Movement – How it Helps Define Breed Type
Posted on 12/12/2006 in Ringside Conversations.
Richard G. (Rick) Beauchamp
“Did you see that Bulldog move? He flew around the ring like a German Shepherd! Wow, why don’t we get a Bulldog to show!”
This is the kind of comment one might hear standing at ringside during Group competition. Actually it has far less to do with Bulldogs than it does with a threat to the typical movement of all breeds. Though it might come as a complete surprise to some, the purpose of checking movement in the show ring is not to determine how much showmanship and charisma the dog has. Movement is a test of conformation. It tells us whether or not a dog is constructed properly to perform in the capacity for which the breed was created.
Let’s go back to the Bulldog for a moment. The UKC standard, or any standard I have ever read for the English Bulldog, describes something entirely different than an animal that will fly “around the ring like a German Shepherd.” All Bulldog standards ask for a breed whose demeanor is placid, perhaps even dour. The movement is, in all cases, loose-jointed shuffling with a peculiar sideways motion that creates the characteristic “roll.”
So what if a Bulldog moves with the spectacular movement of the ground-covering German Shepherd? Is this not a dog show? Shouldn’t the Bulldog have the same opportunity to “show off,” to add a little razzle-dazzle to the picture?
Form Follows Function
The movement Bulldog standards require did not come about through some arbitrary whim designed simply to make the breed look different than other breeds. That movement is a reflection of the fact that the dog is constructed properly. Properly meaning in a manner that permits the dog to do the job it was intended to do.
The heavy, wide-set front and low center of gravity kept the Bulldog of old from being easily upended or tossed about. Why was this necessary? Because the original Bulldog’s job was to grab a bull by the nose and mouth and hold onto the animal’s head for extended periods of time--often until the bull’s breathing became so restricted it would either come to its knees or in some cases even succumb.
The Bulldog’s lighter rear quarters gave the dog greater maneuverability, allowing it to shift positions easily without having to relinquish its hold on the bull’s head. This created a disparity between the Bulldog’s huge, wide-set front and its far narrower rear quarters. This same disparity is what gives the correctly made Bulldog that special rolling movement--one that keeps it from ever being able to move like a German Shepherd!
It would take too much time to discuss all of the reasons for the Bulldog’s head construction but suffice to say that its origin is in the same purpose for which the rest of the dog was designed--the cruel sport (if you want to call it a sport) of bull baiting.
While the unique construction of the Bulldog head permitted the dog to do its job, it didn’t do much for the dog’s oxygen intake capacity. Better the Bulldog be of a placid constitution requiring less activity and therefore less need for oxygen intake than say a more hyperactive dog who lives to race around chasing everything that moves.
But one could happily say that the Bulldog no longer baits bulls. Why then should the breed be required to live by rules for something that is no longer required? The answer is quite simple - because the construction of any dog defines the breed. The construction is the breed’s essence, its breed type of you will.
Granted, there can be no doubt that outlawing such inhumane activities as bull baiting and dog fighting can only be looked upon as a positive step. However, there are many other activities that urbanization has stepped in the way of most of our breeds performing in the capacity for which they were created.
How many Borzois pursue wolves? How many of our Old English Sheepdogs have ever herded anything in their entire lives? The Bull and Terrier cross breeds were developed to fight in the ring. Fortunately they are no longer required to participate in this cruel activity.
Rest assured there are very few Cockers that have ever run loose in the field at any time in their lives and how many German Shepherds do you know that have herded German sheep or for that matter sheep of any nationality?
So if these dogs are no longer called upon to operate in the capacity for which they were actually created, does it follow that we dispense with the construction that permitted them to perform? Absolutely not. It is that construction that makes a Greyhound a Greyhound and not a Dachshund.
The Ornamental Breeds
Thus far we have only discussed breeds that were created to do work. But what about the purely decorative breeds? How does all this apply to them? Typical movement is no less important here. The Japanese Chin is a dainty dog we expect to move with a high stepping graceful gait. The Miniature Pinscher has such a unique hackney-pony-like gait that it is hard to qualify a MinPin as quality without this movement.
