Structure, not color -- a cause to rally to

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By Anne Cross, Shadowmont Collies

Put those legs back under the body!

STRUCTURE, not color . . . now here is a concern worth rallying around.

Recently, I enjoyed Collies Online's wonderful performance ads . . . in particular those which showed a side view of dogs in flight, where one could see the importance of adequate shoulder layback and length of upper arm, so important for those agility and obedience jumps and the agile turns and twists of herding. Seeing the advanced age of some dogs who still are out there taking the jumps, moving the sheep . . . still ABLE to do that is a tribute to their structure . . . is heartening.

A judge first looks for "correct type" by looking at a full side view of the dog. This view shows whether the structure (the way the body is put together, the symmetry) creates the "picture" of the breed such that it is pretty easy to identify the breed by its silhouette . . . you could argue that many dog breeds have similar outlines, but you probably would be able to pick out a Collie fairly readily by silhouette alone.

When you enter the show ring, you and your dog line up with others around the outside mat, as the judge looks at the side view of your dog (silhouette/outline) and he looks for the dog's head to be out in FRONT of his body . . . if the dog's head/ears are directly above his front legs, that is incorrect. This is often exacerbated by exhibitors who show their dogs with their heads tilted up, looking at the bait in the exhibitor's hand at his waist. Worse yet is when the exhibitor encourages the dog to look up into his eyes; this distorts the dog's outline. We love to look into those eyes, at their soft, loving, intelligent expression.

Lower your bait hand so that the dog's head is on a level plane with his body . . . he does not herd with his head looking up . . . he herds with his head out in front, looking for his critters.

Next, as your class moves around the ring together, the judge again pays attention to the side view and what your dog's body and topline does as it moves.

The "reach" of the dog's front legs refers to how far out in front of their body the leg extends and the foot reaches before it hits the ground. Think of the shoulder blade as approximately the shape of your hand with the fingers out flat and closed. The shoulder blade should be tilted back enough so that the "tips" of the blades are back a bit behind the base of the neck. Think of the shoulder blade as what your hand looks like with the fingers closed as they come to a gentle point. The "tips" of the blade can be felt when you put YOUR fingers on the dog's "withers" just behind the neck.

If you can get more than TWO of your fingers in between the two tips of the blades as they tilt backwards away from the neck, and inward toward each other, the blades are most likely not "sloped" around the chest/ribs adequately. The rib spring of a well developed chest pushes the shoulder blades out a bit at the bottom. Think about it this way -- as you feel the dog's chest, sliding your hands from the top of the shoulders down to under the chest, your hands should move slightly out around the ribs and then back in at the bottom. This structure allows for lung capacity; a dog with a chest that is too "shallow" will not have the "wind" to stay on the move for long enough to herd.

The tilt of the shoulder blade allows for a longer upper arm, which also provides for more reach as the dog moves into a trot.

And, Collies ARE herding dogs. Gorgeous, drop dead beauties, but herding dogs. What can be more thrilling than to watch such stunning beauty doing the work for which they are designed? They should LOOK like they are herding when they move in the conformation ring, even given the constraints of available area.

Nor will a dog with too much (rounded) chest at the elbow be able to clear his body in a smooth direct extension to the rear as he propels his body forward.

I like to create "word pictures," but, it is difficult. Picture Michael Phelps as he reaches out with his arms as far as he can to propel his body through the water, then he pulls back with that arm in his "follow-through" again as far as he can extend that arm back under his body.

A quadruped, like the dog, does not turn his body, but moves the legs inward under the body toward a center line of the body mass, thus minimizing drag and maximizing energy use. It's hard to explain this in words, but think about the car ads that show the movement of air over the body of a smooth surface with minimum resistance. Movement of the legs in under a dog's body minimizes resistance to forward movement. And, like the car, minimizing resistance to it's movement maximizes efficiency.

The dog's upper arm will have to be long enough and angled back under the shoulder of the body. The correct angle allows the leg to drop in a relatively straight line down to the foot.

