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,
Through the Judge's Eye is published quarterly in The Senntinel, the Newsletter for the Greater Swiss Mountain Dog Club of America.