Friday, 18 February 2011

Westminster: the good, the bad and the just plain silly

The surprise winner of this week's Westminster Dog Show - the US equivalent of Crufts - is a Deerhound called Hickory. She's a good-looking girl but as Pat Burns has pointed out over on The Daily Dose, sadly this is a breed whose health has dwindled along with the work that once kept the breed fit and functional. Hopefully, the win will not encourage people to go out and get one without doing a lot of research beforehand. The breed has a scarily small gene pool and, in common with other large breeds, suffers from a high rate of bone cancer.

Pat Burns, incidentally, has found this telling little gem in the archives from 1897:

I don't know enough about the breed to know if there has been an outcross allowed since. Anyone?

But I was pleased to see the Deerhound win over toy breeds like the Pekingese.  At least she is recognisably a dog. And it was interesting to hear the Italian judge comment afterwards that Hickory reminded him of the deerhounds from 150 years ago that he saw pictures of when studying the standards. How wonderful that a judge thinks this way. Too often, the show world dismisses the historical versions of breeds as being inferior to the dogs of today, believing that the exaggerations that have been hewn by the show-ring are an improvement. It is rarely true.

So let's take a look. Here is the new Champ, Foxcliffe Hickory Wind

And here is a champ from 1917, chosen because he is fairly representative of dogs from the archive:

Clearly, there has been nothing like the exaggeration that has occurred in some breeds, although the 1917 dog is lighter and, proportionally, a little taller. To me, he is a better-looking, better-balanced dog. He has less rear-angulation, too,  something which the show-ring so often takes to extremes, believing - erroneously - that more is better.

On which note, here is the German Shepherd that won Best of Breed at Westminster, GCH Winsome's Love Remembears - compared to Norbert vom Kohlwald, a dog deemed good enough to win the Sieger two years running (in 1911 and 1912).  Poor old Norbert. He would not be recognised as a GSD today. 

So there you have the good (-ish) in the Deerhound, and the bad (the GSD),  and now to the... well you be the judge. This is Kaltrav Carribean Cruise and he won Best Labrador at Westminster.

© Fred R Conrad/The New York Times
Here, to compare, is a 1938 version of the breed: Ch Cheverells Ben of Banchory

You see many dogs in the UK that still look like him - at least outside of the show-ring. It's only in America that they've turned this beautiful breed into such a blubber-fest.

And, finally, here's the just plain silly:
© Fred R Conrad/The New York Times
W-a-a-y too much coat on this rapunzel red to ever do the job this breed was developed to do (and that's after the scissors). Here, in contrast, is an American working-bred red setter - still to be found in some parts of the US  doing the job it was bred to do.
© Dorothea Penizek
As the old saying goes... handsome is as handsome does.

 Historical dog breed pictures by Pietoro


  1. There seems to be some interest in CaniX among deerhound people

    and the Kennel club have a video

    It wouldn't be impossible to devise activities like this which a deerhound would have to complete in order to qualify as a show champion.

  2. Thank you for writing about the Irish Setter! Here in Norway they do not look like the rapunzel version, but they all look more like the american working version(they are all working bred over here), and that overcoated show dog would NOT do well in dog shows here in Norway. And you do find dogs that are both field champions and show champions. The working version is way more beautiful anyway. :) The Norwegian Irish Setter Club. As you can see, they look more like picture number two.


  3. Thank you for posting that link, Louise - setters as they should be. Good to hear that you have some dual purpose dogs - would love to see some links to pictures of show-winning setters in Norway.

    I run a small rescue and take a few unwanted setters from Ireland. Most are working-bred, too, as you might expect, with not much coat and many of them much smaller than the show dogs.

  4. Interesting that the BIS judge Westminster Paolo Dondini is the BIS judge for Crufts this year. I have heard the man makes his own choices and is not political. If he sees something he likes he will place the dog.

    very interesting to see the differences between all the dogs above. I am very disturbed at the comparison pics of the GSD. One of my friends in the village adopted an ex breeding GSD from a local show breeder (who also does shutzhund!). I have never seen such unstable hocks on my life! Unless the dog was moving her back end was swaying all over the place. On the move she was fine but they can't spend there whole time running. The girl has had to place mats all over her wooden floors so that the dog can walk properly. Before this she was falling over all the time and unable to get back up again. As humans we really should be ashamed at what we have done to some breeds.