Since this is a hard concept to grasp without looking at the bones, here is another way I might try to describe it to give your mind's eye a vivid picture. Begin at the foot and draw a line straight up to the elbow -- I -- where the upper arm joins draw your line leaning to the left -- \ -- Draw the next line, which represents where the blade would join, upward and leaning to the right -- / -- to form the necessary angle. If you can picture this three-line figure you will have an idea of the way those angles SHOULD look.

As you watch, concentrate your focus on the topline of the dog as he moves around the ring and notice whether or not there is up-and-down MOVEMENT. Too much up-and-down movement is wasted motion when the dog is moving forward. It also is often an indication of a short upper arm that does not allow for adequate reach.

If the front reach allows the front feet to get out of the way of rear feet moving forward, there should be little topline movement. How many steps does it take a "straight-shouldered" dog to cover the same amount of ground as one who moves efficiently? That dog with the inadequate shoulder layback and a short upper arm needs about 1 1/4 or more steps to cover the same amount of ground as the dog who can stretch that leg way out in from of him. So, which one will be first?

What occurs in nature once, and survives, will re-occur. So, if you have a dog with inadequate shoulder layback and a short upper arm, and s/he has offspring, that problem will re-occur down the line.

In nature, the incorrectly structured animal of whatever genus will not survive. He will be at the back of the herd when the predator catches up.

Do the front feet move out of the way of the rear feet as the dog's speed increases? Does the topline stay reasonably stable, producing little or no up-and-down movement? I love to see the side view of a good dog in full extension going around the ring in ad photos. You can look at the extension of the legs and the location of the feet and know that one will be correct to breed type standing still as well.

When there is a lot of up-and-down movement of a dog's body as he trots, there is wasted energy since more motion vertically depletes forward, ground-covering motion. Sometimes this is because a dog cannot pick up and get the feet out of the way, reach and extend the legs out in front of his body in forward motion. Athletes lean forward as the body takes steps and follow one step with another. Try it yourself. Begin to take a step. You will lean forward slightly as you raise your foot to take that first step and then do the same with the next one; if you keep your body totally upright and do this, your stride will be shorter and it will take you MORE strides to cover the same amount of area.

In "Mysteries of Breed Type," Richard Beauchamp focuses on the importance of outline/silhouette to identify the breed and the type. Since "type" is a bit of a conundrum, let me suggest how I see it and I'll bet that many of you will be nodding your heads in understanding or agreement. Type is what we generally use to talk about Parader type, or Brandwyne type, or any of the lines that have "evolved" from these families and those families of dogs behind them, such as Lodestone.

Yes, Collies do "change" periodically with the many visits to top winning dogs, and the selection of puppies who inherited the characteristics of those dogs we sought; sometimes we "settle" for a puppy we believe to be good enough in most areas, while better in head and eye if that was the improvement we sought, for example.

I kept a puppy from a bitch I bred to an excellent dog, and got the head improvement I sought in a beautiful young bitch, BUT, like her dam, not enough coat. Sigh! She IS built correctly and has a lovely head and expression, but alas, maybe I could super glue some hair on her!?

Yes, it is difficult to discover, when one does recognize it, that something we may have had that was very good didn't remain in the puppy we kept even while we "got" what we might have been seeking in say . . . head length, smoothness, or eye set, shape, size, expression, etc.

What many breeders either have compromised or not recognized, is the the very serious problem our breed has with incorrect shoulders. Many of those beautiful performance dogs seem, overall, on observation, to have correct shoulders, as they must be to endure and succeed in performance venues.

My vet explained to me that since the shoulder bears more weight than the rear assembly of the dog, it is the area that can be "broken down" as a dog ages. One of my senior dogs has a shoulder injury from way back and he will run for a while, then sit down, or lie down; my vet said that is because it takes the stress off the injured shoulder. He is absolutely correct in structure with a beautifully correct outline, but, one too many jumps off tables and big rocks in play took a toll.

