Thoughts from the 29th National Specialty
by David W. Haddock
There were only a few regional shows I could attend when I started showing dogs as a child, so I depended on the monthly edition of the AKC Gazette to connect me to the dog world. I became familiar with dog breeds and the names and faces of dog people like Skarda, Beauchamp, Forsyth, Clark, and Trainor…of Gregory, Green, Billings, and Trotter. It’s likely I even read about some of you. Never did I expect nor consider that those about whom I read would become personal colleagues, friends, and mentors. We are lifted up in dogs in correlation to the quality of our mentors. We may not achieve the same levels of accomplishment, but the good mentors make us better dog men and women so that we may inherit the privilege and responsibility of breeding, showing, and judging purebred dogs. When a true dog person respects a desire of another to learn and to grow in dogs, they often adopt you. Some of you have experienced this. Some of you have served that role for me. I have been humbled by the opportunities availed myself in the dog world. To say simply that it was an honor and that I enjoyed judging the National Specialty would be both true and yet so incomplete.
Nationals are a celebration of achievements. You may have bred a dog that has excelled in the water, won a National, or taken High in Trial. A few of you have done that, some of you multiple times. Or, maybe your accomplishments have been recognized in other ways…in rescue, judges education, or chairing an important committee or serving as Show Chair. That’s the great connection in dogs, especially purebred dogs. We all come from different places and for different reasons, but at our specialty we all have one thing in common: we share a passion for the Portuguese Water Dog. When we love dogs, we judge dogs. We are all judges. Even the first time puppy buyer makes a judgment when selecting one dog over another; a seasoned breeder is a judge when selecting a stud dog and later when evaluating a litter. We judge our competition in the ring, and ringside, everyone judges the judge. So it is with passion that I expound upon what I was thinking while judging your dogs.
It leaves me speechless when I hear a fellow judge describe an exhibit or justify a pick by using generic terms and phrases that could apply to any breed. It’s no wonder that we hear the same confusion circulated back to us from breeders and exhibitors. Judging dogs is a privilege that comes with an obligation to adjudicate with breed specific knowledge. Beautiful and pretty are not breed specific. Form follows function and pretty is only as good as pretty does. A generic dog can be pretty devoid a standard, leaving beauty in the eye of the beholder, but when an exhibit best exudes essential breed characteristics, then beautiful is the result, not the reason. Yes, we have personal preferences and we have memories of favorite exhibits etched in our minds. We love the dogs most that live with us, but at some point the serious student of the dog must become an objective evaluator of the most important criterion: the written standard that defines the essential breed characteristics that are the makeup of our ideal dog. We call this ideal type, because if you don’t know what you’re looking for, any dog will do. Discerning breed type provides greater access to fully understanding what separates quality from mediocrity and elevates an individual dog or breeding program to excellence.
When attempting to articulate type in any breed, I am reminded of the late Justice Potter Stewart, whose attempt to articulate the definition of obscenity led him simply to say, “I know it when I see it.” It is true that one can imprint the ideal standard in their head. It is not arrogant to say this, but it can lead to unwanted subjectivity that should only come into play when the more definitive objective breed traits are present. Those objectives are clearly defined in our standard, and if we are to be preservationists of the
Portuguese Water Dog, we should defer to those who first preserved it. When we can identify type, we can help preserve the intent of the founders of our breed and assist in the selection of stock that best accommodates that goal, whether you’re a breeder or a judge. In the United States, we can thank Deyanne Miller, Kathryn Braund, Maryanne Murray and others who defined type, resulting in a breed standard that articulates the essence of the breed. If you miss these breed essentials, you will simply end up judging dogs in a generic fashion. No one benefits from that!
