My series on conformation and standards began with tail docking, then vulnerable breeds, commentary on conformation, and now I’ll discuss some things I’ve learned about breed clubs and standards. You see, the standard of a breed ultimately reflects the values of the breeding club, and through phone conversations and emails with Spinone Club of America (SCOA) officers whom I’d like to thank for their assistance, SCOA members will have the opportunity to do just that: vote on standards.
The SCOA is at least open to the acceptance of natural or undocked tails as a standard, but whether that standard is accepted or rejected lies with the SCOA membership. This issue is apparently more complex than it first appears; allowing natural tails is intended to increase the gene pool to include European dogs where tail docking is banned. As for me, I’ve already stated my position on the topic and given my reason for it. My concern is whether or not the Spinone is retained primarily as a hunting dog or goes the way of so many other breeds whose natural abilities have been compromised by show qualities.
The first Spinone brought to the United States were not top-of-the-line hunting dogs and as a result, developed a poor reputation as a hunter. A renown breeder and trainer whose seminar I attended, suggested that I get rid of my Spins and go with a breed that could point. At the hunt test I attended March 16-17 of this year, several individuals were comparing Spinone to snails in regards to their hunting style. So for a breed that is otherwise a fine hunting dog, any changes in standards which could compromise or diminish their hunting abilities would only further harm the breed.
In terms of altering standards, I asked SCOA officers whether or not they studied the effects that the changes might have on hunting abilities and endurance:
The purpose of the revision to the AKC standard is to better align it with the Italian standard. There are incorrect conversions of measurements, and other areas where we have found that the wording is not being interpreted by judges as we expect, or where undue emphasis is being placed on one area to the detriment of another. We also need to add the undocked tail to the standard. While the various kennel clubs, especially the AKC, have different “templates” for their standards, there is no British or American Spinone, it is always an Italian Spinone, and we intend to keep it that way. Our aim is to properly express the Italian standard in the AKC template and format.
Finally, we are not changing the standard, but trying to properly express the Italian Spinone in the AKC template. We are referring to the Italian standard as we work, so I have not looked at the British standard except when I am trying to see if it might be the source of something that is not in the Italian, which so far it is not. (An example of this is the “rolling gait,” which is unique to the AKC Spinone standard.) If you’ve had the time to make a detailed comparison, I would be interested to hear where the British and Italian standard diverge. Certainly we will do nothing to the detriment of the breed’s hunting ability – the CISp has a very nice working standard, to which we are referring for clarification as well.
What concerned me was the statement that “We also need to add the undocked tail to the standard” which is a standard of The Kennel Club, not the AKC or Ente Nazionale della Cinofilia Italiana (ENCI). However if in fact the SCOA is attempting to align AKC standards with ENCI standards as stated, then undocked tails would not be acceptable. Concerning the education of judges, at the publishing of this article I haven’t been able to determine if that extends to hunt test judges or is limited to conformation judges.
I followed up on my initial questions and received the following reply:
…We are indeed wanting our standard to be as close to the Italian standard as possible. Unfortunately, the tail is a huge and hot topic among many, many different breeds. Personally, I am a hunter and I want and like and need docked tails. I grew up in Texas and we stopped using anything with a tail there! The infections and abrasions etc, etc working in rough brush were just too much for the dogs and us. I loved docked tails. However, it is not my opinion that counts! The members of each breed club (the German Wirehaired Pointer club, the Brittany Club etc, etc.) will be the ones ultimately making the decision on what we do or do not do about natural tails. I am sure you are aware that many in other countries have had an anti docking ban imposed on them (I know they fought it hard). Those who have imported dogs from other countries (not Italy of course) and do not want to dock them when they are older then do have dogs with undocked tails that they wish to show. This is the issue. The members of the club will vote and determine if we change the wording in the standard to accommodate the natural tails. Many clubs are dealing with this issue. It is unfortunate. You are correct that the ENCI standard does not say anything about the tails. It is a difficult issue globally and not just with the Spinone Italiano. Trust me, it is not something we invited.
So I turned to a Subject Matter Expert, an Italian breeder-friend whose response was, as translated by Google Translate:
Spinone must have the shortened tail little more than a third. The tail is ideal when covering the genitals. The Spinone with a long tail as well as being shameful, it would be an infection while hunting in the woods, where there are thorns, because the Spinone speaks to the hunter with his tail, she is always in motion, until it slows down to spin and stop. A full tail would always bloody and then really bad and not good hunting.
If you can watch a Spinone while swimming in the river, let him make a U-turn and you will see how to use the shortened tail like a rudder.
So as with many other clubs and breeds, the debate goes on. In (hopefully) the final article of this series, I’ll look into animal rights activists and the effect they’re having on dogs, breeds, and standards.