shouldering the burden

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By Anne Cross, Shadowmont Collies

I am not alone!

Comments from as far away as Alaska and Canada and from the lower 48 showed that I am not alone in my concerns about the shoulder structure in the Collie. Helpful suggestions on clarifying and teaching the understanding of the parts (and function) of the shoulder and how they work together to facilitate efficient and durable movement were welcomed. I am not a technical writer in any sense as you may have seen by much that I have written, even before this feeble attempt to share what I DO understand about movement.

Beginning with a Cherrivale bitch from Gus Sigritz in the early 1960s I was fortunate to have Collies that were built correctly to look at and from those experiences of looking at dogs who were balanced, effective, efficient movers it was easier for me to see when a dog was NOT balanced and did not move correctly. I could not always tell you WHY a dog did not move correctly, but I knew when it did not. I guess that is akin to not seeing the trees for the forest? Nevertheless, it was not a bad way to learn.

Since then, I have trained my eye to blur out all else but the footfall—where and when the feet touch the ground—when watching side movement, and then I raise my eyes and look at topline movement. You know how you can stare at something for a time and everything else in your line of vision blurs? That is what I mean. You can “see” all else, but your focus is zeroed in on what you want to look at. Tunnel vision? Maybe. Although in this case, it isn’t a negative.

As I read the Illustrated Standard description, I quickly got lost in some of the technical aspects of the parts and measures included. Not for long, but I found myself translating that into language and images that helped me “get it.” In education, there is an old adage that if you tell me, I hear but may forget; if you show me, I see but may not understand; but, if you involve me, I learn. This was apparently a Chinese proverb that was popularized by Benjamin Franklin to become an educational strategy. This, I think, was in part, at least, the reasoning behind vocational schools’ validation which helped so many young people who don’t think well in the abstract, learn to use their eyes and their hands in the learning process.

We do that in evaluating Collies, of course. In the “Puppy Hanging Test” by Pat Hastings, as you support those babies with your three fingers between their back legs and two or three fingers under their chins which allows their legs to “hang” . . . hopefully in a position indicating that their bones are in the right positions . . . you are SEEING, but then you must feel those little shoulder blades and where they are in reference to the base of the neck, etc. Better than that might be . . . and I’ve been thinking about this . . . might be to have a wide runner of butcher paper laid out, create sides along it. In other words, create a little “chute.” Press those little toes in some kind of washable ink, then toss a toy or goodie of some kind toward the other end and look at those little pawprints!

To share with you the somewhat weird way my visual imaging works, the first time I heard the term, puppy hanging test, I winced! A friend who has Australian Cattle Dogs invited me to help her do this to her puppies. I had to go. She is a very nice person. I knew this couldn’t be bad.

You could do like I’ve seen at doxie races where there is a lure tied to a cord which zooms away and excites prey behavior and the dog takes off as fast as their legs can move. No . . . guess not. You don’t want them to gallop as puppies would do. Just DRAG the lure so they will trot after it. Wouldn’t that be cute—and instructive. Later you could cut the little paw prints into greeting cards or birth announcements and send one along with the pedigree like baby footprints!

One question or comment that came up recently was my using actual degrees in describing the angulation of the shoulder . . . as in 45 degrees. Apparently there is still a lot of disagreement or confusion about the degree and location of the angles. I’ve seen it referenced as 45-50 degrees for the shoulder. For a long time I wasn’t sure what the confusion was about. We are talking about degrees from the horizontal when we discuss the “layback” of the shoulder blade.

Okay, get this picture in your mind. You lay a yardstick on the ground . . . that’s the horizontal, right? Raise you eyes up to look at the shoulder blade with its top edge/tip just behind the base of the neck. If you picture the shoulder blade as the approximate shape of your hand with the fingers closed and your hand flattened—sort of like an elongated oval maybe? Then picture a raised ridge that runs along the center, about in line with the middle finger . . . and use that ridge as the line of the top of this 45-50 degree angle.

The shoulder blade is tilted back toward the back of the dog, but the top “tips” you can feel just behind the neck.