So here’s my checklist taken directly from the standard, being careful to not lift words or phrases out of context. Proportion is not merely off square, but only slightly longer than tall. The dog is robust, but don’t miss unexaggerated, and unexaggerated does not mean unexceptional! The use of the term medium throughout the standard is not a call for mediocre! A good Portuguese Water Dog is robust, ruggedly built, and substantial in bone and muscle, yet medium in build. A distinctively large head is essential, while a correctly-set and thickly-based tail is of great importance. This phenotype is pleasing to the eye, and a well-knit body is representative of an athlete. From the outside, this is a good Portuguese Water Dog. What distinguishes the great dog from the really good one comes from the inside. From there comes that spirited disposition that is evidenced by the self-will, confidence, and stamina that can be seen in the intense expression, uniquely PWD. The Portuguese Water Dog is an indelible impression of strength, spirit, and soundness!
Every breed has inferiorities (I call them drags) that keep them from being ideal. Indeed, the obvious drag on the Portuguese Water Dog is coat. No, not the type or texture of coat, but the use of it. At any breed seminar we are reminded again and again to “put your hands on the dogs – to get under the coat.” Still, I regularly observe Portuguese Water Dogs being judged with only the slightest hands-on evaluation and I wonder how the manipulation of such a minor part of the dog can so overwhelm the most important characteristics beneath it, for neither coat, nor the silhouette it presents, are type. More judges are fooled by coat than the more important traits that make up type, but talented grooming has certainly led to some winning records for exhibits that otherwise do not possess the essence of breed type.
I implore anyone with a serious passion to not use or reward coat as camouflage. Dogs that exude breed type do not require excessive coat or sculpted grooming, and the use of coat to cover faults, craft virtues, or otherwise distract from the natural appearance of the Portuguese Water Dog is a disservice to the breed. Nowhere in the standard exists a call for a well-crafted silhouette that camouflages a dog of refined bone, or a narrow head, or the absence of a correctly set thick rudder. While one should expect each exhibit to be presented in the trim that best exemplifies strengths (and to some degree mitigates weaknesses), the standard calls for a robust and spirited dog of moderate proportion that is not defined by its grooming. We seek an impressive head that encompasses a brain of high intelligence, a sound body that is ruggedly built and well-knit in its construction – and a powerful rudder. We seek the muscle and substance that can take this water dog through a full day of work on water and on land. Coat can’t do that!
The salient breed characteristics I seek when judging any Portuguese Water Dog are always the same. These are the words and phrases from the breed standard that define the essence of breed type – and no amount of years in dogs, nor litters bred, nor victories won, can replace them. These are the words and phrases that have shaped my ideal impression and were my guiding principal on my way to selecting each cut, and each award. Fortunately, there are opportunities in the ring where multiple exhibits exude the type, temperament and soundness we seek in the ideal breed dog. This is the positive side of judging, when all things come together to allow for subjective judging, a luxury that results when one can evaluate the nuances of multiple exhibits that otherwise meet the standard breed objectives. It’s only then that we put up what we like and leave it for another day to someone else. Such was the case at the National.
The quality of entry exceeded my expectations, for I have often expressed my concern that we had somewhat compromised phenotype for our unparalleled success in establishing a healthy genotype. In fact, there were not enough Award of Merit ribbons for an outstanding class of Specials and there could be nothing better than a Veterans lineup that reminded us all how fortunate we are to share each precious day with this wonderful breed. Best of Opposite Sex exuded type and soundness and could easily be on her way to a multi-BIS career. Select Dog and Select Bitch, although different in style and presentation, exhibited the specific breed characteristics that should always be awarded. Winners and Reserves were all very athletic, correct, and well-knit, with typical Portuguese expression. \
And wow, finally the Best in Show Specialty winner! This athletic dog screamed type. He was robust, yet unexaggerated; ruggedly built and substantial in bone and muscle, yet medium in build. He had the essential and distinctively large head, well proportioned and with exceptional breadth of topskull. Nothing about him was mediocre. His powerful tail flagged with enthusiasm as if connected directly to his heart. His alert, intelligent and inquisitive presence commanded attention. He was not only pleasing to the eye, but gave at once that spirited disposition that is evidence of a great Portuguese Water Dog – the self-will, confidence, and stamina that can be seen in the intense expression, uniquely PWD. That’s it! I knew it when I saw it! The 29th Portuguese Water Dog National Specialty winner was an indelible impression of strength, spirit, and soundness!