Responsible Breeding

Cardigan size

I finally have time to get back to the lessons we learned at Paula’s house, which are still percolating around in my brain and every once in a while making me sit up and say “OH THAT’S WHAT SHE MEANT.”

One of the things she was very, very clear on, and something that hasn’t taken me a long time to accept because I was firmly of this mind long before that weekend, is that Cardigans are getting too big.

Not “in danger of getting too big” or “if we don’t watch out they’re going to get too big” but ALREADY too big.

Those of you who have met Clue know that she’s small for a Cardi bitch. At 27 lb she’s probably ten pounds – a full third – smaller than most of her peers in this area. When she was in Open she looked like a 6-9 puppy. If I never get a bitch bigger than Clue I’d be thrilled. THRILLED. Clue is far from faultless, but one thing that I think is absolutely right on is her size. Bronte, who is 35-ish, is as big as I’d ever, ever want a bitch to be (I’d be happier if she was lighter – she’s not tall but she’s honestly over-boned for me), and even she looked small in the ring.  Cardigans are TOO BIG.

Size is a completely practical and thoroughly functional problem. These are HERDING dogs. If there’s one thing that should strike you as you look around the herding group ring, it’s that big heavy dogs are not in it. Flock guardians – the livestock guard dogs, which we put in the Working group – need that extra weight and size because they’re the heavy artillery. They’re going to be fighting other dogs (or wolves or coyotes or bears or lions) and need a size advantage over them. They pay the price, however, that all heavy dogs pay – increased skeletal problems, shorter lifespan, etc.

The herding dogs, on the other hand, are the light cavalry. For every step the sheep take, they need to take five or ten or twenty. They have to be able to move very quickly over extremely varied terrain and they need to not trip over stuff. Almost nothing makes me more heartbroken than hearing Cardigan feet dragging on the show-ring mats. If they can’t even get their toenails a half-inch off the ground, how on earth are they supposed to get over rocks and grass?

I’ve heard people say that Cardigans are “not a trotting breed,” but ALL dogs are trotting dogs. Trotting uses fewer calories than galloping and a dog who prefers to trot is a more efficient mover (which is what our dogs are supposed to be) than one who must gallop straight from a walk. Cardigans should not HAVE to gallop to herd. They may CHOOSE to run to head off something, but if the herd is at a walking pace the dog should not be galloping in a desperate attempt to get his front feet off the ground enough to get over grass stems.

We have a responsibility to keep a good round bone on our dogs. We have the responsibility to keep a good spring of rib and depth of chest (this is a reminder to myself as well, trust me, because I tend to like a shallower dog; I cannot let myself get confused between my preference and what the standard calls for). But those things do NOT mean that a 38-pound bitch and 45-pound male are OK.

Our standard says 25-34 pounds for a bitch. Unless I read that wrong, then for me breeding to the standard means I breed so I am unlikely to ever produce, in any litter, something under 25 lb at adulthood or over 34 lb at adulthood. If those weights are the boundaries of my bell curve, then I should be striving for a 28- or 29-lb bitch so that even the ones that go oversized don’t go over 34 pounds. Dogs are supposed to be 30-38 lb. If those are my boundaries, I should be going for a 34-lb boy as my ideal and 30-lb boys should look small but not out of place. Makes sense, right? So why are we breeding with 38 as the effective minimum? If we think anything under 38 is too small to show (and it sure looks that way in the Breed ring), then our weights are actually going to range from the high 30s to the high 40s, which (shocking!) is exactly what HAS happened.

Think about what the Cardi BOB ring would look like if every single dog was, say, eight to fifteen pounds lighter. Kind of shocking, isn’t it? Wouldn’t it be nice to have people say “I really think you should keep that smaller boy; I think the big one is going to hit 38 and you’re going to have a hard time in the ring”?

There are varying tales of how big the historic Cardigan actually was – whether it was a 15-20 lb dog or a 20-30 lb dog – but NOBODY’S saying it was a 40-lb dog, which is what we’ve got everywhere now.

