Irish Wolfhound History

The American Kennel Gazette

Irish wolfhound

To return to the subject of the standard. My quarrel with the standard is based on two main objections: (1) in my opinion, and according to my experience as an exhibitor and as a judge, there are a number of points about the wolfhound which cumulatively are of considerable importance and concerning which the standard is absolutely silent; (2) the main picture of type and substance of the wolfhound is given in comparison to two other breeds which have altered since the day the standard was written. This second point I will reserve for future discussion, since there will be space this month only for a survey of the first.

Theoretically, if everyone had the proper idea of wolfhound type and it was passed on not so much by word of mouth as by constant observation and study of the best examples, there would be no need for an official standard to teach what that type should be in all its details and in its general impression. The real need for a standard would come only to preserve the breed against innovations which might be thoughtlessly accepted.

But the standard is meant not only as the protector of the breed from unwarranted changes in type, but also as the teacher to those who want and who need their observation of wolfhounds in the flesh broken down to its separate parts and explanations. It is essential to preserve a word image and a word explanation where actual wolfhounds are not present or when present are poor in type.

Thus the ideal wolfhound that should be portrayed in a standard for the breed is of use to breeders, to exhibitors as a check on their own hounds, and to judges as a means of instructing them in the ideal so that their decisions may be firmly grounded in knowledge of type and not in prejudice or a general impression.

I could attack this problem from any one of these three points of view, but it is most convenient to take that of the judge, for Irish wolfhounds are too often judged in the ring by somewhat rough and ready methods, and I believe that we ourselves are partly to blame. First I want to pose the question, what distinguishes a specialist judge from an ordinary judge of the breed? And I think most persons would concur in some such answer as this:
That the specialist judge should preferably have been a breeder or owner of the wolfhound, so that he will have had a long and intimate acquaintance with the dog as a dog, and so will be able to distinguish physical points and mental characteristics which cannot be expected from a judge, no matter how good, whose only experience with the breed is his reading of the standard and his observations of the breed within the confines of the show ring.

The specialist will probably have been an exhibitor, and so will have seen more actual hounds than any one ordinary judge; he will have read thoughtfully in the history of the breed; and he will have discussed numberless problems with fellow exhibitors which arise in actual practise but are not covered by the standard.

Since he will have an ideal picture of the hound in all its points from his personal knowledge, a detailed standard is of less account with him except to act as a useful check on extra-standard enthusiasms which may unbalance his judging - so often the fate of the specialist. But when he gets up to judge, many many times this specialist is forced to make his decisions on matters he is firmly convinced of but which he could not justify in the standard.

If this is so, what chance has the ordinary judge except to go by rule of the thumb, take the biggest and best moving and the one which seems to conform most closely to the few major matters he is able to get from the standard. It is a discouraging experience for an exhibitor to take about a hound which is balanced and represents a highly refined type only to be constantly beaten by a larger and coarser hound. The difficulties of the owner of a good bitch in competition with a dog are proverbial for our breed.

This being so, the small refinements of type can be officially recognized only if officially promulgated. For this month, I can take only one glaring example. Two summers ago, in England, I saw a class judged by a specialist in which there was one superior bitch, one very good one, and several rather ordinary. The superior bitch, however, had a very pronounced roach in her back, and was set down for that reason.

In the ensuing discussion the decision was applauded, but it was pointed out that there was no justification for faulting the dog in the standard. Of the back, the standard says only, "Rather long than short. Loins arched," and again, "Belly well drawn up." In the list of points it states the same, and in the faults, "sunken, hollow or quite straight back." No mention of an excessively arched back as a fault, or what is to be considered excessive.

If one retreats to the general remark at the beginning that the type of the deerhound is to be followed, I think that in the deerhound today will often be found an arch in the back which I personally - necessarily all on my own initiative - would fault as excessive in a wolfhound. Certainly here is a point, and an important one, where the utmost leeway is given to a judge to apply whatever prejudices he may have acquired. And I know that I have won in the past with a hound which I thought too much inclined toward straightness in the back - although his back was not "quite straight" - over hounds with what I considered a more proper backline since the judge was suspicious of almost any visible arch.

I am not necessarily saying that I was right and the judge was wrong; my point is that two theoretically competent persons could disagree on the decisive point of the judging and be unable to back up their opinions by reference to the standard.

