Form, Function, Hallmarks. A very long history surrounds these three words, long before my time and that of any living fanciers of the canine species. This subject should not be taken lightly or as something new, especially when we think of breeds that can be traced back to the time of the Pharaohs and beyond. So it is with some trepidation that I attempt here to portray that which mostly appears to be taken for granted by today’s ever increasing number of owners, as opposed to the declining numbers of actual breeders in today’s modern canine world.
Always bearing in mind that we see things just a trifle differently, on occasions, a lot differently than each other, I have put this piece together after watching thousands of canines exhibited and judged over a lifetime in dogs. All of what I’ve said here may not sit exactly with others’ opinions, however given that there will always be room for one more valuable piece of knowledge in this great sport, I am forever looking to analyze any information that comes my way and, if satisfied, add another gem to those already inked in, those which have gotten me to this point of my life in pure breed dogs.
The question is: which came first, the chicken or the egg? Are these three essential elements connected? I believe they are, for without just one of them in evidence, the mind’s eye picture of the species and its breed varieties takes on a serious change. We have been blessed with the ingenious men and women of long ago who had the foresight to put together the blueprints that describe the breeds we assess when judging or in making a conscious decision to keep or not keep as young whelps.
“Form and Function” is easy on the tongue rather than the other way around, however I will begin with Function first.
Not only were those who came before us responsible for putting together the standards of perfection that eventually have been handed down through generations to the current era, they are for the most part unchanged from the original writings. Certainly, there have been some additions and omissions over a long period of time, evidenced by the slight differences from country to country on the one hand, and that inevitable human nature syndrome of “change the standard to fit the current stock.” By and large for true dedicated breeders however, not a great deal has changed. Long before many of those blueprints were derived as we know them today, they were in some measure got by way of visualizing the work ethic of many ancient breeds, perhaps hundreds, even thousands of years of observation of a breed’s ability to perform a particular task. The Saluki and its like-cousins, the Afghan, Sloughi, Pharaoh, Caravan Hound and others, are prime examples of this. In the latter times of the 16th, 17th, and 18th centuries, the many other Hound varieties, Terriers, Gundogs, and, yes, even those we refer to as lap dogs were being developed, primarily based on the ability to perform a Function. From these beginnings then, this Function aspect of a breed became an integral element in deciding whether a specimen would be kept or dispatched to places unknown so that only those which met the criteria were retained.
FORM! Function by itself is of no value without the need of a specimen to have the Form that will carry it through life, seeing to it that its duties for which it was originally designed were and still should be performed in a successful, effortless and untiring manner. I say “designed” because essentially that is exactly what happened so long ago as the various breeds were developed. Pure “Breeding On” was not immediate. It was however the result of those Grand Masters’ efforts, securing the best possible traits being sought, then carefully introduced into the makeup of each breed, and only after achieving these goals did pure “Breeding On” begin and continue to produce the phenotype with all the desired characteristics of Form and Function. Several ingredients in combination are responsible for correct Form that will bring a specimen all together as a complete whole, ensuring the most stringent requirements of performing the task assigned it are met. The most important of these is structure. Should this element be waning in any area of its makeup, the ability to perform the Function is lessened by the degree to which it deviates from the ideal.
BALANCE, together with Form and the articulation of limbs of a sound, correctly made skeletal structure and the musculature attached thereto, plays a major role. Function will be impaired without a balanced Form which may be described as, “A dog that exhibits proportions which appear right, is pleasing to the eye by its lack of exaggeration, and has neither an excess nor a lack of any feature” and is therefore said to be Balanced. These points together with Type in accordance with the breed standard will present a Typical Balanced specimen. When Balance is lacking to such a degree that, when performing a function the dog becomes unable the complete a task or more importantly continue throughout a day’s work, it may be said that the animal lacks the Form required of the breed to carry out the Function.
HALLMARKS! Without the distinguishing features that make a breed its own and no other, then Type is lost. This has become a much used word in the modern era, often for the wrong reasons, used by some who have no canine knowledge whatsoever but who would see themselves as instant experts. Some fanciers will declare that there are different Types within a breed! Others will concede that where historically, there have been a number of other breeds in the mix to achieve the Type desired, it may then be said that there are Type variations. But in any event, a breed should look like its own and no other. When one gets right down to it, Breed Type is not only those features which separate one breed from another; it is also the several specific and unmistakable Hallmarks for which a breed is specifically known. These together with Form and Function complete the trilogy of belonging to each other for its own breed.
Hallmarks must always be paid close attention and scrutiny. A great example of this is espoused in the General Appearance section of the Boxer standard which demands that “special attention should be devoted to the head.” That phrase is preceded with an equally important ask: “the first consideration when judging the Boxer is General Appearance.” Now, it may well be said that these two phrases might apply to any show dog, however this particular standard instructs one to do these two things simply to impress that there is a uniqueness to this breed and no other, which requires undivided attention.