One other thing that Paula said, which I think is extremely applicable to weights, is that we’re not supposed to be building a proportional dog, a smallish dog. We’re supposed to be building a DWARFED dog, a rather extremely angulated medium-sized dog on no legs. What follows is not her illustration but mine, but the way I have been trying to think about it is this: Think of the typical herding silhouette – imagine the head size and neck length and the mass of the chest and brisket, ribbing and loin and tail – and then cut off two-thirds of the leg.

What’s left is not “cute” the way a toy dog is cute. It’s honestly a silhouette that is balanced right on the edge of being weird and awkward. You HAVE to keep the size of that dog distinctly moderate, or it’s going to be very unsound. If we push it toward a heavier weight and taller stature, it’s either going to break down under its own weight or it’s going to have to become more like a proportional dog. A proportional dog is at least sound, but it’s not what we’re supposed to be striving for.

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19 Comments

  • Reply Alta October 12, 2010 at 4:56 pm

    I agree with you. I have a hard time with the dogs that are so low to the ground that you probably couldn’t fit two fingers under their chest. They would never be able to function. Let alone run due to their size. It makes you want to put weight on your dog to be able to compete but then again I would like my dog to be healthy. So in turn I try to keep him around 38 pounds and he looks like a scrawny tube next to them. Something needs to be done before our dwarf dogs are just full size.

  • Reply Erin October 12, 2010 at 5:00 pm

    I saw some Cardis at a Meet the Breed day here in OK a few weeks ago, and I have to admit I my jaw dropped when I saw how big they were. They were ginormous dogs! Now, I have to admit that I live with an 18 lb nothing Pem at home (small even for a Pem), but I see Cardis at shows frequently and these were even bigger than the ones I’d seen at shows.

    On a similar, but slightly different note, do you see this as being a problem in all the herding breeds (or just all breeds in general)? I am new to all of this, but I seem to see a trend in many breeds towards larger dogs (with much more bone and much more coat, and oh my goodness stop the madness!).

    Just a few months ago I had a herding test judge comment on the bitch (who most would say is on the small-ish side, but well within standard) that’s staying with me. She said, “Now there is a nice sized Aussie. Most of the ones I see bred for show are getting to big and too heavy and they just can’t herd anymore under all that weight.” Now, a lot of the true working dogs are too small for my taste, and according to the standard, but some of these dogs are monsterous!
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  • Reply Taryn October 12, 2010 at 5:06 pm

    Great post, Joanna! As someone that loves to do agility with my Cardis, the more correct, smaller size is so much better! I cringe at agility trials watching an oversize, 40lb plus Cardi try to heft itself over the jumps and the AFrame. My younger boy weighs in at 33-34 lbs depending on his snacking at home, and is just 12 inches. Wilson is 13 inches and it is a struggle to keep him at 39 lbs. Without my careful management, he would easily weigh in at 42lbs, and more if he had his way 🙂

    Now, how do we get the judges to stop picking the oversize dogs?
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  • Reply kaye October 12, 2010 at 5:47 pm

    I feel so lucky to be starting with Sky at 28lbs. She is elegant and well put together and can move! She will make it so easy for me to improve upon her rather than difficult.

  • Reply Tammy Kozoris October 12, 2010 at 8:51 pm

    Yes yes and yes! It’s a huge problems in Collies too. They are getting bigger and bigger with huge coat and tons of bone and people are breeding for this type and losing form and function! People make comments about Bella and how little she is but realistically she’s going to mature at 50-55 pounds (she’s 47 now) and she’s 22 inches. Low side of the standard yes. Still WITHIN standard? YES! Able to do the jobs she was bred to do and herd sheep all day? YES YES YES!

