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The Rottweiler head, the Norwegian initiative ... a follow up.

Dear Rottweiler Friends,

This morning, I received an email by several IFR-Member clubs asking to take a position on the initiative of the Norwegian club to measure the heads of all Rottweilers that participate their breed special shows.

All Delegates have received the e-mail by the Norwegian Rottweiler club with the results of this measuring.  

These findings are worrying, even frightening because they show that all dogs had a too short muzzle in proportion to the length of the head !   All of them, with no exception …!   

The IFR cannot be blind or mute for this.   Moreover, I hear that a first review in another country (an analysis of the results of breed suitability tests) would lead to similar findings.

This is even the more frightening as the establishment of the muzzle being too short is based on a criterion that on itself is already a consolidation or an acceptance of a too short muzzle !    Let me explain.

The currently generally accepted or even recommended ratio of 40 / 60 % (or 1 – 1,5) concerns the ratio of the length of the muzzle and of the rest of the skull to the total length of the head.    

This ratio can be derived from the ADRK-Lehrtafel as being the ideal proportion of the nosebridge (Nasenrücke) to the upperskull (Oberkopf) and is since long known to us all.

The ratio was decided upon by ADRK-judges on 31.08.1981 (Pienkoss, Rottweiler, 2008, p. 200) as an internal guideline but was never adopted into the FCI-standard. 

To the contrary even, this ratio meant an important deviation from the standard that at that moment (standard 147 b dd. 25.03.1970) still defined the proportions of the head as : 

“Von der Nasenkuppe bis zum inneren Augenwinkel nicht länger als der Oberkopf von inneren Augenwinkel bus zum Hinterhauptbein”

or freely translated :

“The distance from the nose to the inner eye corner is not longer than the length of the skull from the inner eye corner to the occipital bone”.

This standard allowed for a ratio of 50 / 50 (and even the current breed standard 147 dd. 19.06.2000 only states that the foreface should appear neither elongated nor shortened in relation to the cranial region).

The internal decision was meant to meet a factual evolution that precisely led away from the FCI standard, namely towards a head shape that was seen more and more often : with a shorter muzzle and an extremely arched skull, supposedly letting the dog seem friendlier and smarter (the current problem concerns not only the length of the muzzle, it concerns the whole shape of the head, incl. height and width, a too inwards too high and steep stop split by an even deeper groove, …).

 I think we may understand that decision as a token of realism but also as a wish to determine an utter limit so to be at least able to define, penalize and limit further deviations from the standard.

 

I am personally of the opinion that this ratio of 40 / 60 on itself defines a short muzzle (cfr. the standard).   It does however not define an extreme head nor is it the necessary or direct cause of nowadays problematic evolution towards extreme heads … on condition however that we understand this ratio to be indeed a limit.     Limits are to be respected and are by definition not stretchable as otherwise they lose all relevance.

 

In my opinion, the current evolution towards no longer breed specific but (sometimes even very) extreme heads, is only the result of too permissive judging, meaning judging with too much toleration of deviations from the breed standard – consciously or not – and even going far beyond the limits of the 40/60 ratio.       Breeders understand and use show results as selection criteria and will emphasize those deviations even more.

 

As the ratio of 40/60 is already defining a short muzzle, allowing or tolerating muzzles that are even shorter than this, necessarily leads to extremes.  

 

If I say that I find the first results of the Norwegian initiative frightening, the thought of ever more tolerations is even more frightening and then especially the sum of those tolerances.      We seem to have tolerated for example muzzles that measure only 38 % of the head’s length instead of 40 % and have become so used to this that we see it as “normal”.    This is being tolerant on what is already a toleration … .  What is next ?    Another toleration on the results of those tolerations ?   Where will the sum of those tolerances lead us ?     

I’ll say nothing new when I state that while we all know very well that the brachycephalic syndrome is a highly unwanted trait, it has entered our breed pool and we did nothing to stop it.   To the contrary, these unwanted traits (the too short muzzle, the massive round dome-shaped skull with a much too high and too steep stop that is often cloven by a deep groove) seem to have become so strongly consolidated in the breed’s genetics that I often even wonder if many amateurs even know or remember what the correct head type is … !  

I hear that in Norway, the Rottweiler is now understood by cynologic authorities to be a brachycephalic breed while the skull should in fact be of the mesocephalic type.

