When you show a dog in its classic breed presentation, you are honoring its lineage—both the breed history and the future of your breed. Preservation breeders not only breed to honor the history of their breed, they also regard the future of the breed as it extends into the breed ring.
By doing so, you can leave a legacy of your breed for those who will follow after you. It is vital to understand the foundation of your breed and “the why” behind its very existence. When the presentation changes, so does the understanding of breed purpose. And, of course, breed purpose was the foundation of type.
When presenting your breed to showcase the breed-specific aspects, you are showing your depth of knowledge of key breed points. These key breed points are also called “hallmarks.” Breed-specific presentation includes both standing presentation and moving presentation.
How Classic Presentation Is Implemented in the Ring
You might wonder why specificity is important. It’s not important merely to impress others, nor is it to show off how much you know so that you can win more in the ring. It may help, but it’s not the primary reason. Owner handlers, pay attention! Classic presentation is one of the things that separates the high-level A professionals from the level B professionals, and Group A owner handlers from Group B owner handlers.
While recently judging an entry of Great Pyrenees, the handler knelt and presented her exhibit like a Pointer; with the head up and her arms extended. Of course, the classic presentation of this breed is to show the classic Pyr head, which the AKC Breed Standard beautifully describes as having a “nearly imperceptible stop and soft expression.” Although I was able to determine the head type and quality of the exhibit, it took extra attention on my part to do so. The deviation from the standard presentation style for this breed also made me question the commitment of the exhibitor to the breed and whether she was a breeder/owner/handler or a professional handler.
Another way that the absence of classic presentation can change a breed is in breeds that were traditionally free-stacked and later became a hard-stacked breed. How does this change a breed? George G. Alston describes in The Winning Edge: Show Ring Secrets, with Connie Vanacore, how the presentation of the Collie came to pass. The Collie used to be hard-stacked until a prominent handler had a dog he couldn’t touch. Once the handler found out that the dog showed well while standing freely, he showed well enough to change the course of history for the Collie. Forever more, the Collie is free-stacked.
In the case of the Collie, the change may have benefitted the breed by making them more able to stand on their own, four-square. Many breeds that are hard-stacked simply can’t stand on their own, which, of course, affects their ability to function, specifically as a Herding dog.
Let’s look at the Doberman Pinscher, a breed whose legs are screwed into the ground to such a degree that the dog is unrecognizable once it begins to move.
During the time of the large entries in Dobermans, I used to sit and watch the entire entries of 60 or more, focusing on learning the breed. There was one particular professional handler who was highly successful, almost unbeatable, in her day. Time after time I would watch her create a magnificent picture of the breed, standing and moving. I would think, “How could she have so many great dogs?” As I trained my eye to the breed and learned the standard, I began to notice something about her presentation. She always (or nearly so) made the dogs look square, with a straight back, and move with the characteristic cadence of the breed. However, when she passed the class dogs off in Breed, the lack of classic presentation by the assistant changed the overall look and movement of the dogs. This pro handler was able to mold the dogs into the best Doberman it could be. So, from this, my takeaway is: Sometimes classic, hard-stacked presentation can change the breed, enhancing dogs to such a degree that it changes the trajectory of the breed itself.
In what other ways does classic presentation come into play in supporting breed culture?
The Preservation Breeder’s responsibility is to preserve hallmarks as they relate to the original function of the breed. Preservation Breeders talk about how a classic head style that is presented as such relates to how the breed functions. For example, a Cocker Spaniel needs to have a muzzle that can handle a Woodcock. Some muzzles in the breed are so small, they couldn’t carry a Parakeet.
They understand that the Setters are presented as they are to bring attention to the unique similarities and differences among them. The heads are slightly different; the bone and substance are distinct because of the various origins. Each of these small differences are showcased in the ring for the purpose of reminding the judges and other attendees how these relate to how the dogs were used to hunt.
The same ideals apply to the Spaniels. They are almost all presented in a similar manner, calling attention to the “roundness,” with the unique combinations of the heads and the tails. You need to thoroughly study and understand your breed to know the specific history of your own breed at a deeper level of comprehension. The Sussex Spaniel was used to beat down the bush to retrieve game; thus, their short, stout legs and heavy-set body. A leggy, spindly dog would not function properly under those conditions.
What About Working Breeds?
I have noticed in the last ten years that the Boxer has all but lost the classic elasticity of its gait. I have begun to wonder if ignorant breeders have intentionally bred it out of their lines because, firstly, they have never seen it, and secondly, they believe their breed should have the reach and drive of a Doberman. As such, we can see that without an understanding of classic breed presentation, breeders and exhibitors can change the trajectory of a breed.
Going back to the Great Pyrenees, it is a dog of moderate, not heavy, bone. Presentation of the breed to enhance bone assessment by using mousse and blowing dry is incorrect breed presentation that creates an outline that is just wrong. The same with blowing out a Pumi. They should be presented with its correct curl of coat. The standard describes it in detail. Presentation must stick precisely with the clearly defined coat.
Understanding Classic Presentation as a Responsibility
As time goes by, you tend to understand and appreciate who came before you. With this comprehension comes the realization of how little you know and how much you still have to learn. It is with such a drive that you will continue to develop as a handler. First you copy what others are doing in their presentation, and then you learn why they’re doing it.
Whelping Box Selections
Now think of the breeder/owner/handler who makes whelping box selections based on whether they think the puppy will be a “showstopper” rather than a dog that can be classically presented according to the standard, showing off the hallmarks of the breed. In fact, the breeder holds a great responsibility as they choose the stock for showing, and as they send proper examples of the breed for judges to assess to this end. However, we often see how whelping box selections are contrary to breed type.
Playing “follow the leader” is pointless in the area of presentation. It’s essential to understand why so-and-so top handler (breeder/owner or professional) is using a different mode of presentation. Are they trying to make a statement or are they veering away from classic presentation to enhance virtues or hide faults? Or are they just plain ignorant of what true, classic presentation is for your breed? You should boldly defend your breed’s mode of presentation, even if doing so could potentially damage your current standing in the short term. Breed preservation is more important than just one dog winning points or best in show.
As an owner handler or breeder handler, it is your responsibility to make sure that the dogs you are breeding and showing are not just shown with a higher level of presentation. Once your dogs are presented correctly, they will provide the breed with quality for years to come. With such foresight, the goal is not limited to merely finish another champion or to create majors for that purpose. Classic presentation is the element that shows whether the dog itself is of “classic type.” If you know in your heart that your dog couldn’t win in tough competition, it should not be in the ring at all.
We must each reflect on the question: “Am I supporting a drive for change or to preserve the classic heritage? Fundamentally, we must ask: “How does my dog embody the breed standard? How does he embody the classic presentation in his physicality, movement, character—even take the study to a deeper level; what is his silhouette—standing and moving? Study your breed’s ancestry and support the preservation of the lineage. Take on the responsibility. How are you contributing to the mission of maintaining the classic lineage?
Honoring the Lineage The Responsibility of Classic Breed Presentation
By Lee Whittier