Our Dogs survey on the Judges Competency Framework (JCF)

IMG_2062Our Dogs’ David Cavill has designed a survey to allow readers who have not already done so to contribute their views on the Phase 1 questions posed to the JCF Review Panel.

It can be found here: https://www.surveymonkey.co.uk/r/TXN73DM

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Questions from the ringside – how do others see our breed?

This week’s Staffordshire Bull Terrier Breed Notes in Our Dogs has a piece about questions asked at the ringside. The writer was asked by a Hound person about the SBT Breed Standard, based on what she was observing in the SBT ring. I found it interesting because virtually all the questions are ones Sue and I have been asked, not just by people from other breeds but also people in Dachshunds who we have been mentoring. 

I thought it would be interesting to repeat the questions from the SBT notes but provide Dachshund answers. The SBT writer says “I worry that, if people from the ringside are seeing this, why aren’t we? If new people come into the breed, they will see this as correct and try to replicate it”. We should be asking the same question; why aren’t we and our judges seeing it?

Q. Are Dachshunds supposed to be narrow in front?

A. No, when you look at a Dachshund from the front, his forelegs should fit closely to his forechest and his elbows should not stick out. When judging, you should not be able to place your fingers between the elbow and the side of the body. When viewed from the front, the feet should ideally be pointing straight ahead, or only slightly turned outwards (“five to one”, not “ten to two”). Coming towards you, the front legs will not move in exactly parallel planes, particularly as the dog moves faster. When reaching forward, they incline slightly inwards to compensate for shortness of leg and width of chest. His front legs should not appear to be paddling outwards, nor excessively crooked inwards.

Q. I’ve seen some who are long and some shorter in the back; what’s correct?

A. Height at the withers should be half the length of the body, measured from breastbone to the rear of thigh. The guidance on height to length ratio is intended to avoid having dogs that are either excessively long, or that are too lacking in ground clearance. The Dachshund’s length should not be exaggerated. His length is in the body (prosternum to thigh) and not the back. Ribs should go well back and the loin should be short, to give strength. Dogs that are too long are also often too deep in the chest and lack ground clearance.

Q. Are they meant to have a slight rise in the topline?

A. The line of the back from withers to rump should be reasonably level. There should be a slight rise to the loin, but this does not mean “roach-backed”. A “dead flat” topline is not what is required, nor is a hollow back, sometimes known as “soft in back”. There is also a worrying trend towards downward-sloping toplines where the withers are much higher than the rump; this is incorrect, too.

Q. How about tails; how long should they be and should they be carried high?

A. The tail should be an extension of the topline. It shouldn’t touch the ground when at rest. We don’t want a tail set on high, or held high like a Beagle, as this spoils the Dachshund’s overall appearance of length and balance. We occasionally see an unsightly “pump handle” tail, where the tail extends well off the quarters before curling downwards (like a Staffordshire Bull Terrier, where this is correct). A nervous dog will have his tail held low, clamped between his hind legs and that’s always a good clue to the judge about its temperament.

As a judge, tail carriage is not something I obsess over, rather it is a potentially an indicator of other things to be aware of: nervous temperaments when carried between the legs and faulty hind movement (due to incorrect set of pelvis) when set on too high. Note that, when they are “working” with their noses, they do hold their tails like flags. 

Q. Are the back legs meant to be close when moving?

A. Viewed from behind, the legs and feet should move parallel to each other with the distance apart being the width of the hip joints. The hindquarters provide the drive and power of the Dachshund when moving and therefore a well-muscled, well-angulated hind end is essential. You should be able to see the pads of the feet when the hind legs are at full extension.

My thanks to Clare Robinson-Cox, SBT Breed Note writer, for the inspiration for this blog post.

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Every breed needs a choreographer! – my August 2019 “Best of Health” article

Best of HealthI recently read a paper published by Save the Children, the charity, that described a range of approaches to collaboration in the field of humanitarian aid. It struck me that many of the things described had parallels that could be of use to us. Clearly, sorting out the challenges of pedigree dog health is not on the same scale as dealing with world poverty but, increasingly, we do have to find more effective ways to work together as individuals, groups, and organisations. While the improvements we need to make are often quite simple to define, the underlying causal factors are too complex and interconnected for one organisation to come up with “the solution”.

There is lots of talk about “collaboration” but it’s hard to pin down exactly what this means and, no doubt, different groups will have different views.