So : believe it or not : a tolerance of just a few percentages, just a few millimeters … is all it takes to change a breed type !

Just imagine the current situation in which specialist judges have to discuss how the Rottweiler head should be like and/or what a breed specific expression is !   The situation in which one specialist judge penalizes a dog for having a too short muzzle and a no longer breed typical head and so grading him to be “sufficient” or “good” while a week before another specialist judge described the same dog as having a “strong broad” muzzle and awarded him the first place with an excellent grading … is not inconceivable but is something that happens just as it happens that a judge describes a muzzle to be long or elongated while it is in fact even too short as it does not even reach the – on itself already short – ratio of 40 % !      

This is unacceptable and detrimental for the breed’s definition and future, but unfortunately, it is a reality.

Besides the mere cynologic aspects, there is also the health issue and then more precisely the Brachycephalic Airway Obstruction Syndrome (BAOS).

I like to refer to the FCI’s “Basic Statement for Show Judges. Dogs fit for their original function”.  The statement strongly demands all show judges not only to judge the breed within the approved breed standard but to also keep in mind that “dogs must always be fit for the function for which they were originally meant, developed and bred for.”      A judge must particularly pay attention to the breed-specific characteristics which have a tendency towards exaggeration, which can creep into a breed and have a negative effect on the health of the individual dog.   The judge must be aware of the fact that a dog with exaggerated breed characteristics which can lead and result in health, behaviour or movement problems, should be excluded from breeding and therefore never be awarded a qualification “Excellent.”  !!    In particular, all dogs should be able to breathe normally while standing and moving.    Particular attention should therefore be paid to exaggerations which might prevent healthy breathing such as very noisy breathing and/or audible respiratory distress.

When a dog’s muzzle (skeletal structure) is so short that the soft palate (of normal length) enters the windpipe and so obstructs the free in- and outflow of air (BAOS), then it must be clear that such a dog is not fit to function, not in the context of the breed’s original utility nor it its nowadays versatility and not even for basic normal functions as a daily walk or a playful run.

The Rottweiler is moreover not a dog that should just be fit enough for a short walk for sanitary purposes.  The Rottweiler is a utility breed, physically defined to be a tireless enduring trotter. An unobstructed respiration is an essential condition for this ! As the Rottweiler is an extremely versatile dog breed, I will immediately accept that the notion of a “utility dog” may cover a wide range of activities but even then, nobody can question that a healthy respiratory system is an essential condition to function in whatever utility context and is essential for even a mere basic health.

Only a few weeks ago I stopped dogs from running after hardly 2 laps in an only medium sized show ring and asked the public to listen to the clearly laborious audible breathing of some of these dogs !    Just imagine, dogs that – at least in name – belong to a working breed and that are being presented as to be ambassadors of the breed and the genetic foundation for the breed’s future but who are unable to trot for more 100 meters without showing physical distress !   This is just not acceptable and rewarding these dogs instead of penalizing them seems, in my opinion, like betraying the breed, its utility, its definition, its very reason and core of existence.

I therefore welcome the initiative of the Norwegian club to introduce mandatory measuring of the muzzle/skull proportion in the show ring.   I hear that the Finnish club will follow and maybe others will too.

This might be intended only to collect statistic information but even then it will – and must - make the judge at least conscious of the proportions he measures and this will and must oblige him to take this into account when grading the dogs and when motivating the grading.

We must however be aware of the need for correct and homogeneous measuring.   Otherwise, measuring will not make sense and statistics will be irrelevant.   

I’ve discussed this very issue a few weeks ago while judging a breed suitability test and showing that it is possible to measure a perfect ratio of 40/60 on a dog’s head while it was obvious that the dog had a too short muzzle

The ratio of 40/60 we discuss is said to be the ratio of the muzzle and the skull.   The terminology muzzle / skull is in this context however not correct.

The topline of the head or in other words the length of the skull from the tip of the nose to the occipital bone, consists out of the muzzle or nasal bridge, the stop, the skull and the occipital bone.

Contrary to what some state, the stop is not a single defined point on the head but it is the area between where the skull starts and the muzzle ends.

The muzzle is the part of the head from nose to the eyes and the term “skull” refers to the topline of the brain case only, not including the area we call “stop”.  Cynologic literature explicitly mentions that the length of “the stop” should not be included when assessing head proportions in skull to muzzle ratios. 

