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Correct Proportions and What Makes Them
Posted on 03/11/2008 in Ringside Conversations.

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Richard G. (“Rick”) Beauchamp
As those who have read what I’ve written in the past know, I consider correct silhouette one of the most defining characteristics of any purebred dog. The silhouette is, of course, made up of the correct parts standing in proper proportion to all others. Learning what the parts are, how they are fashioned, and how they stand in proportion to the overall is critical to anyone who wishes to make progress as a breeder or judge.

A willingness to listen and implement sound and experienced advice is an important part of this learning process. Actually, it’s a two-way street. The experienced person being asked for information or advice draws upon his repertoire of knowledge, and as a result, that knowledge is kept stimulated and active. Nor is it unusual for the veteran to research beyond what is already known to find the proper answers.

At the same time, the novice is saved (hopefully!) from having to make costly mistakes due to his lack of experience. I say “hopefully” in that I am always amazed at how often the novice asks experienced dog folk for advice and then will proceed to do exactly the opposite.

I can speak from experience in this respect in that I am constantly sought out to give advice to the supporters of new breeds being accepted by the various registries. I guess the reason being that I was so personally involved in the establishment and rise to success of the Bichon Frise here in America. The breed rose from total obscurity to national and international prominence in an amazingly short period of time.

This did not just “happen,” it came about through collective planning and education. I’ve passed along what I believe helped the Bichon to prominence and then watched while most of these new breed people proceeded to go along doing just the opposite. That, of course, is their prerogative, but I have to admit that it has been to the disservice of their respective breeds.

That said, even if the beginner is not inclined to heed the advice given, he is at least given an opportunity to look before he leaps. This stands true in dogs or in any of life’s endeavors.

I’ve digressed a bit, but even the best of advice is helpful if and only if both the seeker and the seekee are on the same page - that is, both parties in the exchange are referring to the same problem and are in agreement as to where the problem actually lies. This understanding and clarity is not always the case in dog matters and particularly not so in the area of canine anatomy and the terminology surrounding it.

There are terms and expressions so arbitrarily applied in dogs that breeders and judges may seem at times to be working at cross purposes, when in reality they are attempting to reach the same goal. Unfortunately, their attempts to do so may be by vastly different, sometimes conflicting, means. It’s as if all are members of the same Hallelujah Chorus who have joined together to sing, but they are singing different songs. Result? Undoubtedly lovely singing, but who in blazes can figure out what song is being sung?

Chaos and confusion are not the ideal states of residence in any endeavor, but in dog breeding the results are found in the whelping box and in the show ring. The longer a judge and breeder remain in that state, the more apt the resulting faults are to be permanently fixed in the breed.

It’s hard enough and costly enough to eliminate persistent faults in our breeding programs, but if we consistently attempt to do so by fixing the part or parts that might be said “ain’t broken,” at the expense of the ones that are, our chances of success are obviously slim at best.

For example, I recently spoke to a breeder whose dogs are held in high regard. In the course of our conversation I mentioned that I was noticing an ever-growing drift in his breed toward dogs that are much too short on leg. The fault, I said, was not restricted to any one line but apt to be found in many lines and in many different parts of the country. Since the breed in discussion was one whose athleticism could only be compromised by such a fault, I consider it to be a serious one. I had noted the fault even in some of the dogs bred and owned by the gentleman to whom I was speaking.

His response was one of concern and not in the least defensive, but also one that might be used as an example of how easily we can fall into the terminology trap. “I appreciate your calling this to my attention,” he replied, “and I can’t say you’re entirely wrong. I doubt I’ll have any trouble eliminating the problem in my line though. I have plenty of short-backed dogs that can take care of it.”

“But the problem isn’t length of back or length of body, which, by the way are two entirely different things,” I said. “It’s short legs.”

“Well, that’s basically the same thing though, right? Long and low?”

“Wrong,” I told him, and went on to a rather lengthy dissertation why that is so. What follows is what I did my best to shed some light on.