  5. Jemima, your comments are becoming so offensive and opinionated rather than sympathetic to welfare.

    You criticise dogs because of the way they look, regardless of advise that people not go out and buy a Deerhound because of bone cancer?.....the Irish you criticise was 8 or 9 years old, how about that for endurance and longevity?

    You know what is just plain silly? The fact that your comments attract any attention at all. Please, stick to the message or crawl back under the rock you lived under before you started to cash in on the publicity of your film.

  6. Anonymous - what are you on about? The Irish is 8 or 9 years old? So? Are you suggesting this is indicative of longevity?

    Jemima - keep it up :-) You know there are thousands of dog lovers who are interested in this issue.

  7. A note about the Shepherd...I didn't watch the show, but I did find the 2010 GSD breed judging on YouTube.

    The dogs don't even stand that way naturally, and I wonder, even with lessons on how to free-stack, if they would choose to do so. Some of the breeds do look a little stretched out when they stack, but at least they're standing normally, for the most part.

    With the GSDs, the handlers must physically MOVE the legs, by pushing out the one back leg and lower the other one. I guess that should come as no surprise, but it just did for me.

    These are not dogs, at least in the hind end.

  8. Bad news: The glossy black* show piggies that you designate an American invention are called "English Labs" here, and are contrasted to the far more numerous "American" type, which populate most of the suburban yards and virtually all of the duck swamps on this continent.

    They look like this:

    A quick google image search of the terms Crufts Labrador reveal a remarkably familiar geometry, in which the dog's measure may be expressed in as many decimals of pi as you desire.

    *Or yellow, or brown -- but, turns out, black is NOT slimming.

  9. The dog from 70-100 years ago ALWAYS looks a million times better than the dog of today. So much for "improving" the breed (any breed). How I would love to see conformation shows phased out completely!

  10. Heather wrote: "The glossy black* show piggies that you designate an American invention are called "English Labs" here, and are contrasted to the far more numerous "American" type, which populate most of the suburban yards and virtually all of the duck swamps on this continent."

    Yes, there are some porkers in the show-ring here, too, but I think most UK lab exhibitors would be a bit shocked by just how chunky the Westminster winner is.

    It will be interesting to see what wins at this year's Crufts now that there has been some discussion here re this issue.

  11. To Hornblower....yes, I am suggesting that an 8 or 9 year old dog who has the fitness and vitality to compete against dogs 1/3 of her age...and very indicitive of longevity.

    What will you be doing at 60? Oh, probably still moaning about what HE's doing, and SHE's doing, and THEY're doing like everyone else on this blog.

    Go Irish! xx

  12. When comparing show versus working lines I feel we are often seeing two extremes. In my breed, Irish Red Setters, both the american and the british show type tend to be have too much coat, some have weak toplines and have overangulated hindquarters. The working dogs can be very small with not enough bone. I aim for a blanced dog that can still do the job he was bred for.
    Here is a link to my own dog Glen, who has top show awards and has many field qualifications. He is all I could wish for.

    Susan Stone

  13. What a beautiful dog, Susan. Lovely to see.

    A question: I find the question of "bone" a confusing one. Many of the working dogs, as you say, are smaller and lighter (I rehome setters from Ireland via my rescue so see quite a few). These are the dogs being used for hunting out there, in a one-man-and-his-gun way bringing home dinner for the family (rather than in field trials/more formal shoots). We see the same with many of the working/sporting dogs - from coursing to gundogs. The obsession with bone has given us the gross labs we see in the show-ring and the misplaced fashion for "chunky" pups. So where do you find the balance? I understand the theory that more bone gives substance and strength, but why are those actually using the dogs for working often selecting for more whippety dogs? There must be a working advantage, no?

  14. I find these blogs sooooooooo very amusing. Fact of the matter is, that most dog owners have dogs for companionship and not for the function they were originally bred for. We are not bush wacking rural community we were 200 years ago. We live in cities and have jobs, so what if my lab is a bit heavier than his working nephew on a farm or in the bush. Fact is I don't hunt and farm for a living. The only solution would be to not own dogs and let them die out naturally. I for certain am not interested in owning any dog anymore. My lab is 10 and still healthy, but as soon as he crosses over, I will have cats instead.