I just looked back at the Illustrated Standard drawing and think maybe the shape of the shoulder blade might be more like a pork chop with the center bone as the ridge on the blade to which the muscles and tendons attach. I think I have always thought “shape of your hand” because you FEEL the blade with your hands and can almost overlay your hand on the blade.

Now, RAISE the yardstick up so that it is just about at the bottom tip of the shoulder blade . . . but still horizontal . . . and there is an approximate 45 degree angle. See this drawing of the front assembly to get the idea. There are two drawings illustrating this, the “basic” and “detailed”—and you will need to look at the basic first, then the detailed to clarify about the angulation.

I was reminded that all of this is in the Illustrated Standard at the Collie Club of America website but I have to confess that I don’t look there that often. Maybe you don’t either. I do have the linen towel imprinted with the Illustrated Standard drawings hanging on my oak file cabinet within my line of vision from a favorite recliner upstairs. So I look at the Illustrated Standard every day, at some point. On top of that oak cabinet, just above the Illustrated Standard, is a picture of my Best of Breed winner at the 2006 National in Boise. Why? Because it is pleasing to see the beautiful outline of this dog and how correct to the “Ideal” he is. This is why we have a Standard—to allow us to develop a mind’s eye image to aspire to.

Next to my recliner is a table holding (1) Robert Cole’s Eye for a Dog, (2) Dog Steps by Rachel Page Elliot, (3) The Collie Club of America Illustrated Standard and (4) a show catalog from our recent East Tennessee Collie Club specialties with the Standard printed inside. I have been thinking, and worrying, about the incorrect shoulder problem in our breed for a long while.

I remember when my Dobe friends, with whom I used to travel to dog shows back in the 70s . . . worrying about THEIR breed’s fronts, and more recently when I attended the judges seminar for the Siberian Husky Club of America National Specialty held here in Chattanooga, learning that they too have a front problem, and as it turns out, also a leg length problem. The Siberian seminar was very “hands on” and judges who mentored included sledding/breeder judges who talked about form and function. The Belgian Tervuren National Specialty, also held in Chattanooga, stressed correct fronts with their beautiful breed as well. Ditto the Alaskan Malamute National Specialty held in Knoxville a couple of years ago. Ditto the Australian Cattle Dog National Specialty judges seminar held in Murfreesboro, Tenn., just a few years ago.

Think about this. Back in the 70s, Dobe people were worried. It is almost forty years later and they are STILL worried, as are the clubs and mentors of the other breeds mentioned.

Here is what the Siberian judges/mentors and others there as well, told me. The SHOW Siberian is different from the dog called for by the Standard. The SHOW Siberian, as you will know if you watch them (such a beautiful, exuberant breed!) is a bit lower to the ground (i.e. shorter legged) than the Standard calls for. Form follows function? Breaking loose a sled in deep snow would be a daunting task for a dog with shorter legs, wouldn’t it? Just ask me . . . with my short legs, you’d have to come back and get me!

Guess what else? You know all the times I have written/asked, “Please show your dogs with their heads on a plane level with their bodies?” or something like that. In the ring, sometimes I will say “Please lower your dogs’ heads.” That corrects the outline/silhouette of the dog. Hate to (no I don’t) keep harping on this, but when you have your dog raise his head to look UP at you, it distorts his outline, and if he has a correct shoulder layback, it is not apparent.

Do I now, or have I ever, done this? Of course I have. When I look at those eyes asking for just a touch, or a bite of whatever I might have, or when they just want me to speak, while I am sitting on the bar stool height chair on the porch, up high enough to keep from having four of them in my lap at once! And my clown, Gracie, waits for me to baby talk her so she can sneeze in delight!

I know not to do that in the ring, however. Gus taught me. Back in the 60s when I first began showing and was green as a Granny Smith apple, Gus also told me not to wear white shoes because they would distract the judge’s eye while he watched the footfall of my dog.