    There’s a cardi around here from Shelley Camm (his names Chief) and he’s GORGEOUS and typey. And … small! But within standard! Small compared to other cardi’s for sure that I see (and HAD.) He could easily do his job all day. And that’s the way it should be.
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  • Reply Liz October 12, 2010 at 9:31 pm

    I am no dog breeder, but that comment RE “they arent trotting dogs” makes my skin crawl. Any one who knows anything about working horses knows that the trot is the most efficient, ground covering gait there is. You walk, you dont get anywhere, you canter/lope/gallop, you wear them out. Trotting is the marathon gait, and I cant imagine working dogs should be any different. If all your dog can do is walk and run in spurts, I dont see livestock being so well-contained.

    Also, until I recently became more educated on Cardis in general, I have to say they really didnt do it for me. One of the biggest reasons was the similarity–in ones I had seen anyway–to the Basset Hound body type. How that physical type of dog can herd anything is beyond me… I have also seen some Cardis running agility and many of them dont exactly look “comfortable” doing it.

    I have a little footstool of a Chi-mix, and I dont ever foresee myself dragging him over A-frames or jumps as much as I think it might be enjoyable, for me. It doesnt seem right to let ones personal desires override the physical capabilities of any animal, though I know it happens all the time.

  • Reply Liz Powell October 13, 2010 at 12:48 am

    I have two Cardis…one is huge bonewise but is very trim. He still weighs 38lbs and is 12 inches tall. The other I run in agility. He is 27lbs….small boned and is very fast.. He drags his toes when he walks, but doesn’t knock bars on a course. He is 10″3’4 tall. I was wondering if you would comment on the toe thing. The other thing I want to admit…….is that I really like the looks of a big Cardi….maybe it is just more to hug. However, picture of Clue is wonderful. She is a very regal bitch.

  • Reply Amanda October 13, 2010 at 2:27 am

    I agree 100% about size. When I was on the hunt for my last Cardi it was difficult to find one that wasn’t a giant! I did in the end find a breeder with average size dogs who actually have performance behind them, not just a CH in front of their name. In my opinion that title in front of their name means less and less the more I see Cardis in the ring.

    At the Canadian Specialty it was down right embarrsing (almost as bad as the labs) All these GIANT, FAT dogs lumbering around the ring. I coulnd’t watch much.

    Pixel is itty bitty still at two- 24 lbs and just under 12″ tall. Wicca at 6 is 28lbs and 12″ on the nose. I keep my dogs thin- really thin. Like see the ribs thin, and they are fit and active.

    I do take offence to Liz’s comment “I dont ever foresee myself dragging him over A-frames or jumps as much as I think it might be enjoyable, for me. It doesnt seem right to let ones personal desires override the physical capabilities of any animal, though I know it happens all the time.”

    My dogs LOVE agility and are fit enough to do it well. I teach agility with safety first, and keep my dogs as fit as possible. Yes, my dog has been injured (Wicca) but that is due to her bad structure and her kamikaze attitude. Are Cardi’s built for this sport? No. But that is the same with most dogs, and most sports. Some Cardi’s I’ve seen are too big for herding let alone agility. I don’t think it is fair to judge all people who play agility with Cardigans as people who are selfish. I don’t judge the show people who fatten up their dogs so they can earn the all important CH before their name, and I don’t judge the pet owner who lets their dog sit around and do nothing for 12 years. I think that everyone is allowed their opinions- but let’s be fair about this.
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    • Reply rufflyspeaking October 13, 2010 at 2:41 am

      You KNOW I love Pixel. She rocks my socks.

      I think that what Liz meant was what I mean when I say that Bronte is a poor agility prospect. I keep all my dogs thin, but no matter how slim she is she’s just plain built wrong. She’s a very typey Cardigan but (and?) her bone structure is extremely heavy. You can see her ribs and she still thuds like an anvil when she jumps off the couch. I don’t think it would be “wrong” of me to play around over a couple of jumps with her, but – since I know what I know – it would be wrong of me to push her to the level of competition that would require repeated jumping.

  • Reply Amanda October 13, 2010 at 2:49 am

    I agree Joanna, but that isn’t how I interpreted what she said is all.