  15. I agree, the 'bone issue' is a curious one. Maybe here again we should be choosing the path down the middle rather than going for extremes. I don't assume the working strains were actually selected for their present day whippety look, rather did that look come along with the requirement for more speed in the field trialling dogs? Here again, inbreeding probably fixed the trait (inbreeding not being limited to the show world alone...). The show breeders on the other hand opted for more substance. The split in Irish Setters was not always as large as it is now. Take a look at some old photos of the Sulhamstead Field Trial Champions Bounce (b. 1952) Nimbus (b. 1955) or Nearco d'or (b. 1957)-these dogs look very balanced and of good substance to my eye. The same goes for the irish dog FT Ch Moanruad Dan from the sixties.
    Susan Stone

  16. the quest for great "bone" is something that annoys me , in my toy breed it seems people are accidently selecting for dwarfism as their short bent legs look chunkier. they cant see that they are starting to look like bassets with long bodies , low in front and bum in the air. so called Good bone is all that matters

  17. I would guess the Dachshund? The description certainly fits...they've gone from generic short-legged-ness to valgus beyond belief.

    Even the corgis I see aren't that bad, and that breed tends to be another common example of selective achondroplasia.

  18. Jemina:
    Here are some Irish Setter show winners from Norway(they are all show champions):

    (And to be a show champion in Norway, the dog must have done well in hunting trials as well. )

  19. I own the german shepherd you were talking about. Who are you to say what the breed should look like today. Times change. Electronics,hairstyles, technology, and clothes have all changed so what's wrong with dog breeds? So are you saying that people should by from puppy mills and pet stores? You obviously are screwed up in the brain if you think that people are going to have healthy animals from those places. Sorry you can't change modern day and if you don't like it then maybe you should get another hobby.

  20. While I disagree a lot of the time with Jemima Harrison, I have to agree wholeheartedly with her on the subject of the German Shepherds. I watched the breed judging video before this post was out and couldn't see a dog there that would not be regarded as 'unsound' in any other breed. It was almost too painful to watch. When gaiting the hocks of the dogs seemed to almost knock together and even when unstacked they were standing slouched. Whether the extreem appearence of the modern show GSD is due in the main to ring training or breeding for excessive hind angulation, it has done the breed no favors. Can these dogs even walk when they reach veteran years? No animal on the planet has a confirmation which certain elements of the GSD world seem to believe gives their breed enhanced endurance. Certainly most wild canids are masters of endurance so one would assume if this shape was helpful it would have evolved in the wild. Blatently it has not.
    And I am a handler of show dogs so not simply critisising a world of which I have no knowledge.

  21. Thanks for the links, Louise - all good-looking, unexaggerated dogs!

  22. Shelby - I have not the experience of the anonymous show handler above, so maybe I'm not qualified to speak on the level that s/he does.

    However, with all due respect to the effort that you have put into your dog, from breeding and raising to getting it into the show ring, your comment that "times change" is very inappropriate towards the dog world in this matter. I respect that things DO change, and sometimes change for the better, but unfortunately this is not the case with your breed. Even people who have no experience with dogs or breeding look at these GSDs and wrinkle their noses...and I'm not just saying this. I've seen it. And I have no idea how anyone in the GSD world can be so blind to the sheer unsoundness in their dogs, but then again, the emperor couldn't see past his lack of clothes.

    Which is a good segue into a very well-written article on the issue by someone who has a bit more qualification than I.

    I agree that times do change and so does taste, technology, hairstyles, etc etc. Some change for the better, some for the worse, and history (especially in the fashion world) has an odd habit of repeating itself. Some dogs HAVE changed for the better: their breeders are aware of issues and are trying to breed away from them, whether they are genetic issues or those caused by exaggerated form. Sadly, the show-ring GSD has not yet been privy to this opportunity, and your fellow breeders insist on creating and maintaining a dog that, by looks alone, most people who actually know a thing or two about dogs wouldn't touch with a 10-foot pole. Sure, you have the people who are enamored with the regal stance, who will do anything to buy a puppy out of a champion, and that's their choice...I disagree with them, but I don't want to condemn them.

