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Judges’ Questions & Answers

Six UK Championship show judges were asked these questions for inclusion into the New Zealand Kennel Club’s Flatcoated Retriever Breed Supplement; here are the questions and answers that have been kindly reproduced thanks to the New Zealand Kennel Club.

The chosen Judges were Jenny Bird (JB) Becky Johnson (BJ) Brenda Phillips (BP) Valerie Foss (VF) Val Jones (VJ) and Maureen Scott (MS).

1.  You have been involved with Flatcoats for over 20 years and are a Championship Show Judge.  How do you   think the dogs have changed in that period?

JB:  When I started showing my Flatcoat in 1980 the average entry at a Championship Show was about 90 dogs. Now it is usually nearer 200. I think overall the dogs have got bigger and we have lost type and soundness. We had more quality in depth in the 1980’s and early 90’s but I feel we have lost that today. It can be difficult to find five dogs in a class of 20 plus that fulfil my interpretation of the breed standard.

BJ: Although I have not awarded CCs for anywhere near that length of time I have been involved with the breed since birth and there is no doubt that the dogs have changed.  Heads are generally a lot better – gone are some of the heavy two piece Labrador head with jowls that you used to see.  However, fronts today are not good.  There are a few exceptions but in the main a dog with the correct layback of shoulder and return of upper arm is rare.  The dogs are almost settery in their appearance – narrow in body with fine silky coats.  This is not what is required in the standard.  They are also taller.

BP: I have been in the breed since 1967, judging since the mid seventies. The breed has developed in many different way depending where fashion has taken it.   The breed changed rapidly especially when the number of Gamekeeper owner/ breeder/ judges declined especially in the eighties.  At all times especially as a breeder I personally consider the breed to be a difficult breed on to keep to the “breed standard”.  The breed on a whole does not have many “pre-potent stud dogs”  in a way there are more “pre-potent bitches”.  Post war I believe the decade from the mid seventies to the end of the eighties was the time of optimum quality relating to breed type.

VF: I first judged Flatcoats with tickets in 1974 I have judged them pretty consistently since then including Crufts and top shows all over Europe. The top class dogs have not changed much they conform very much to the standard, of course in my country we have had over use of certain sires (Popular Sire Syndrome).

VJ: During the last 20 years the dogs have changed in body proportions, i.e. instead of having the long, deep ribcage with a short loin the proportions have become reversed, you now see dogs with short ribcages and long in loin, I cannot remember seeing those 20 years ago.

MS: Having been involved in the breed since the early Seventies ,I have seen a vast change in the breed .Registrations have risen, as have show entries ,but sadly I feel today the quality has deteriorated slightly .The height of the Flatcoat has increased and those dogs of the preferred height are classed as small .We are losing the lovely one piece moulded head ,with the almond shaped eye and intelligent expression ,eye colour is also getting light .We are seeing more broad skulls, with round light eyes ,upright shoulders and straight upper arms, and sadly lacking is the well defined brisket.As one would expect from bad construction ,movement in general is poor . my personel opinion, I would say the eighties and early nineties saw some outstanding dogs and bitches ,one was spoilt for choice when looking for a Stud Dog compared to today .One of the most predominant Stud Dogs was Ch Ir Ch Shargleam Blackcap born in June 1977, the most successful Flatcoat of his era ,his pinnacle was winning Best in Show at Crufts 1980 .He was a very predominant sire ,as were several of his Sons and Grandsons a very important factor in a stud dog .

2. Do you think some changes are to the detriment of the breed and why?

JB: The changes I have mentioned are to the detriment of the breed. “A medium size workmanlike dog”. That should always be remembered. A Flatcoat should not be glamorous. Flatcoat construction is unique in the Retriever breeds calling as it does for the dog to be slightly longer than it is tall. But that length must come from the ribs and not the loin and we now have a number that are long in the loin. Type within the breed is very mixed. Heads vary and the truly classical head is rare today. General construction and soundness does concern me. They must have the correct layback of shoulder and length of upper arm to be able to stride out and moderately angulated, well muscled quarters to drive them along. At the moment movement in general is not good.

BJ: Certainly some are.  The fact that the heads have improved is wonderful, however on the construction side we really do have a problem.  The problem is also acerbated in that dogs with the same faults are bred to each other thus insuring the problem goes on for another generation.  Certainly looking around the rings today there are a great many dogs in the ring which are just not show quality.  This is not doing the breed’s reputation any good at all. 

BP: In the eighties the UK  K/C modernized  and standardized all the “breed standards, the Flatcoats certainly lost very important breeding & judging pointers, they are just a few words but as the example of the original standard they say so much. One of the universal problems in the Flatcoat today is “open coupling” this displays itself in overlong dogs with weak backs and poor toplines or the other phenomena  short barrel chest and overlong loins, these are the hardest to see from the ringside as these dogs can look balanced. Sadly both these structural faults are been forgiven by judges in the ring today.   The old standard ask for: “Forequarters – The chest should be deep and fairly broad, with a well defined brisket on which the elbows should work cleanly and  evenly.  The legs are of the greatest importance, the forelegs, should be perfectly straight, with bone of good quality carried right down to the feet, and with the dog is in full coat the legs should be well feathered.Body- The fore ribs should be fairly flat, showing a gradual spring and well arched in the centre of the body, but rather lighter towards the quarters. Open couplings are to be ruthlessly condemned. The back should be short, square and well ribbed up.Hindquarters-  Should be muscular. The stifle should not be too straight or too bent, and the dog neither be cow-hocked nor move too widely behind; in fact ,he must stand and move true on legs and feet all round. The legs should be well feathered.

VF: We must remember that the Flat Coat is a medium sized dog and that open coupling are highly undesirable.

