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Through the Judge's Eye

Cathy was the GSMD's first breeder/judge. She was approved to judge GSMD in 2001. She now judges fifteen working breeds and Bloodhounds. Cathy contributed a quarterly article to the GSMDCA Senntinel from 2005-2009. She was the AKC Gazzette Columnist from 2006-2008. These are some of those articles.

Reflections on a Decade with the AKC

The Greater Swiss Mountain Dog was granted full AKC recognition in July of 1995. A decade later I had a wonderful opportunity to reflect on the progress of the breed as I judged the National Specialty on Sept 29th in Leesburg, VA. This was a tremendous honor for me as the first breeder/judge to officiate at this event. I was in the unique position of evaluating these dogs from the quality now to back where we were quite a few years before AKC recognition. The breeders are to be commended. Great improvements have been made.

The area that I am most pleased about is temperament. Breeders seem to have made a concentrated effort to breed away from the hard, guardy, excessively dominant temperament that was fairly prevalent in the mid-nineties. Most dogs exhibited the correct calm, confident, stable and amiable temperament that is a hallmark of the breed. This temperament improvement has been made while maintaining working drive. The proof of this working ability was evident by the number of dogs that participated in the various working events. We had entries in obedience and for the first time Rally-O. There were also two weight pulls, a herding instinct test, a draft trial and a pack dog hike. Fill in results.

The conformation of the breed has made great strides as well. Ten years ago cow-hocks and east-west fronts were almost the norm. Our headpieces were all over the place from St. Bernard and Rottweiler heads to Coonhound and Collie heads. We had to put dogs together in pieces. We did not have any dogs that were the whole package. Swissys very rarely placed in the group, nor did they deserve to. Though judicious decisions it appears that the breeders have been successful in putting these pieces together to produce dogs that more closely fit the standard. There are Swissys placing in the group throughout the country on almost a weekly basis. There have even been two BIS Swissys. My Best of Breed line up was beautiful. There were many deserving dogs.

As a breeder I know what a tough road this has been. We have been hampered by the lack of long time mentors so most of us have had to find our way through trial and error. We have had to work with a very limited gene pool. Importing dogs has helped on occasions, but this has been costly and not always successful. The Swissys can be an extremely discouraging breed and many people give up after a litter or two. The breeders that have stuck with it have faced an uphill battle with many disappointments along the way. I am very proud to say that your hard work is showing. After our first decade with the AKC our breed is in much better shape. I would dare to say that the GSMD in the US is in as good a shape if not better than anywhere in the world. Our first decade with AKC has been very good to us. Let us keep up the good work.

'Til next time, that's how I see it through the Judge's Eye,



I recently heard a breeder exclaim that their newborn litter was "all show quality" because they all had white tail tips. What am I missing? I have been breeding for a good number of years and I still struggle to guess who might be show/breeding quality at 8 weeks. I usually finally figure it out when the dog is two and I can see their adult conformation, temperament, and results of their health clearances. I may be a little slow, but what could possibly make a newborn litter "all show quality" other than markings? According to our breed standard markings are considered cosmetic and "should be considered of less importance than other aspects of type which directly affect working ability."

This being said, why is such a premium put on markings by breeders and judges alike? I believe that it is because markings are the easiest thing to learn. A 6 year old can tell you if they like the dog's markings. Everyone has their "favorite" markings. Some like a wide blaze, some like a narrow blaze…..both are correct. White patches or white collars are acceptable.

I know of nothing more disheartening than to have someone compliment your stunning GSMD and then make a comment like "I love the white stripe on her neck". Very shortly after the GSMD were AKC accepted I was showing to a judge whom I greatly admired. She proceeded to give my puppy winners dog, my open bitch winners bitch and my special BOS. I was bursting with pride and thinking "She sure knows nice type and movement and appreciates a good topline" as I was waiting for my win pictures. When she made the comment "Your dogs were the only ones with the correct Swiss cross on their chests" I was totally deflated. She was judging something purely cosmetic that I paid little to no attention to since it was not related to form or function. On another occasion I heard a judge threaten to DQ an exhibit because she did not have a white tail tip. The handler suggested that the judge review the standard before making that decision. The bitch remained in the ring but the judge ignored her good qualities for lack of a white tail tip.

Although this type of comment occurs much more frequently than it should in the breed ring and amongst breeders, serious students of the breed should heed the description of color in the standard. "The topcoat is black. The markings are rich rust and white. Symmetry of markings is desired. On the head, rust typically appears over each eye, on each cheek and on the underside of the ears. On the body, rust appears on both sides of the forechest, on all four legs and underneath the tail. White markings appear typically on the head (blaze) and muzzle. The blaze may vary in length and width. It may be a very thin stripe or wider blaze. The blaze may extend just barely to the stop or may extend over the top of the skull and may meet with white patch or collar on the neck. Typically, white appears on the chest, running unbroken from the throat to the chest, as well as on all four feet and on the tip of the tail. White patches or collar on the neck is acceptable." From this description it is obvious that the standard encompasses a large variety of correct markings. The standard also clearly states that markings are cosmetic and are less important than temperament, type and structure.

