Welcome to Pure Dog Talk. The podcast on PureBred dogs. I am your host Laura Reeves.
Today we are going to talk about one of my personal pet peeves. Some might call this a rant, I think of it as strong encouragement. Let’s think a bit about one of our old favorite’s fables. The Three Little Pigs. Each of one of the pigs built their houses out of different materials. Their foundations were straws and sticks and bricks. The big bad wolf came along and he blew their houses down. I will huff and puff and blow your house down. How does that apply to us? Well, here is the thing. The feeblest building material in that story was straw. I compare this to the dog show world’s version, it’s all about me. It’s all about the ribbons, the glory, and I’ll huff and I’ll puff and I’ll blow your house down. Then there is a slightly stronger building material. The next pig built his foundation out of sticks. I think about when we run into people focusing on nothing but titles and rankings and how many instead of how good. And I’ll huff and puff and blow your house down. Finally, the brick house was built by the piggy. This house withstood the efforts of the big bad wolf. That solid foundation that we seek comes from the breeders who concentrate on the whole package on what is this dog supposed to be? And they base that foundation on an understanding of their breed, breed standard, and breed history to make that solid brick foundation. I huff and I puff and I cannot blow that house down.
Why do we call this conformation dog shows? Anybody? Conformation dog shows mean that you are conforming, not confirming. Spelling makes a difference in this case. Conforming to a breed standard. What is the breed standard? The breed standard in any breed of the 180 some odd that the AKC has registered. This is the perfect dog. There are any really actually perfect dogs in existence. We might think Poopsi is perfect, but he is not. Dogs have to adhere to generally principals of what the breed standard is designed to create. That breed standard was written by the founders of your breed. It tells you that this is what you are aiming for. This is your goal. Part of the joy and mystery of the beauty of pure bred dogs is nobody every grabs that ring. We don’t make perfect dogs. We just keep trying.
Why is a breed standard important to us? It gives us a blueprint for building the construction on the foundation we talked about earlier. That brick house is built on a solid foundation that solid foundation is the breed standard. When you build from that foundation, you are making something that will stand the test of time. And no big bad wolf is going to blow it down. History of what your breed is and what is was designed to do, matters. It matters because in all things to do with dogs, form follows function, is a real thing. A dog looks and is shaped a certain way because that was how that animal was designed in order to most efficiently and effectively do the job that it was designed to do. And what your dog was bred to do deeply impacts your life with them. This applies to show dogs, performance dogs, and companion dogs, everything you can name. Herding dogs, ok? Herding dogs were designed to work independently. They have an innate drive to herd livestock, other animals, anything that they can focus on. They are going to herd into a corner. This is a good thing if you have a dog that you are working on in a performance basis. If you have a companion border collie that wants to herd your children in the corner and nips at them while doing it, this can be a problem. Understanding the basic principles that drive our dogs makes us better dog owners. It makes us more able to work with the dog we have because we understand where they are coming from.
I raised German wire hair pointers. They were designed to hunt fur and feather, track wounded game, retrieve on land on in water, and dispatch small predators and guard home. These dogs have a lot of drive. They think that small predators frequently include cats. If you call me up and want a wire haired pointer and I ask you if you have a cat in your home and you say yes, I may or may not be inclined to sell you a wire hair pointer. A pointer thinks that a cat, in his brain, a cat should die. And so suddenly that has tremendous impact on your family and your family situation if this is the right dog or not for you. So understanding that breed standard and what your dog was designed to do in the history of it makes all of the difference if you have a happy companion or one that doesn’t fit in your situation. I find that dogs that don’t fit into your family situations, wind up going to rescue and animal shelters and generally not living in forever homes. It’s incredibly important that as breeders we understand our dogs. As puppy buyers we understand that we make good choices about the dogs that we want to have live with us.
As a breeder, building the foundation that we talked about, that brick house foundation. In order to do that, we not only need to know our breed standard, and by that I mean you didn’t just read it once. By that I mean you can actually repeat it verbatim and you clearly can apply the pieces of that standard to the individual dogs in the ring, in your home, and in someone else’s breeding program. If you are able to do that, you are able to understand the whole package of what the blue print of that standard is and apply it to the foundation that you are building a structure, you are going to have a much better opportunity to reach families that are interested in having companion animals, performance animals, and having show animals and having them be successful and having them be in happy homes.
In order to understand the breed standard, a lot of us who don’t come from a background in this, need to learn a whole new language. The language that describes our dogs in the breed standard is not one that is used consistently in the general public. So you are talking about shoulders, lay on, and lay back and you are talking about brisket, the balanced angles between the front and the rear, and croup and tail set and top line. You are talking about movement and single tracking and double tracking and the overall head and expression and balanced proportions of the dog, of the overall picture. This isn’t something that everybody starts with. The basis for developing your foundation, your strong foundation for your brick house is understanding this language and how it’s applied to the standard.
