The Greyhound Show

14.8.2017

The „Classic Greyhound“ – has he remained unchanged?

Filed under: Auf den Greyhound gekommen,Literaturtip — admin @ 20:30

Auf vielfachen Wunsch haben wir den Artikel „Der klassische Greyhound – hat er sich unverändert erhalten?“ von Dr. Barbara Kessler (Rumford) nun ins Englische übersetzt:

With good reason we are proud to have one of the world’s oldest breeds at our side – the Greyhound is not only a dog breed, but also a cultural asset, immortalized on numerous pieces of art since ancient times. Especially as amateur breeders, who have taken it upon ourselves to safeguard this cultural asset, we have the responsibility to preserve the Greyhound as it was meant to be. But: what is the “classic” Greyhound? Was there ever “the” Greyhound after all?

Or did we always have to deal with more or less different types – in former times dependent on the kind of prey, the terrain and the hunting style, later adjusted for the use on the racing track, the park coursing, the open field coursing or as a show dog. We are lucky to have so many Greyhounds depicted in paintings or statues from several centuries to look at.
The general type is easy to recognize – but on a closer look it seems there has always been some variation. Sturdy, refined, well-angulated, steep, big, small, long, compact, slender, bulky dogs: you do not have to look far in order to find a large range of types on tableaus or engravings, even if they originate from the same era.
In addition, the artistic freedom and skill must be taken into account. Well, which one is now the “classic” Greyhound? It should be obvious that a definition founded on ancient graphic documents cannot be unambiguous. Whoever wants to give it a try will find a historical counterpart for each Greyhound from today. You could assume that there must be some variation in the breed from the beginning. Maybe some of those ancient varieties already carried a kind of predisposition for modern purposes like track racing or conformation shows. Not accidentally the modern racing lines base on Irish Park Coursing Greyhounds and the modern “Showgrey” on Cornish Coursing Greyhounds. The latter supposedly not mainly because of their merits in coursing, but all the more because their kind had a more impressing look. We should not harbor illusions: Dog shows were beauty contests right from the beginning.
Nevertheless it is even more necessary to give thought to the breed type today. My following remarks refer to the breed standard, and I will take the type of dogs serving as models for that standard as the “classic” Greyhounds.
The standard was finished quite late, around 1947 – a point in time when the separation into racing and show lines had already begun. It was not the racing type which acted as a role model, but the type of Greyhound, which was presented in the rings as the new sport of conformation shows evolved. However I want to emphasize that I do not want this to be understood as an assessment in terms of more or less “original”. Hence the denomination “classic Greyhound” seems a bit inappropriate to me. “Standard Greyhound” would be maybe more to the point, even though this term could be understood as some sort of rating. Ultimately, we have been facing two different breed lines for about 100 years: one type selected only because of its racing performance (regardless of the conformation) and another type selected only for its. The fanciers of the latter variety say they strive to come as close to the standard as possible with their breeding.
But is the standard still the main goal? Glancing into today’s show rings sometimes makes you wonder….
We must not ignore the fact that the show type has developed in a direction which is targeted more on a spectacular performance in the Best in Show ring than to fulfilling the breed standard. Many
standard details get overdone – “long” becomes “very long”, “well angulated” becomes “extremely angulated”, an energy-efficient flat trot becomes a fancy show trot with tremendous reach an drive (“TRAD”). Is that really still true to breed type?
Other features, which are not even mentioned in the standard, are suddenly of utmost importance – e.g. the shape of the forechest. Of course you do not want to see hollow “cathedral chests” due to faulty shoulder angulation and lacking thorax volume. But does that really mean that you need a broad chest like that of a Boxer, with almost grotesquely prominent breastbone, looking like a ship’s keel? Especially alarming is the loss of one central virtue of the sighthound group: the length of leg. The concentration of longer backs has already resulted in a change in shape. The shorter the legs, the longer the dog seems to be – this can and must not be right for a sighthound!

