Wednesday, January 14, 2015

Failing on the Fundamentals of Form and Function

The opening line of the AKC standard for the Border Terrier reads:

"Since the Border Terrier is a working terrier of a size to go to ground...."

What's that mean?

It means that if you are giving a talk about "form and function" in working terriers you have ONE JOB and it's to get the bit about chest size right.

And yet, just look at this.

Notice that this lecturer never actually spans the dog right in front of her.

And guess why?

It's because this dog is too big to span.

And yet, we are told that this dog (which is not owned by the presenter) "could work tomorrow."

Notice the very tentative nature of that proposition, however. This presenter hesitates a bit. And guess why? She knows this dog cannot be spanned.

Which is why she is not spanning it.

And, of course, she cannot regale this group with the great field work that this dog has actually done against red fox, or raccoon, or groundhog, because this dog has done no field work at all.

It seems this is a show dog masquerading as a plausible worker.

But, of course, it's not so plausible a worker as to actually be spanned!

The presenter here goes on to tell us that fox in Britain weigh "on average" 20 to 25 pounds.

Nope. That's not true at all.

In fact, the average male fox in the U.K. weighs about 15 pounds, and the average vixen tips in at just 12 pounds.

This is not a subjective point -- we KNOW what fox weigh in the UK, and we actually have hundreds of measured fox from all over the U.K. and all over the world to support a true average.

Red fox are not big anywhere.

In fact, what this presenter claims as the "average-sized' fox in the U.K. is very near the record-size for fox EVER seen in the U.K.

How far out is the 20-25 pound "average"?

For comparison purpose, if we assume the 20-25 pound "average" weight is a range given to cover sexual dimorphism, the human American male equivalent is to say the average American man weighs 323 pounds rather than the 194 pounds he actually does.

The presenter tells us she has never seen a fox spanned at 17 inches.

Right. But she might as well have said she has never seen a fox spanned at three feet!

In fact, as I noted in yesterday's post (written in 2005) professional terriermen in the U.K. will tell you they have never seen a fox that could not be spanned at 14 inches, and a review of red fox taxidermy manikins sold all over the world makes clear that this number was not invented whole cloth.

In fact, 14 inches is the maximum chest size allowed for a full-sized working Teckel in Germany, where they are not known for playing slippery eel with measurements, and where "dachshund" actually means "badger dog."

How far out is a 17-inch maximum chest size as compared to a true maximum chest size of 14 inches?  To put a female chest size comparison to it, it's the difference between a 36-inch bust (a very big chest!) and a 43-inch bust.

The bottom line here is that we have a presentation on the "form and function" of the Border Terrier that is fundamentally wrong on the ONLY fundamental that matters.

What's going on here?

Two or three things, I think.

To be charitable, let me say that I think there is a natural tendency for people to tell people what they want to hear.

If you are invited to speak about form and function of working Border Terriers, and you begin your talk by saying 90 percent of "the standard" is complete bullshit cocked up by hairdressers, retirees, and pretenders, the room is going to get very quiet.  If you go on to note that nearly all of the dogs owned by everyone in the room FAIL on the one point in the standard that is actually necessary for a working terrier, people are likely to get very upset indeed! You will probably get a chance to make both of those true statements only ONCE, same as the show ring judge who marches all the crap dogs out of the ring and awards no ribbons.  See if he or she gets invited back!

The second point is that I suspect this speaker has not actually handled too many red fox.

To the extent she has dug on red fox in the U.S. she knows that most Border Terriers are too big in the chest to follow a red fox down a natural-dug hole.

Since she knows almost all the Border Terriers paraded around American show rings are too big to go to ground in this country, she jumps to the hopeful idea that British red fox MUST be much bigger.

Must be.

Must, must, must.

Because if red fox in the U.K. are as small in the chest as they are in the U.S., and they are, then she and her friends are not actually breeding TRUE working Border Terriers.  They are breeding dogs that FAIL at the first requirement of being a Border Terrier. After all, a Border Terrier is, by definition, "a working terrier of a size to go to ground...."