Many believe the dwarfed conformation of the Pekingese, and its subsequent slow, shuffling movement kept the dogs from wandering out of Oriental palaces. We no longer eat Chow Chows but at one point in their existence they served as food in many cases. Their non-angulated rears and their short stilted stride kept them from making a hurried break for freedom to avoid the stew pot.
The only way we can eliminate the unique movement of the breeds required to have it is by changing their construction. When you change construction you are tampering with breed type. If all breeds move in the same way and with the same attitude, we will soon have a whole race of dogs that may differ in size and color and the amount of hair they carry but will otherwise be simply “generic dogs.”
There is too great an inclination to use the same yardstick to measure quality in vastly different breeds. One of those measurements is speed. For whatever the reason, exhibitors across the country seem to think speed is an essential of a top winning show dog. It makes so little sense, and yet one would think that if you can get a Basset Hound to move as fast as an Irish Setter, you have a better Basset Hound.
The essence of a breed like the Clumber Spaniel is in the rolling gait of its long body and short legs. The Clumber was developed to be an “old gentleman’s” dog in England. “Old gentleman” as in someone who has lost touch with the ability to dash about the field after a speedy bird dog and who needed a hunting companion that didn’t work too far away or too fast. Never the less, we see Clumber exhibitors racing around the ring with their dogs and smiles of appreciation on the faces of the judges observing them. The question still remains, why go through all the trouble of trying to breed good Clumbers if what someone really wants is an Irish Setter?
Thus far, we have only discussed movement and construction. Another very distinguishing characteristic of a breed is its character. Breed character encompasses the total quality of a dog’s attitude and behavior. As previously discussed, the Bulldog has a dour and dignified attitude. We don’t want or expect it to leap around the house or fly apart every time it hears a knock at the door.
On the other hand, those who love the Toy Fox Terrier might be terribly concerned were their dogs to sleep the best part of the day and only move around with a lethargic shuffle. Each breed has its own character and with the proper genetic makeup should be reliable in behaving in the manner typical of that breed. Why people become interested in a breed and then immediately set about to change its character, always perplexes me.
If you want a dog that thrives on getting along with every other dog in the neighborhood, think about a Bichon Frise or Spaniel, not a Pit Bull Terrier. The Pit Bull’s nature makes him your best friend not the bosom buddy of every dog on the block. If you want an extroverted super show dog, think about one of the Terrier breeds don’t try and make Basset Hound a Mr. Charisma clone.
Tampering with temperament can have some very dangerous ramifications, as well. I do not understand why someone incapable of properly disciplining a Rottweiler thinks they are going to be able to convince the dog to be a Beagle in temperament. This isn’t just foolish thinking, it is dangerous!
Another example of how tampering with breed character can result in serious problems is the Golden Retriever. Historically, the Golden has been a placid “good old boy,” willing to go along with just about any and every thing. This has included having tots climb all over him, ignoring household hysteria and the hyperactivity and intrusiveness of “those other breeds.”
Evidently this has not produced the excitable showmanship some people think is a prerequisite for winning dog shows. Therefore, a Golden with the attitude of an Irish Setter has obviously become the goal of some. What harm could that cause you might ask? Unfortunately a lot!
Most Goldens are not able to handle that high-strung attitude and rightfully so. It is in direct opposition to the true character of the breed and we are beginning to see neurotic Golden Retrievers appear in our show rings. This is a breed that has long been at the very top of the list of breeds recommended as family companions. A dog the size of a Golden with a neurotic temperament? Please!
We all want that wonderful show dog capable of winning every award offered but I would venture to say probably 98 percent of the dogs we breed spend their lives in homes as family companions. We cannot afford to sacrifice an entire breed just to get one dog that might find a spot among the Top Ten winners of the year.
Most people who participate in UKC events do so because they believe in the “Total Dog” concept of the organization. No dog can rightfully claim that title unless it is true to the intended character of its breed, and it is not within our rights as dog breeders to tamper with a breed’s character.
As I have written many times in the past, dog breeding provides many satisfying, often exciting, rewards. But it includes a good many responsibilities, as well. Among those responsibilities is an obligation to respect the integrity of the breed or breeds we have chosen to be involved with. Unless we strive to maintain the form character and ability to function that truly typifies our breed we are not as loyal to the breed as we might like to think.
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, published by Doral Publishing, Inc.