    I have seen some Cardis (heck, even some Border Collies) who aren’t built right for the sport. I’ve got a blog about that in the works…
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  • Reply Amanda October 13, 2010 at 2:49 am

    oh, and Pixel rocks my socks too. 🙂 I adore that dog.
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  • Reply Shep October 13, 2010 at 4:15 am

    You know… I was oddly talking about this the other day with someone, and interesting that it would come up again. 🙂

    Of course I had to wander over this morning and weigh the boys – Simon weighs in at 35.5 lbs and Caleb’s at 34.5. Now, I will say I do keep my dogs on the lean side (and was told so by a judge, that my dogs were muscled and fit, but needed some extra weight on them for the ring. Caleb’s hard to keep weight on, so sure… but Simon, no way. I’d not stick weight on him – five pounds would have him rolling like a pumpkin. A fat, merle pumpkin.)

    Alta and I have the scrawny tube thing going together I’m afraid. 😉 *grin*

    Now, that said, both of my boys are smaller than most of the dogs in the ring in our area.

    In the last year, I’ve seen a bunch of dogs under a year of age that have 15 lbs on them, and are bigger and broader all the way around.

    It’s visually tough for a lot of people who are not used to the breed when you have five dogs in the ring and four of them have 10 pounds on the fifth. If most all breed judges see a ring of dogs like that, the smaller dog sure looks out of place, gosh do they ever.

    Then again, my dogs are super athletic – Simon cuts and moves and spins all day and Caleb just power-trots right after him. These dogs can do ten miles of hiking and be ready for ten more, which is what I love about them.

    (As for fat dogs lumbering, hahah, yeah, totally agree with Amanda on that lately. But that’s a whole different topic.)

    PS: Pixel rocks my socks too. <3 That dog can move it and loves it!

    • Reply rufflyspeaking October 13, 2010 at 5:16 am

      I hate putting weight on for the ring. I will sometimes put a pound on to give a little more meat on a topline but any more than that and I start to get squeamy inside. I am just picturing the connective tissue breaking down with every stride down the mats! I want good hard muscle and lots of it, but no softness to the dog either on the table or on the move. I should probably start making a list of the judges who frown when they feel ribs – thankfully I’ve had a lot who appreciated the conditioning but there are a few who think the dogs should jiggle.

  • Reply Liz October 13, 2010 at 10:36 pm

    I figured I may ruffle some feathers with that comment, but to be clear, I am not picking on Cardi people specifically.

    I also have a problem with people in my agility club who run their Bassett Hounds (no, I am not kidding) and their Bernese Mountain dogs. Their dogs struggle, and to me, its pretty apparent that physically these dogs are not built for that sport. I watched an overweight Chihuahua gamely run an 8″ course in 90 degree heat a few weeks back. He mustered through it, but I don’t think its right.

    I have seen a few Cardis that do fine in agility, and others that dont. Regardless of the breed, I will stand behind my comment that I personally think it is selfish–and on occasion even cruel–to push a dog beyond its inherent physical limitations.

    Trust me, I am not saying that if you dont have an “athletic” dog that you should stay home on the couch. There are a plethora of awesome dogs sports in this day and age that are not excessively taxing physically. Treibball could be wonderful way for Cardis to test their herding drive for example…

    It upsets me that not only do we breed mechanically unsound animals to conform to a certain aesthetic standard, but then on top of that we may even push them to physically perform tasks beyond their true capabilities. And yet they are dogs, who will endure discomfort to please us.

    It just makes me sad.

  • Reply Amanda October 14, 2010 at 12:55 am

    a friend of mine has bernese mountain dogs- her dogs are fit and trim and conditioned, and do just fine. they love to weave, and have no problem getting over the frame. i don’t think its fair of you to judge a breed, instead of the condition of the actual dog.
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  • Reply Liz October 14, 2010 at 2:54 am

    Amanda, you are right. I obviously don’t know every dog of every breed type doing agility. Maybe your friend has an incredibly lithe and agile Berner. Is it a purebred that fits the breed standard? The standard calls for a “sturdy and balanced dog… strong and agile enough to do the draft and droving work for which he was used in the mountainous regions of his origin.” A dog built for draft and droving work, of sturdy composition, will inevitably break down over time hefting itself over the 24-26″ jumps it must be doing. Thats not what it was created, by human hands, to do.