And, as for that span thing.... well let's just gloss over that too, eh?

A common way of doing that, especially among female show "fanciers," is to say of course their hands are too small to span a dog, as "the standard" was written for MEN!

But "the standard" does not talk about the gender of the person doing the spanning, nor does it mention his or her stature or hand size.

It does not need to.

As Eddie Chapman has noted, a "span"
is actually a very generous measurement for a fox chest.

A normal-sized man will have significant digit overlap on a properly-built dog.  As for myself, I have yet to take any woman into the field who could not span either a dead or a live fox that was put in front of her.

So where do we end up, and why does it matter?

As is so often the case with the Border Terrier, we end up in fantasy camp, with red fox supposedly as big as coyotes being dug to by massive men with hands large enough to palm a basketball.

It's complete bullshit, of course, but it's not just neutral bullshit, it's destructive bullshit.

As a result of fantasy and disinformation we continue to see over-large border terriers being bred by a parade of pretenders and rosette chasers who never seem to notice that almost no Border Terriers are actually found in the field today.

This last point is actually noted by this presenter.  But does she ascribe it to size?  No!  She says it's because Border Terriers are "the wrong color" and will get shot by drunk gunners or chewerd up by over-eager hounds. And then, in the very next sentence, she says folks are using Fell terriers and Patterdales, never noting that these dogs are the same color as a Border Terrier!  Whiskey, Tango, Foxtrot.

What nonsense!

Now to be sure, there are still a few working border terriers out there in the world.

But damn few.

Finding one is a dinosaur hunt across countries and continents.

And do you know what the Border Terrier folks in the U.S. say when they get together to go on a hunt?

"We need to find a 'hole dog.'"


Because the average winning show ring Border Terrier, either in the U.S. or in the U.K., is not actually built to go down a natural-dug fox hole.

For the record, what the Kennel Club has done to the Border Terrier is exactly what they have done to the Fox Terrier, and it is exactly what they are now doing with the so-called "Parson Russell " Terrier.

Back in 2005 I wrote a short piece about all of this entitled Measurement Informs, Exaggeration Deforms:

As for those Americans who breed dogs for fantasy hunts in England, Scotland, and Wales, I will leave them to their fantasy digging. I live in a reality-based world, and I do my digging on real quarry in real soil within 100 miles of my house. Terrier work is, by definition, not fantasy work. It looks suspiciously like digging on real dogs in real earth in the country in which you actually live.

As to "the standard" for any breed of working terrier, it was never written by a human, but always by the quarry being pursued. Because my terriers hunt, and because I value success in the field, I want a small terrier with a chest of around 14 inches or less -- the chest size of a red fox, adult groundhog or raccoon.

If you really want to understand what is needed in a working terrier, invest in a $5 fish scale from K-Mart, and a simple cloth tape measure available from any crafts store. Measure the chest size and weigh the quarry you are actually digging on in your area.

Measurement of quarry informs about the dogs, while exaggeration and fantasy is what deforms and results in the bully-headed, big-chested non-working dogs we find in the Kennel Club ring.

Those statements are as true today as when they were written 9 years ago.

If only some things changed!


PipedreamFarm said...

"could work tomorrow"

The lie (dogma) that AKC breeders tell to validate they are preserving the breeds originally developed for work. What it tells us is they know very little about the genetics of the working behaviors and instincts in their breed. They know and understand that in order to preserve the desired appearance traits they must make proper breeding selections but they don’t apply this same principle to working/behavioral traits.

"If it looks like a working dog it will also perform like a working dog, if time were spent training it."

PBurns said...

Yes, you nail it.

Imagine if you or Donald were giving a talk about form and function in a working border collie, or a couple of professional mushers I know were doing the same.

Would you start by talking about the shape of the head, the shape of the ear, and the shape of the eye? Ridiculous.

