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Silhouette by Richard (Rick) Beauchamp
Posted on 12/21/2011 in Ringside Conversations.

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Richard (Rick) Beauchamp
Students who have asked me to mentor them in a breed I have been involved with often begin the request by saying, “I just can’t get a handle on this breed. They come in so many different sizes and shapes I just don’t know which way to turn.”
The confusion is not the least bit unusual nor is the problem that creates it. Many, in fact far too many, of the dogs being shown today have been produced by individuals who are not quite clear on what they are actually shooting for themselves. Therefore in the same ring, in the same breed you find, relatively speaking, the short-legged long dogs and the long-legged tall dogs.

To the untrained eye this looks like one thing and one thing only - mass confusion. The only way out of this hypothetical entry is proceeding step by step to get rid of the dogs that stand in greatest conflict with the original intent of the breed. Now remember, “intent” for some breeds are the tasks the breeds were intended to perform. In other words, a long-legged, spindly, extremely angulated dog is probably not what the creators had in mind when they were developing a draught dog. Neither was a 60-pound coarse-boned beast five ax handles-long dog what Milady was picturing as she was conjuring up what might make the ideal parlor dog.

That, first and foremost, determines what’s really right and wrong for a breed. But if you are going to judge or breed you have to be a bit more specific in your selections than that if you’re looking for top quality. If you’ll look through your breed history books, you are apt to find that the earliest dogs ran the gamut on looks, but as you page further on through the book you’ll find a developing consistency in what the breed begins to look like.

Astute breeders discarded what was undesirable and bred for those characteristics based on the standard that better defined what they had in mind for the breed. As the pages turn, the dogs look more and more alike. Probably not cookie cutter images in every respect, and allowances have to be made for hair, grooming, markings and so forth, but those are simply the window-dressing. The breed has slowly and steadily, through generations, developed uniformity. And what best tells you that this has occurred? A consistency of silhouette has taken place.

The silhouette of iconic Afghan Hound, CH Kabik’s The Challenger,
provides the framework within which the breeder and judge will
begin his understanding of the breed: first the framework,
then the general interior, and then the specifics, one step at a time,
Vicky Fox photo

This is exactly where education begins in learning a breed. There is absolutely no way around it. Everything you need to know about the breed is included within that outline. Every breed has its own distinctive set of curvatures and angles that create its unique and correct silhouette. The dog may be a trifle larger than perfection states or, on the other hand, the dog may be a tad smaller, but those are situations you can work with within the standard’s dictates - the correct silhouette remains the same for the two regardless of size.

There are those that are wont to severely criticize the dog whose only flaw is that it measures a bit over or under the ideal size but is otherwise of ideal type. Quite frankly, I’ll take a pair of either of those a hundred times over those of perfect size with a myriad of flaws that need correcting. I firmly believe the former can give me top-notch quality in a generation or two, while the others, whose most redeeming feature is size, may take me forever to eliminate the faults and develop the virtues.
Once the picture of that silhouette is permanently emblazoned in the student’s mind, his education can begin. He then learns through study and research what deviations from the silhouette would affect the breed’s intent (discussed above) most seriously. For instance, long legs on a breed intended to go to ground would be disastrous.

I devote an entire chapter of my book, Solving the Mysteries of Breed Type, to Silhouette as one of the five elements of breed type: Breed Character, Silhouette, Head, Movement and Coat, but in truth the importance of silhouette runs throughout the book. There is little this element of breed type does not affect.

When achieved, the silhouette of breeds such as the Bichon Frise
reveal a dog whose shape is in perfect balance. Forward movement
then occurs flawlessly with little up and down action at the shoulder.
The smooth transition of powers flows forward and back harmoniously
almost giving the impression of the wheels of a bicycle.
Pictured is CH Paray’s Propaganda.
Shawn D photo

Consider my definition of silhouette that appears in the book: “A breed’s silhouette defines the breed’s physicality by drawing a line around everything required by the breed’s standard and serving as a prologue for all that must be understood about the breed’s physical appearance.” And then look at the photograph that of the Afghan Hound, CH Kabik’s The Challenger, that appears above the definition. If this doesn’t set a student’s quest for knowledge of the Afghan breed off in the right direction, I seriously doubt it will ever occur.

So, you might ask, what is actually included in the silhouette that makes it so important - in a word, everything. From the tip of the nose to the very end of the tail, the silhouette tells you what should be there and how it should be shaped.
The correct shape gives you the dog whose parts put him in balance, and when a dog is in perfect balance this forward movement occurs flawlessly with little up and down action at the shoulder. The smooth transitions of power flow forward and back harmoniously, almost giving the impression of the wheels of a bicycle. Not all dogs, even the best of them, are blessed with this concordant movement, and when present should be highly prized.
Then we move from the whole picture to specifics. Just look at the silhouette of the proper head – it’s all there: muzzle to skull proportions, depth and shape of muzzle, and curvature of the skull. How much head is required for how much neck is revealed. How that neck blends into the body gives a pretty good picture of how the shoulders lie. Shape of topline? The silhouette reveals exactly where it corresponds to or deviates from level. Shape of the croup, set of the tail, degree of rear quarter angulation - it’s all clearly illustrated there.

Moving closer on into the silhouette, we begin to see specifics,
for instance the silhouette of the proper Wire Fox Terrier head:
muzzle to skull proportions and placement of the ears, depth
and shape of muzzle, as well as how much head is required for
how much neck. Pictured is CH Dynamic Super Sensation.

Of course some dogs are covered in hair, but there are such things as clippers or water or even those trusty old tools, the hands. A silhouette can be determined for any breed from Xoloitzcuintli to Old English Sheepdog.
A student is extremely fortunate to have the input of the master breeders in regard to important subjects of this nature, but alas we lose more and more of them as the years go by. Those who do have the privilege of active great breeders in their breeds and do not take advantage of what they have to offer are in my mind no better than downright fools.

In recent years it has become the duty of the breed parent clubs to educate the student. I have long advocated parent clubs concentrating on clarifying what the whole ideal specimen of their breed looks like rather than tearing the breed apart and confusing the student with a million isolated parts. If each and every parent club were to clearly identify the ideal silhouette of their breed, they put each and every student off in the right direction of seeking the details that follow.

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 October 2011 issue of BLOODLINES Dog Event News.