CONFORMATION: THE ULTIMATE PERFORMANCE EVENT
by CYNTHIA MAHIGIAN MOORHEAD Illustrations by Chet Jezierski from the Bearded Collie Club of America’s Illustrated Standard
T hose of us who make the verbal distinction between conforma- tion and performance events may be doing us all a disservice. If anything, conformation is the ultimate performance event. Not only is it based on how the dog historically was to per- form, all the parts of the dog must perform appropriately in order for the dog to achieve that historical goal. Th e earliest conformation competitions centered on choosing excellent breeding stock. We may pay lip service to the notion that that is still what we are doing, but nag- ging common sense tells us that though we may have become more knowledgeable and e ff ective groomers or handlers, in today’s conformation competitions we have become less knowledgeable and less e ff ective judges of breeding stock. Competitive events introduce variables that challenge the integ- rity of any breed. Th ose can be as simple as fad and fashion or as complicated as poli- tics and polemics. However, all the skillful grooming and handling in the world cannot change a mediocre dog into a top one; nor are cosmetics transmitted genetically. Th e first arbiter of conformation was, of necessity, function and functionality. Th ose physical and mental aspects that allowed a dog to most successfully per- form its primary function were valued and selected for. Th ose that in anyway detracted or interfered with a dog doing its job were faulted and bred away from. So closely intertwined are these tenets of form and function that it is virtually impossible to see where one ends and the other begins. At one time variously called the Mountain Scotch Collie, the Old Welsh Grey Sheepdog, the Highland Collie, the Loch Collie, or the Hairy Moued Collie, Bearded Collies—now familiarly know as Beardies—were developed in Scotland… and figure in the background of other herding breeds of the British Isles.
We look at our breed’s historical job description, then, to see the underpinnings of our breed standard and the modern-day basis for both conformation judging and whelping box examinations. Th e Beardie’s original purpose was as a herder or drover over a variety of rugged UK terrains. Th ose early shepherds and drovers were most concerned with the dogs’ ability to do the job and to stand up to the weather in which they worked. Over centuries the breed was stabilized through selective breeding—simply by using simi- lar dogs doing similar jobs under similar conditions from a number of di ff erent areas. In all likelihood, these early dogs were not otherwise specifically related. Th e shepherds and drovers simply selected breeding stock that best underscored and enhanced the dogs’ usefulness. Th e same basic tractable, intelligent dog with a long, harsh, water-turning coat suitable for the adverse working conditions of Scotland was valued wherever it was found for its
ability to put in a good honest day’s work. And, it remains so to this day. Beardies should still possess the concen- tration and intelligence, the steady depend- ability and perseverance, and the sane and sensible outlook that makes valuable team- work possible with his humans. And those qualities should be just as evident in the con- formation ring as they should be in the field. It is, after all, the history from which a breed has evolved that conveys crucial details that assist judges in their adjudica- tion, details that the written standard was never intended to do. And it is the histori- cal purpose and all the events that have led to the conclusion of a breed’s type that o ff er insight into the creation and evolu- tion of a breed’s standard. Type, after all, is functional. And without it, one breed is indistinguishable from another. Th e written standard should be an a ffi rmation of a breed’s design. When a standard is inadequate or unclear it weak- ens the judges’ and the breeders’ ability to
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