The plexi-glass instrument we use to measure the head mentions a point “0” and from there it measures to the front and to the rear, or in other words it establishes two lengths, not three. As it therefore necessarily includes the length of the stop, it does not measure the muzzle/skull ratio in a strict sense and it would be better to say that it is meant to measure the ratio of the facial region as limited to the muzzle (from the “0” forwards towards the nose) and the cranial length (from the “0” to the rear towards the occipital protuberance) and including the stop.

Important is now where to place the “0”-point on the head.

If we just place it where the stop starts, then this is only relevant if this point is located where it is supposed to be, between the edges of the eye sockets and not, as is the case for all too many dogs, at the end of a deep furrow that reaches far behind the edge of the eye sockets and at the bottom of a too steep and high forehead.   Starting to measure at such point, deep behind the eye sockets, may establish a perfect ratio of 1/1.5, especially in case of a very steep stop (which will “shorten” the length measured to the rear starting at the “0”), while the muzzle is in reality much too short.   

Placing the “0” point at the height where the muzzle ends, this is : where the brows or frontal bones (supercillary arches) surround the eyes or in other words placing the “0” next to the inner eye corner, will be more correct and will moreover be a point to start measuring from that can be determined objectively and especially homogeneously, for all to see and with very little room for faults or personal interpretation.

This technical but very important issue will be on the agenda of the next IFR-Meeting of judges and might also be discussed in the margin of the IFR-Meeting of Breedwardens in July in Switzerland.   It goes without saying that we will – even still today - search for the advise of the ADRK and that this advise will then be published and distributed amongst all Memberclubs with the request for a broad communication amongst their judges and breed wardens.  

The Board of the IFR supports the initiative of  the Norwegian club for the here above mentionned reasons.

Will this Norwegian initiative, if followed by all other clubs, bring an end to the negative deviation from the standard ?   I don’t know but what I do know is that there are only very few solutions and one of those is making the judges aware of the proportions of the head of the dog and so making it possible and obligatory for them to judge these in the light of the standard.

There would not even be a problem if all judges would recognize the breed specific head and be willing to severely penalize deviating headforms and/of proportions. 

If this proves to impossible, then there is an urgent need to decide on mandatory guidelines that cannot be neglected.   

If I am allowed to state a mere personal thought on the issue, then formally confirming the ratio between the length of the muzzle and the upperskull to be 40 / 60 might be an option but not a solution.  All judges are already today aware of this ratio and the mere fact of publishing it will not change anything and will not prevent further permissiveness or deviations due to tolerances and will therefore not take away the threat to the breed’s conformation and health.  It would then be highly useful and opportune to at least define this ratio as an utter limit or for example to explicitly add that all deviations, even minor deviations, towards a shorter muzzle are to be severaly penalized while permissiveness may be shown for a somewhat longer muzzle for as long as it does not harm the breed specific expression.    Deciding on another ratio like for example 45/55, which would not only give room for some toleration and would direct the Rottweiler’s head again towards its original definition and ensure a better respiratory health, would be another option and maybe a better one but more difficult to bring into practice and demanding a strong education about the breed specificness of the head, especially for the “younger” lovers of the breed who – with all respect – may never have seen the head as it used to be.  

A clear definition of the correct and utter proportions in the FCI-breed standard might of course be the obvious solution, but then this is not our decision to take.  The IFR is not the holder of the FCI-breed standard and its purpose and/or instruments do not and may not include intervening in the standard.   Such is the prerogative, the exclusive right and responsibility, of the Mother Country of the breed (Germany) and all proposals to the FCI to adjust the standard must come from the VDH (Verband für das Deutsche Hundewesen), in all likelihood in consultation with Germany’s national breed clubs and probably even at their initiative.    

Leading the Rottweiler towards a solution will be a heavy responsibility to bear but one that must be taken, well thought out … but the sooner the better. The entire Rottweiler world is waiting for this, with high expectations.    

Awaiting this, I will strongly insist that the IFR will in its judge’s and breed warden’s seminars repeat and underline that the guideline of a 40/60 ratio must be understood as an utter limit with the emphasis on the dangers that result from permissive judging and/or further tolerations on this ratio.   

I will also suggest the organisation of a poll concerning the willingness / intention of all Member Clubs to join the Norwegian initiative.    More on this is to follow.

With friendly greetings,

Dirk Vandecasteele.