For example, the International Partnership for Dogs (IPFD) describes itself as a non-profit organisation whose mission is to facilitate collaboration and sharing of resources to enhance the health, well-being, and welfare of pedigreed dogs and all dogs worldwide. By contrast, the Brachycephalic Working Group (set up in 2016) has a framework document that describes a “partnership approach to improving brachycephalic health and welfare”. They don’t use the “collaboration” word at all but talk about having shared objectives and shared actions.

The Save the Children paper says there is a persistent gap between the promise of collaboration and the real-world ability to apply it in practice. It goes on to say that the promise of collaboration has resulted in lots of energised work but all this seems to contribute more to noise and confusion than practical application. That’s not something we can afford to end up with in our canine health work.

If we go back 10 years, most of the organisations working on canine health and welfare did so in their own self-sufficient ways. There was the KC, the vets, charities, researchers and campaigners. Breeders pretty much got on with their own thing, in their own way. Today, it is obvious that the pace of improvement has not been fast enough and that there are growing gaps between funding and needs. There will always be more projects that need to be done than resources available to fund them.

More than pooled resources

Essentially, collaboration is a way of integrating the work of distinct organisations. Collectively, they share objectives but each of the parties retains their independence to act on their own or with other groups, depending on the need. It’s more than a simple pooling of resources, though; the shared purpose is what binds the collaborators together.

One model of collaboration is the “supply chain” approach which works well where there is a requirement to deliver high volumes of consistent quality services. Health testing fits with this model; there is a chain from funders such as the KC Charitable Trust, through researchers such as the AHT, to service deliverers such as commercial testing labs and BVA screening panels and back to the KC with its health recording and reporting database.

A second model of collaboration is where several organisations work side-by-side, doing broadly similar things but allowing for a degree of flexibility and tailoring to meet local needs. The various Brachycephalic Breed clubs fit this model; each breed has slightly different challenges and needs, but together they have to address a common challenge. Each breed’s club activities are independent but, collectively, they are able to share learning and tools.

A third model of collaboration is the network approach which works well for big, complex problems that require diverse skills and where the problem they are trying to solve may be ambiguous and changing. This is, broadly, the world of the IPFD which brings together multiple, independent individuals and groups with different capabilities. The connections between these people are flexible and new connections can readily be made to meet unique needs. No one organisation is naturally in charge and membership of the network is likely to change in response to the evolving state of the wider system. So, for example, this year’s IPFD workshop featured new themes (the concept of breed and supply/demand) and dropped a previous theme (numbers/data).

What success looks like

The Save the Children paper suggests there are 5 core capabilities for successful collaboration:

  • Aligned goals – all participants need to agree what the purpose of the work is before they start looking at detailed options and activities
  • Responsibility and reward – there should be clear roles and incentives to contribute
  • Trust – the participants must have confidence in each other; there should be no surprises
  • Integrated work – information, processes and tools should be shared to enable consistency and efficient ways of working
  • Review and learn – take time to check on progress and achievements; learn from mistakes

The choreographer

Collaborations appear to need someone to own the whole system for them to stand a chance of succeeding. Someone must work across the organisational boundaries that define the contributing participants’ normal work. The role is much more than simply being able to chair a committee or to get different representatives to work together. In the Save the Children study, this role was called the choreographer. He or she was typically a “uniquely skilled and passionate individual” who was able to use their cross-cutting position and ability to see the bigger picture to help shape effective ways of working. They are often “door-openers” who can bring in, and connect, new skills and resources to help solve a complex problem.

A Stanford Innovation Review said “Most multi-stakeholder collaborations excel at vision and fail in execution. They need someone to maintain a constant drumbeat, ensuring that all partners maintain a clear and consistent connection to the overarching purpose of the partnership”. 

This sounded, to me, very much like the description of attributes required to be a Breed Health Coordinator (BHC). Although there is a role description for BHCs, the reality is that their success and the impact they can have on their breed’s health depends on a few key attributes. Firstly, they need passion and persistence. Often, it is their self-motivation that helps them to work through the resistance that they inevitably come across. Secondly, they need to be able to see the “big picture”, not just for their breed but for dog health, in general. To that extent, they have to be flexible in their approach and to be prepared to adapt plans if they aren’t working out. Finally, they need to be given freedom and support by their breed clubs and councils. If they are tied down to slow, committee-based, decision-making and breed politics, they simply cannot do their job. The appointment of a Breed Health Committee can help share the workload and, often, a Health Committee’s recommendations can carry more weight than just a single person (the BHC), asking for something to be done. The inclusion of “pet owners” on these committees can also bring a useful perspective that is not influenced by breed or club politics.

