Wednesday, May 07, 2008

Standards and Stonehenge

John Henry Walsh invented the Kennel Club "standard" -- cookie cutter judging based on a series of arbitrary points compiled by folks who may not have even owned any of the dogs they were writing a "standard" for.

Walsh was editor of The Field magazine, and wrote for that publication under the pseudonym of ‘Stonehenge.’

In 1867, a scant eight years after the first formal dog show, Walsh published The Dogs of the British Islands, in which he and several friends set out to to detail the physical attributes of various breeds, and to assign various "points" to these features so that the dogs could be judged in a systematic way from show to show.

Walsh's point system (along wih the eugenics theories of Francis Galton) served as the backbone and architectural model of the Kennel Club point system which is used to judge dogs in the ring, and on the bench, to this day.

Yet, here's a question: Do these show-ring standards actually tell us anything about the dogs in question?

For example, without resorting to a search engine, can you even tell what breed of dog this is?

And how, exactly, are the attributes of this breed different from other breeds of a similar type?

Other than guessing, how do you know that this dog is definitively a "This" rather than dedinitively a "That?"

And if standards are so damn important and immutable, why has every canine standard been changed at least once?

Long and narrow, fairly wide between the ears, scarcely perceptible stop, little or no development of nasal sinuses, good length of muzzle, which should be powerful without coarseness. Teeth very strong and even in front.

Small and fine in texture, thrown back and folded, except when excited, when they are semi-pricked.

Dark, bright, intelligent, indicating spirit.

Long, muscular, without throatiness, slightly arched, and widening gradually into the shoulder.

Placed as obliquely as possible, muscular without being loaded.

Perfectly straight, set well into the shoulders, neither turned in nor out, pasterns strong.

Deep, and as wide as consistent with speed, fairly well-sprung ribs.

Muscular and broad.

Good depth of muscle, well arched, well cut up in the flanks.

Long, very muscular and powerful, wide and well let down, well-bent stifles. Hocks well bent and rather close to ground, wide but straight fore and aft.

Hard and close, rather more hare than catfeet, well knuckled up with good strong claws.

Long, fine and tapering with a slight upward curve.

Short, smooth and firm in texture.


Dogs, 65 to 70 pounds; bitches 60 to 65 pounds



Dan & Margaret said...

Greyhound. I particularly love the weight limits... doesn't keep show judges from putting up behemoths who look more like llamas than dogs, which in turn keeps breeders creating larger and larger "greyhounds".

Matt Mullenix said...

Is it a greyhound?

If so, I like the traditional standard much better:

Back like a beam,
Sides like a bream.
Neck like a drake,
Head like a snake.
Foot like a cat,
Tail like a rat.

That's good not just for greyhounds but I'd say for whippets and maybe any fast dog. Notice the ancients don't say, "Back like a ridge; loin like a bridge!" The arched loin so common today is a show ring trait---the fastest, soundest field dogs are straight-backed.

"Back like a beam."

Nightmare said...

Sounds like a Greyhound to me, though I could be wrong, I'm not a big Greyhound fan.

The standard for my breed, the Afghan hound, was last changed in 1948. There are two things that were added purely due to politics: the 'undesirability' of white markings, especially on the head (this because some dogs with white blazes were doing some winning at the time), and calls for a level mouth, although a scissors bite should not be penalized. One of the big wigs in the breed at the time had dogs with a level mouth.

I prefer a scissors bite (the teeth wear down in a level bite) and I have three dogs with white blazes. I have seen some truly stupid discussions about breeding 'to the standard' from show breeders, and what deviations should be acceptable.

I won't get into how hilarious I think it is to have a standard written in the twentieth century for a breed which is easily thousands of years old and did just fine without one.

PBurns said...

Yep, a greyhound.

Liked the old description of the breed, Matt, and loved Nightmare's point about the hubris implied by the modern description of a 4,000 year-old breed.

The funny thing, is that I think this description just about fits for three or four sighthounds. If the breed description does not create a visual, is it really very useful? And if the breed description never mentions the work of the dog at all, is the most important part being tosses in the can. And why, in a breed description of the greyhound, would you fail to mention the coat of the dog? Is it not at least a little bit distinctive from the other sighthounds??


Matt Mullenix said...

I've seen some of giant greyhounds Dan mentioned on the dog shows; one is burned into my retinae. The poor thing looked like a Great Dane, with big shoulders and lots of puffy, flabby muscle. It was solid gray (get it? a gray-hound), which looked like an affectation to me, something that would seem appropriate to someone who had no idea what greyhounds should look like.

The dog was huge, better than hip high to the handler, and moved with a strange too-smooth stride.

Real running dogs have a light gait, powered by a little hydraulic suspension system. They look ready for lightspeed (unless they're asleep---the other sighthound gear). :-)

The color commentary was hilarious of course, all about how these dogs were the essense of pure speed, or whatever:

"These dogs are so fast, Bill, because they had to be fast in order to do what they were bred to do."

"He looks fast, Mike, you're right about that. So, what were these dogs bred for originally?"

"Pure speed, Bill. These dogs were made to be fast. Just look at that magnificent animal. Next up, the Pharoh Hound---also a fast dog."

Dan & Margaret said...

The coat is mentioned:
Short, smooth and firm in texture."

Along with the weight range, that describes only the greyhound (as opposed to the whippet). All the other true sighthound breeds (AKC breeds anyway)have longer coats. Ok, there are smooth Salukis.

Maybe you meant coat color? It really is immaterial... brindle, party, solid, red, white, black, blue, etc etc etc.

...bonus: I know your deerhound/border collie friend in Wisconsin. ;-) G___ C___, right?

Nightmare said...

Matt, don't you know that's what 'reputable' breeders call 'bettering the breed:' make it bigger and weirder looking with more coat! Show dogs in some breeds don't even look like dogs, they look like they were engineered in a lab somewhere and grown in a vat of goo.

PBurns said...

I suppose it's a matter of words. A "short" coat describes a lot of running dogs, I think. It certainly describes a Saluki, a lot of lurchers who are very clearly not Greyhounds, and it describes at least some Deerhounds too in my opinion. "Smooth" is the word I think you want to use to describe the coat of a Greyhound. I think that would be the term you would also use to describe the Sloughi and the Azawakh (Tuareg running dog), which are clearly not Greyhounds, but something a bit different.

But then (and without apology) I am a terrierman and may speak longdog and running dog with a terrible terrier accent ;)

The women's last name in Wisconsin is Grischmeir as I recall (not sure of spelling), and she had border TERRIERS, not border collies. The essential difference is explained here >> (fun clip alert) >> Needless to say, I am a Border Terrier man! No sweaters on the shoulder for me! On the downside, I cannot get my dog to file my taxes, which I am told is something you can actually teach a border collie :)


Dan & Margaret said...

ach. That was a typo on my part... I really did mean Border Terrier. Ginny Cioffletti is the lady I know.. and her kennel name is Chrismer. I think it's the same person. She's chairman of Scottish Deerhound rescue.. (not a real busy job) :-)