The Importance of Silhouette in Showing Dogs

What Does Silhouette Say About Breed Type and Function?


Students who have asked me to mentor them in a breed I have been involved with often begin the request by saying, “I just can’t get a handle on this breed. They come in so many different sizes and shapes I just don’t know which way to turn.”

The confusion is not the least bit unusual nor is the problem that creates it. Many — in fact, far too many — dogs shown today have been produced by individuals who are themselves unclear about what they are shooting for. This explains why in the same ring, in the same breed, you will find short-legged long dogs and long-legged tall dogs.

Ch. Kabik's The Challenger

The silhouette of iconic Afghan Hound, Ch. Kabik’s The Challenger, provides the framework within which the breeder and judge will begin their understanding of the breed: first the framework, then the general interior and then the specifics, one step at a time. Photo Vicky Fox.

To the untrained eye this looks like one thing and one thing only — mass confusion. The only way out of this hypothetical entry is proceeding step by step to get rid of the dogs that stand in greatest conflict with the original intent of the breed.

Now remember, “intent” for some breeds are the tasks they were intended to perform. In other words a long-legged, spindly, extremely angulated dog is probably not what the creators had in mind when they were developing a draught dog. Neither was a 60-pound, coarse-boned beast five-ax-handles-long what Milady was picturing as she conjured up what might make the ideal parlor dog.

That, first and foremost, determines what’s really right and wrong for a breed. But if you are going to judge or breed you have to be a bit more specific in your selections than if you’re looking for top quality. If you look through your breed history books you are apt to find that the earliest dogs ran the gamut in looks, but as you read further you’ll find a developing consistency in what the breed begins to look like. 

Astute breeders discarded what was undesirable and bred for those characteristics based on the standard that better defined what they had in mind for the breed. As the pages turn the dogs look more and more alike. Probably not cookie-cutter images in every respect and allowances have to be made for hair, grooming, markings and so forth, but those are simply window-dressing. The breed has slowly and steadily developed uniformity. And what best tells you that this has occurred? A consistency of silhouette has taken place.

This is exactly where education begins in learning a breed. There is absolutely no way around it. Everything you need to know about the breed is included within that outline. Every breed has its own distinctive set of curvatures and angles that create its unique and correct silhouette.

The dog may be a trifle larger than perfection states or, on the other hand, the dog may be a tad smaller, but those are situations that you can work with within the standard — the correct silhouette remains the same for the two regardless of size.

There are those who want to severely criticize the dog whose only flaw is that it measures a bit over or under the ideal size, but is otherwise of ideal type. Quite frankly I’ll take a pair of either of those a hundred times over those of perfect size with a myriad of flaws that need correcting. I firmly believe the former can give me top-notch quality in a generation or two while the others whose most redeeming feature is size may take me forever before I eliminate faults and develop virtues.

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PWDdogman   Stamford, CT

9/12/2013 8:13:02 AM

Having bred Portuguese Water Dogs for almost 30 years and having shown coated breeds in the Working, Sporting and Hound groups, in addition to having taught Parent Club Sponsored Judge's Education, it concerns me that the author does not differentiate between the visual silhouette of a coated breed and the true silhouette of the dog with the coat

Many judge's today, are unable to judge a coated breed, finding themselves confused as to the structure of the true dog, based on the "Groom Up" that is performed of it's coat. Attend a grooming compitition and you can see what a talented pair of scissors can do to a coated breed or for that matter what a clipper can do to a Doberman coat, or a styling razor to a Brittany. It takes a well trained eye to understand the true dog hiding behind the clothing, just as the fable of the Emperor's New Clothes makes a folly of invisable garments, similarly the dog under the over barbered coat may be a far cry from the visual silhouette.

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joan   granby, MO

10/3/2011 7:50:04 PM

I breed cairn terriers and show them. This could have been written about the cairn as we are having a conflict over size. The most important thing is the silohuette, ie correct breed balance.

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