    You cant argue that. In fact, besides admitting above that your own dog had structural soundness issues above, you also said exactly this on your blog;

    “I think that there are a lot of dogs who play agility (not just corgis) who really shouldn’t be. Either by being too fat, or out of shape, or just structurally not sound enough to do what the owner is asking.”

    And yet, you go on to say RE conditioning, etc., “All of that will help to keep any dog (even a less than ideal agility candidate) fit and healthy.”

    So, you actually agreed with me the your first statement. Then, you go on continuing to get offended with my opinion, saying its okay if they are “fit” in the same breath.

    Which is it?

  • Reply amanda October 14, 2010 at 12:54 pm

    It’s not that I am offended, I just disagree. I do agree that there are some dogs- not some breeds, that aren’t sound enough to do agility.

    Our opinion differs when you say that a dog that is not meant for agility shouldn’t play agility. I think that doesn’t mean that they shouldn’t be allowed to play. They just need to play correctly- and be fit and conditioned. Which is what i blogged about. I don’t think that just because a dog isn’t bred to do something they shouldn’t be allowed to participate. I’ve done lure coursing with wicca- she LOVED it. Was she great at it? No. but she sure had a great time. And that’s what matters.

    I don’t judge the owners of the basset hound, or corgi, or great dane who play agility. I judge the owners of the FAT, unconditioned dog- regardless of breed- that play agility.

    My friends berners are within breed standard for size, but i don’t know enough about them to know if they are correct or not. One jumps 16″, and the other 22″…
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    • Reply rufflyspeaking October 14, 2010 at 5:26 pm

      I DO worry about jumping dogs that are not built to jump. Hitting the ground is completely different from lure coursing. You can be ridiculously bad at a sport and everybody can still have fun and nobody gets hurt. Flat work is very rarely going to hurt anybody based on their body shape or size. Jumping, on the other hand, or weaves, are really hard on ANY dog’s body. The complete inability to make a rounded shape over jumps, or connective tissue that cannot take the concussions, or a very heavy body-to-height ratio means the dog is a lot more likely to get injured even just “playing.”

      I have to admit that I get really worried about Cardigans and several other breeds, especially seeing puppies doing combinations in public (blogs are a blessing and a curse, I think) – people see others having fun playing agility, which is great, but they also see people playing with puppies who should NOT be doing anything more than three minutes a day of flat work, and taking pictures of them and posting videos of them and bragging about it.

      If you post a picture of your three-year-old Hanoverian being schooled and asked to collect, fifty-seven people are going to jump on top of you and scream about how you’re going to wreck your horse. We should be doing the same thing for anybody asking a puppy for a jump, much less a jump combination. Instead it’s all “Squeee! He’s so cute!”

      It’s not a bad thing to tell people that agility isn’t right for every dog – it’s NOT. Sometimes you have to be unfair to people (sorry, your dog isn’t built to jump, no matter how much you love him) to be fair to dogs.

  • Reply Amanda October 14, 2010 at 9:57 pm

    i totally agree. Puppies should not be jumping, climbing, or weaving and shame on those that do it. There are so many ways to teach agility without ever going near equipment until they are older. You can spend a year or so working just on flat work! Agility has really evolved and not only are training methods much better, the equipment itself is safer. Weaves are now 24″ wide (which is SUPER!), contacts are moslty rubberised which is much safer.

    And I do agree that agility can be dangerous, my point was that it is dangerous for all dogs, but more so unconditioned, or overweight dogs, not just certain breeds. My issue with the original comment was the blanket statement that a certain breed should not do agility.

    But we can just agree to disagree because i am sick of arguing. 🙂
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