This is not to say that markings are of no importance at all. This is a "striking, tri-colored" breed. The black topcoat with rich rust and white markings is certainly one of the hallmarks of the breed and an essence of breed type. Without the typical markings a GSMD would become a fairly generic black or brown dog. The tri-color is recessive and that is why most Swissy mixes look like your generic mutt. There are certain markings that are not typical such as half or whole white heads and all white legs. It is easy for anyone to recognize that those puppies are pet quality.

It is more difficult to grade puppies that have a variety of acceptable, yet perhaps not perfect markings. Breeders must heed the standard and look at structure, temperament and type first. If you have a difficult time doing this it would be beneficial to find a mentor that comes from a breed that does not consider markings. The perfectly marked puppy with straight shoulders and hyper-extended hocks is not a show puppy. The best puppy may be one with asymmetrical facial markings or no white tail tip. It is up to breeders to find the best puppies first and look at markings after that.

The same is true for judging the GSMD in the show ring. Judges should learn to look at the whole dog first. If they find two dogs that are equal in type, structure, movement and temperament then the decision can be made on markings. In my short judging career I have yet to make a judgment based on markings. Perfect markings on a lovely specimen are icing on the cake, but they should never be mistaken for the cake.

'Til next time, that's how I see it through the Judge's Eye,


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Judging Juniors

I always wished that I had the opportunity to be a Junior handler, but in those days I showed horses and not dogs. I think that you can always spot an adult handler that started in Juniors. They always seem to be so much more poised and coordinated than the rest of us. It seems that learning to handle at that age comes easier than to those of us who don't start until we are adults. Junior handling is a wonderful sport for kids. It teaches them responsibility and sportsmanship. It also teaches them to compete at the highest level. I have always believed that the Junior Showmanship ring is the toughest ring at the dog show.

In the conformation ring we may show a dog that is barely leash broken and doesn't know how to stack. That is unheard of in the Juniors ring. The Juniors spend countless hours training and conditioning their dogs. They would never show a dog that is not trained or groomed to perfection. It is this commitment and rapport with their dog that makes the difference between winning and loosing in the Juniors ring.

AKC has recently changed the rules in order to have Juniors of similar age compete more competitively. AKC says "these revisions have been made to further encourage young people to participate in our sport by reducing the minimum age of nine and allowing more Juniors the opportunity to experience success as well as competing against other Juniors closer in age." The classes are now broken down into Junior, Intermediate and Senior. Junior includes ages 9 and under 12, Intermediate 12 and under 15 and Senior 15 and under 18. If there are entries in more than one of these classes then the club may offer a prize for Best Junior Handler.

There are several Junior handlers in our breed that are competing at the highest level with their Swissy. This is not always an easy job because Swissys are not what you would call a "flashy" Juniors breed. These talented young handlers have to work extra hard to get noticed in their classes. If you have never watched Junior Showmanship at a show make a point of sitting and watching at your next show. You will be amazed at the talent of these kids. Also take time to tell a Junior that they are doing a good job, or if you can offer some help in a positive way please do so.

Also remember that these children are very sensitive to what an adult may say to them so please do not make disparaging remarks about their dog or other people at ringside. Juniors are going to mimic the adults that they are around and if you teach them poor sportsmanship and ringside manners it will stick with them.

I love judging Juniors and encouraging them in their love for the sport. I hope the rest of you will as well.

'Til next time, that's how I see it through the Judge's Eye,


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Temperament: The Hallmark of the Breed

"Bold, faithful, willing worker. Alert and vigilant. Shyness or aggressiveness shall be severely penalized." Never have so few words meant so much too so many people. The only trait in the GSMD standard to be severely penalized is incorrect temperament. This is the one area where I cannot separate myself as a judge from myself as a breeder and owner of this breed. As a judge I am only allowed a couple of minutes to assess the temperament of the exhibits in my ring and any display of shyness or aggressiveness will send one to the end of my line. As a breeder and owner this is my first and foremost concern.

How do I define Swissys temperament? That is a great question. They are loyal and loving. They are silly and serious. They are boisterous at times and reserved at others. They are kind, sensitive and intuitive dogs. They sometimes display their feelings at inappropriate times, but this is a breed that wears their heart on their sleeve. Swissys have no hidden agenda.

We did not make the best impression when we came into AKC in 1995. I think a combination of factors contributed to that. Many owners had never shown anywhere but at rare breed shows so they were not used to managing their dogs in a situation where inappropriate behavior and lack of control is frowned upon. I also think we had some tougher temperaments than what most breeders feel is appropriate for the breed these days. It wasn't long before other breeds were giving the GSMD a wide berth. One of the most upsetting comments that I heard at a show came from a handler that has handled many GSMD. He was worried about missing another ring because the GSMD judge was moving so slowly, but he said he could not hand his GSMD off. When I asked why not he said "You, know how they are……really guardy." I told him that I did not consider that normal and was actually quite upset that he felt that was "normal" temperament. As a former Rottweiler breeder I know the damage that this perception of "guard dog" can do to destroy a breed's reputation. This was at a show where I had handed a young male off to a perfect stranger and he had behaved beautifully and even taken BOB over my special. That is what I consider "normal" GSMD temperament.

