. Had I not found wonderful mentors in Pat Parsons and Scootie Sherlock (Caralon) and Dr. Chuck Kruger (Schaferhaus), it would have been challenging for me to continue blindly along the way, and I may well have given up so many years ago. Be willing to pass on what you have learned to others. It is all about the preservation of the breed or breeds you love!
If anyone has a question or comments, or to inquire about a seminar, contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org
Remember, there are no dumb questions!