“Long and low” is a conundrum of canine terminology that is as damaging as it is persistent. Correctly stated, long is one thing, low is another. Clarity in this respect, as is the case in all dog terminology, is what allows us to make the right decisions as breeders and judges.

So that we do, in fact, all start off on the same page, let’s set some guidelines. We’ll clearly identify the three areas of a dog’s anatomy involved and list some common expressions used in relation to the term “long and low.”

Anatomy Involved

  • Height. The vertical measurement from the withers to the ground.
  • Length (of body). The horizontal measurement from either forechest or point of shoulder to buttocks. (The measurement forechest to buttocks can be greater than the distance from point of shoulder to buttocks.) Unfortunately, not all standards indicate which measurement is correct in determining length. In this instance, what we’re talking about is the distance from the farthest projecting front end of the dog to the farthest projecting rear end of the dog.)
  • Length of leg. The vertical measurement from elbow to ground.

    Common Expressions
  • Too low on leg. A dog can be of correct overall height and still be “too low on leg”. This is a proportionate determination. Despite the fact that the dog’s overall height at the withers meets the standard’s requirement, the vertical measurement from elbow to ground is proportionately too short for the comparative measurement withers to elbow.
  • Too long in body. A dog can be “too long in body” and still have the correct amount of leg dictated by the standard. That is, the withers to elbow and elbow to ground are proportionately correct. The fault lies in the fact that the dog’s body - forechest to buttocks - exceeds the proportion the standard states as correct for the dog’s total height withers to ground. Excess length of body is an especially debilitating fault when that excess length is in the loin. However, that is fodder for yet another future article.

    Once the actual portions of the body are isolated and identified, it should become much easier to identify where a given fault actually lies. It should also become very clear that breeding to shorten body length when the problem is length of leg does nothing to correct the problem. You now have dogs that may or may not be shorter-coupled but who also are short on leg.

    Determining Correct Proportions
    Some standards clearly state ideal proportions. The Cocker Spaniel is specific on the desired proportions required for the breed. It tells us the height, measured vertically from the ground to the highest point of the withers, is 15 percent, or approximately two inches, more than the length from the top of the withers to the tail set. The chest is deep with the lowest part no higher than the elbows.

    Other standards may not be as complete in defining proportions, but give us all the clues necessary to make the correct determination. The standard of the Clumber Spaniel tells us the breed is long, low, heavy-looking and that he is the kind of dog that works within gun range (not one that dashes off at great speed). The breed is one that possesses massive bone and is rectangular in shape.

    History and tradition of the breed tells us a great deal of what we must know. The Clumber was developed to accompany the elderly gentleman hunter afield. A Clumber was meant to be slow working and methodical - massive and powerful rather than swift, and built to push through brush and bramble rather than clear it. Thus purpose and tradition gives us the additional information we need - it would be difficult not to see this as a short-legged, long-bodied breed. And therefore it stands to reason that if the problem in someone’s Clumber breeding program was too much length of leg, you could breed for longer and longer bodies until hell freezes over, but the end results would simply be dogs who were still proportionately high on leg because you haven’t dealt with leg proportions, only body length.

    Short Necks and Long Backs
    Two other faults that are all too frequently improperly diagnosed are length (or lack thereof) of neck, and long backs. All too often we find breeders attempting to “fix” short necks or long backs in their breeding program, or judges perceiving dogs as having necks that are too short or backs that are too long, when in truth neither one of those faults is the real problem. Either or both faults can be the result of faulty shoulder angulation. As the shoulder blade is set at a more upright position, the neck is optically foreshortened and the back’s length is increased.

    In the case of “long and low”, we had two separate and distinct faults that had to be addressed in that manner. Here the neck/back length problem in many cases is the result of the same problem and can be dealt with by correcting one fault - the upright shoulder.

    In summary, it should be easy to see how important understanding and breeding for correct proportions are critical to consistently producing dogs of the correct make and shape. Next time we will look at some examples of how different faults of proportion change the look of a breed.

    The information contained in Mr. Beauchamp’s “Solving the Mystery of Breed Type” series that appeared in BLOODLINES can be found in his book, Solving the Mystery of Breed Type