TYPE, BALANCE AND SYMMETRY
Developing A Discerning Eye!
E. Katie Gammill, AKC Judge, TheDogPlace.org Exhibition Editor
What determines “breed type? Most standards use adjectives to assist in explaining the “essence” of a breed for breeders and judges.
“Apollo” describes the Great Dane. “Nobility” describes the German Shepherd. The adjectives “keenness”, “look of eagles”, character, alertness, cocky, elegant, animation, dignity, aloofness, upstanding, athletic, intensity, unique, distinct, robust, powerful, and massive are word tools available to judges with a “discerning eye” and the keenness to mentally recognize and assess these qualities. Those without an “eye” may never understand.
Viewing the Bulldog standard, I discover something new regarding proportions. The length from the tip of the nose to the occipital bone-and the length from the occipital bone to the withers-is the same! Moving on to other breeds, there are more similarities and I note that when that ratio is equal; the legs are right beneath the shoulder where they belong. But when the nose to occipital bone is longer than the occipital bone to the withers, the ratio is destroyed. The legs will then be on the more narrow part of the thoracic ribcage, which results in a straight front. And upon examination, one finds “pockets” behind the elbows and the dog toes in.
When the length from the occipital bone to withers is shorter than the head length, the dog will stand “under itself” and continually adjust its rear feet. The hocks won’t “follow through” correctly. Check this out!
Sharing this revelation with a judge-friend, we examined dogs of both types regarding head and neck proportions and front placement. It was an eye-opener! This "law of nature" surprisingly appears true on dogs with 1/3 to 2/3 muzzle ratio, or dogs with 50-50 parallel planes. So I ask what differentiates “symmetry and balance”? Of course, Webster has the answer:
SYMMETRY – An arrangement marked by regularity and balanced proportions. Correspondence in size, shape and positioning of parts that are on opposite sides of a dividing line.
BALANCE – TO ARRANGE so that one set of elements equals another: to equal in weight, number, or proportions. Positioning of balance is to bring about a more harmonious or symmetrical appearance.
This may be called ‘SPLITTING HAIRS”, but a discerning eye will go right to the filly that “stands out” in this year’s baby crop or to the puppy in the litter that “catches the eye”. A good breeder will see when the “whole” supersedes the “parts”.
Some dogs have a short front stride, reaching “from the elbow” rather than “opening the shoulder”. Regarding the rear, the reach of the hind foot should equal the follow through behind. When the front is more correct than the rear, the dog doesn’t have time to complete this action due to keeping up with the front assembly. Easily seen on side movement, both are indications of incorrect structure. These faults creep into breeding programs unnoticed and if not addressed, they are hard to correct. This is why it’s important to train the eye and to note which judges have it!
Driving home and thinking of a puppy she selected from a litter, my friend suddenly had an “AHA” moment. She turned to me and said “I PICKED THE WRONG PUPPY!” When she returned home, she chose the puppy that continually drew her eye.
Symmetry separates the “good” dog from the “GREAT” dog. Often we choose a puppy with our heart rather than with a “discerning eye”. This explains why my pet of so many years in no way met the standard but broke my heart with her passing.
Breeding horses and dogs over the years reveals this: “Greatness” rarely goes through “bad stages”. The youngster grows from adolescence into a mature animal and throughout the growth stages, he will always “fill your eye”. We once turned down an offer most people wouldn’t refuse for a filly. She remained in our pasture for years, bringing us joy. Her beauty, graceful movement, and symmetry were something to behold! This incredible mare always produced her virtues in her offspring.
Whether assessing dogs as a breeder or as a judge, in honoring structural correctness, the gene pool becomes dependable. Continuous breeding ‘type to type’ or “structure to structure’ results in pretty dogs that can’t walk OR sound dogs lacking in breed type. That is just another example of how balance works. Seek a balance between “type and soundness.” When judging or breeding, if one selects “pieces” rather than a dog in its entirety, they will often choose the wrong dog.
So the next time your “eye” is drawn to a particular animal, determine WHY. Did symmetry draw you, or is it an exaggeration of a part? Sometimes, despite various adjectives, the final conclusion is this - THAT DOG JUST IS! Perfection is rare, but some animals are difficult to fault. When showmanship, soundness, and type come together to “fill the eye”, it cannot be denied.