What Four Little Lines Can Tell Us About Soundness
Every exceptional breeder of American Pit Bull Terriers attempts to produce dogs which stand at the apex of a triangle made up of a sound base and two equally important sides. This triangle’s two sides are “breed type”, or how closely the dog resembles the written standard of physical perfection and correct temperament and “breed character” or how well the dog exhibits the often “unwritten” standard of performance and character expected of the breed. The triangle’s base is physical “soundness”, meaning how close the breeder has come to producing a well-balanced, structurally correct dog. Remove either side or the base, and the dog falls short of perfection.
STANDARDS OF EXCELLENCE
Physical breed “type” can mean, very roughly, the dog’s ability to be recognized as the breed it is by its silhouette only. But type is much more: it is the expression, hair coat, the many parts which make a good American Pit Bull Terrier an American Pit Bull Terrier and not, for example, a good collie. For “type” there is a clear guideline available for the serious breeder, it is the written conformation show standard.
The “dog conformation show” developed in the mid-1800s when an interest in standardizing sporting (hunting) dogs led to groups of men sitting down and deciding what physical attributes a good setter or pointer should have. I don’t believe they ever meant for the physical appearance of their field dogs to be separated from the animal’s working ability. They assumed, I’m sure, that the performance ability of the dogs would always be of primary importance. How could men of that time envision a future where almost all dogs would be jobless “freeloaders”?
For this reason there was never any attempt to have any “show” judge assess a dog’s performance abilities at a conformation show. That is what performance trials were for. Early standards for many breeds described at length the character of the breed, but this has gradually been done away with until today’s standards generally only ask the judge to dismiss shy animals or those who act with unwarranted human aggression. There is no opportunity to test breed specific traits in the show ring.
And the reverse is just as true; there is no consideration given to a dog’s physical appearance at performance events, granted the animal appears sound enough to do the task. A national field champion retriever can be a slab sided, ewe necked, roached backed animal with flat feet – as long as it’s working character is correct. Obviously the show ring and the performance event need each other to assess the complete dog.
Today’s APBT breeders face complications when trying to measure up to the second arm of the triangle, breed character, due to the lack of clear, written specifications as to what “performance” requirements are. Like many breeds, our dogs are no longer able to legally perform their original functions (the one exception for a few dogs is catch work) so breeders find themselves with no legal, legitimate, “breed specific” performance test by which our breeding stock can be measured. For now the American pit bull must settle for the rather unsatisfying position of ”Jack of all Trades”, competing with other breeds at the other breed’s own games. No one can dispute that the American Pit Bull Terrier has rather handily taken the Northern breed’s sport of weight pulling and made it their own. They are also excelling at many other events that other breeds have long dominated, however, the issue of a breed specific performance event still remains, and hopefully, with good folks working the problem, a venue fitting to the breed will be forth coming.
SOUNDNESS: THE TRIANGLE’S BASE
All three sides of our triangle are of equal important: a dog can be “typey” and place in the show ring and yet be unsound or lack breed character. A performance champion can lack type to the point it is unrecognizable as a member of its breed. When insufficient attention is given to soundness, you can have the heartbreaking case of a young dog being awarded show or performance placements yet being crippled with hip dysplasia as it matures.
While there is clear criteria for physical beauty, and well established venues for determining performance qualities, those seeking to meet the “standards for soundness” have a less clearly marked path.
For those seeking to determine soundness there are two methods which should be used together, as they augment each other.
It is absolutely necessary that the dog be positioned correctly. Hocks and
front legs must be perpendicular to theground. When first learning to use the four lines, it is best to use photographs and actually draw the lines. Make sure
the photo is taken level with the dog, as shown.