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Balance and Proportion
Posted on 06/05/2013 in Ringside Conversations.

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Richard (Rick) Beauchamp

Granted “There’s nothing new under the sun,” as the old saying goes, but on the other hand it must be understood that if someone has never heard about it or never understood what is meant, information can indeed be new (at least to the person discovering it). There are times I hesitate to belabor a point because it seems to me that is something that everyone knows.

Not true, everyone does not know that. Still, I have to continually remind myself none of us are born knowing everything we need to know, and that is just as true about purebred dogs as it is about anything else in life. Admittedly, I’ve harped on the importance of understanding the balance and proportion of any breed you might wish to breed, show or judge. In retrospect, I am glad I have because I find those three words are becoming increasingly more a part of the modern dog fancier’s lexicon.

I want to digress just a minute here to emphasis one particular point. There are reams of material written about the responsibilities of the judge and the breeder, but very seldom is enough responsibility given the exhibitor in educating himself. What follows in this column is as critical to the exhibitor as it is to those who breed and judge.

Perhaps if exhibitors were to add thorough breed knowledge to their repertoire of handling do’s and don’ts, there would be less rolling of eyes and exasperated huffs and puffs when their placements are less than what was anticipated. A part of good handling is to know where in the line-up someone’s dog actually belongs.

Understand, knowing that doesn’t mean the exhibitor tries less (why bother showing if not to win?). However, it does help to eliminate a good deal of the histrionics of an exhibitor who hasn’t a clue that the dog or dogs that defeated him were in fact quality animals that may well have deserved their superior placement.

Let’s get back to our subject - balance and proportion. Every breed of dog is made up of corresponding proportions. When relating correctly, they give the dog balance, and the resulting overall picture is what we refer to as silhouette.

These are the veritable keys that indicate where a dog of any given breed is right or wrong. Critically there must be agreement here if a breed or a breeder is to progress or, for that matter, if a judge is to pass upon the breed with expertise. Often in my writing I have the used what I call the church choir analogy to emphasize the importance of understanding just how critical this is.

Imagine gathering the best vocalists from around the country to create a choir for some special occasion. Each vocalist is superb within his particular vocal range.

All are in full agreement to sing their best, and the night of the concert they do just that, sing their best, but each opens the hymnal to a different page and sings an entirely different song. Yes, the lyrics are correct, as is the rendition of each and every vocalist. The audience hears nothing but cacophony.

Church choirs are far removed from purebred dogs, no doubt, but the analogy stands. Only when everyone is on the same page will we have agreement as to what is correct and incorrect according to the breed standard. And the result in a vast majority of the cases will be a dog that will be a well-balanced representative of its breed.

It goes without saying, however, that this all begins with knowing the parts that create the framework, and unfortunately a breed’s standard may not always be as helpful as it could be. For instance, we must know specifically what part of the anatomy the standard is referring to.

We often find that length of body for one standard is the measurement from breastbone to buttocks; for another it is point of shoulder to buttocks. Still another refers to length from top of withers to set-on of tail as length of body. Each of those references will result in a different measurement, and depending upon what the respective breed standard requires for height, the resulting proportions differ radically.

Many standards add to the confusion with terms like “slightly longer” and “moderate”, which can have as many different interpretations as there are interpreters. Even inches and/or centimeters can be confusing as well in that 5 inches (12.7cm) on a 60-pound dog can appear to be something profoundly different on an 80-pound dog. It is how the various points of the anatomy relate to another (proportions) that in the end tells the greatest tale.

Students of a breed whose standard is not clear must research origin and history of that breed and turn to experienced and successful breeders and dogs of great quality to provide the answer.

The search must begin with common agreement of what the various parts of the anatomy are. We refer to my good old Grand Champion Everydog in the accompanying illustration to identify these parts. Just to be clear, although all dogs have the same parts as GRCH Everydog, it is how the parts relate to each other that begin to define a specific breed.

As a perfect example, the Doberman Pinscher standard, under Forequarters says, “Height from the elbow to the withers approximately equals height from ground to elbow.” The standard remains specific in its references throughout so that we eventually begin to create the silhouette of the ideal Doberman.

Mastering what the silhouette of a breed includes should be the initial step toward understanding any breed and serves as a tool to locate where problems may lie in a specific dog or, for that matter, in an entire breeding program. A breeder can breed to shorten backs forever and not see any improvement in the overall silhouette of his dogs because the problem is not in the length of his dogs’ backs but in the fact that their legs are shorter than they should be.

If he has determined, for example, what the proportions should be of muzzle to length of skull, the breeder doesn’t have to make dozens of experimental breedings to change the look of his dogs. He addresses the problem from the start.

Defining proportions does certainly not have to end with the silhouette of a breed. The same process can be used for head properties. Expression is hard to define but it certainly can be identified. Knowing proportionate width of skull, muzzle, distance between the eyes, depth of muzzle and a thousand other intricate details can give the observer concrete illustrations of what may or may not need “fixing”.

Just concentrating on a simple thing like the distance between the eyes in respect to the length of the muzzle can totally revolutionize an expression; however, identifying the where the problem lies is the first step to making the change.

Knowing the proportional chart of a breed isn’t just a tool; it’s an absolute necessity. Have you developed one for your breed?

Richard G. (Rick) Beauchamp has been successfully involved in practically every facet of purebred dogs: breeding, exhibiting, publishing, writing. He is the author of numerous breed and all breed books including the best-selling Solving the Mysteries of Breed Type and Breeding Dogs for Dummies. He has judged all breeds throughout the world and was one of the United Kennel Club’s first all breed judges.

This article originally appeared in the May 2013 issue of BLOODLINES Dog Event News.