Dalmatian standard and judicial assessment…

…from the perspective of an internationally experienced specialist judge.

The following article on an important topic has been entrusted to me for publication by Mrs. Gisa Schicker. Mrs. Schicker is a general judge and a member of the judging commission of the VDH (Verband für das Deutsche Hundewesen – German Kennel Club). Furthermore, she serves as a specialist judge for the German Dalmatian Club of 1920 e.V. She has judged Dalmatians in many countries, providing her with an excellent overview of the breed and its peculiarities. Her observations are particularly well-reflected in her report.

Josef Fertig

“The Significance of Breed Standards Regarding the Judging Requirements for Conformation Judges in Evaluating Dalmatians in the Show Ring.

The following considerations, suggestions, and contributions to discussion are intended for conformation judges, breeders, and enthusiasts of Dalmatians. They result from observations and notable points related to my international judging activities.

Dear Dalmatian Friends,

For many reasons, it is beneficial that we have FCI standards. The fact that these standards have existed for over 100 years, with their fundamental principles remaining largely unchanged, refutes frequent concerns and accusations that current populations of purebred dogs are overbred and, therefore, not viable.

The country of origin of the breed is solely responsible for the respective standard. It submits the standard to the FCI Standard Commission for evaluation, which, in turn, translates it into the four official languages of the FCI (German, English, French, Spanish).

The FCI-recognized standard, binding for all FCI member countries worldwide, is applicable to judges, breeders, and officials, serving as the common foundation for all cynological activities.

Dear Dalmatian Friends – even if an individual judge does not necessarily agree with all the details and requirements of the standard, or has a significantly different opinion, they must still adhere unequivocally to the standard guidelines in their judgment.

The explicit listing of negative features and their categorization as “Faults,” “Serious Faults,” and “Eliminating Faults” at the end of the standards has proven very useful. This approach, listing deviations from the standard as “Faults,” should, in our opinion, lead to a reduction in the conformation score by one level. A dog with a “Serious Fault” can only be judged as “Good,” while dogs with an “Eliminating Fault” can only be rated as “Sufficient” or “Disqualified.”

Now, let’s turn to our actual activity in the show ring, agreeing in advance that we want to understand the word “judging” as a complex activity, creating an image of balancing and evaluating different factors based on the requirements specified in the standard for the respective breed. The so-called “eye” for the breed-typical dog, confidence in interpreting the standard, assessment of health in connection with type, constitution, condition, and behavior are essential prerequisites for successful and breed-serving exercise of the judging office. A judge must always act with an awareness of their immense influence on breeding; they bear a significant responsibility for the breed. They are not just a “score distributor”; more importantly, they should recognize and address detrimental trends and exaggerations while focusing primarily on the normal, biologically functional, and responsible aspects.

Once breeders realize that certain judges accept or even like certain exaggerations, some may be inclined to please those judges and breed more dogs that look that way. An example is the mistaken notion that “bigger is better,” believing that larger dogs automatically have a more impressive presence. This is a fallacy because it is well-established that the characteristic, valuable, and proven utility of a “large dog” is significantly compromised. FCI standards set specific sizes for each breed, and these should be strictly adhered to.

Contrary to “size exaggeration,” there are also Dalmatians that are overly refined, with too long and slim necks, often steeply set. These excessively slender necks not only disrupt the overall appearance of a compactly built dog but are also often associated with narrow chests, a tight front stance, and inadequately developed forechest.

When participating in a dog show, every exhibitor aims for success. Successful performance requires the dog to be in the best physical condition, presenting itself optimally in both stance and movement at the right time, and being expertly handled.

Judging dogs outside the ring may seem initially straightforward, but the actual complex activity of the conformation judge becomes significantly more complicated inside the ring. Deciding which dog is the best of its breed in the presented competition requires, first and foremost, detailed knowledge of the breed standard and its history. It also involves the application of a conscientious and systematic inspection technique for the specific details and characteristics of the breed—tasks that are challenging to accomplish from an external perspective. The process and method of judging may initially appear confusing to some exhibitors and breed enthusiasts. Moreover, they might perceive the judge’s decisions as inconsistent or even contradictory. One possible reason for this could be that some judges seek perfection in specific points and, in doing so, forget to view the dog as a complex wholean expressive living being. Of course, the absolutely perfect dog has yet to be created, and it won’t happen anytime soon! Nevertheless, some animals come much closer to the standard requirements than others. These dogs, through their genes and successful breeding, can achieve a kind of star position in their breed—and beyond—in the show world. Such acquired “celebrity” often has a significant influence on the future and development of the entire breed. This is not only due to the frequent breeding use of the well-known winning dog but also because of the increased tendency of some breeders to select towards that specific type. These circumstances emphasize the necessity for breeders and judges to train their eyes to recognize the paramount importance of health/soundness, balance/harmony, and (show) condition.

