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Helping Others To See The Picture
Posted on 05/15/2013 in Ringside Conversations.

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Richard (Rick) Beauchamp

Eavesdropping is not the most polite thing in the world to do, but there are times when, short of stuffing your ears with cotton, overhearing conversations is all but impossible. While I was waiting for my next class to enter the ring just the other day, I “overheard” a discussion between what appeared to be a rather well-experienced breeder-exhibitor and a very intelligent-sounding (lots of smart questions!) but inexperienced novice.
The former was doing her best to explain the ramifications of the breed standard to the other and was using the dog at the end of her lead as an example of what was correct for the breed.

The explanation was sound, accurate and based on the scientific principles that govern all those things relevant to the anatomy of the breed in hand. The dog that was being used as a model had many of the bits and pieces of anatomy that were being explained. With no X-ray machine available, one could only assume the dog had all the requisite bones, muscles and ligaments. They appeared to be in more or less the proper places, as well, generally bearing the proportions and relationships she was discussing - a job well done - or so it would seem. The reason I say “or so it seems” is that although the explanation was excellent it left me praying the student wasn’t taking a mental snapshot of what was being offered as “ideal”. The dog would do well to score in the area of “ordinary” at the best when it came to type.

I guess the situation bothered me more than it might someone else because of the way I learn. Show me “the good one”. Don’t confuse the issue with scores of examples of what is not wanted or with dogs that are “acceptable but not desirable.” Some people learn aurally, others visually. I’m one of the latter.

When I see it, I’ll know it, and the picture is etched indelibly into what the late breeder and judge, Anne Rogers Clark, referred to as her “breed template” - the one through which all-subsequent examples of the breed can be viewed.

Hitting the Right Nerve

The whole ringside scenario takes me back to the topic I’ve addressed in this column many times, and which has stimulated a good deal of well-thought-out response, both pro and con. Topics that inspire my comrades to take up scholarly arms in defense of their position are the best in my mind.

There’s far too much follow-the-leader going on in today’s dog game. When I hit a nerve that inspires reaction, I’m thrilled. It proves we still have living, breathing and thinking dog men and women out there who do more than allow themselves to be carried along by the winds of fad and fancy.

Does it bother me that I am challenged on statements I’ve made questioning the “Popular Mechanics” approach to evaluating dogs? Not at all. As far as I’m concerned anything that is even remotely linked to the importance of breed type is a step in the right direction.

Do I discount the advances science has made that enable us to understand how and why our dogs do what they do? Of course not. But I see appreciation and recognition of type as something far more basic and essential, a prerequisite if you will, for anyone who really hopes to make contributions as a breeder or judge. And that appreciation comes from exposure and comparison - in the end, as I’ve said, from recognition of line, balance, symmetry and subtlety. These perhaps are not engineering terms, but certainly bottom line essentials in both judging and breeding.

Essence First and Foremost

Honing and developing our ability in this area allows us to recognize the essence of what makes each and every breed distinct, and the greater our ability to do so, the more apt we are to appreciate high excellence when it appears.

Mankind has had this ability far longer than most would ever have imagined. Discovery of the Chauvet Cave art in France in 1994 revealed that only a few thousand years after the first anatomically modern humans appeared in Europe we were making ingenious use of elegant lines, perspective and subtle shading. Our ability to do so produced images on the cave walls that portrayed the animal kingdom that existed at that time.

Carbon dating has revealed these images were created some 35,000 calendar years ago! We have no difficulty in recognizing the intent of the cave artists because they captured the very essence of each and every one of the animals portrayed. In fact, these artists had such a clear concept of what was important to each of the animals they portrayed, and had such a marvelous sense of perspective, that they were able to accurately project these images on a panel stretching some 40 feet across, although they were only able to step a few feet back from the wall due to the narrow limitations of the cave itself.

If you don’t see that as an accomplishment of the highest order, step up to the longest wall in your home or office and imagine drawing a picture of your breed in perfect proportion that will cover a panel some 30 to 40 feet across. Remember that you are only able to step back from the wall no more than three or four steps during the entire process.

If it were my job to educate, I wouldn’t permit any student of mine to go anywhere near a ruler or compass in the initial stages of learning a breed. When he or she had been exposed to excellence often enough to be able to recognize it easily, when the subtleties that created the difference between good and great became apparent, then and only then I would I send them on to engineering school.

Making It Simple

A few years back I attended a parent club-sponsored Judges Breed Study panel. We were overwhelmed with charts, graphs and measuring tapes used to measure angles and connections.

This was followed by bringing in a series of nearly a dozen dogs of the breed. The speaker went through each and every dog, explaining what he liked, hated or could live with about each and every one of the dogs. Everyone watched and listed with rapt attention. To be honest, we completed the seminar with a picture of what to look for in the breed, but that picture (at least for myself and several others that I spoke to) was very fuzzy.

Actually, most of us came away with a clearer picture of what we didn’t rather than did want.

The finale to the seminar, of course, would have been a scenario that went something like: “And now ladies and gentlemen, we present a living breathing example of what we do want in the breed. Understand this is not a perfect specimen of the breed - no perfect dogs have been bred yet in our breed - but this picture is the one you should be looking for in your study of the breed.”

Too many clubs are reluctant to present “the real thing” to students, fearing accusations of favoritism. It should be understood that they are denying the opportunities of those who are trying to learn rather risk someone objecting to not being included in the presentation.

There are so many wonderful veterans of the breed that could stand a living, breathing examples of quality in the breed, and there is no fear of the dog suddenly showing up in regular competition.

I have attended several seminars when “the really good ones” were a part of the presentation, and without a doubt they had great impact on everyone who attended. I’ve had the opportunity to sit ringside and watch some of the individuals who were students at the latter and who are now at work as full-fledged judges. The ones I’ve observed have done very creditable jobs.

Do I always agree with their decisions? No. But that’s not the point. They have the essence of the breed down and know how to separate the dogs, making the right picture right from the get-go. Right off the bat, they pull out the dogs that portray the breed best and then start looking the ones that come closest to the ideal as a whole.

They’ve obviously added to their knowledge since that day at ringside and have probably been coached on the mechanics responsible for why some of those dogs can and can’t do what the standard dictates. More importantly, they are able to instantly recognize the dogs in the line-up that are the breed.

As an educator, I would want my people to recognize a good one first and then go on to find out what the parts and pieces, angles or lack of them, mean and how they work. As a breeder and student, I need more of that than I do endless dialogues on parts and pieces.

Why? Because I find that developing, honing and trusting one’s eye for quality makes better judges and better breeders than does isolating the parts and allowing the parts to take precedence over the whole.

Do the rules of kinesiology, biomechanics and engineering have bearing on our study of purebred animals? To a degree, yes.

We do not, however, enter the show ring or look into the whelping box looking for proof of our formulas. We look there to find that animal that has that unquestionable stamp of quality that portrays the essence of the breed. This applies to breeding as well as it does to judging.

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 April 2013 issue of BLOODLINES Dog Event News.