A while back, I had been lamenting the incorrect shoulder problem in our breed with a longtime friend before we all attended the National. Standing at ringside or changing from one side to another as we both tend to do to get closer to the dogs or look at one or another in particular that strikes us, his comment was, "D---, I wish you had never talked to me about shoulders! I can't find too many good ones."

So, you say, in argument, what difference does it make? Collies are a head breed and our Standard says that is the most important feature that sets them apart. You will get no argument from me on that! I am and always have been, since Gus Sigritz mentored me, a dedicated head, eye and expression proponent. I believe the Standard is a Standard of perfection, and as such should be followed in breeding and striving for a perfect Collie.

Others have written about our breed's bad shoulder assembly, subtly in critiques of shows they may have judged, while some have commented in more plain-spoken terms. Still the numbers of incorrect shoulder assembly multiplies. I found an article by a National Specialty judge from the '90s, who wrote about the problem!

I hope you will forgive the redundancy in this article. It is difficult to write, not show, how the shoulder is assembled and how it works when assembled correctly. Perhaps some of my imaginative word illustrations have helped. I have repeated, re-enforced, and described way beyond what the scope of an article should do without illustrations to back it up.

So, back to my title: Structure, not color -- A cause to rally to. The structural problem in Collies should take HUGE precedence over the question of color.

I don't wish to anger my sable merle proponent friends over this question as I too have had sable merles and loved many that I have judged and awarded. I never realized, most of the time, that a dog I put up WAS sable merle, as like MOST judges, I just don't think about color . . . and yes, you may tell me of some judges, even Collie breeders, who are adamant in their strong stands against sable merles. Don't count me among them. What I DO object to is the brouhaha backed by the argument that sable merles don't get their "due" in the ring.

It seems pretty clear to me from the many sable merle advocacy ads on COL over the past many months that they ARE getting their "due." So many have finished, have ROMs, continue to win in both conformation and performance, and have been hugely responsible for breeders' success. I just don't get it that they are being slighted in some way. One or two incidences that should be, and are being, solved by educating judges does not a need for war, make. Yes, there are many who have buried beliefs and feelings from years back that their beauty didn't win BECAUSE of his or her color.

Sable merles are shown, probably, in every show and if they are correct in other ways, can and do win, and if SOME judges take issue with the color as I have heard from some of you, vote with your entry fees.

In some ways, my sable merle proponent friends, YOU have solved your own problem of recognition of the sable merle color in your beautiful Collies. With all your ads, judges all over are aware of your concern that your dogs are judged as COLLIES, not . . . sable merle Collies!

My first sable merle was a drop dead gorgeous dog sired by CH Brandwyne The Grey Ghost, years ago, (late '60s), a time when if you HAD a sable merle (this one with a blue eye) you didn't even acknowledge that except to close friends and you sure didn't show him!


Be grateful that your battle for recognition in the ring has been successful and know that you are not being discriminated against; that your advocacy truly doesn't require a change in the written Standard. YOU have changed it in the minds of all, and that's what counts, isn't it? It is, I believe, RARE for a judge to stare at a dog's color to try to determine if he is a sable merle so that judge can be SURE . . . NOT to put that dog up.

Final word
At the 2006 National in Boise, I had a specials dog that was stunning in expression, yet was so straight in front that I wanted to cry. Unfortunately, no matter how beautiful a head this dog had, with so many other beauties in the specials class, I was unable to award an AOM. There were other dogs shown that I loved as well but I could not reward those incorrect shoulders -- especially in such strong competition. The serious, serious problem we have with upright shoulders is making a negative impact. Please, for the benefit of the Collie, focus your energies on improving our beautiful breed's STRUCTURE. THAT is the way to truly be an advocate for the Collie, in all colors.

The Collie presents an impressive, proud picture of true balance, each part being in harmonious proportion to every other part and to the whole.

– from the AKC Collie Breed Standard

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