Let’s Talk Breed Education!
A Dozen Questions On Judging THE PYRENEAN SHEPHERD By Patricia Princehouse I ts origins lost in the mists of time, the Pyrenean Shepherd has abided for thousands of years in near isolation in the Pyrenees Mountains, what is today known as the border of
southwest France and northern Spain— a remote region that contains the highest mountain in France, and Europe’s south- ern-most glaciers. Th ey shared their lives with the Great Pyrenees—whose presence as a large predator control dog allowed the little Pyr Shep to specialize for herding alone, including the small size needed to scramble quickly over the rocky landscape. Th e Pyr Shep is a very lean, light-boned, highly athletic dog, whose nature makes them extremely (even excessively) devoted to their owners, often to the exclusion of all other people. To understand the form and function of this heterogeneous breed, one must realize that they had a heterogeneous job. While most herding breeds are farm dogs (and the Pyr Shep can do fine on farms) their primary use was in the true wilder- ness—far from farms, roads, enclosed pas- tures or crops. Th e terrain varies widely. It is rocky, very uneven and with small grassy valleys divided by sharp cli ff s and expanses of glacial rubble with a few strips of grass among the rocks. Th e dogs lived day to day as semi-nomads with the human shep- herd—who himself camped every night in the open or in casket-like wood boxes car- ried from place to place by sturdy donkeys or in small stone huts or caves that were occasionally available. In the valleys, the very large flocks spread out over the rocky landscape to take advantage of the mea- ger grass. Th e sure-footed mountain sheep were moved from valley to valley as graz- ing ran out. Th is form of herding is known as transhumance. Th is unusual job called for an extremely nimble dog that was nearly cat-like. And
with anatomy that allowed them to per- form di ff erent jobs at di ff erent points in the season and over widely varying terrain. Th e Pyrenees are a fairly small region and the breed is quite inbred. And yet the shepherds valued great phenotypic diversity—partly because no peasant can a ff ord to keep any more dogs than strictly needed and greater inbreeding in local areas tended to set slightly di ff erent styles, and partly because local conditions vary greatly so that dogs of rather di ff er- ent morphology were useful in di ff erent conditions. Th us, the unusual genetic complement that produces the discrete varieties in the same litter was preserved by the mountain shepherds. Th e squarer, more upstanding Smooth-Faced pups in the litter might often be chosen by folks working most in the lower valleys while their Rough-Faced littermates would sometimes be favored by those working in the higher mountains. Th e longest-haired Rough-Faced dogs were especially val- ued in the highest mountain areas since their longer backs and well-arched loins allowed quick bursts of speed and excel-
lent scrambling ability over talus slopes and their heavier coats helped them resist the cold nights. Th ese dogs’ coats tended to form thick quasi cords called “matelotes” or “cadenettes” that shed the cold rain. Yet, they were not too hot in warmer seasons because each spring they would tear o ff all their matelotes by vigorously rolling and rubbing against rocks and trees until the thick mats were scraped o ff . Th e demi-long Rough-Faced dogs didn’t need to go to such lengths! And the demi-longs frequently have the best coat texture—called “goat-haired” by the shepherds. One could say that the breed taken in its entirety is adapted to controlled heterogeneity. But in all cases what each individual needed above all was extreme athleticism, intense drive and profound heart. Th eir athleticism is so pronounced that, although only recently introduced to competitive agility, it has allowed the breed to dominate the midi competi- tion at the World Agility Champion- ships. With less than a dozen Pyr Sheps among hundreds of competitors in this
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international competition each year, Pyr Sheps have taken countless gold medals in the past dozen or so years, including over- all Champion four times by three di ff er- ent dogs—one of them bred and owned in America. In 2011, all four top spots overall went to Pyr Sheps. Here, their prowess has earned them countless gold medals in the 16" category at the Eukanuba Invitational, the AKC National Agility Championships and the counterpart agility organization’s USDAA World Cynosport Champion- ships. Running a Pyr Shep is, however, not an easy undertaking. Th eir blazing speed and quicksilver intelligence make them extremely challenging for even well- seasoned handlers! And the high need for socialization to people and places goes far beyond the usual herding breed. Th eir work as the daily herders of sheep, and to some extent cattle and oth- er livestock when called upon, required them to be a jack of all trades, rather than a highly stylized master of one like the Border Collie. Beginning in the 1920s, they have