Health, in the broadest sense, must be the unequivocally most important foundation for the assessment of all dog breeds, including Dalmatians.

Balance should be considered from various perspectives: “Visual” balance pertains to the proportion of individual parts of the dog to each other. “Static” balance involves the structure that enables the dog to stand still without significant tension, while “kinetic” balance allows dogs to move, trot, or gallop without adverse stress.

Regarding (show) condition, it refers to the instantaneous physical condition of the dog, ranging from “lean” to “normal” to “overweight.” Please do not confuse condition with constitution. Constitution is the inherent, inherited, and environmentally influenced physical condition specific to each individual, observable in all breeds. There are strong, coarse, fine, and delicate constitution types everywhere. Therefore, in the show ring, we primarily seek a balanced dog with normal breed proportions, devoid of exaggerated details.

When the dogs appear in the ring, the males must exude masculinity instantly, while the females should appear feminine. Especially the heads should clearly express their respective genders and, at the same time, harmonize with the corresponding bodies.

I have seen a few instances where males had smaller, more delicate heads despite possessing a heavy, extremely substantial body—just as incongruent would be a massive, powerful head on a lightly built female with an overly refined overall appearance.

During gait examination, each exhibitor should determine their own movement pattern, stride length, and speed so that their dog’s gait can be optimally showcased. Particularly, the presentation of Dalmatians in various classes was often impressive: the dogs were skillfully presented, highlighting their strengths optimally and either correcting or downplaying existing weaknesses. I observed no significant issues related to ear carriage, coat markings, or the occasionally undesirable round shape of the eyes and bites. Some Dalmatians did not have the ideal flat skull, and it was either too narrow or too broad between the ears. Others, on the other hand, exhibited slight wrinkling on the head, even in a relaxed posture.

Furthermore, we would like to specifically point out that the neck should be quite long and by no means too thick – not to mention loose throat skin. Short necks are often combined with steeply placed shoulder blades. Hardly any Dalmatian shown was absolutely convincing in the chest area. The forechest should be visible from the side and well-filled when viewed from the front.

Please also pay increased attention to the fact that compact paws with well-arched and closely spaced toes are required, and the pads should be firm and elastic. Unfortunately, poor paws, such as hare feet, flat, or splay feet, are appearing more and more frequently.

The Dalmatian is undoubtedly a hunting dog (formerly a carriage companion) according to its developmental history, and criteria explicitly related to this in the standard must take precedence over superficial details.

Certainly, spotting is a hallmark of the breed and must not be neglected in the overall assessment – but the Dalmatian’s abilities and functions as a hunting dog are not affected by poor spotting.

You will surely agree that a hunting dog must stand on firm feet, as solid paws with elastic pads effortlessly absorb any uneven terrain and compensate for the varying ground conditions with each step. Thus, we come again to the gait. For me, the gait assessment represents something like the “moment of truth”, especially since the most experienced handler – unlike in the stand – cannot conceal anything about their dog here. The ideal movement depends on the correct angulation of the front and rear limbs in conjunction with the strength and firmness of tendons, ligaments, muscles, and the overall healthy body structure. The front limbs must be able to translate the thrust effortlessly, assuming that the rib structure allows the limbs free and unimpeded movement. The role of the back is to transmit the force from behind to the front without wear. Tendons, muscles, and ligaments control the direction of movement of the limbs, ensuring that no energy is wasted through inward or outward movements of the limbs.

A dog with poor angulation in both the front and rear limbs will appear better in movement than one with unbalanced angulations. However, the movement will still lack sufficient drive and appropriate reach, as both static and kinetic imbalance lead to fatigue and stress. Excessive drive resulting from over-angulated hindquarters causes the dog to lift the front legs disproportionately high to avoid colliding with the hind legs or develop a sideways, crab-like, choppy movement (crossing over).

Key assessment criteria such as head carriage, stride length, drive and reach, topline, tail set, tail carriage, and overall proportions can be observed best through a side view, which is the reason for the circling in the ring.