I think that breeders have made great strides in removing this excessively guardy temperament from their breeding programs. I have only seen a couple of instances in the past couple of years where a GSMD openly threatened or attacked a judge in the ring. I still see more displays of shyness than is typical of the breed, but it mostly occurs in puppies or under-socialized dogs. Even if your puppy isn't perfectly trained when you take him in the ring make sure that you have taken him to a couple of handling classes so he is not afraid of the situation. A happy although untrained puppy makes a much better impression than one that is afraid of the situation.

Some other things that can be done when you have your GSMD in public situations whether at a conformation show, obedience trial, pack dog hike, etc is make sure that you know what your dog is doing at all times. If you have an adolescent male that you are not sure about, keep him out of the main traffic pattern and on a short leash. Proper equipment is necessary at all times. A martingale on an 18 month old male is not proper equipment. Do not allow your adolescent male to make eye contact with other dogs. Children should never be allowed to hold a GSMD in a group without adult supervision. There is no way that a child can assure the dog's safety if the dog is attacked and there is not way a child can prevent a GSMD from lunging at another dog. Most of this is common sense, but bad behavior occurs most of the time because of improper equipment and lack of supervision.

If your GSMD is not well behaved in a crate cover the crate or make sure the crate is position where the dog will not be an annoyance to others. Soft crates are not the best choice for GSMD at a dog show. Never let your dog approach another dog unless you are away from the ring area and the contact is invited by the other dog's owner. Although you think it is cute that your dog wants to "play" with the Maltese I can assure you that the Maltese's owner does not share the sentiment.

I am a firm believer that temperament is every bit as inherited as any other trait. Good behavior can be taught, but good temperament is bred. If you have a GSMD that you find difficult to live with it is best not to pass your problems on to other people by way of that dog's puppies. I am always proud of the accomplishments of any GSMD, but the greatest tribute that I can hear is "this is the best dog that I have ever owned." I hear that over and over again from people coming back for their second, third or forth dog. As a judge I want the rest of the fancy to appreciate the wonderful temperament of this breed. As a breeder I am upheld to make sure this is the temperament that is promoted. In today's society there is no place for unpredictable or dangerous dogs.

We are on our way to repairing our negative first impression to AKC. It is up to all owners and breeders to make certain we continue on that path.

'Til next time, that's how I see it through the Judge's Eye,


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Good Sports

The AKC has recently published the "AKC Code of Sportsmanship". I wonder if there were any particular events that prompted this move or if it is just a reminder in general as to what the sport of showing dogs should be about. Certainly some recent events, such as a judge and a handler being banned for life for setting up a Best in Show, have been a black eye on the sport. It also seems that more exhibitors are being suspended for inappropriate conduct at shows. I will confess that one of the first sections I read in the AKC Gazette is the list of suspensions. Most suspensions used to come from registration improprieties, but more and more I see conduct suspensions. It looks like AKC is trying to bring proper etiquette, good manners and fair play back into the sport.

I believe that the advent of the rankings system brought a new priority to the sport. Once the quest for # 1 began it brought in a whole new purpose. Instead of being a venue for exhibiting breeding stock it became a race for a top ranking. The top dogs in many breeds are not even available for breeding. It is just competition for a ranking. There is nothing we like in the US more than being # 1.

When you enter your dog in a conformation show you are paying for a judge's opinion on how well your dog conforms to the standard in comparison to the other entries of the breed on that particular day. If you are lucky enough to win Best of Breed you then get a judge's opinion on how well your dog fits the standard in comparison to other dogs in the Working Group. If you win the Working Group you then get a judge's opinion on how well your dog fits the standard against the winners of the other groups on that day. Whether you get a fourth out of four or a Best in Show you are going home with the same dog that you brought to the dog show. The judge's opinions did not change your dog. He still possesses the virtues and the faults that he did before judging began. A win is certainly worth more bragging rights than a loss, but it does nothing to change your dog.

If everyone would keep in mind that by entering under a certain judge you have asked for that persons opinion on that day, and accept the judge's opinion if not graciously at least civilly that would be a fresh breathe of air. A person whom I admire greatly as a handler and who is always polite and gracious is Michelle Ostermiller Scott. Michelle is one of the most talented and successful handlers in the country yet she is every bit as polite when you hand her a white ribbon as a Best of Breed. Unfortunately there are far more handlers and owner-handlers that do not display such good manners.

I find it in particularly bad taste when an owner or handler predicts a win under a certain judge. The same is true for exhibitors that put a judge in a comprising position by entering under them when it would appear to be favoritism if the exhibitor should win. These situations are both addresses in the "code" and a win under either condition is certainly a tarnished win.