But does not the standard ask for a “long” back? No, this is not what it says! Head, neck and front legs should be “long”, the back only “rather long”. A “rather long” dog is a bit longer than tall – so in no way square – but on the other hand neither long, nor very long nor as long as possible!
All too frequent we see loose lips, sagging toplines with very long, but often flat and flabby loins, extremely low briskets reaching under the elbow, very accentuated shoulder angulation, sagging underlines with sparse tuck-up – but a far reaching, spectacular movement. All this in one and the same dog. Coincidence?

At least since the evaluation by Fischer and Lilje (“Jenaer Study”) it is well known that the centre of rotation for the front limb is not at the shoulder joint, but at the cranial angle of the scapula. Essential for the extent of the stride is not – as still often wrongly assumed – the shoulder angulation, but the position and the mobility of the shoulder blade. A more loose suspension increases the mobility and enables a longer stride – this is exactly the gait which is so popular in the Best in show ring. But at what cost? Slack connective tissue does not come isolated in only one body part – it is always the whole organism which is affected. This is why we usually find the whole package in Greyhounds with TRAD: soft backs, sagging underlines, loose lips…and if we take it just a little bit further we could end up with a higher risk of gastric torsions!?
One or two may think this is old-fashioned doom-mongering, but you just have to look at some photos to prove there has been a change of type.

It is not too easy to find suitable photos for an evaluation – the shot must be level with the dog’s profile in order to avoid artificial distortions.
I selected three popular Greyhounds of the breed’s history, which were important influencers on the show type. Singing the Blues at Solstrand, Solstrand Double Diamond and Gulds Black & White Lady represent the top winners from the past, which are still mentioned by today’s judges as timelessly beautiful specimens of the breed. But if we imagine them standing in today’s show rings – would they still be competitive? Rather not – compared to modern criteria probably too short, too “leggy”, too upright, too little forechest, too little substance…


For comparison some dogs of today – for reasons of fairness only shown by their silhouettes. All three of them top winning dogs, some used for breeding as well quite often.

If you put the silhouettes of the old and the modern type one upon the other, the transition becomes even more visible:

The silhouette has become flatter and elongated, the underline less tucked-up, the neck more upright, the flowing run of the topline interrupted at a dip behind the withers, angulations and substance have increased. These are without a doubt really impressive and spectacular dogs, but obviously different than the type of dogs modeling for the breed standard.

If you draw a rectangular over the withers and the body length, you can easily calculate the ratio of body height to body length. The left male (Solstrand Double Diamond) has a ratio of 1 : 1,12, the modern dog at the right side scores 1 : 1,25. The differences in top- and underlines are as well quite apparent.
Unfortunately these are not hand-picked extreme examples, the trend can be observed all over the world. The “lowered Greyhound” rules the show ring by now.
This is nothing of the sort of “preserving the breed type”, a change towards maximum success in the show ring has obviously taken place.
It would be a sham to ignore those changes. But is the Greyhound breed really in need of those “improvements”? Or are we slowly but steadily transforming them into caricatures?
As Greyhounds are an attractive, but low maintenance breed with rather small entries in one of the smallest FCI groups it may attract some people who do not care for the breed in the first place, but for an attractive show dog they can achieve group or even Best in show wins with.
It may very well be that this new clientele even accelerates the change from Greyhound to “optimized sighthound-like showdog”…
It is high time to ask ourselves what the future will be for the Greyhound breed. Still the show type is a very small breed worldwide, and has only a limited number of enthusiasts. Every single one of the few Greyhound breeders should be aware that they take part in determing the breed’s future with every litter they breed. A concentration on a handful of alleged “top studs” of the fancy modern type may guarantee predictable accomplishments in the show ring, but accelerates the type transformation and narrows the gene pool for later generations.
The time has come to rethink – for dog handlers, breeders and particularly for judges. There are still dogs corresponding to the champions of the past. Should the trend towards overdone caricatures in the show ring persist (which is fair to assume), the “classic Greyhound” will soon be consigned to history.