So, if we want collaboration in breed health improvement to succeed, I’m convinced every breed needs a choreographer. Does your breed have one and are you supporting him or her?

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Championship Show entries for Dachshunds 2007-2018

It’s 3 years since I last analysed the championship show entry trends for Dachshunds.

I’ve now analysed the data for 2007-2018 and summarised this in the charts below. Here’s a summary:

  • Smooths: the decline that was seen between 2007 and 2014 has stabilised in the past 4 years but the overall trend has seen approximately a 20% reduction in entries since 2007
  • Longs: The overall decline in Long entries continues, again with around 20% reduction over the 12 years
  • Wires: Although the overall trend over the 12 years is downward (5%), 2018 (and 2019) entries are back to nearly the same level as 10 years ago. The decline in Wire entries reversed in 2014 and this coincides with an increase in Wire registrations
  • Mini Smooths: Although the overall 12-year trend is downward (approx. 10% reduction), current entry levels are at the same the levels of 10 years ago. The massive increase in Mini Smooth registrations has not translated into similar increases in show entries
  • Mini Longs: Their decline in entries continues and is just under 20% over the 12 years and this pretty much mirrors their decline in registrations over the same period
  • Mini Wires: This variety has seen the most significant decline in entries over the 12 years (around 40%), although there is some evidence that this has stabilised during 2017-19. This drop is far greater than their change in registrations (which dropped by about 10% over the period)

Entries 2007-18 Stds

Entries 2007-18 Mins

It’s one gene pool; we should be sharing it!

This week’s “Countryman’s Weekly” newspaper features an article by Keith Edmunds (Hazelglade Dachshunds) titled: “Working breed conservation in practice”. He starts by commenting that there are pressures on all sorts of working breeds and that many now have new “jobs”, often primarily as pets.

Working breed conservation (4)

We’ve always had a strong, albeit quite small, working Dachshund community in the UK. Brenda and Trevor Humphrey, with Nick Valentine, set up the UK Teckel Stud Book Society 20 years ago. Teckels are much prized for their working ability which has mostly been to assist deer stalkers by tracking fallen game.

Keith argues (and I agree) that it is important to ensure that a proportion of a breed’s population continues to fulfil its original function. However, he notes that the exclusive working blood silo becomes increasingly smaller as legislation and changing lifestyles puts ever more pressure on this group. I could make a similar argument for show-bred dogs as we have seen declining entries at dog shows for a long time and, in varieties such as Smooths and Longs, registrations have been on a downward trend for at least the past 15 years. The popularity of Smooths has, however, picked up in the past couple of years, probably on the back of the exponential growth in Mini Smooth popularity. In reality, most Dachshund owners neither want to work nor show their dogs; their role is to be a family pet. That is the one key reason that their temperaments are so important. Strong prey drive, sharp or nervous temperaments are not appropriate for the average pet Dachshund (and we certainly don’t want to see poor temperaments in the show ring either).

The article goes on to describe how show lines have “infiltrated” working lines but it’s equally true that working lines have “infiltrated” show lines. That has to be of benefit to all of us.

When we brought in our first import, Silfaskugga Salka (from Iceland in 1998), I traced her pedigree back to the 1920s. Going that far back demonstrated she had many Smooth Dachshunds in her lineage and, more recently, a mixture of Scandinavian show and working dogs. So, despite the fact that both working and show communities might argue that their lines were “pure”, the reality is that we’re all swimming in the same gene pool. And, of course, that also means all 6 varieties of UK Dachshund have the same origins. It’s just that the Wires were created by adding a judicious bit of terrier and schnauzer, and the Longs probably had a dose of spaniel.

Keith ends by saying “Working breeds will not be saved through rose-tinted rumination of the good old days nor will they be saved by the continual berating of pet or show owners. Like it or not, working breeds will have to adapt to survive – so too will working dog owners”. 

This is a 2-way street; show and working communities should be cooperating. We can learn from each other and, more importantly, by working together we have a far better chance of preserving the breed for the future (whatever its function – pet, show, work). Of course, that also applies to other breeds that have discrete working and show communities.

I am grateful to Keith and Jane Edmunds for sharing the Countryman’s Weekly article.

You may also be interested in my article on “Breeds as genetic pools

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