VJ: The above is of obvious detriment to the breed, as the ribcage houses the vital organs, lungs and heart in which they need room to work efficiently, if you shorten the ribcage to have enough room for these organs the ribcage will have to become wider and thus the Flatcoated Retriever will lose its racy appearance and become compact and type will become lost

MS: I do feel some of the changes are detrimental to the breed ,particularly the increase in litter registrations and show entries,for example in 1977 the Crufts entry was 99 compared  to 440 in 2007. Despite large entries, it is sad to say that sometimes, the quality is just not what I am looking for .I do wish breeders would put more thought into their breeding programmes and try and correct the faults their bitch has instead of doubling up on the same faults .The same could be said for Stud owners. They need to look at their dog and ask themselves is he of good enough quality to be used at stud

3. When judging Flatcoats at Championship show level what are the key factors that you are looking for in your C.C.winners

JB: Type. I must have type. Equally important is temperament and soundness. We are judging to the breed standard and I am looking for a dog that fits my interpretation of the standard as closely as possible. I am judging the whole dog but my own personal “things” are front and feet. I am not a head fanatic as long as it is typical. I must have the distinctive outline with length of rib to a short square loin. I am looking for correct front construction showing the desired pronounced sternum. The topline must be level with the tail coming straight off the back. Quarters to be moderately angulated and short from hock to heel. Movement should be powerful, showing reach and drive in profile and should be straight and true both going away and coming back. Good, tight feet complete the picture but a really good foot is rare. Coat and condition is important and can decide the CC. I like a sensible coat with moderate feathering and to see a dog that has been tidied and not barbered. Temperament is so important. A Flatcoat should be exuberant with a mischievous expression in its dark brown eyes. The tail to be constantly wagging. I also like to see that extra “something”. Showmanship? Style? It is easily recognised and it makes a very good dog a great dog

BP: Breed type as close to the breed standard as possible in relationship to construction, size [ we must remember we are looking for a medium size dog] bred character in temperament and deportment. All this hopefully will add up to a “ bright active dog of medium size with an intelligent expression, showing power without lumber, and raciness without weediness.”

VF: A bright active dog of medium size, confident and kindly, the head never having a down or dish faced appearance, small ears,good shoulders, bone of good quality, loin short and square, moderate bend of stifle, free flowing movement.

VJ: The key factors that I look for are type, it does not matter how sound a dog is if it lacks type then it is just a “black dog” breed unknown, even a mongrel can be sound.

MS: When judging at Championship Show level, I am judging for breed type first. If they don’t have type they are not Flatcoats, just black dogs.Second is soundness ,then temperament .I look for a Flatcoat with a lovely one piece moulded head ,with the correct eye shape and colour and a soft, gentle expression .It is the head of the Flatcoat that makes it so different from the other Retriever breeds .I then look for a  good lay back of shoulders and length of upper arm and well defined brisket.They should have a good level topline which is held on the move, well muscled hindquarters ,moderate bone and good feet.If all this is in place,it enables the dog to move effortlessly ,driving from the rear with a good length of stride and should be finished off with the characteristic ever wagging tail.

4.  In the UK prior to 1957 all Gundogs had to qualify in the field before they could hold the title of Champion.  In 1957 this was changed and the title of Show Champion came about.  Do you think this has been to the detriment of the breed and why?

JB: I don’t personally. They are such a versatile breed and perform in many spheres. Many owners who show their dogs do go picking up during the shooting season and many take part in working tests during the summer. Field Trialling is a very demanding hobby and not everyone has the time to train a dog to the very high standard required. Interestingly, a Flatcoat bench champion won the Gamekeeper’s classes at Crufts this year.

BJ:  Well, I wasn’t born when the rule came about but it is a shame because on the continent it still stands.  It also stands in reverse in that when a Field Trial dog gains its title it can not carry the title of FTCH until it has won an award in the show ring.  At the end of the day form follows function.  The dogs have to look and move as if they can do a days work and since the ruling in 1957 I think that the majority of people have been content to have a SH CH, rather than a CH.  The standard was written with what the dog had to perform to in mind.  Unless you work dogs you can not possibly begin to appreciate it. 

BP: As I have said before in the Flatcoats it was more the decline of the Gamekeeper through the eighties, because in the main most Flatcoats were still “Full Champions” working full time for their owners on shoots as well as being show dogs”  Although today the breeder/ owners still work their Flatcoats to a degree, soundness and stamina is not such a priority as it was to a working

VF: Not really. As long as its remembered you are breeding a dog to do a job of work.

VJ: I can only talk about since I came into the breed which was 1977, when the breed was much smaller than it is now, and nearly everyone then worked their dog, either picking up a couple of days a week or entering working tests.   Now most fanciers are interested in showing only, which I believe is due also to the fact that most Flatcoat owners have to hold a full time job down and there is not time to do both, however, for those dogs/bitches that still have retained their working ability they can become a Full Champion (by qualifying in the field), or they can take their Shooting Dog Certificate which is run by the Flatcoated Retriever Society for dogs which have ability.   Like all things in life some dogs are better at working than others, and some owners are better trainers.   I genuinely believe that if the show or working side whichever you are interested in encourages you to become a better owner then it all has to be in the best interests of the dog concerned.

MS: No I don’t think the change in 1957 has been to the detriment of the breed.Fortunately, Flatcoats are one of the few remaining Gundog breeds with no significanct differences in type between working and show dogs .Many present day Flatcoat breeders still participate successfully in both activities and endeavour to maintain the natural working ability in the Flatcoats should it be in Obedience or picking up on shoots throughout the working season, or working tests.Flatcoats are happiest when doing the work they were intended to do and in recent years have increasingly participated in other activities such as Agility adding versatility to their DUAL PURPOSE reputation .