Setting Type by Richard (Rick) Beauchamp
Posted on 01/04/2012 in Ringside Conversations.
Richard (Rick) Beauchamp
It is not at all unusual to hear today’s judges complain that they are unable to be consistent in their placements, saying that all too often one is lucky to find more than one or two dogs in an entire entry of even vaguely similar style. Many attribute this problem that exists not only in our show rings, but also in our whelping boxes to the loss of the highly influential, large breeding kennels of the past.
Today pretty much everyone considers themselves breeders despite the fact that they may have bred only a litter or two in their entire lives. And even more problematic is, regardless of what results in a breeding, what winds up in the show ring. It’s that “well, this is just as good as a lot of what is being shown” rationalization.
Those kennels of old housed enough dogs and bitches to be able to establish and maintain a “look”, a “style”, if you will. This look often would set a standard that influenced large areas, sometimes the entire country. It made judging easier and it gave the novice, even the experienced breeder a model to aim for.
The hobby breeder of today is, by and large, limited by space and economics to a relatively small breeding nucleus. This limits the number of litters produced annually and often necessitates retaining fairly good, but not necessarily similar-in-type, offspring to show. Today we find some breeds, as our judges complain, with as many different styles at a given show as there are entries.
The situation is compounded by the rise of what I refer to as our “internet authorities”. Now, with a minimal investment of a computer and an even smaller Internet investment, anyone who cares to can send their opinions (valid or otherwise) out to the entire dog world. It once was that we read and learned from those who were accomplished authorities. Now we read whatever comes across the computer screen. Many believe every word of what they read.
There are those of us, foolish purists that we are, who see a given breed one way and one way only. We struggle to reproduce that ideal as consistently as possible. It goes without saying this is a very old fashioned and very arduous way of breeding dogs. But then, all the good lines I have ever known have been developed in this old fashioned way - through hard work, persistence and an unswerving dedication to a clearly envisioned goal.
Top breeders strive over the years to develop and set type so that it is not even necessary to open a catalog for identification when their dogs come into the ring. By its quality and similarity it is recognized. Pictured here are three generations of Bel S’mbran Salukis bred by George and Sally Bell. Left to right: CH Bel S’mbran Promise of Atallah at four years of age; CH Bel S’mbran Backrack at 12 years; and CH Bel S’mbran J.R. at six years.
The individual attempting to set type must have a very clear understanding of what is actually important to their breed - the essence. This essence is in effect a distillation of the vast number of characteristics included in a breed standard and in a breed’s history. In other words it is the bottom line - that which makes a breed unique.
Most standards carry an excess of superfluous words and descriptions of characteristics that all dogs have. The words of greatest consequence are those that describe what, if not there, would leave the reader unable to create a mental picture of what is important.
I observe with some alarm that the standards of newer breeds that are becoming established here, or are breeds that are relative new arrivals to North America, are becoming consistently more verbose. There are paragraphs after paragraphs describing qualities characteristic of the entire canine species and then, to make matters worse, wasting even more words to list lacking these characteristics as serious faults or disqualifications.
A good club meeting exercise is to challenge the members to think a few moments on what constitutes the real essence of their breed. Then ask individuals with different breeds to stand up and recite in 50 words or less what truly distinguishes their breed from all others.
You would be amazed at how many are absolutely stumped when it comes to finding the words that actually characterize their breed. Thus the information they pass on to the listener barely gives the remotest clue as to even the breed’s general appearance.
A good part of the ability to define the essence of one’s breed is to have a clear picture of the breed’s proportions. This in part creates what can be referred to as the “breed template”. This template is the image through which we view all members of a breed.
Every breed has correct proportions, whether stated in the standard or not. These proportions create what we referred to in last month’s column as the “silhouette” of the breed. A breeder must understand these relative proportions and have them clearly established in mind before he or she embarks upon a breeding program.
This is no less important for the breeder than it would be for a builder, who would never find himself midway through creating a structure before deciding whether it should be a ambling ranch house or three-story colonial. Before pounding the first nail a builder would have size, proportions and relationships firmly calculated and know exactly how every timber relates to the next and to the finished product.
The breeder must also be crystal clear on the history and origin of their breed. This will help answer a good many of the questions that are not answered in the breed standard.
Where To Start
Only after the foregoing data is mastered should the prospective breeder embark upon locating that important foundation stock. The clever novice (and that includes even experienced breeders taking on a new breed), will seek out the successful breeder for their initial purchase. This is a breeder who has a long-standing record for producing quality. It is not someone who has simply “hit the jackpot” and produced a big winner or two. It is at the feet of the talented and successful breeder that the wise beginner will learn how success was achieved.
I can assure you outstanding breeders did not arrive at the top of the mountain by falling there! They got there by hard work, knowledge and objectivity. Their experience and advice must be treasured. The little tips they give can save the novice years of serious breeding mistakes.
I have interviewed scores of breeders around the world and regardless of breed, great breeders concur on two things. First, as has already been pointed out, the beginner must go to a successful breeder for their foundation. Second, it is critical that the beginning breeder buy the best possible daughter of the breed’s best producing dam that they can afford.
Most of the breeders interviewed seem to agree that the foundation bitch doesn’t have to be a glamour bitch as long as her credentials are impeccable. Often as not it is the well-bred, basically sound but not particularly flashy female that will end up the producer of merit. It would be assumed that the bitch would be of a tightly knit pedigree giving her the ability to put her stamp on her offspring. The initial goal then is to obtain daughters of the foundation bitch that have different sires but have also adhered to their dam’s basic style.
Today space and legal limitations create a great handicap, but this hurdle can be overcome through finding a good partner with similar views and compatible personality. Even the most limited breeders working together can create miracles.
It is important that the partners have basically similar goals in mind, and be in agreement as to what constitutes the essence of their breed. They must also both be dedicated to setting type and maintaining it. Win records or fads and fancies must unduly influence neither.
I always find it interesting that a good many, if not most, of the United Kingdom’s greatest exports were whelped in the kitchen behind the stove in the most modest of homes.Their living quarters were shared with their human owners and their “kennel runs” were a tiny patch of garden.
So is it easy to establish and maintain type in this day and age? No, I can’t say it is. But then it never really was, except perhaps for the few blessed with the means to maintain those super kennels of the past.
Can it be done today? Of course it can. There are too many who weren’t aware of how difficult it would be and have gone ahead and done it. There are small hobby kennels all over North America that limit themselves to one litter a year, often less, but work with others toward the same goal and become highly influential in their respective breeds.
Their influence doesn’t come about in a day, a week or a year. It took time but it is not necessary to even open a catalog when their stock appears in the ring - by its quality and its similarity it is recognized.
It isn’t easy as the words on these pages might seem but anyone that has come into dog breeding as an easy way to success is going to be vastly disappointed to begin with. Even the best partnerships and greatest breeders have heart breaking disappointments but when those marvelous puppies start appearing throughout the litters it makes one forget all the trials and tribulations that had to be overcome to get there.
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.