For casual consumption only; not to be
ingested without the proverbial grain
THE PRETTY AND THE GOOD
It is always of interest to me to note other peoples' reactions while sitting at ringside, and comments heard recently reminded me of a conversation I had while living in Australia. A friend of mine there had just returned home from a visit to America. Being a dedicated dog person, a breeder of repute and a judge who had studied long and hard on her way to an all breeds license, she naturally visited several dog shows while she was here. She complained to me that the recurring comment she heard from Americans when referring to various dogs was "He's a really pretty dog", or words to that effect, with "pretty" being the operative adjective time after time. Now, as words go, "pretty" is quite a useful one which I use myself both at ringside and with my own dogs. ("Hello, sweetie, what a correct girl you are!" isn't the exclamation that spontaneously springs from my lips when I'm sweet talking one of my Doxies.) And no one gets more excited than I do at the sight of a Dachshund who truly fills the eye. My friend's point, though, was that "pretty" does not always a good dog of whatever breed make, and I happen to agree with her. If you have been overseas and attended dog shows, you will probably have noticed that breed after breed is decidedly less refined than its American counterpart, and in a few breeds where the "look" has diverged to the extent that you have what appears to be two different breeds, one here, one over there, the American version will almost always be the "prettier" one. So, American breeders, it would seem, select for prettiness, and since that is what one probably needs to succeed in the ring, who can blame them? (Well, the field trial, obedience, and herding aficionados, for a start, but you know what I mean.) I'll return to the topic of selecting for prettiness later, but for now, I'd like to say that I believe the trouble starts when prettiness becomes more important than dedication to breed function, and therefore type and structure, in the minds and hearts of too many breeders. If we forgo considerations of function, then we will inevitably loose true breed type which, to my mind, is inexorably linked with good structure and movement and a reasonable measure of soundness. I have lived life immersed in Dachshunds on two continents (so far) and, I guess because human nature is what it is, the same phenomenon has been observable in each place in several breeds: dogs of poor structure, truly wrong for their breed, winning big because of a showy attitude or a lovely coat, a stunning headpiece, their owners win momentum or political clout, or a combination of some of those factors. And the breeders of these dogs, whatever breed they happen to be, because they can win with them and because they do not really understand breed structure and movement, think that anyone who feels their dogs are incorrect is either jealous or stupid. They get away with it because the dogs have a certain appeal due to the showiness or the head or the coat, a prettiness that attracts and traps enough judges not schooled in the finer points of the breed's structure and the movement that results from it. And the measurable success that these breeders enjoy, however erroneously awarded, serves to convince them that they are breeding good dogs. Now, this phenomenon is not likely to ever be eliminated from our sport, and that's life, but when too much of it gets around, it can do (and has done in a some breeds,) long term damage. These breeders without true understanding of what is correct in their breed, because of frequent wins and high visibility, attract people new to the breed into their fold; these new people are now hanging on the words of someone who actually has no business passing on "breed knowledge", not to mention the fact that these new people grow up in their breed looking at dogs that are incorrect in fundamental ways. And it takes a long time, if it happens at all, for the disciples to see the missing elements in their mentor's conception of the breed, because the dogs are "pretty". Who can argue with that? Some of them are very, very pretty. Well, yes, so they may be. But, I counter, they are pretty creatures who happen to be Afghans or Dachshunds or Beagles, they are not actually good Afghans, Dachshunds or Beagles! So where do esthetics meet breed function and structure and type to produce a pretty dog that is also, for our purposes here, a good Dachshund? For my money, in the dog that is the really fine example of its breed. Someone once commented to me, after a defeat where the judge seemed to have made his decision on shoulders, that his dog had to have good shoulders because his front movement was reachy, efficient and sound. Well, all of that was pretty much true about the dog's front action, but the fact of the matter was that the dog was quite unattractive structurally in the shoulder area: set too far forward, bulky boned and wide at the withers, and not especially well laid back, though not dreadful in that particular aspect. I don't remember now, but I hope that the winning dog with the better shoulders moved as well on his front as did the defeated dog, because that's what I would hope that judges know enough to look for: the balanced animal with the desired clean, flowing structure under the hand, end to end, who proves the validity of that structure on the move. And what are the chances that said dog will also be "pretty", that is, pleasing to the eye? If the eye in question is trained to the desirable fine points of breed type and balance, of how the dog is meant to fit together and of how its outline should look as it performs the trotting part of its breed function, I'd say the chances are pretty good. Okay, back to our American tendency to select for prettiness, and often therefore, I suggest, for refinement. When you have the chance, look at the back cover of your March, '95 issue of "The D.C.A. Newsletter". Now ask yourself how either of the two dogs pictured, both bred by John Cook, a man respected and revered in this breed, would fare in the ring today. If you've been to a recent specialty or the national, my point will not fail to reach you. And if you've looked at Dachshunds in other countries lately, you're likely to recognize the type you saw overseas in the dogs in the photo. Breeds evolve. It is part of the nature of things, as nothing is constant except change. Breeders have the responsibility to attend to that evolution and see that it moves in the right direction, that prettiness or refinement will not become enough, that correct type and structure and movement, all of the aspects that are necessary to the dog to best perform the job it was meant to do, accompany that pretty look and do not fall by the wayside as success in the ring is pursued.
© Lisa and Andrew Warren, all rights reserved