I hope everyone will take a minute to read the "AKC Code of Sportsmanship" and put it into use at each show you attend. You are representing our breed. Keep in mind that the excitement that you feel when you win and the disappointment when you loose are felt by the other exhibitors as well. Make sure to congratulate other exhibitors on their wins and accept theirs on yours. Thank the judge for their decision. You do not have to agree with the judge's decision, but you asked for it so accept it graciously. Enjoy the camaraderie of your fellow Swissy enthusiasts. The greatest aspect of this sport is that whether we win or loose we still get to go home with our best buddy.

'Til next time, that's how I see it through the Judge's Eye,


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Heads Up

There is always much discussion about GSMD heads and I will agree that this is not a "head breed". But, I also believe that a correct headpiece is an essential part of breed type for any breed so you cannot discount the head altogether. The head, face and expression are what you look at first and they must resemble what is correct for that breed. You may certainly have your own preference in "head-type" as long as you can reconcile your preference with the description in the standard.

The description of the head in the AKC standard is: Expression is animated and gentle. The eyes are almond shaped and brown, dark brown preferred, medium sized, neither deep set nor protruding. Blue eye or eyes is a disqualification. Eyelids are close fitting and eye rims are black. The ears are medium sized, set high, triangular in shape, gently rounded at the tip, and hang close to the head when in repose. When alert, the ears are brought forward and raised at the base. The top of the ear is level with the top of the skull. The skull is flat and broad with a slight stop. The backskull and muzzle are of approximately equal length. The backskull is approximately twice the width of the muzzle. The muzzle is large, blunt and straight, not pointed and most often with a slight rise before the end. In adult dogs the nose leather is always black. The lips are clean and as a dry-mouthed breed, flews are only slightly developed. The teeth meet in a scissors bite.

In order to understand what type of head was historically desired I think the article by Hans Raber from "Die Schweizer Hunderassen" gives us the best insight. Raber states "The first Grosse Schweizer Sennenhunde seem on the whole to have been stockier and rougher than the modern dogs; the skulls were wider than desirable today and showed a marked stop. But from the beginning, a dog was wanted with a "cow-dog" type of skull, with a flat forehead, in distinct contrast to the St. Bernard." Raber also discusses some cross-breeding that were considered in the mid 1900's. He states that "the Rottweiler might also give the square appearance and different head shape which are not wanted for the GSS." Raber also states "There is a relation between head and body. We do not wish the brachycephalic head of the St. Bernard, but want the original "cow-dog" skull. The Rottweiler head is also undesirable. Too heavy, round heads usually cause a crooked jaw, resulting in the unwanted overbite. We cannot tolerate overbite in the interest of maintaining the elongated head. Not desirable also are the open, so-called "St. Bernard eyes" and heavy hanging lips". From this description it is clear that from the beginning a long head with a slight stop was the desired "look". Cow-dog heads are smooth heads without prominent angles. The reason for this being that when the dog is kicked by a cow, the blow glances off the head.

When we study the FCI interpretation of the GSMD head it also states that the length of skull to length of muzzle is 1:1 and the width of skull to width of muzzle is 2:1. Some people seem to think that the broader the head is the better, but note the proper proportion is 2:1, not 3 or 4:1. The FCI standard also states the head is "strong in relation to the body, but not heavy". The cranial region is "Flat and Broad. The frontal furrow which begins at the stop gradually fades out towards the top. Stop: Shallow." "Muzzle: strong, longer than its depth. Must not be pointed either from above or in profile." "Lips: barely defined, close fitting, Color black." The FCI standard faults missing Premolars which are not addressed in the AKC Standard. The FCI Standard also describes the eye color from hazel to chestnut which differs from the dark brown preferred in the AKC standard. The description of the ears is similar except the FCI standard calls for them to be "well covered with hair, both inside and out." The faults listed in the FCI Standard are "too fine or heavy a head, pendant lips (flews), ears set on too high, too low, or too far back, over or undershot mouth, absence of more than one P-1 or P-2, entropion or ectropion and light eyes."

I think that a comparison with the description of the heads of some of the similar AKC breed is also useful. The Rottweiler standard calls for a head that is "of medium length, broad between the ears; forehead line seen in profile is moderately arched: zygomatic arch and stop well developed with strong broad upper and lower jaws. The desired ratio of backskull to muzzle is 3 to 2." The arched forehead, well developed stop and 3 to 2 ratio all differ from the description of the correct GSMD head. The Bernese Mountain Dog standard states "the skull is flat on top and broad, with a slight furrow and a well-defined, but not exaggerated stop." This is closer to the GSMD head, but with more stop. The Great Pyrenees standard states "there is no apparent stop", in contrast with the GSMD's slight stop.

To put this all together I believe that the ideal GSMD head is a comparatively long head with a flat back skull and slight stop. The muzzle should be of approximately equal length to the back skull, but should be blunt and not pointed. Unfortunately most muzzles that approach the correct length tend to be pointed or snipey. Retaining proper length and width of muzzle seems to be challenging. The lips and flews should be tight. Most of the dogs with correct width and depth of muzzle tend to be a little lippy, but we do not want a Great Dane look. We also want a soft and gentle expression. Incorrect eyes are very distracting from the correct headpiece. I believe that a good GSMD head should all flow together. There should be no sharp angles such as prominent brows and no domey skulls. The head should never appear too big or too little for the body. It is unfortunate that so many newcomers are attracted to a "big head" with no regard as to whether or not it fits the standard. Breeders must attempt to breed heads that fit the description in the standard. If we loose the look that was desired by our forefathers we will loose an important essence of breed type.

