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.