Regarding the tail and tail carriage, clear explanations can be found in the standard. I would like to emphasize that tails carried too high, curving over the body, ruin the profile of the topline and are absolutely undesirable in a hunting dog. The tail is a natural extension of the back, and its role is to support balance, especially when the Dalmatian performs fast, sharp turns.

Let us never forget, the Dalmatian is a healthy dog without exaggerations, but if judges accept exaggerations, they inevitably contribute to the harm of the breed.

Breeders are the guardians of the Dalmatian breed, yet it is undoubtedly the task of judges to assess dogs solely based on the standard and not adapt standard interpretations to fit existing dogs.

Breeders, judges, club officials at all levels, and breed enthusiasts must collaborate to ensure that the healthy, breed-typical, and valuable characteristics of the Dalmatian, this wonderful breed with clear outlines, remain unaltered.

We all must contribute to preserving the healthy breed type and valuable characteristics of the Dalmatian, keeping this agile and athletic dog with clear outlines and without a tendency towards massiveness. Let’s remember what Dalmatians were bred for—not too large and heavy in bones and structure, allowing them the required athletic ability to run, turn, and pivot easily, yet not so light that they lack endurance and stamina.

If we look at old pictures and oil paintings of Dalmatians and compare them to some photos in today’s advertisements and listings, we are reminded with caution that the creators of the breed needed a dog that was nowhere exaggerated, with great endurance—a running dog that could accompany carriages through challenging and rugged terrain over long distances.

I would like to point out some peculiarities:

Fashion trends, exaggerations like high-set cheeks, too narrow or round top head, almond-shaped eyes, short muzzle, over-angulated hindquarters, oversize—all these trends are hopefully only temporary phenomena. We also increasingly observe a narrow hindquarters, paddling, weaknesses in the front pastern joints, too bright, small eyes, insufficiently tight lips with pigment deficiency, and a tail carried over the back (short croup).

By the way, a slender, short lower jaw cannot support a strong chewing muscle. We are familiar with the pointed muzzle, flat lower jaw—the dog becomes less attractive in its expression, significantly compromising its overall appearance.

It is a fact that the predisposition to missing teeth is hereditary, and over time, whether we want it or not, we contribute to malformations of the lower jaw. Any geneticist will confirm that if attention is not paid to the completeness of the dentition, all breeding animals genetically carry the predisposition for incomplete dentition—naturally, even those animals that exhibit a complete dentition in phenotype! Dalmatians should have a scissors bite, and this requirement includes a dentition appropriate to the size of the dog. Currently, many Dalmatians are seen with too small teeth and irregular lower incisor rows.

All in all, we still see very typical, strong-willed dogs with a lot of charisma in the rings.

Even though “temperament” and “characteristics” in standards are often dismissed with just a few lines, as conformation judges, we must not only focus on the exterior of the purebred dog but also give significant attention to the appropriate assessment of the dog’s behavior in the ring. This involves exploring questions such as:

– What is the relationship between the dog and the handler? Is the dog attentive and spirited? How does the dog behave toward other dogs in the confined show ring? How does the dog react during the dental examination? Can I, as a judge, handle the dog easily?

Regardless of age and size, all dogs should behave peacefully and calmly toward people who pose no threat to the owner/handler – and this includes the judge.

We are pleased to report that the behavior of Dalmatians both inside and outside the show rings is generally free from aggressiveness. Especially during the judging process, the dogs tend to be disciplined, calm, and composed. Similarly, exhibitors worldwide typically demonstrate considerate and sportsmanlike conduct. If anything, there might be occasional barking and some assertiveness among the dogs.

Crucially, we must not solely focus on individual faults and neglect the overarching significance of the overall type. For instance, there are males that appear very elegant, so much so that they could be labeled as “feminine.” While such a Dalmatian may not exhibit significant deviations from the standard in detailed analysis, it lacks a crucial element – the masculine expression and demeanor.

It’s worth noting that the reverse, noticeably masculine-looking females, is equally undesirable.

Equating temperament weaknesses with physical faults is of utmost importance in their breeding implications. Temperament stability is the foundation of every breeding program, and this is particularly true for Dalmatians. Unfortunately, this aspect is often overlooked in practice.

Health, in the broadest sense, must be the unequivocally most crucial basis for the evaluation of all dog breeds, including Dalmatians.

“For us conformation judges, it must always be emphasized that the value of a dog lies not in the number of its titles but in the quality of its offspring.”

Gisa Schicker