'Til next time, that's how I see it through the Judge's Eye,


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What’s So Special About a “Special”?

What is a “Special” anyway? A Special is a finished Champion that competes in the Best of Breed class for the opportunity to win BOB and represent the GSMD in the Working Group. There are many GSMD that are worthy of finishing their Championships, but it is only the cream of the crop that can be considered true “Specials.” A Special should be a dog or bitch that can hold their own against the tough Working Group competition. They need to have outstanding breed type and good movement. Great side gait with a firm topline is almost a necessity. Besides these attributes a Special must be a “show dog”. They must love the show ring and have that indefinable quality that may be best described as charisma. These days we are seeing more GSMD that can truly be labeled a “Special”. It seems that we have GSMD winning or placing in the Working Group on almost a weekly basis. This is very encouraging in a breed where it seemed that we were invisible in the group for a number of years.

We often hear reference to a “Specials Career” and in truth specialing a dog does take a game plan. Often a really good dog will finish their Championship very quickly, but will still be too immature to compete successfully in the Best of Breed class. It takes intuition to decide when the right time to begin specialing your dog is. It also takes a commitment to spending the time and effort to get your dog in tiptop condition and spend time getting your dog well trained. Although it is very easy to finish a dog that has less than perfect ring manners, that behavior is not well accepted in the Best of Breed class. At that level of competition a judge expects the exhibits to be well trained. Judges want the dogs they send to the group ring to look like they belong there. Fat or out of shape dogs are not good examples of a Working breed.

Different people have different expectations out of specialing their GSMD. Some want to get their dog into the Top 25 so they will get an invitation to the Eukanuba. Others are looking for a Top 10 position and still others are seeking one of the Top 5 positions that garner an automatic invitation to Westminster. It has been very rare, but on a couple of occasions we have had a GSMD break into the Top 20 for all Working Breeds. That is very exciting. Some people special their dog only at local shows and others travel almost every weekend hunting those breed and all-breed points. Some just bring their Champions out to support their regional or the national Specialty.

Advertising is always a topic of discussion when specialing a dog. Like it or not advertising is part of the dog show scene today. Many people believe that ads put pressure on judges to choose a particular dog. I think the truth is that ads do very little to influence judges that are confident about judging a breed and knowledgeable about the standard. They may however influence judges that are insecure with their own knowledge of a breed. Ads can work against a dog as well if the advertiser does not choose the photo and the wording carefully. There have been quite a few times when I have wondered why on earth someone used such an unflattering picture of their dog for an ad. If you are going advertise make sure it is to your dog’s advantage and not detriment.

Dog shows are the venue where breeding stock is evaluated and specialing a dog may lead to more breedings for a top Special, but breeders should never just look at a dog’s ranking to decide if that dog is the correct dog to breed to their bitch. Every dog has their virtues and faults and breeding decisions should be based upon those qualities rather than rankings.

If you decide to special your dog probably the bigger decision than when to start is when to retire the dog. It is best to retire your dog when he is still on top of his game. I know we have all seen the tired, old special that looks like he doesn’t want to go around the ring one more time. He has lost his topline and is starting to look like an old dog. That is the way everyone will remember that dog rather than as the handsome draft dog he was in his heyday. First and last impressions seem to make the biggest impact.

If you have that “Special” show dog and enjoy tough competition you may enjoy specialing your dog. Do not be led to believe that you must have a handler to do this. Recently some of the top Working dogs in the country have been breeder/owner handled. Shaka, the handsome Rottweiler was owner handled to a Group 1 at Westminster and Costello, the Malamute won Best in Show and Best Bred By at the Eukanuba. It takes hard work and a serious commitment, but it can be done.

All GSMD are special dogs, but as breeders we are always hoping for that “Special”.

'Til next time, that's how I see it through the Judge's Eye,


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Owner Handling

Can you beat the pros? You bet you can. I know that everyone is always whining that “it’s not fair, I was beaten by a professional handler”, but in my experience as a judge that just isn’t true. The truth is that most of the time owner-handlers beat themselves. A judge is only allowed two minutes to judge each exhibit in the ring.

You on the other hand know just how close to perfect your dog is. You get to see that beautiful head and expression at least twice a day while he is waiting for his food bowl. You have witnessed that beautiful, unrestricted side gait with a firm back as he trots across the yard on a daily basis. He always hits a rock solid, beautiful pose when he is looking at that squirrel. How is it that those blind judges miss all those virtues and put up a professional handler with an inferior specimen?

