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A SHORT COURSE ON JUDGING SAINT BERNARDS

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Are you a judge of St. Bernards? If you come to your judging of this breed with a background in another, this may help you in your quest to judge the breed with some of the confidence you would like to have.

Since most people judging the Saint Bernard do not have the extensive back ground to truly evaluate the entire dog, we must ask the question, "What few features, when properly evaluated, will go the farthest towards identifying the best Saint Bernard in the class?"

It is our suggestion that you won't go far astray if you can properly evaluate the following features (not necessarily in order of importance):

1 - Powerful Build

2 - Sound Body and Mind

3 - Correct Proportions

4 - Proper Head

Of course, a list of important features does little good without an explanation of the intricacies of each. We need to consider these subjects in some detail to explain the finer points of each item. The following text will expand on each of these topics and, it is hoped, not cloud the issues with too much verbiage. The alternative to the short description on the following pages is all of the written words that precedes this chapter. I would be very surprised if anyone outside the fancy would be sufficiently motivated to wade through all of that.

Let me begin, now, with the short course.

 

1 -- Powerful Build

Things to look for:

If there is one word that clearly expresses the essence of a Saint Bernard, that word is "POWERFUL". As a judge you should look for the dog for whom the term powerful is most applicable.

The best test for powerful is the touch test. Much of the quality of the dog is determined via the laying on of hands; for the body must have great substance, and feel firm and muscular during the examination.

The loin should be commanding in its presence -- enough so that you should get the impression that you could lift the dog by grasping it by the loin with both hands.

If you are not impressed with the mass of muscle on the rear legs then you probably aren't dealing with one of the better specimens of the breed. The same could be said for the nape of the neck, the shoulders and the forearms.

Not that you should ignore the information gathered visually. Your eyes should tell you, when gazing upon a good Saint Bernard, that this is a strong, powerful and massive animal.

The width, when viewed from the top, should be the same for shoulders, ribs and rear quarters.

Bone must be substantial without being cloddy in appearance.

There should be so much muscle development in the neck that you get the impression that the dog has a short neck; which does not mean that it should be short -- it should only appear to be short. The neck should form a smooth transition into the broad shoulders, and from there into the wide flat back, loin and croup.

Even the tail should be so powerful in appearance that it renders the impression that it could be used as a weapon.

 

What you should penalize:

General lack of substance -- While it is not required that a Saint Bernard be overly tall it must be strong, massive and powerful. Lacking these properties, the dog lacks breed type.

Of course, you must not be caught mistaking pseudo substance for the real thing; to wit:

Wetness -- which is epitomized by sloppy loose hanging skin and soft spongy muscle and body tissues. This excess of skin to the point of dripping wrinkles is a severe problem in our breed. The Saint is not a breed with tight fitting skin, but neither should it ever be bloodhound-like in appearance. Loose, flabby skin is an indicator of loose muscle and ligamentation. Normally when viewing such an animal one gets a sense of a weak, sloppy, clumsy animal that no amount of conditioning can make right.

Excessive weight -- which is found in the dogs who are packing too much lard. Don't ever mistake fat for substance. A Saint should be athletically built in order to perform his historical functions.

Barrel Chest -- In seeking a massive dog the fancy must not confuse a wide dog with a misshaped one. The dogs must still be able to function without having to reach around some huge barrel to reach the ground.

 

 

 

 

2 -- Sound Body and Mind:

Things to look for:

You should need little guidance on recognizing soundness of body with respect to a Saint Bernard. The only caution we would suggest is that you should keep in mind that a proportionately tall dog absolutely must have moderate angulation both front and rear -- therefore, the correct movement must be compatible with that construction. In other words, the great reach and drive sought in the German Shepherd ring is not appropriate in the Saint Bernard ring. However, this does not mean a short stride is acceptable; the length of stride must be as great as possible without over-reaching. The other point that needs to be made is that Saint Bernards need to single track without rolling their body to reach the ground.

Now the subject of soundness as applied to the mind of a Saint Bernard needs a little more detailed treatment.

One must remember that this breed was intended to be sent out unescorted in packs of two or three adult males to find foot travelers who, while trying to cross a high and dangerous mountain pass, had become lost and in danger of freezing to death. The dogs could not indulge in fighting with each other nor attacking strange people they came across. They were suppose to save strangers, not eat them!

Therefore, the hallmark of the breed is a gregarious, friendly attitude towards both people and other dogs whenever they are in a businesslike environment. Proper breed type includes a wagging tail.