competed at the top levels in French herding competitions, with one little bitch earning the coveted national championship 3 years in a row! Th ey are also outstanding search and rescue dogs as their small size and keen drive allows them to search areas where larger dogs simply can’t go. All these shapes and activities make the breed very challenging for the non- specialist to judge. Here follows a dozen of the questions most commonly asked by judges. The Questions Q: What are the 3 most important cri- teria in judging the Pyr Shep? A: Head type, body proportions and side gait. Q: What constitutes correct head type? A: Th e head should be triangular with a pointed muzzle sweeping back to the zygomatic arches in a well-filled-in wedge. Th e eyes are almond-shaped but somewhat open—more the shape of an almond in the shell. Th eir dark-brown color accentuates the intense, alert, some- what suspicious expression so crucial to
breed type. Th e skull is nearly flat on top with the ears set high. Th e muzzle is shorter than in other herding breeds – slightly shorter than the backskull. Q: What is the correct movement? A: Th e dog has a flying trot and a dou- ble-suspension gallop. Th ey should have a big, ground-covering side gait—more pro- nounced in the Rough-Faced variety. Th ey are highly athletic and will often jump e ff ortlessly onto the table. Pyr Sheps quickly singletrack coming and going. Th eir dewclaws make them look even closer in the rear. Side gait is to be prized much more highly than perfec- tion on the down and back.
and loin but not on the head or over the withers. Q: Are they always examined on the table? A: Yes. In the US they are always examined on the table. This is optional in Canada. In Europe they are gener- ally examined on the ground. In the US, they should never be touched in the ground but put back on the table if the judge desires further hands-on—this is standard AKC policy. Q: What should the judge look for on the table versus on the ground? A: Th e temperament of the breed encour- ages them to be very alert and in constant motion. In this low-entry breed, class dogs are generally inexperienced, as are their own- ers (whom for the sake of the future of our sport should be encouraged!). So the judge should not prolong the table exam. Th e class dog will only get more fidgety. Th e judge should look for 3 main things in the table exam: A) Head shape: flat on top with small ears set on high. Muzzle shorter than back skull, but not exaggeratedly so. B) Scissors bite: level or reverse scissors is acceptable as long as the teeth are touching. But a gap over or under is a DQ. C) Long scapula and humerus. D) Rough-Faced dogs have a complex topline with a crested neck knitting well into the back with the long scapula tips making a bump over the withers. Th e back is level over the ribs but has a pronounced rise over the loin. Th is rise is accentuated strongly by the coat, especial- ly on heavily-coated dogs. Rear should be well angulated with good let-down of hock. Smooth-Faced dogs should be more square, more moderate in angulation, length of scapulae and rise over the loin and are higher on hock. Q: Should I wicket dogs that appear small or large? A: Th e breed has a very large size range and most dogs fall within it. And because they tend to be fidgety it can be di ffi cult to get a fair measurement. Judges might be especially tempted to wicket dogs who look very large. Remember that although being over standard is a fault, a judge should 4 )08 4 *()5 . "(";*/& . "3$) t
Q : How do I tell the varieties and coat types apart at a glance? A: 1) Th e Smooth-Faced has short hair on the face and the fronts of the legs, rather like a Sheltie except the body coat is not more than 3" long and with less undercoat than a Sheltie or Aussie. Rough-Faced dogs have long hair on the face, but not so long as to hide the eyes, and longer leg hair of equal length on both front and back of the legs. 2) Proportions of the Smooth-Faced variety are nearly square; the Rough-Faced variety is a horizontal rectangle. Both coat types within the RF have strikingly rect- angular proportions. Q: What are the two coat types within the Rough-Faced variety? A: Th e Rough-Faced variety has two coat types: long and demi-long. Th e body coat of the demi is not as long and has a crisp texture and little undercoat. Fur- nishings can be very pronounced on the longhaired dogs, more rudimentary on the demi-long. Longhaired dogs may be corded on the legs and even over the sides