Could it be that when the judge wants to see that beautiful head and expression your dog is pulling back because he doesn’t want to show his bite? While the judge is trying to assess your dog’s beautiful structure is your dog squatting and really messing up his rear? Instead of watching that unrestricted side gait is the judge watching your dog swap between diving for bait and galloping around the ring? On the down and back is your dog gazing fondly into your eyes and side-winding so badly that not a single foot fall is true? Does the perfect pose have to be witnessed in a split second before your dog leaps in the air or lunges for the gate? After that impressive performance how dare the judge point to the lesser dog with the professional handler?

I can not emphasize enough the importance of taking your dog to handling class and learning handling skills. All professional handlers started out as owner handlers or junior handlers. They were all as inept as the rest of us at one time. They simply honed their handling skills to the point that people are willing to pay them to show their dog.

I will caution that over-training your first show dog is almost inevitable. Those dogs can become “dead heads” in the ring. If your dog is trained and you still need some practice borrow your neighbor’s dog or borrow one from a breeder at handling class. There is always an extra dog to practice with.

I believe that it is imperative that anyone planning on breeding learn to handle at least modestly well. There is nothing that teaches you more about a dog than putting your hands on him, setting him up, moving him or watching someone else move him. It even teaches you how to hide those faults, which requires you to recognize those faults. That is a must for breeders. You are not going to learn much about your dog if you only watch him presented in the best of light by a skilled pro.

I am not knocking professional handlers. They are an integral part of our sport and without the entries that they bring to shows weekend after weekend the sport would be in dire straits. Entries are down as it is. As owner handlers we must also learn our limitations. I recognize the fact that I have never been fast or graceful. The older I get the slower I get. I cannot show a dog with a big side gait to his best potential any longer and it is unfair to the dog for me to try.

An owner-handler presented dog should also be conditioned and groomed “to the nines”. I don’t mean over groomed, but the nails should be in good shape and the coat should be clean and in good condition. Your dog should also be in good physical condition and not look like he just rolled off the couch after a long winter’s rest.

The owner-handler with one dog to train, condition and present has a great advantage over the professional handler that has 15-20 dogs to show in one day and often three scheduled at the same time. There is no reason a well-prepared, well-presented owner-handled dog cannot win. In fact you have a distinct advantage over the professional handler.

'Til next time, that's how I see it through the Judge's Eye,


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Health Clearances: Not a Green Light to Breed

Every responsible breeder approaches each new breeding with excitement, trepidation and with one common goal, which is to improve the breed. There are a multitude of factors to consider when planning a breeding. Some of these can be determined by observing the dog. Does he have good conformation? Is he typical of the breed, thus possessing breed type? Is he inherently shy or fearful? Is he overly aggressive with other dogs? Is he vicious or has he every attacked a person without provocation? If you answer no to the first two or yes to the last three, then there is no reason to put any more consideration into breeding this dog. If your dog passes the outward tests then you must look deeper to find out if your dog has any hidden flaws. These tests are called “health clearances” and are preformed by a veterinarian. It is impossible to determine the conformation of hips, elbows and eyes without the use of specialized equipment. A responsible breeder will never assume that their breeding stock is normal in all these areas because there are no outward signs. To date we have no genetic markers for hip and elbow dysplasia and eye anomalies so we must rely on X-rays and CERF exams.

Hip and elbow dysplasia refer to faulty conformation of the hip and elbow joint. All breeders will benefit from visiting the OFA site www.offa.org and making themselves familiar with the abnormalities that can occur. Two of the most common hip abnormalities in the GSMD are shallow acetabulums (hip sockets) and subluxation (laxity between the ball and socket). One of the most beneficial things a breeder can do to better their breeding program is to find a vet that is either a board certified orthopedic vet, or one that is very familiar with OFA or Penn Hip. Many “pet vets” are not well versed in the subtleties of hip conformation. OFA ratings are a good tool to use in evaluating hip conformation, but they are not fool proof either. It is not uncommon for a dog to receive a borderline, mild or even moderate rating on first submission and upon resubmission receive a passing rating of fair or good. In these instances a breeder must decide if this dog truly is dysplastic or if, as the second rating indicates “has no evidence of hip dysplasia”. The truth probably lies somewhere in between. The dog may have rather shallow acetabulums or may have exhibited subluxation on the first submission and not on the second. In this case it is very beneficial to a breeder to know the actual hip conformation. Breeding two dogs with OFA “Good” ratings, that both have rather shallow acetabulums will probably not do as much to benefit their get as breeding to a dog with a “Fair” rating with very deep sockets. Another factor that comes into play is the vertical pedigree of the sire and dam in consideration. If you do not understand vertical pedigrees they are well explained on the OFA site. Dogs that have great depth of normal hips in their pedigree (among siblings as well as parents) will most likely be more prepotent for normal hips than the dog with an “Excellent” rating that has many dysplastics in his vertical pedigree. If your dogs tend to have problems with subluxation, your breeding program would benefit from using Penn-Hip. Penn-Hip measures the amount of laxity in the hip joint. There are some dogs that are prepotent for “tight hips”.