 

What you should penalize:

Faulty movement! Again, we assume that you know movement faults and need little guidance on the subject. Any aspect of movement or static balance that would be faulty on the generic dog is also faulty on a Saint Bernard.

Faulty temperament -- Aggression in any form, be it directed towards either people or other dogs in the ring, is not appropriate. Temperament on a Saint Bernard becomes faulty long before the AKC definition of attempting to bite comes into focus. The dogs should not resent the judge nor fear him. Since shyness and aggression are the two opposite side of the same coin, neither is acceptable for the breed.

 

 

3 -- Tall Proportions

Things to look for:

The first paragraph of the standard calls for a proportionately tall dog. This means that it is not a proportionately long dog. This is not a requirement for a lot of altitude, but rather a statement of the proper proportion of height to length.

Much that is erroneous in the breed is a direct result of the fancy ignoring this one important feature.

This is the feature that requires moderate angulation and all that that implies.

The proper balance is a direct consequence of the dog being tall rather than rectangular.

The inherent nobility of the breed follows from the logical step by step requirements dictated by this one property.

 

What you should penalize:

Deviations from being proportionately tall. Being a rectangular dog is wrong, whether from being short on leg or from being long in body.

Having said that, we must note that we find real fault with extremes rather than with small deviations from the ideal. While one must guard against a degree of angulation unsuitable for a proportionately tall dog, you should also not accept a dog that is so short coupled that it would require straight stifles and vertical shoulder blades for compatible movement.

As to our personal philosophy, we find that a just barely perceptible degree of extra body length to be found in what we consider to be very good specimens. However, we never accept short legs as being anything other than a serious fault. Neither do we accept as correct any obviously rectangular animal - correct breed type demands that the exhibit must have the correct proportions for a Saint Bernard.

 

 

4 -- Proper Head

Things to look for:

This is a subject that could be the sole subject matter of an entire book. Since a lengthy treatment of this subject is not appropriate here, we will focus on a few features which, if correct, will usually indicate that the whole head is acceptable. Before getting into those details, however, let it be noted that the Saint Bernard is a head breed ever bit as much as are Collies, Shetland Sheepdogs and Boxers.

Furrows -- without them all else is a waste of effort in evaluating a Saint Bernard head. The very shallow furrow along the top of the muzzle is prerequisite to a correct muzzle. The extremely deep furrow between the eyes serves the same function with respect to the skull; that is, no deep furrow means you have an improper head. It is not that the furrows in their own right are all that important, but rather that without them the construction of the rest of the head is seriously faulty. You may occasionally find a faulty head with furrows, but you will never find a good head without them.

Bumps -- over the eyes and below them. The bones both above and below the eyes must be very pronounced to give the head the chiseled appearance required for this breed.

Box like muzzle -- the muzzle must be substantial, square sided, deep, wide and short in length.

Massiveness -- The head must be big and wide even for a big dog. The mass of the head should be imposing. The ears, when at attention, should be set so that they form a continuation of the topline of the skull , and thus enhance the sense of width there.

 

 

What you should penalize:

Not only should you penalize the negative of those features described above (lack of furrows, flat cheeks and weak eyebrow ridges, small or tapered muzzle, small skull, etc.) but you should watch out for things that seem to have the appearance of correctness but are really faults.

Excessive flews -- the standard calls for a muzzle that is deeper than it is long. The depth being discussed is the distance from the top of the muzzle to the bottom of the lower mandible; that is, a measurement made bone-to-bone. The depth of the flews is often confused with the depth of the muzzle; you shouldn't make that mistake. Excessive flews can also be found on a dog with a good muzzle. Any flew that extends more than two inches below the bottom line of the lower mandible is faulty.

Man made heads -- It is a common handler practice to gather up all of the excess skin that he can pull from the head, face and neck; and then pile it all up just ahead of the collar to simulate a massive wide head. Just ask the handler to drop his death-grip on the collar of such a dog and you will be amazed at the transformation that occurs.

Markings -- Not a requirement in our standard, so a subject that should be of little concern to the judge.

This has become longer than intended, so it probably will not be quite as useful in its purpose to serve as a quick guide to evaluating Saints in the show ring. However long or short this article is, it should in no way substitute for a thorough understanding of the breed and the breed's type. You should also recognize that there are a myriad of features not discussed here that are also very important. It is hoped that correctness in those features will tend to be found in dogs that score high in the features discussed here.

Should anyone really use these words as a guide, we would like to hear back from you about how useful you found this advice to be. If you would like to contact us, we're in the book. ( i.e., the AKC Judges Directory)

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