The Robust, Rustic, Romantic Spinone Italiano
I must begin with my profuse thanks to the Club for the invitation to judge your 2019 Parent Club Specialty. This experience was a huge honor for me - - - and I had a blast doing it. I found the ring full of the kind of dogs I was looking for, making my job difficult – but the fun kind of difficult. The Spinone fancy has much to be proud of.
To do proper service to a breed as a conformation judge, one must first master the technical points of the breed standard. The Spinone standard certainly presents a challenging array of technicalities to keep foremost in mind. I believe that doing a great job as a judge involves much more than simply memorizing the standard and competently applying it to the exhibits. I want to see the breed through the eyes of those who love it and strive to preserve and improve it. I certainly gave this goal a great deal of thought preparing to judge the 2019 Spinone Parent Club Specialty. What works for me is to come up with a manageably concise descriptive phrase which helps me stay on target searching for the dogs that best exemplify Breed Type; i.e.. the essence of what makes a given dog an excellent overall living breathing purebred Spinone most worthy of use in your pedigrees.
My phrase for your 2019 Specialty is this article’s title, which may require some explanation. The term ‘Robust’ comes straight out of the General Appearance section of the Standard. Not only the actual word, but the descriptive of ‘constructed for endurance’, ‘muscular, vigorous and powerful bone’, ‘harsh coat . . . thick skin’. Rustic is implied, I believe, in the Standard and found verbatim in much of the breed literature. While I hope most Spinone lovers easily understand the choice of my first two terms to describe the breed’s unique conformation, I sense some raised eyebrows at my third word. I chose Romantic as a signal to myself to keep foremost in my mind very special physical characteristics, which my mentors and the writings of breed experts stress as true hallmarks of the breed. Romance is soulful and poetic; hence that human-like soft expression and the easy, flexible, light-footed ground-covering trot that when properly balanced and moderate is like watching poetry in motion.
The dogs I chose best satisfied the technical requirements of the Standard and went above and beyond to call to mind (IMHO) my three key terms. As I worked through the exhibits I found myself admiring your breeders for their success at preserving, (and dare I say improving on?), essential breed characteristics. Your profiles generally run true. Coats are more profuse without becoming soft and “fringy-fancy”; staying Rustic, retaining necessary protective water and debris shedding properties. I noted over-grooming in some cases, which required some imagination to see the natural quality underlying. I was truly delighted with the substance and balance. Overjoyed to watch the dogs float around the ring at a moderate pace with moderate reach and drive looking as if they expended absolute minimal effort.
My Best of Breed award went to a dog with a tremendous type head. He has the substance and especially bone called for in the Standard. This dog is very well balanced, as I feel is required of a robust structure designed to go at a pleasant endurance trot forever and over any type of terrain. His powerful neck into shoulder slope, moderately hinged topline, properly sloped croup all flowed together into a one-piece square silhouette. Best of Opposite is a feminine version of the above. I especially admired her balance and proportionate bone. I chose her over the Select Bitch because she fit better into a square to my eye. My Winners were a nice match with wonderful headpieces, great substance and balance and lovely gait. In choosing Best of Winners, my guiding phrase played in my mind. In motion, my gut drew me to the bitch floating along holding her topline and giving me a totally human look as she rounded the bend toward me.
I would not be doing my job if I left you all believing perfection has been achieved. There were some common reasons exhibits were not chosen, which should give the serious breeder goals for the future. Heads too often tended to fall short of the length that should be there, and I found it seemed to be in the length of muzzle, or rather lack thereof. Skulls may be getting a little generic, lacking the pronounced roof shape when viewed from the front, and squashing/rounding the oval shape on top. Fronts tend to be the hardest structural piece to hang onto, and I did see lack of pro-sternum, which should be an integral part of the Spinone silhouette. I also noted lack of width between the shoulder blades. Both of these observations likely point to limited rib spring and under-developed chest. I was acutely aware of the recent standard revision removing cow hocks as being a fault. I understand that a hinged topline producing a slight rise in its rear half and placing the hindquarters squarely under the croup can cause an inward bend to the hocks. However, I do not think this should lead to hocks rubbing together in motion. That rear needs to be just as sturdy and powerful as the front. Ultimately, when I had to split hairs, I often chose the dog fitting better into a square over those tending to more length in the loin.
I admire your dedication to preserving breed characteristics as originally developed in the rough Italian hunting grounds, and I applaud your success. Your insistence on requiring the working events in conjunction with your national specialty, particularly the NAVHDA tests, assure the Spinone fancy will continue to give the American hunter a very special companion well suited for whatever work asked of him.