My first show Collie was purchased from Gus. She was a tri bitch who became Ch. Cherrivale Scaasi and had It said about her (not by me) that she could move with a glass of water on her back and not spill a drop. This is what I watched as I “grew up” in Collies. In those times, dog shows were more about dogs than about “show” . . . I think. You didn’t see as much style and family type resemblances in those days, I think, because even while you could identify a dog as “Parader” in type, there were not that many that all looked alike at any one show.

At the Collie Club of Ohio show with Mrs. W. Henry Gray judging in the 60s, someone had given her a tiny toy of some kind that had a moving part, maybe one of those where you press the bottom and the figure collapses and then goes all “loosey-goosey” before becoming upright again. At any rate, I had Scaasi entered, and Mrs. Gray was manipulating this little whatever-it-was and getting the dogs rapt attention! All of them! Such that they all converged on her in a circle and as she stood in the center of the circle and turned while looking at each dog’s expression. My bitch, Scaasi, with her very novice handler, was chosen for winners bitch. My point in this story is when the JUDGE wants to focus on expression of your dog, perhaps as the final test in choosing her winners, and maybe to see whose ears stay over and are natural, it is okay for the DOG to look up at her toy. Mrs. Gray held that little toy at her waist level.

Any of you reading this will recall a time when you sat or stood across the ring looking at a line of dogs on the mat and chose those you liked the “look” of best. You were looking at symmetry of body/outline/silhouette. That was what was drawing your eye. When you see a handler standing right over his dog looking down into the dog who is looking up, there might be a big rough-framed sleek head and profile view that is stunning, but what about the “rest of the story” er . . . dog.

Now, I think, there are more beautiful Collie faces at shows than ever before. Some judges have to do a difficult weighing of virtues that lead to a purple ribbon on a given day. So, in many ways, we have learned well what our Standard stresses about head qualities and expression. NOW, let’s work on the body and movement. DON’T lose the beautiful heads and expressions!!!! NO, no, no. Just focus your eye on symmetry and movement. It will help to go watch the agility and herding dogs. Ditto the obedience and rally, although this is a moderately slower requirement for movement, where you can learn more easily to watch the footfall. Many breeders are taking their beautiful conformation champions and letting them have even MORE fun as they take on new adventures.

I fell in love with Collies because of Lassie. The character, integrity, good sense and sweet spirit of the breed. I fell in love, as many of you did, with the symmetry, beauty, strength, elegance, regal, “knowing” way of the breed as depicted in the Terhune books, the Eric Knight Lassie Come Home story of loyalty and love and duty. I read also all the Black Stallion books by Walter Farley, and watched later the incredibly beautiful flowing lines of the Arabian who played “The Black” in a movie lush with the symmetry of nature. Much has been included in our learning about structure and motion in dogs from what we know of horse anatomy and human anatomy as shown in Dog Steps.

Some of you will recall when we had fully dedicated weekends of learning at various locations around the country. Those were seminars encouraged and participated in by people like Gus Sigrtiz, Dot Gerth, John Honig, Noel Denton, “Doc” Greathouse and many others to facilitate keeping our breed beautiful and sound. You may have attended the Pidgeon Forge, Tenn., seminar that Doris Werdermann chaired some years ago. What an excellent weekend of learning and camaraderie that was!

This topic has been written about, critiqued in show reports, talked about and studied in collie club’s educational presentations, complete with complex graphics and video/film presentations. Is it time to move to preserve the complete integrity of the Collie?

My sincere hope is that the Breeders Education Committee will offer a comprehensive program on this important topic at the National Specialty as soon as possible, so that all of us can learn from each other and the research and knowledge of “old timers” and “new timers” alike to continue breeding Collies that are graceful, eye-filling beauties—the classic Collies as described in the Standard. Please join me in lobbying for such an educational program to be offered on a national level, and soon.

Photo of CH Montara Beyond The Blue Neon, CD, HIAd, HXAs, NA, ROMP, VX, STDsc, OTDd, HTD1, handled by Pete Denbow at the 2006 Collie Club National Specialty in Idaho, where the two paired up for their second BOS Smooth award, appears with permission from Becky Henson, Montara Collies.

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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