Movement, an Integral Part of Breed Type
Posted on 03/01/2012 in Ringside Conversations.
Richard (Rick) Beauchamp
We have many breeds that were designed with a specific purpose in mind - to work. And the manner in which they worked pretty well determined just about everything about them: they way they looked, they way they behaved, and above all the way they moved.
That of course does not apply to all breeds, some breeds had no real work to do but they most definitely had purpose. That purpose was to please. Not just by having a generally pleasant look and character, but also by their very specific look they appealed to certain people in a specific way. The point to remember is that they were developed in a very particular way and the closer they conformed to the ideal set up for the breed, the more pleasing they were.
That construction dictated the way the breed moved and that heritage deserves recognition. The breed’s movement then is every bit as important as the working dog’s movement is to it.
Over the centuries in North America, the finals of a dog show - the Groups and Bests In Show - have taken such precedence that in the mind of the vast majority winning the Group under some judge that is barely associated with the breed creates more pride than winning a hotly contested Best of Breed under a renowned breed expert.
Not so in the Great Britain. There, “winning the ticket,” (in our terms “championship points”) is the most important win of the day. And so, if the Group has been called and the breed judging is not complete - let it be! The important thing is winning in the classes.
Our obsession with Group and Best In Show wins has placed us at high risk of all breeds converging toward a commonality. Why, because in the finals competition speed, flash and glamour rise above all - whether it is appropriate or not.
Carried to the extreme, this would produce a generic dog that is extroverted and fast, that covers ground well in profile and can come and go with legs moving in a straightforward, far-reaching fashion.
Do understand there is nothing wrong with any of the characteristics so mentioned in so long as they are appropriate for the breed. Not all breeds were meant to move in the fashion just described. Attractive and flashy, yes. Universally correct, absolutely not!
When a breed begins to drift toward this generic movement, as subtle as it may initially be, other changes begin to take place and these changes affect breed type. There are many examples I can give you, but there is one in particular that is relatively recent and illustrates how infectious and pervasive these changes are.
“Loose Leads, Please”
While it used to be within the realm of the judge to offer critiques of the dogs, it appears now to be the fashion for the exhibitor to offer critiques of the breed publication, “... His judging style proved unpopular with exhibitors as he persisted with trying to get dogs to move on a loose lead rather than strung up, as is the norm.”
The truly sad thing about the above is not that the judge was being criticized; judges have become accustomed to having their decisions questioned. No, the very unfortunate part of the statement is the words “strung up as is the norm” (showing the dog on such a tight lead the front feet are barely touching the ground) is the norm. The breed in question was a member of the Sporting Dog Group and the statement would make the true Sporting Dog aficionado shudder in horror!
Understand that while I am discussing a specific breed and group here, it applies across the board. It appears at some point along the way it was decided that the front assembly on many show dogs was simply that part of the anatomy put there to produce the extreme toplines that are now in vogue. Upright shoulders and short straight upper arms give elevation to the front. With the exaggerated angulation many of these breeds have behind, we have toplines that would scare off a downhill skier!
With upright fronts and rears so powerfully angulated, the dogs have either to side wind or to tuck their rear quarters under themselves and raise their rear ends sky- ward to avoid overstepping their fronts.
When There’s a Will …
Leave it to American ingenuity - when there’s a will there’s a way. American breeders (or should we say American exhibitors?) found a way to compensate for this problem without having to bother with the boring and time consuming ordeal of a breeding program. The alternative was a simple one. Simply push the lead up under the dog’s chin and “string up” the dog’s front so that the entire front-end assembly is hanging on the end of the lead. The rear quarters then propel the dog forward at the speed of the handler. The dog’s front legs are in motion but they serve no functional purpose.
This is not the only movement problem we face in our “modern American show dogs”. We have many breeds we can look to whose extremely short legs are crooked by intent and produce the correct movement for the respective breeds.
Having the Basset Hound move with the rapid-fire reach and drive of a Sighthound can only be accomplished in one way - by straightening and lengthening the front legs. First, it must be understood that the Basset Hound was created to be a plodding, slow paced hunting dog that the hunter could easily follow and keep up with. In order to accomplish this, the creators of the breed bred for construction that would achieve this end - the extremely short legs that wraparound the body and restrict movement - they were and are correct for the breed.
The Bulldog and Pekingese standards ask for construction which is the absolute antithesis of that called for in the generic “sound” dogs that are well-angulated front and rear. The Chow Chow standard calls for a dead straight rear quarter, which has the dog move with the short stilted gait that is a hallmark of the breed.
In order to achieve the popular concept of “great show dog movement” in these breeds, their construction would have to be changed. Perhaps imperceptibly at first but as is so typical with human concepts, if a little is good, a whole lot would be a whole lot better.
Sometimes incorrect movement is not always as extreme as some just described; often it is far subtler, but nonetheless important to take note of. For instance, the case of movement among the Setters - few can argue the glamour and excitement created by the Irish Setter’s flashy ground-covering movement. The breed moves as it does because of what it was created to do in the field. Working on Ireland’s relatively flat terrain the Irishman could move forward throwing caution to the wind.
The purpose of the Gordon Setter, on the other hand, was much different than that of its Irish cousin. The Gordon worked on the rocky inhospitable terrain of the Scottish Highlands. Care and deliberation in movement were important to the breed.
Racing headlong across the moors could prove extremely dangerous to the feet and legs of the breed to say nothing of the poor hunter’s ability to keep up with the dog. Thus the Scots bred to create a dog who was shorter coupled, heavier bodied and boned, and slower moving than the lithe, whip cord bodied Irishman.
The English Setter was a hunter that worked all kinds of terrain, open meadow, rocky stubble, hills and dales. He is the moderate dog of the three. Not so extreme in any respect as his two cousins.
Those wanting or expecting Irish Setter movement should look to the Irish Setter and not the Gordon or the English. Should we not honor the very intent and purpose of these breeds? Only an idiot would be able to convince himself that the only difference the founders of these three breeds wanted was in color!
Those who taught me led me to believe it is often tradition itself that maintains a standard in dog breeds. One need only look to the Greyhound standard to understand the point. I guess those of us from the old school have to get wise to the fact that new traditions can arise, but I still have a twinge of heart when the new traditions cancel out those things which have been considered hallmarks of a breed. Things like the movement that is often unique to a single breed.
Granted, two different worlds are yesterday and today. Back in those good-old-bad-old-days those irascible old judges we showed under would never have allowed us to even hint at stringing up our dogs. A dog moving out in front on the end of slightly taut lead was about as far as we could get with those old timers and that was on their kinder days.
We took a great deal of pride in the fact that our dogs could perform on their own at their own rate of speed. I still find this natural movement both attractive and important to the essence of a breed, and there is absolutely no way that changing a dog’s manner of movement can be accomplished without changing the structure to accommodate that change.
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 February 2012 issue of BLOODLINES Dog Event News.