Elbows are not quite so straight forward and can confuse even experienced vets. There are some elbow abnormalities that are very obvious and generally cause lameness. These are FCP (fragmented coronoid process), UAP (ununited anconeal process) and OCD of the medial humeral condyle. These conditions most often require surgical intervention. The most common type of elbow dysplasia seen in the GSMD is DJD (degenerative joint disease). This refers to bony changes along the anconeal process of the ulna. This can range from being very obvious to all but imperceptible to any but the most well trained eyes. OFA will rate elbows either with a normal rating or with a Grade I-III depending upon the severity of the changes.

Another health check that must be done before breeding is a CERF (eye) exam. This must be done by a board certified ophthalmologist. It requires dilating the eyes and looking at the lens and the retina. Once again a CERF # does not always tell the whole story, so a breeder must look deeper. Two of the most common eye anomalies in the GSMD are disticia (extra lashes) and entropion (turning in of the eyelid). Both of these conditions are considered “breeder’s choice” by CERF. It would not be a prudent breeding decision to breed two dogs that were both affected with disticia. Dogs with entropion should be bred with great caution, if at all. The CERF exam will also reveal if the dog has any of the various types of cataracts. You must familiarize yourself with all of these and their potential consequences.

There are other health clearances that are available which include patellas, cardiac and thyroid. These conditions seem to pose a lesser threat to the GSMD at this time, but any information gathered before breeding will be beneficial in your final decision making.

Each breeding is a tremendous responsibility and should not be taken lightly. It is impossible to make an educated decision about a breeding without having all of the facts in front of you. Should the fact that a dog “has all of his clearances” be a green light to breed? Absolutely not! If his conformation or temperament is not desirable then the health clearances do not benefit the breed. Conversely, just because you cannot see a problem on the outside does not mean that it does not exist on the inside. A breeder must look deeper and use all of the information gathered to make an educated decision about every breeding. It is our responsibility to leave this breed in better shape than it was given to us.

'Til next time, that's how I see it through the Judge's Eye,


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Does Size Matter?

How much does your dog weigh? If I had a quarter for every time I have been asked that question I believe I could retire to a tropical island. Yet, as many times as I have read and re-read the GSMD Standard I have never once found a mention of weight. The standard describes ideal heights, 25.5-28.5 for dogs and 23.5-27 for bitches. The standard describes a sturdy and agile dog that is well muscled and heavy boned but it does not specific ideal weights. It continues to amaze me when someone proudly proclaims their dog some ridiculously high weight that could not possibly correspond to the dog’s height and the correct proportions for the standard without the dog being obese. I never hear of anyone artificially inflating their own weight, in fact I think most of us fudge our weight on the low side.

Another one of my personal pet peeves is when someone calls a 27 inch dog or a 25 inch bitch “tiny”. According to the standard these dogs are right dab smack in the middle. Although one may have a personal preference for a dog at the upper end of the standard that is personal preference only. Our standard gives equal consideration to all heights without preference toward either end. There are some breed standards such as the Bloodhound’s that state “the greater height is to be preferred, provided that character and quality are also combined”, but ours does not.

According to our standard a 29” dog and a 25” dogs should be equally faulted. They both deviate from the ideal by ½ inch and should be penalized to the extent of the deviation. I can assure you that in just about every case the 25” dog is faulted more heavily than the 29” dog. We seem to live in a “super size” society where bigger is perceived as better. Yet, when a breed standard is written it contains ideal size and proportion to allow the breed to perform the jobs for which he was designed. A draft and drover breed should not be a giant breed. A dog that is too tall does not have the correct center of gravity to pull a load or avoid the kick of an angry cow. A dog that is too heavy for his height and proportions will tire very quickly while performing his duties. Historically our best weight pullers have been dogs that were in the middle of the standard.

A breeder recently asked me where to breed to get “big”. I think breeders should be more concerned about breeding dogs that are powerful, sturdy and agile with legs that are neither too short nor too long for their length of body. Breeders should concern themselves with breeding dogs with good reach and powerful drive with a level back. “Big” should not be a first priority.

This American desire to “super size” is not unique to our breed. The Doberman is supposed to be a medium size, moderate breed yet some are approaching Great Dane size. That size dog cannot be a quick, agile sentry breed. The Bloodhound male is supposed to be a maximum of 27” and 110 lbs. The handler is supposed to be able to help this dog over a fence or obstacle while on a trail yet many are 2 inches taller and 20 lbs heavier. I would not want that dog and handler team attempting to rescue me.

We must always keep in mind that standards are written to describe the “ideal” dog to perform the duties for which he was bred. There is a reason for the heights, proportions and substance described. When we deviate from the ideal we start to loose the essence of the breed.

Does size matter? You bet it does. Correct height is very important. Correct proportions including length of leg and length of back are equally important. Correct substance and bone for the height and length are essential, but is bigger better? Absolutely not, correct is better including the correct weight for the height. Watch out, because the next time someone asks me “how much does your dog weigh” I’m going to start collecting those quarters!