Today we are going to concentrate on the piece that is easily the least understood of these structures. We are talking about front and center. The whole entire front assembly of the dog tells us a great deal about the dogs breed type, the correct profile of the dog, and what that form that follows funciton that we are talking about earlier. I will use wire haired pointers as an example. Their function as I mentioned is a versatile hunting dog. A dog who can and does work in a variety of terrains, hunting all day long. Their function is one of multipurpose. Strength and endurance. Agility to run, jump, track, retrieve and all of this is rolled into one sort of amazing super dog that the German’s were trying to create. You take the dog’s front assembly and when we talk about that we are talking about the shoulders, neck and chest and with that we are including the brisket, the part that comes down between the shoulders and the rib cage. These are vital to the versatile dog’s ability to function effectively without breaking down and without breaking down over the long haul. As they get into their older years, we want a dog who is still out there hunting at ten, eleven, twelve years old. There are a lot of us who know which ones have desire, drive and heart, and they keep working long past their body says it’s time to quit. Remember we were talking about the ideal, the standard. This is a dog who should have the drive and desire properly balanced with the construction to keep going.
So talking about the breed standard and understanding it and what it means to you and me. The German Wire Haired breed standard says the shoulders are well laid back. When you first see that, you don’t as a beginning breeder understand even the foggiest what that means. That is part of the problem when we look at our breed standards and start talking dog anatomy. Too many of us go to this fall back category that we understand but not everyone else does. So when breed the line with shoulders laid back, that means, simply that the angulation, the angle of the front assembly, the shoulder blade coming from the top of the back to the point of the shoulder underneath the chin and the upper arm, which is the piece that connects to the shoulder and comes back to the elbow. That should form a 90 degree angle. So, go back to geometry. What is a 90 degree triangle, make the pointy part face forward under the dog’s chin and that is the proper angulation for an ideal shoulder assembly on many sporting dogs and dogs that have to do a variety of functions.
Now you take again, we are back to geometry. Draw a line from the top point of the shoulder, the top of the back and go down from the neck. Feel the bumpy part where the shoulders are, that’s the withers. Bring that down to do forward part of the shoulder. That is the pointy part under the chin. Then you draw another line from that pointy part, back to the elbow. The part that comes underneath the rib cage. That bone is called the scapular, the shoulder blade comes down, and upper arm comes back. The humerus. This imaginary triangle makes you understand the 90 degree angle that we are trying to get on the front assembly. Those two bones, the shoulder blade, the scapula, humerus and upper arm, we want them to be as close in length front to back as they can be. We want them to reach the same point in the first third of the dog’s body. In other words, the elbow and the back part of the shoulder should come in a straight line. This gives you that angle that we are talking about. Then when we are talking about balance tables. Well is it balanced front to rear? What is that? It means that the 90 degree pointy triangle we have in the front is sort of replicated in the rear and it goes from the point of the hip to the front of the stifle, if that helps you understand it. If you want to see pictures of this, you can see it in the show notes. If you draw these lines, you have a 90 degree angle in the front and back. They are balanced. When you have a dog that is balanced, even if they are more or less, if those angles in front or rear, are balanced, that dog is going to make a picture that is balanced. It is going to move effortlessly both at a trot in the show ring but also in the field when it’s working. That ability to move effortlessly and carry itself easily, is what gives the dog that longevity we were talking about that is sort of like the gold standard of where we want to go with our brick house.
In the wire haired pointer, when you have got all of this balanced angle, that dog is going to be supported with all of the mechanisms of its body. Its jumping, leaping, running, swimming, just like you want to have the suspension of a car well underneath it. You want the suspension of a dog well underneath it. It needs to have support. IT needs to not be hanging out with the wheels on the far front or far rear and sagging in the middle. It will cause drag on the body and make the dog not able to hold up. I can promise you that as you begin to understand front and rear angles, balance, top line, underline, proper movement, reach and drive, beautiful expression, proper head type, you are going to be able to build a brick house in your mind using the blue print of the standard. And you will have a much better experience at the dog show with your dog if you understand exactly why it is that your dog is either winning or possibly not winning. But until you build that house and you have that blueprint and you can understand the standard and the words that go into it, and why it’s important, you will continue to be confused and sort of left a drift, I’m afraid in the world of confirmation dog shows. Our goal is for you to continue on your journey to success, we want to give you the language that you need. And give you the tools that you need to be successful and to move forward.
If you have any questions or input, we would love to hear from you. Today’s topic are available at Puredogtalk.com. Drop us a note in the comments or email to Laura@Puredogtalk.com. If you want to know something, give me a holler. We will do a podcast for you. Help me out here please, visit ITunes and give us a review. This will help us share the love with others in the sport. I am your host Laura Reeves. See you next time on your journey to success with your pure bred dog.