In 1998, we whelped our first litter of Sprite Tervuren puppies. Prior to breeding that litter, we had thought carefully about what we wanted to produce, and we had a clear idea of our goals and how we intended to achieve them. As the strong and weak points of that litter have become apparent, we are even more committed to continuing to breed toward our original ideal.
We have determined that working character and health are a significant priority; so much so that we will not use any dog in our breeding program that does not excel in these qualities. Next, we consider structure, breed type, and overall appearance. Any breeding entails compromises, but in health and working ability we never compromise.
But what is working ability? What is working character? Is it the same as personality? How is structure different from breed type? Here, we'll explore the Sprite Tervuren interpretation of each quality valued in our breedings.
Working character and personality
Please read Denise's series of three articles, "Incorporating Working Temperament in a Breeding Program" for our definitions of working character and personality.
Belgian Tervuren are fortunate in overall health. In general, they are hardy dogs with few problems. Notable exceptions to this rule do exist, however. Epilepsy does show up in our breed and most breeders are now making a conscientious effort to breed away from epilepsy, so we hope that the incidence will be reduced. Hip and elbow dysplasia are always potential problems in large dogs; however, Tervuren have a relatively low incidence of these diseases. Eye problems such as Progressive Retinal Atrophy (PRA) have shown up occasionally. Cancer is certainly a significant health risk in the Belgians; unfortunately it is equally common in other breeds. Thyroid problems and allergies also crop up, possibly more frequently in some breeder's lines than in others'.
When your are considering purchasing a dog, it is important that you ask the breeder detailed questions about their dogs' health. Ask for information not just on the animal you are considering, but also on its littermates, parents, grandparents, and siblings. Look for breeders who are informed and honest about their dogs. In breeding, Sprite Tervuren uses only those dogs who have had, at minimum, basic health checks, including an X-ray examination to check for hip dysplasia and a CERF test to check for eye problems. The Belgian Shepherd should be a hardy, healthy dog.
When breeders talks about structure, they are referring to the way a dog's skeleton and muscles connect and combine to produce the bone structure of the dog. A dog with good structure has bones, tendons, and tissue connected in a manner to make the dog move efficiently and stand comfortably. The dog who has good structure should be able to withstand significantly more stress to its bones and joints than a dog who has poor structure. For example, good structure allows the dog to jump over high obstacles and to land with ease. The better the front assembly, the better the shock-absorption capabilities of the shoulders. When he trots, a dog with good structure tends to "flow" — to move effortlessly, with little wasted up and down movement over the topline. He never looks "choppy" or stilted in the front or in the rear. At Sprite Tervuren, we emphasize good movement rather than beautiful headpieces. Superb structure, and thus movement, are rare in the Tervuren, perhaps because it is not a top priority in most breeding programs.
A dog with correct structure and a short back will give the "square" outline that we strive for in our Belgian Tervuren. Nonetheless, be careful about using the picture of a square to determine whether a dog has good structure. Too many Belgians are square because of a straight front assembly, forward set shoulder, and a straight or underdeveloped rear. The back may be relatively long, but the shortened front and rear quarters will allow the dog to both measure and appear to be shorter overall. Ideally, the square appearance comes from a shorter back, rather than from a shortened front and rear section. When you look at a Tervuren, you should see a long, elegant neck with a headpiece set well forward of the front legs. If the head appears to grow straight out of the shoulder, and the dog's toes line up with the dog's ears, then you are seeing either a dog with structural shortcomings or a bad photograph! There are Tervuren who are a couple of inches shorter in length than they are in height, with a very straight front and rear assembly, setting the front far forward, and adding a very short back. It is unlikely that a dog with this structure can move well. More commonly, such a dog is almost painful to watch, as he is forced into strange movement to keep his feet from running into one another.
In a working dog, structure and movement should be given high priority. Good structure allows the dog greater endurance, flexibility, and shock absorption for jumping. A dog with a great heart and attitude will work no matter what his structure, but one with good structure will find the work easier and thus will be more likely to excel.
Points of type
When breeders refer to a dog as "typey," they are talking about fine points that make the dog recognizable as a member of its breed. In the Tervuren, we prize small ears, dark eyes with an almond shape, and a smooth headpiece with parallel planes. (There is, not surprisingly, huge disagreement about exactly to what look those qualities should translate.) If a dog is obviously recognizable as a Tervuren, then he carries some degree of breed type. If the dog's breed is questionable, then the dog does not carry good breed type.
Complications arise when we consider the degree to which a dog carries good breed type. The more "points of type" a dog carries, the more he will be valued in the showring as representative of the breed. Some dogs clearly represent their breed, but lack those fine qualities that distinguish outstanding specimens. There is great debate at this time among Belgian breeders about the ideal look for our dogs. For example, the standard calls for a "moderately long" head — how long a head then is correct? Obviously, if the dog looks like a Borzoi, the head is too long. If it looks like a German Shepherd Dog, then the head is too broad. Between these extremes, some people prefer a broader head with a shorter muzzle and more stop, while others prefer a very long head with only slightly more width across the backskull as across the muzzle, with a longer muzzle and less stop. Assessing what is "correct" is complicated, and there are texts that go into these matters at length.
In the Sprite Tervuren breeding program, we will strive to produce dogs who have moderate heads — their backskull is clearly wider than the muzzle, but the line from the muzzle to the backskull is smooth. We like to see parallel planes with a moderate (but definite) stop, and a muzzle whose length is equal to the length of the backskull. It is our belief that this combination results in the prettiest expression in our Tervuren.
Overall appearance is extremely important at Sprite Tervuren. We rejoice in dogs who possess a beautiful outline and a pretty head. The overall look of a Belgian should be of a medium-sized dog who displays both elegance and sturdiness. We strive to produce dogs who have both good structure and the elegant look that speaks of an intelligent dog with great courage and strength. Such a dog should be immediately recognizable as a Belgian Tervuren.
Systematically matching puppies to handlers increases the likelihood that the puppies will thrive under the training they receive, and that the handlers will enjoy the training process. A positive training relationship builds mutual trust and respect between a dog and his handler—a prerequisite for truly excellent training results.
Please read Denise's article, The Match Game: Matching Specific Puppies to Specific Handlers for our thoughts on placing each puppy in the appropriate home.
In selecting their stock, all breeders make numerous compromises and choices with the intent of breeding toward their own ideal of the "perfect" dog. In turn, the tradeoffs necessitate that flesh-and-blood puppies are not perfect. What you should demand from a breeder, and what we promise to deliver, is honesty about the dogs we are attempting to produce, and honesty about both our successes and our failures.
Hoflin Series: Incorporating Working Temperament Into a Breeding Program
- Part 1: What Is Working Temperament
- Part 2: Evaluating Working Animals For Your Breeding Program
- Part 3: Choices and Consequences
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