Style comes nearer than any other breed characteristic to “type,” and is of great importance to the show dog. Unfortunately, like most great qualities, it is a gift from heaven–your Poodle is born with or without it! You cannot make a dog acquire it; at best, you or your handler can present the dog with style as if he, not you, possessed it. This in itself is easier with a showy type of dog like the Poodle, rather than with some of the plainer breeds or heavily built dogs.
The dictionary defines style as a “manner of conduct or action;” it further uses the word “elegant” and defines it elsewhere as, “choice, superior, tasteful.” In a dog, “style” might be called conduct or action that emphasizes in a superior manner certain “qualities of type.”
For instance, our breed is supposed to move with a “light, springy gait, carrying himself proudly.” Therefore, the gait of the stylish Poodle is unusually light and springy, and his carriage is the very essence of pride. Furthermore, he appears to act this way with intent as well as pleasure, as if his purpose was completely enjoyable. Yet the same dog can be shelly, or not move soundly; or he may have a wide head and heavy muzzle. He may present himself and act as a Poodle should, emphasizing this presentation with happy assurance. Such a dog has “style,” and because of this will be quite hard to defeat in the show ring. He is noticeable, he has distinction, he will impress spectators who exclaim, “What flash, high class!” Even a judge will be forced to give him added attention.
This quality pertains to all breeds: A Bulldog or a Chow can be equally stylish–but not in the manner of a Poodle. Their style will emphasize what is peculiar and proper for a Bulldog or Chow; the former, a decided roll in its gait plus an added willingness, a definite pleasure in rolling along: the latter, an aloof, proud dignity either still or when moving; the stilted gait very decided, full of vigor, yet indifferent to the crowd.
Even with people, a stylish man does not resemble a stylish woman though both possess the same quality. They conform to what is appropriate to each, with especial grace and assurance.
Therefore, style can be said to be a form of appropriate conduct, emphasized, but in no way so exaggerated as to be inappropriate; never in any way a caricature; rather, unusually tasteful, elegant and superior.
Because “style” is so appropriate, in an animal it must be connected with “type,” but this connection is based on manner and action, not on physical construction. An unsound dog may be stylish, so may a dog lacking type; and by the same token, a sound or typey dog may lack “style.” The latter will win, of course, because he is honestly correct and excellent, but he will not “sell himself” as easily or quickly as if he possessed that icing on the cake of excellence, that special distinction, that perfect presentation–“style.”
“Quality–characteristic, property or attitude; character or nature as belonging to or distinguishing a thing, such as the quality of sound.” This is the dictionary’s definition of the noun, quality, so with this general definition in mind, what does the dog fancier mean when he says, “That dog has quality?” For that matter, should we not start at the beginning and ask, “What do we mean when we say a person has quality?”
In the case of the latter, I believe we mean an overall excellence of intellect and spirit that is hard to define because it is so diffused. A person who is just but kind, gentle yet humorous, whose brain comprehends as well as remembers, an intelligent person, guided although not controlled by normal emotions. For quality not only relates to a well ordered goodness, but a combination of virtues refined to a point where none are obtrusive. This is why a “person of quality” often implies an aristocrat, although a plain, rather simple being can possess quality. Still, aristocracy, the quality itself of nobility, has a relationship with the noun quality, for aristocracy is felt; it is effective in a subtle sense, as is quality, without intruding on another’s spirit of person.
Now in the case of a dog, the noun “quality” becomes more limited. While a dog of quality is usually a purebred, it may not be, although it must possess some sort of type.
The word “quality” in dogdom refers to a general amalgamation and distillation of breed virtues such as type, soundness, style and temperament. If a dog had an excessive amount of any one of these characteristics, it would then be a “very typey dog,” or “an unusually sound dog,” or a dog “with masses of style,” or a dog with “a grand disposition”–for these separate characteristics would be so emphasized that they would overwhelm all the others.
Whereas the virtues of the “quality” dog are not specialized, no one overwhelms the other. In fact, they are blended and fused, equally by each other! This is why the mongrel, to possess quality, must have a type, and his actions, soundness and temperament must conform to this type.
Again, these unspecialized virtues are felt rather than immediately seen; they are unobtrusive, condensed and purified by their fusion. Yet, because all of them are there, the dog appears unusually distinguished. Subtly, but surely such a dog pleases even the layman—“He looks the part, seems right somehow,” says the crowd.
“That dog has quality,” says the fancier!
I will conclude the chapter of “Know Your Breed” from The Art of Handling Show Dogs with Mr. Sabella’s comments on balance in the next issue. Again, I thank him for allowing me to share this information with you all. Any questions or comments or to schedule a seminar, contact me via email: firstname.lastname@example.org.