Q: How do I perform a breed-specific exam? A: While the exhibitor is settling the dog on the table, you can observe the overall proportions and get a feel for the harmony of the dog. Move to the front and take the head in your hands to feel its structure, Ask the exhibitor to show the bite. Use your hand to feel the topline— especially to evaluate the rise over the loin as this can be a ff ected so much by the amount and waviness of the coat. Be quick and business-like as you move your hands over the dog. In the case of a nervous dog it helps to approach from the side, without mak- ing eye contact. Speak pleasantly to the exhibitor and let the dog get used to your presence and to the handler’s acceptance of you. Set a hand over the dogs loin and stroke f irmly a few times to ease his trepidation. Then move to the front and examine the head and body structure. Then f inish the exam by asking the exhibitor to show the bite. There is no reason to prolong the exam. Refrain from talking to the dog. An inexperienced dog with a traditional temperament will not make friends with you in just a few minutes. Allow su ffi cient room for the exhibitor to take the dog o ff the table. Many allow the dog to jump down on its own. On the down and back, you will have a better chance to evaluate the expres- sion than on the table. And be sure to observe the dog from the side as this is the moment in which the dog is most likely to walk into its best stance. As the dog goes around, you might want to move to the center of the ring to see the side gait as long as possible. At out- door shows, you may ask the handler to make two turns around the ring on the individual so you can adequately evaluate the dog as it relaxes into the f lying trot. Similarly, it is not unusual in a larger class to pull two dogs out and have them go around together a couple times. Be sure to ask the exhibitors to have the dogs stand naturally at some point so you can look down the line and evaluate their true silhouette.
refrain from disqualifying unless the dog exceeds standard by more than half an inch—but that doesn’t mean this signifi- cant fault should be overlooked in making placements. Q: Are small dogs preferred? A: Not per se. Dogs within the entire size range should all be considered equally. However, the standard says the dog should be of minimal size and weight. Th us, faced with 2 dogs of equal quality in head type, proportion and movement, the judge would favor a small, sinewy, light-boned dog over a large robust dog. Q: Why is this breed so weird? A: As outlined above, this natural breed is adapted to a lifestyle like no other. Th us the standard reflects a range of accept- able variation, rather than a cookie-cutter approach of “normal” breeds that have been fashioned more extensively—dare we say artificially? However, dogs falling outside that range should be faulted sig- nificantly. Correct dogs are actually more consistent than first glance would suggest clothed in their diversity of size, coat and color. Th e mountain breeders embraced these odd variations for good reasons. Q: Why is the temperament so odd and why should judges tolerate behavior that would be faulted in other breeds. A: The breed’s wilderness lifestyle called for a super high energy, super alert dog capable of making split-second decisions and sticking to them despite dangerous terrain and obstinate sheep. Although highly trainable and extreme- ly attached to their humans, the work required a dog that worked at a distance and was able to override the directions of the human shepherds when they felt they knew better—and at such moments they usually did! As a breed, they learn a tremendous amount of their job from other dogs, rather than via specif ic train- ing by their human counterparts. The isolation of the mountains meant that strangers were likely up to no good and should be challenged. This produced a dog that tended to resent the eye and hand of the judge.
Exhibitors should have enough control of their dogs to prevent aggression, but fidgeting, leaning away from the judge and general suspicion of the judge are expressions of the normal temperament of the breed and thus not to be faulted per se. Class dogs that behave perfectly at training class may revert to these natural tendencies in the more serious and less familiar show situation—confounding less experienced handlers. Dogs that feel the judge is intimi- dating the handler may feel the need to take control of the situation and back the judge off. Give the exhibitor more space and authority will help these dogs feel more confortable. Do not attempt to “train” the dog or “help” the han- dler. Encourage the owner to take con- trol, calm their dog and indicate when they are ready to have the dog submit to the exam. These behaviors are less pro- nounced among specials, who have been habituated to shows. Do not attempt to make friends with the dog. This will make them more suspicious. Be matter- of-fact and business-like. Th e highly desirable alertness has lead to a style of presentation in their home country in which the dog is faced away from the handler, allowing them to focus on something of interest in the distance. So the dogs end up standing in a haphaz- ard manner, rather than in a line on the mat. Th is is easier to achieve at outdoor shows. Freebaiting and especially hand- stacking are not as desirable since the dog is not pulled together as naturally as in the traditional presentation. But smaller rings sometimes necessitate more generic presentation. Judges should not just tolerate but embrace the traditional attitude of the breed. After all, temperament is an ele- ment of type.
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