    But those who know differently and can see the issue as plain as day will continue to speak up. I know we all love dogs here, and that's why we do so...but "loving" something is also about being mature enough to admit faults as well as winning points. (I'm not just talking about the "Is this breed right for you?" discussion bullets, and you know that...or so I hope.)

    And the best thing people who "love" the GSD can do is admit that one of their greatest winning points over the years has been won at the greatest cost: the dog itself, and in turn, the entire breed as most average people know it.

  23. He has less rear-angulation, too,

    says the author of the blog about the "old fashioned Deerhound"

    really???.. funny thing.. that is not true.. unless you count coat as angulation so the old fashioned dog has a better rear IN THIS PHOTO.. but not in truth as I have seen this gorgeous dog many times in the flesh.... BUT the shoulder and front in your "old fashioned" are much less proper for the breed.. very "terrier like" and the shoulder is extremely upright not to mention out at the elbow.. not desirable in a hunting dog of this size..nor ( dare I say) up to the standard written in the 19th century and only modified once or twice..
    Even though it is always interesting to see "photo comparisons".. they really don;t mean much do they in the hands of someone who wants to prove a point do they? My guess is you have never laid hands on this dog..seen it from all angles.. nor examined its bite.. or any other part of may have seen it move once or twice on TV.. but I doubt it..
    "Judge ye not less ye be judged"..but no matter, you always have an arsenal of stones to cast..

  24. I love, love, love when people who own non-working dogs, who have never worked a dog of any breed, who regard dog work as some sort of curious antiquity, get all hackly when they are called on the carpet for the pain and dysfunction they have whimsically imposed on the objects of their fancy hobby.

    Who are you to say what the breed should look like today. Times change. Electronics,hairstyles, technology, and clothes have all changed so what's wrong with dog breeds?

    I'm not Jemima, but I can tell you who I am.

    I'm the one who is going to pull your sorry ass out of the rubble of your house after the earthquake.

    I'm the one who is running my flashing lights right behind the police cruiser at midnight when your toddler is missing from the campground.

    I'm the one who needs a functioning canine partner to do her job.

    How dare you presume to relegate any dog, much less whole breeds, the work-product of generations of purposeful selection for function by breeders whose kennel floors you are not fit to scrub, to the status of fashion item -- as if an animal's body is no different from this year's hemline, as if his glorious mind is as expendable as an outdated iPod.

    If you believe in any deity, you had better drop down and ask for forgiveness for what you have done to these animals, for your unfathomable arrogance, and you had better pray hard that you never need the help of a healthy, intelligent, functioning working dog.

    Because karma, she's a bitch, baby.

  25. Why is it that people who are trying to be sarcastic always post under Anonymous? Lack of courage to defend you views?

  26. Heather, you are certainly not anonymous. :-) Thank you! There must be literally many thousands of us thinking what you posted.

    Would it be all right with you if I copied that post on my own blog? Recently, after asking the GSD show breeders here exactly what anatomical proportions they have worked so hard to change in order to arrive at the - well - dog that they pride themselves on now, I was roundly told off by a GSD breed club official in the usual terms - manipuilative, ignorant, etc etc.

    It wouldn´t be half bad to forward to the man a greeting from a Canadaian working rescue dog woman! :-)

  27. Viatecio wrote:
    Some dogs HAVE changed for the better:

    Please name one!

    I have a lot of art books and old prints as well as old books and for the life of me I cannot find one single breed that has changed for the better in the past 150 years!

  28. Viatecio wrote:
    Some dogs HAVE changed for the better:

    Please name one!

    I have a lot of art books and old prints as well as old books and for the life of me I cannot find one single breed that has changed for the better in the past 150 years!

    If all you have to go on are some old photographs how can you possibly determine that a breed has not changed for the better?
    It's like looking at photographs of Edwardian children at school and thinking life was so much better then because the children look well behaved and much smarter than today's children - without taking into account how many died very young through illness/disease etc.
    I love nostalgia but personally I believe that dogs, in general have improved over the last centuary. Temprement, health and longevity have all shown an improvement. This is due in part to better veterinary care but also because we have much higher expectations from a dog these days than ever before and are making a greater effort to produce an animal that fits these expectations. At the very top of the exhibition world there are a few animals of certain breeds which have become excessivly exaggerated in their appearence. This is a great pity, but the majority of purebred dogs in pet homes do not display such extreem characteristics and live fit and healthy lives. To judge a breed by the appearence of a select few animals at a show is like assuming a population are all like the supermodels you see on a cat walk!