Text: Dr. Barbara Kessler, Illustrations: Nele Ellerich, Translation: Barbara Thiel

5 Comments »

  1. Extremely well written article reflecting my own opinions exactly. My own breed is Whippets, similar in many ways to the Greyhound, but so very different, yet the same changes are befalling both breeds in Central Europe, excess length and angulation, lack of underline and incorrect toplines. Flash and dash movement (encouraged by so many judges) not the easy long daisy cutting action of years gone by. The show Greyhound of today is so heavy, it still has straight line speed to a degree but is shameful to watch Lure Coursing. Sadly Greyhounds are a breed only for breeders, there is no pet market, homes are already flooded with ex racers, so breeders can only blame themselves for what they have done and if they don’t try to rethink their strategy the breed is doomed, because the genetic pool is dwindling.

    Kommentar by Jill Scott-Bisset — 15.8.2017 @ 09:21

  2. What a super article, so akin to my thoughts on how our beautiful breed is changing,in my opinion to the detriment of the breed; all excess, too long, too flat, too upright, too exaggerated in hind angulation and movement. We have the responsibility and ability to ensure the Greyhound remains the beautiful dog it should be, sweeping lines from nose to tail. Thank you Barbara for putting these thoughts to paper,time now for everyone to take stock.

    Kommentar by Barbara Hargreaves — 15.8.2017 @ 15:09

  3. An absolute masterpiece in describing the current situation. I as an outsider due to my involvement with racing and irish hare coursing, have noticed this exact phenomenon in Europe.
    Congratulation on this excellent juxaposition of the popular greyhound versus the standard.
    That said a certain yet minor diviation has also occured between the old-school / standard and the track bred current type. Although, far more minute, the dogs over time have become smaller/ thin boned and in the sprinting circles far to upright front and rear, not capable to run over rough terrain or distances such as what the true test of the best greyhound called for – The Waterloo Cup open coursing or the Irish open coursing ran even today.
    The track bred changes are a result of shortening the race distance available races from marathon/ staying 550- 1000yard races to only middle or sprints of not even 300-400 yards.
    Luckily not all over the world, which maintains a great large pool of prospects to choose from.
    Breeders would often just bred for what is popular or awarded, may it be with ribbons or monetarily, slowly changing the type and structure of what was once an animal that could run a great distance behind a hare involving agility, edurance, drive and heart, yet be able to recover and do this again with great speed and chase the second or third time.
    Having greyhounds that do not chase at all included in any breeding program, simple defeats the purpose of what the greyhound breed stand for no matter how fine example of a physic they may poses for a flashy trotting inside of a small oval ring.
    Non chasers will throw / produce non chasers, similarly as temperament and often trades pass on from parent to offspring. It is very difficult for me to understand why the show world does not test their dogs before awarding status titles. Perhaps, if all countries required a proven lure-coursing merit before awarding any meaningful FCI titles which may make a dog into a popular stud over night, very quickly the superior conformation in terms of galloping and chasing would preveal over the fancy trot type and set the standard back in place where it should belong!

    Kommentar by Greyfort Greyhounds — 16.8.2017 @ 11:47

  4. Could I get permission from the authors to print this in the Greyhound Club of America Newsletter? Please respond to email address provided. Thanks!

    Kommentar by Kathleen Whitaker — 16.8.2017 @ 15:34

  5. One sees a variety of forms in representations of the greyhound in art over the centuries. Classically beautiful, exquisitely athletic form can be seen in Prince Alfred’s favorite, „Eos“, in paintings and a bronze statue at Osborne House. Surprisingly, my princely joker, race-winning, „Shinago“ was described by a Huon show exhibitor as embodying the show standard.

    Kommentar by Linda Miller — 17.8.2017 @ 07:16

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