'Til next time, that's how I see it through the Judge's Eye,


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Swissys and their Spleens

The GSMD seems to be the rare case where it is not uncommon for the spleen to torsion independently of the stomach. In fact splenic torsion may be more prevalent than gastric torsion in this breed. Most people involved with large breeds are very familiar with gastric torsion or bloat. It is a life-threatening condition that occurs when the stomach fills with air and then twists. It is not uncommon to find that the spleen may become involved in some of these cases and the spleen twists along with the stomach. Those owning a GSMD, however, need to be just as aware of splenic torsion.

At the recent AKC-CHF Conference our representatives could find no other breeds that considered splenic torsion a problem. Since this is so rare in other breeds diagnosis can be a problem. The symptoms can vary from the dog simply not feeling well to a dog in a state of collapse. The dog may appear hunched in the back and in obvious pain. Nose bleeds have also been reported. The only consistent symptom seems to be blanched gums.

Dr. Barbara Nick of Nicks Veterinary Hospital in Charlotte, NC has removed a number of GSMD spleens and has made these observations about this breed. “The spleens that I have removed from Greater Swiss Mountain Dogs, both as a preventative surgery and subsequent to splenic torsion have several anatomic similarities. All of these spleens have had several large vessels (arteries & veins) that enter the spleen from the approximate center of the spleen. There are very few vessels, other than those, that enter the spleen from the greater curvature of the stomach. In other breeds, the spleens are supplied by multiple large to medium vessels that enter the spleen along its entire length as it parallels the greater curvature of the stomach. This configuration supports the entire length of the spleen. In GSMD the central vessel plexus allows the spleen to twist around that axis of blood vessels, ie torsion of the spleen. The other observation I have made is the size of the spleen. Compared to other breeds of similar size the healthy spleens of GSMD are very large & "meat". The spleens are heavily engorged w/ blood and appear as reactive or congested spleens. The size, weight & free hanging ends of the spleen increase the chances that once it starts to spin on the axis of blood vessels it will continue to a complete torsion.”

Since this condition seems to be unique to the Greater Swiss Mountain Dog, the Greater Swiss Mountain Dog Club of America is in the investigative stages of launching a research program to determine why this condition occurs so frequently in this breed and rarely in other breeds. It is the GSMDCA’s hope to determine if there is a genetic link to this condition so that breeders can make more informed decisions before they breed.

Although this is a life-threatening condition quick intervention with an emergency splenectomy will save the dog’s life. The dogs that survive the surgery seem to go on to live normal, healthy lives.

'Til next time, that's how I see it through the Judge's Eye,


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Some Random Thoughts on Fault Judging

How often have you sat ringside and heard “that dog has a topline like a wet noodle”, that bitch has an east-west front”, “that dog has a head like a collie”, “that dog looks like a hound” and on and on from some self-proclaimed breed expert. By the time these folks get done critiquing all of the exhibits there is not even one left that would make a decent family pet much less be acceptable to go into a breeding program.

These are your “fault judgers extraordinaire”. We all know the type as unfortunately they run rampant in all breeds. They seem to be unable to appreciate any virtues in any dog, of course with the exception of their own and theirs are always darned close to perfect.

I know why people fault judge. It is because that is the easiest thing to learn. Very early on in our introduction to the sport we learn how to pick out faults. We become very proud of the fact that we can spot those faults. I will let you in on a little secret, everyone can do that. It does not take a trained eye or an understanding of breed type to spot most faults, especially structural faults. Lest anyone believes that being able to spot and articulate faults impresses anyone, it does not. The newcomers to the sport might be taken in, but unfortunately if this is the way they are mentored they too become fault judgers.

I cannot claim innocence in participating in this past time. I have always considered myself a pretty quick study and I could spout out “that dog is straight as a stick in the rear” or “that dog has toothpicks for legs” with the best of them. I am sure I thought I sounded mighty educated.

It wasn’t until I actually started judging that I really started listening to what the folks at AKC preached. “Do not fault judge” is repeated over and over again. Finally it started to sink in. When you are not focusing on the obvious faults of a dog, and they all have them, you start to appreciate the overall dog much more.

If you find yourself falling into the trap of fault judging force yourself to find three virtues with any dog before you expound upon the faults. You will come to realize that every dog has some worthy features that you may have overlooked on first glace. It may be something like a lovely eye shape and expression or beautiful tight feet. If you learn to appreciate the dog’s virtues rather than focusing on his faults you will start to train you eye in a positive rather than negative manner.

Once you learn to appreciate the positive you will develop a new appreciation for the virtues of each specimen. Before you start on a negative tirade take time to think about the way that you appreciate the positive qualities of your own dog. Everyone feels equally fondly towards their dog and it can be very hurtful to listen to someone run through all of the faults your dog may possess without taking time to find any virtues. If one expounds about their competitors faults too vigorously they may also be in violation of the AKC Code of Sportsmanship and the GSMDCA’s Members Guidelines. We know that no one would willingly violate either.

Next time you are at a show try looking at the competition with a positive eye. You will find that this positive outlook will filter into other aspects of the sport as well and you will appreciate it much more that when you observe everything with a negative eye.

'Til next time, that's how I see it through the Judge's Eye,


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Last Updated

October 27, 2009

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Phone: 276-632-4969 | 276-638-6085

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