As years go by and the dog show scene world wide takes on an ever changing mood, we find judges being tasked with large breed-group entries and oftentimes constraints, not to mention what might be termed the quick flow system of pushing judges through to the ultimate all breeds status with very little experience. It can be an uncomfortable feeling as a spectator to watch as judging proceeds with what is either unqualified, unknowing or uncaring adjudicators going over various breeds and completely missing the Hallmarks set out as clear requirements in the standard, more commonly described as breed characteristics. These must often be researched to understand fully what a breed is about. Make no mistake; some of those written blueprints might well be describing almost any dog due to the lack of specific information.
True fanciers of the Chihuahua in years past would have been aghast should a knowing judge not check, even if in the most gentle manner, for the molero, once a vital specific and noted Hallmark of the breed. That characteristic for whatever reason has now been removed from the updated standard. It is nevertheless important breed information one should know; it can only be got by breed research. Some time ago at a very large show, I watched as a visiting judge went over a very good entry of Jack Russell Terriers, failing to span any that came before him. This is not only asked for in the standard, but is a demanding Hallmark of the breed, one that requires not only proper examination but a complete understanding of the reason why it is so, that a knowing person can make a valued judgment on whether the Jacky would ever see daylight again once in the hole!
Likewise, failure to run the hands down the forelegs of a Great Dane where a particular hallmark of the breed demands “big flat bone,” or the Borzoi where the forelegs are described as “narrow like blades” is complete ignorance. This is especially so when a judge knows this important detail, but fails to demonstrate that knowledge. It is a lack of respect to the breed and its fanciers. I would venture it has been some time since there has been a judge who actually takes the coat of the Newfoundland between the fingers to test if it is of an “oily nature,” essential to the breed’s work ethic as a water dog or one who will dismiss a Pyrenean Mountain Dog which does not carry the breed Hallmark of double dew claws, a disqualification in most countries outside of Australia. Would this breed be unable to do its protective work because of this one point? Of course it will continue to protect and work hard; it will also pass on what for this breed is a genetic impurity into the next generations until this Hallmark is lost forever! It is that important!
The working ability of many breeds cannot be tested in the show ring; this we know. We are not able to see the larger hounds at the gallop displaying the transition of hindquarter reaching far beyond and to the outside of the forehand. A close examination and study of structure will reveal the reason for the broad rear end, absolutely essential to these breeds. Gundogs, by and large, have two major functions with some variation. One is to scent on the air and make the set, the other to retrieve. The hallmark of the Setter function is to scent high and wide, tail flagging, ranging the field and when on the game will make the set often within inches of the quarry, tail well exposed so the master can see exactly his position. These characteristic actions are Hallmarks of the Setter breeds, not written into the standard and again, only got by research. However, each of the four Setter breeds has a set of prescribed differences which set them apart one from the other.
An essential Hallmark of the Retriever is to carry the correct waterproof coat, characteristically hard to the touch in one breed and not so in another. Essential Hallmarks of all Retrievers including the dual purpose breeds, is the ability to retrieve and carry the undamaged bird (quarry) back to the master. This is only achieved when the dog has the correct make, shape and balance, with that indefinable, essential, soft mouth and correct dentition.
To add salt to the wound, standards that apply to numbers of breeds outside the comfort zone of the home turf record many of the characteristics in a completely different manner or order of importance, and it is imperative that these differences are clear in one’s mind if judging in another country. The AKC standard of the Newfoundland makes no mention of the coat being of an “oily nature” and while this passage of words may appear as a throw-away line in the coat paragraph of the ANKC standard, it is actually telling us that this feature is an aid to the ability of the coat to shake free excess water, leaving no trace of the work completed.
This is a subject that could be as lengthy as one wants it to be, however, the bottom line for all breeds is the fact that if there is great balance, correct breed type and absolute soundness of form, it is half the battle. Of the other half, it is vitally important to recognize and reward those specimens which possess the particular breed Hallmarks, those characteristics which are a must for any breed, but not always seen in the written word. A trip back to basics for any breed fancier or judge will yield volumes of information which can then be transformed into a greater knowledge of the breeds being researched. In any event, as a judge, it is not only a duty; it behooves the same to pay the utmost respect to breed Hallmarks when making the final selection of winners going to the pegs.
That’s my opinion. What’s yours?
Keven Harris has been a judge for 41 years, the last 28 as an all-breed judge. He is approved for all Groups, including Miscellaneous, and Best in Show by the American Kennel Club. This article is reprinted with the kind permission of the Dog News Australia annual.