  29. a picture is obviously worth a thousand words on this blog..sadly..most of them negative.
    Julia I could not have said it better. My own breed ( Bull Terriers) has improved greatly over the years. in spite of what this blog has to say..especially in the area of the most critical element .. temperament.. health wise we are much better off as well. I just returned from jolly old England where I attended our annual trophy event. All of the dogs were very well behaved. A huge improvement in temperament. The dogs are fit and gorgeous and every one was an excellent example of the breed. If you asked about a stud dog the first thing most people said is "fully health tested".
    Julia you best not mention longevity on this blog as most here think dogs "of old' lived forever while dogs today drop like flies due to the callousness of pure bred dog breeders and their "quest for perfection". No "dog of old" had.. hip dysplasia.. distemper, heart problems, kidney failure or any other of the myriad of diseases that we now either have a cure for.. testing for or at the very least knowledge of what to look for. Why do we have many of these cures, tests and improvements.. because of pure bred dog breeders.. and dare I say it.. The AKC and Kennel Club ( oh wait.. I think that is lightning striking my home)
    Instead we have people here who can look at a photo to declare.. UNFIT.. HORRIBLE.. CANNOT SEE..SHAVED ( oh the horror of it all) OBVIOUSLY DYSPLASTIC( even when they have passed examination)and more.. all from looking a picture..all from looking a picture of the dog ONLY from the side in most cases..
    Maybe they should market crystal balls on this blog as well as print "examples" of "right and wrong"
    Dorothea.. are you saying the several litters you breed each year are less healthy and sound than those of the past?
    And as Heather says.. karma is a bitch..even on this blog
    Jan Dykema
    Bestuvall Bull Terriers
    Best Breed On A Lead

  30. Jan, I believe you when you say temperament has improved in Bull Terriers. I've witnessed it myself. And, yes, there is a greater emphasisam on health and I am told that BT breeders were very helpful in the development of the new PLL test.

    But in terms of general testing, OFA statistics show that only 50 BTs in the USA have been BAER tested and only a 100 or so have been hip scored or heart-tested - ever).

    Here in the UK, meanwhile, only 12 BTs have ever been hip scored and none at all last year.

    And of course, you have a very small gene pool.Didn't Jerry Bell find that the average COI was around 20 per cent? I remember too that he concluded that that was OK - but there are very many geneticists who would disagree. It never seems to occur to breeders that the high COIs might be linked to the reports of immune-mediated disorders in the breed.

    Re longevity, I'm afraid you are wrong. It is true that fewer dogs die in their youth of infectious diseases, thanks to vaccination, but average longevity has not increased.

    It needs updating, but have a look at Kelly Cassidy's dog longevity website:

  31. Dorothea Penizek said...

    "Viatecio wrote:
    Some dogs HAVE changed for the better":

    Please name one!

    Notice I said dogs, not breeds.

    The effect of a closed gene pool has had its effect son nearly every breed, even lines with which some breeders strive to find appropriate mates that are not related within a reasonable number of generations, despite the bottleneck that may exist way back in the line when the breed was first created.

    Some breeders are doing their part to ensure healthy dogs, and I may harbor intense dislike for certain registries, but I do admire that the people who bother to heath test their registered dogs (NOT just the requisite "he has good hips, yay") have results out on public display for those who know how to search for them.

    Not all improvements involve *registered* purebreds.

    Many police dogs and bitesort dogs are mixed, and Malinois/GSD mixes are not uncommon.

    If you knew anything about Heather, you would know that her breed isn't registered with any kennel club. The few litters that are born each year are, aside from the puppy millers who capitalize upon the breed (one of which was raided and heavily documented), are planned for the benefit of the breed rather than that perfect stop or soft eye.

    Even Jan touched on some points about improvement, although I still disagree with the exaggerated phenotype of her breed, I cannot argue with appropriate health testing (to which extent, though, is questionable...what constitutes "fully" and how can one account for high cancer rates in the breed?) and good behavior.