You start by talking about what "the standard" does not cover, which are the essential elements of the job. But, if you were to start there, you would be tipping the hand, which is to say that almost NOTHING in "the standard" (always put in quotes because it is always changing and therefore not standard for ANY breed) is actually very important.

Further on in this presentation, she tells the story of how someone asked her if she saw two dogs in the field and once was a pretty ugly dog and the other was a beauty, would she reject the ugly one even if it worked? And she said she did not know!

Wow! She did not even understand the question being asked. You see, in the REAL world of the working terrier, this is a shibboleth. When you visit a TRUE terrierman and he or she has a kennel full of beauties and one smaller less pretty, it's the less pretty you would do well to coo over and enquire about, because the pretties may be being kept for the ribbons in the off-season summer shows, while that small ugly dog is going to have to earn his keep in the field all fall and winter.

This is an OLD working terrier shibboleth and the fact that she was asked it AND DIDN'T EVEN KNOW IT WAS BEING ASKED tells you a great deal.

That's the purpose of a shibboleth -- to separate the pretenders from the others.

That was a full fail, and it's amusing that she tells the story herself without any understanding of the deeper nature of the question.

jeffrey thurston said...

She claims in the first minute of the video (:47-:51) that her first Border terrier that she showed at Westminster (Oh My!) was missing it's teeth because of all the racoons it had caught the previous year. She spins quite a yarn...

jeffrey thurston said...

I googled "fox size" and came to a British specific site which said that although British foxes can get quite large most are the size of a cat. There is a photo of a melanistic red fox which although quite large has basically a straight skinny cylinder for a body- clearly illustrating your points. The sincerity of the woman in the video is disarming- she can really sell the soap- reminds me of QVC type salesmanship where the spoken words of the pitchpeople add value to what is essentially mid-level crap. It's the fantasy that creates value...

jeffrey thurston said...

Now I have watched much of this video- Wow! Just a torrent of crafted BS! A lot of the terminology these AKC people use and a lot of the "correct" breed characteristics are derived from equine conformation judging where in Thoroughbreds for example form actually can dictate function for racing. Thus we have all that nonsense about the proper 45 degree angle shoulder- an obsession with Thoroughbred breeders. And talk of hocks and pasterns- equine derived it seems to me- very toney. There is some very confusing BS about how a small shoulder is so important- "I don't care how small the chest is- it has to get past the shoulder...!" Amazing. And just as you said- she really never actually spans the dog but at 11:03 she comes close and her thumbs are not even close to touching. Really quite amazing- like standing there and showing a luxury SUV and saying it's a Jeep. I STILL don't understand why AKC terrier breeders don't get as obsessed about small chests- seems like Job 1 really...

PBurns said...

Yes, a good yarn, and most of it bullshit and confusion.

To start with, the Border Terrier is, as its name implies, a dog from the north. What that means is that it is not a dog associated with the mounted hunts at all (no horses), but the foot packs.

The borders are pretty tough country, and the Ullswater Foxhounds with which the Border Terrier is so closely identified, is straight up and down country. In fact, Joe Bowman is the fellow who created the Patterdale Terrier BECAUSE Kennel Club pretenders were wrecking the Border Terrier -- a history I tell on the blog and which I was the first to tease out some years back.

There is a great deal more nonsense, but why grind through it all? Suffice it to say that Dachshunds, Fell terrers, Jack Russells and Patterdales are still found working in the field and Borders are not for a reason, and the chief reason is that show-ring pretenders have turned the border terrier into a transvestite terrier which cannot actually do the job it is trying to dress for. As I have noted in other posts, there is no "grand day" for the border terrier as a working terrier -- it was a show ring creation from the 1920s on and pretty much fell from first fence as a result.

For the record, I owned border terriers before this woman did, started with border terriers, used to show AKC border terriers, and left them BECAUSE the breed has largely been ruined for work.

This woman left Jack Russell's not because she could not find one sized for work and game too, but because she is more interested in the show world and the Border terrier was an AKC show dog where competition for ribbons was not too intense.