The case of the roached back in the English bitch is, of course, a much better example of what I mean. There a dog was rightly faulted; but if the owner had objected to the decision, the judge could not have proved the point by reference to the standard.

It is just such a cloudy point, with many others, that I would like to see authoritatively settled in an advisory supplement to the standard for the benefit of judges and exhibitors. For there are enough points like it to constitute a whole body of unofficial points in wolfhound type which may or may not affect decisions as the case may prove.

More important, there are enough of such matters in the standard which may be in the realm of common consent among breeders, but certainly not among the average group of judges, and which if left unstated may, some day, lead to such an alteration in the appearance of the breed that the check of definition may be applied too late. —

F.T. BOWERS, 27 University Circle, Charlottesville, Va.
March 1st, 1939

Irish wolfhound

The Middle Atlantic States Irish Wolfhound Association, of which J.G. Risdale is the president, will support with special trophies the following shows this year: Harrisburg, Pittsburg, Rochester, Buffalo, Philadelphia, Rumson, Saratoga, Westchester, Devon, and Pikesville. Trophies of cups or imported Irish wolfhound brooches, spoons, cigarette cases, and so forth, will be offered open to all in order to encourage the showing of the breed in strategic parts of its territory.

This month, I continue a few questions of wolfhound type which I consider either inadequately covered or else omitted in the standard. By common agreement with every breed, the head of the dog is of considerable importance. In our description it comes second, and fourth in the list of points in order of merit. From the standard we learn that the head should be long, with frontal bones slightly raised and very little indentation between the eyes. The muzzle is to be long and moderately pointed. In the points of merit we find the head long and level, carried high. And under faults, too light or heavy a head, too highly arched frontal bone.

What is meant, however, by little indentation between the eyes? Does it refer to the degree of stop, or to the indentation in the bone which varies considerably? The very important matter of the stop is not sufficiently emphasized. True, we have the requirement for a level head in a subsidiary part of the standard, but that is not specific or emphatic enough. Certainly an important part of a typical head is its lack of stop, and this should be pointed out more vigorously to judges. But the generalities about the head in the standard are by no means a help to the judge faced by average conditions.

A comparatively neglected point, unmentioned in the standard, is the amount of filling-in before the eyes. In general this goes with a lack of stop, but by no means always, and I have seen hounds with an acceptable stop whose face fell away under the eyes in what should be labeled an untypical manner before it becomes perpetuated.

What are we to do with an apple-headed dog? Certainly it should be penalized, but by what authority of the standard? Even when the head is not so excessively domed as this, a too high occiput bone can take away from what should be typicalness. But by what authority? This last is by no means an academic matter — to my eyes there is a slightly increasing tendency towards this type of skull, and it should be labeled and stopped.

Where should the eyes and ears be set? High? Low? In what relation to each other? Is it a fault to have too high-set ears, or too low? Any judge who penalizes one of these faults is doing so without authority of the standard, and according to his own theories. But this is a matter of some importance.

Can a dog with protruding pop-eyes be penalized? Only by implication that eyes are slightly sunk under the prominent frontal bones. Can these eyes be too sunk? Perhaps if the frontal bones are too prominent, but the one does not always follow the other. Does the pointed muzzle of the standard mean a narrowing up and down as well as from the sides? In other words, is a very deep muzzle a fault? To my mind it is, and a muzzle like that of a Great Dane should be penalized. Yet with what authority, and what judge is to know?

Should the flews be tight or loose, and ought a judge to penalize loose flews like those of a St. Bernard? I think so, but where can a judge find the authority? Finally, all knowing owners realize that indefinable something known as wolfhound expression - and we say this hound has a typical or an untypical expression. Sometimes we can break it down, and sometimes not. At any rate, it is very important to me in the ring, and in the standard I think it should be mentioned with the advice to study selected photographs to gain a picture of it.

These may seem small matters. Individually some are and some are not, but collectively they assume a considerable mass of points which an authoritative judge should look for in evaluating a wolfhound's head. And I repeat, it is my private opinion that so long as we muddle along with our present generalities and vagueness we are going to get vague and general judging from the average judge who cannot be expected to know what is accepted unofficially — though often not without contrary opinions — among breeders.

Perhaps a good breeder does not need more precision in the standard. But a judge does, and if a wrong trend develops in the type of the dog, the standard — in the judge's hands — should be there to check it at the very start. —

F.T. BOWERS, 27 University Circle, Charlottesville, Va.
April 1, 1939


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October 23rd, 2008