    So, some examples. Maybe not as many as I'd like to pull out of my hat right now, but it's some obvious ones.

    Or, maybe I'll just be called out as someone who doesn't show or breed, or have any contact with the show ring or show dogs, and therefore can't form any valid opinion. Which is fine, too, since I do suffer from chronic foot-in-mouth disease more commonly than I care to admit. I'm used to it.

  32. Two things:

    1) I'm not Canadian. Not that there's anything wrong with that. There are others who spell the surname slightly differently who are. But sure, whatever, let 'er rip.

    2) I have owned working German shepherd dogs for nearly 20 years. (Prior to my first GSD I had field-type golden retrievers.) The breed that Viatecio references as "mine" is the English shepherd, an American breed (natch!) of farm collie. I have owned ES for eleven years and am deeply involved in both breed conservation and our national rescue organization.

    I wish all ES litters were planned as carefully as Via describes; alas, no. But our gene pool is open via a grading-in process, and has escaped the twin horrors of popular sire syndrome and selection for circle-walking. The incorporated purpose of our breed club is the conservation of the breed as an agricultural resource.

    I agree that there are populations of dogs which have improved. Perhaps I should use scare quotes and make it "improved." Comes to mind: the Alaska husky, if you are looking for a fast racing sled dog (but maybe notsomuch if you need a dog for a polar expedition or a daily hunting excursion). Several populations of dogs used for police work, if the metric you apply is suitability for police work. (And I think it is reasonable to do so.)

    I don't consider "improvement" to be merely "they aren't as godawful exaggerated in X characteristic or as prone to Y disease" as they were ten years ago. That's called bailing while you're still taking on water. Necessary, perhaps, but you don't highlight it on your CV as befitting Magellan.

  33. Heather, are you doing rescue work with your English shepherds?

  34. Bodil -- Heather has three ES doing search and rescue work, one operational (Pip), another in training (Cole), and a third whose status I'm unsure of (Rosie).

    Viatecio -- English Shepherds are registered with the UKC, so it's not entirely accurate to say they're not registered with any kennel club. There of course is also the English Shepherd Club's registry, the defunct Southeastern Kennel Club, and one or two others from memory.

  35. Shelby, I hope to God you never have to rely on that crippled "fashion statement" you've bred for to save your sorry ass, because that poor thing can't do it.

    On the other hand, Heather's dogs -- bred for health, brains and normal conformation -- can.

    I know which dog I'd rather have, in my home and on my side.

  36. Rob, thank you. Heather, you´re quoted on my blog and thank you again for what you said. It´s not in English, so I suppose won´t be possible for you to read, but besides the quote it says that while there is a lot of respect floating around in the dog world, claimed by certain people who are considered very successful in one respect or other, it`s not so often that somebody speaks out of deep and earnest respect for dogs themselves - and you did.
    Thanks again, you cheered me!

  37. Certainly the Labrador Retriever as shown from 2011 is NOT conformed to the USA standard as written by the Labrador Retriever Club. Distance from foot to elbow is suppose to be one half the height at wither (top of shoulder, where neck comes down). Dog in the photo doesn't come close to that. The loin is suppose to be short and strong: not in this dog. Back is suppose to be LEVEL. Not in this dog. The Labrador is suppose to be balanced, front and rear, with a powerful hindquarter; not this dog. The Labrador is suppose to be shown in working condition; not this dog. The stop between head and muzzle is suppose to be "moderate" and free from fleshy cheeks, and there no "massive, cheeky heads". Certainly not the case here. Rather than being suited to a waterdog, this animal is more akin to a barge. There seems to be far more emphasis placed on the "otter tail", which isn't going to help a dog built like the 2011 model pictured be an agile swimmer. I would bet this dog would be exhausted, and perhaps even collapse after a morning's hunt, or even hike. Very sad.....

  38. By the way, am I the only one noticing the horror that is happening to the Dobermann and Boxer as well? They don't have the same *kind* of sloping back as the GSD, but they are more and more looking like ski slopes with barrel chests.

    It's disgusting, because it shows the people don't look upon them as dogs anymore, but as works of art that they are trying to caricature as much as possible.

  39. Deerhound is better of than the german shepherd, but I am beginning to see a trend toward overly-thick coats compared to past dogs.