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General Rules - Specific Breeds
Posted on 08/07/2012 in Ringside Conversations.

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General Rules - Specific Breeds
Richard (Rick) Beauchamp

Those who have read my columns over the years are aware that I consider the American Pit Bull Terrier (APBT) and American Staffordshire Terriers (AmStaffs) two (or in so many cases one) of the strongest breeds being shown pretty much around the world. Whenever possible I make it point to watch American Pit Bull Terrier judging. It seems there are always some good ones competing, and invariably there are puppies waiting in the wings to challenge the adults. The breeds’ temperament, type and adherence to origin and purpose stand second to none.

My recent conversations with APBT fans are always stimulating and thought provoking. This comes as no surprise really in that it takes intelligence and a strong breeder’s sense to develop and maintain top-notch quality.

I have found the really successful breeders also have an ability to spot off-type trends and fads before they get too far out of hand. In fairness, all breeds are cyclical - that is, over time quality will rise and fall. Kept in responsible hands, a breed always manages to come back to its former level. In the wrong hands, however, I have seen breeds take unfortunate detours and veer dramatically away from what was originally intended.

In their attempt to make their breed “better,” well-intentioned breeders can impose characteristics on their breed that are entirely unsuitable. What I refer to here are characteristics that in themselves are functional and may be of value for one breed but are totally inappropriate for another.

I bring this up in that I recently had a most interesting conversation with an APBT breeder who expressed serious concern over undue emphasis being placed on generic movement at the expense of breed type.

She said, “New judges, particularly new breeder judges, are making judgments based on opinion rather than on origin and purpose. As a result, APBTs of generically sound but questionably appropriate movement are being placed over dogs of long-standing correct breed type. I have even heard new breeder judges indicate that it is movement that defines type and that correct movement is typified primarily by converging on the down and back.”

Defining Type
Movement can never be type since it is an integral part of type. Correct movement for a breed is dictated by the breed’s conformation, and the breed’s conformation is derived from its origin and purpose.

There is no point in being repetitive and taking a lot of space here to discuss what breed type is. I’m sure I’ve written about the subject here in BLOODLINES countless times through the years, and in fact devoted an entire book to the subject (Solving the Mysteries of Breed Type). I do not believe any dog can be classed as having great type unless he scores well in all five of the elements of breed type: Breed Character, Silhouette, Head, Movement and Coat.

That said, and as we go from breed to breed, it must be understood that it may take more to achieve a high score in a particular element in one breed than it may in another. For instance, it is easier for the Pit Bull to achieve a high score in coat than it is for a Maltese. When we score the latter, we have to be concerned with color, length, texture and preparation. Get my point?

This is not to say that coat doesn’t count in the Pit Bull; it does. There are many things a breeder would not want the Pit Bull’s coat to be, it’s just that there is much less to worry about in this respect in order to get a high score than it would in some of the breed’s other characteristics.

What Defines A Breed Most?
The characteristics that separate a breed from all others - that distinguish it - are those that actually help define a breed. The details of those characteristics rise in importance and their absence constitute faults that mark a dog as lacking type.

Gun Dogs belong to a group that is distinguished by its particular mode of movement - sound and enduring, with extension producing reach and drive. Their job is to move in that manner the whole day long. Rather than deal in generalities, let’s use the ever popular and athletic Golden Retriever as an example.

I quote from the standard: “ ... when trotting (the Golden Retriever’s), gait is effortless, smooth, powerful and well coordinated, showing good but not exaggerated reach … . Viewed from any position, legs turn neither in nor out, nor do feet cross or interfere with each other. As speed increases, feet tend to converge toward the centerline of balance.”

The Golden’s legs converge so that balance can be maintained easily as he moves ahead quickly and efficiently all day long. So that you can understand why the Golden’s legs begin to converge as his speed increases, try this. Spread your legs wide apart. Keeping them that way, walk toward a mirror. Note how your whole body weaves from right to left. Certainly not efficient movement for a dog that has to cover a lot of ground!

Next, walk rapidly toward the mirror and allow your feet to assume normal walking positions. As your speed increases, footfalls come closer and closer to the centerline. The Golden is built to accommodate the way he moves and the way he moves allows him to do his job.

The Pit Bull Physique
We have a much different situation with the Pit Bull. He too is an athlete, but an athlete of an entirely different kind. In human terms, he is the athlete that stars on the wrestling mat or is a whiz at shot put. He is not likely to be found leading his team to victory on the basketball court. The Pit Bull’s origin and purpose dictates construction that enables him to hold his ground and dispatch an opponent.

The fact that we have entirely divorced ourselves from the cruelty of pit fighting does not change the reason for which the breed was developed. The Pit Bull was originally a fighting dog. All the bull and terrier cross breeds were developed for that purpose. They are descendants of the tenacious Bulldog (developed to bait and defeat bulls in the arena) and the Terrier of the day whose aggressiveness and maneuverability were legendary.

The Pit Bull was not developed to trot the daylong, nor was he designed to do so at any great rate of speed. Therefore, he does not need to, nor will he if properly constructed, move in the same way that the dog designed to cover ground efficiently will.

Let’s go back to that mirror you used to determine efficient movement. This time, just stand in front of the mirror with your feet together. Without moving your feet apart, ask someone to give you a good shove. What happens? If you don’t move your feet to a more stable position, you’ll probably wind up face down on the ground.

Now, stand in front of that mirror and plant your feet a good distance apart - enough so that you have a strong base of support. Have someone shove you from any angle. You can move your legs to any position you wish except together to maintain your balance. If your purpose in life was to be shoved or more realistically, if you were a wrestler, what kind of construction would you want - slim and elongated or wide and stocky with a low center of gravity?

The Pit Bull needs powerful jaws, strength of neck, frontal stability to do his job. He has a lower, wider center of gravity than many other breeds have. These are the distinguishing characteristics of the breed and they dictate how the breed will move.

Assessing Soundness
The only measure by which we determine soundness in the ring is through the trot. This is all good and fine for the breeds that work at a trot but what does it tell us of the breeds whose efficiency is measured in other gaits? What does a trotting Greyhound tell us about his working double suspension gallop? Really nothing. It doesn’t give us a clue as to how he’ll be able to course and bring down his quarry. What does the trot tell us about the breeds designed to “go to ground”?

Although I would not be so presumptuous as to ignore what the APBT breed standard calls for, I see “convergence” as only a part of what it says in regard to movement. The one word pales even further when compared to the many things it says about the rest of the dog - particularly those things it says about determining whether or not the dog is able to do his job.

To base one’s evaluation of type on a Pit Bull’s ability to converge at a trot, in effect says that the rest of the standard is of no consequence. It would indicate that any dog found in the pound that moves in this manner would thereby qualify as an outstanding Pit Bull.

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 July 2012 issue of BLOODLINES Dog Event News.