It always surprises me when it becomes apparent that breeders and exhibitors aren’t frequently reading and rereading the breed standard. Even if they do, they fail to understand it.  They ask no questions and they wallow in uncertainty, not knowing why they win or, worse, don’t win. So, when was the last time you read our Standard? 

The Breed Standard is the bible of every breed. In some religions, the Bible gets read from beginning to end every year. Page by page. Word for word. It gets discussed and analyzed for what it means on an on-going basis. Many breeders and exhibitors (should I add judges?) really haven’t taken the time to understand the Standard and its nuances, even if they purport to have read it.  Let’s go over a few sections of the Havanese Standard which are most frequently misunderstood. (I will come back to this topic in future columns due to limited space here.)

One of the essential characteristics of Havanese is the topline. Very few Havanese actually have a correct topline. Perhaps people don’t look at their own dogs objectively or really don’t understand the words, “The straight topline rises slightly from the withers to the croup.”  Straight means no curve. Rises slightly means goes up a little bit from level… not a triple black diamond ski slope!  Many judges don’t understand this nuance either. Because it’s easy to see, judges too often reward an exaggerated rise.  That’s as bad as rewarding no rise at all!  Many people think any rise, even curved, is good. Wrong. Remember that the Standard says, “straight.” Some people mistake the word ‘straight’ for the word ‘level.’  Learn the difference and learn how to apply it.  Look carefully at a photograph of your dog in a show ring. Is the coat presentation masking the topline? Profuse coat in the middle of the back can make the topline look roached in the middle. Also, do you find yourself teasing the hair over the loin to create a rise? Most judges also know this trick. So, whom are you kidding?  And when you breed an incorrect topline to another incorrect topline, guess what you get?  

Tail set and carriage. Our standard addresses this in one succinct sentence, “The tail is high set and arches forward up over the back.” Set is where the tail comes out of the body; carriage is how the tail is held over the body.  When you look at a dog, learn to know the difference.  A low-set tail can be carried correctly but still not be correct.  A high tail set will enhance the look of a correct topline.  This profile is a distinct breed characteristic.  A high-set tail more easily allows the tail to be carried correctly.  Stress for a dog with a low-set tail may result in the dog ‘dropping’ his tail while moving. While standing, a dropped tail is permissible.

Frequently these days, I am observing Havanese being bred and rewarded in the ring whose heads don’t look like Havanese heads. While I wouldn’t characterize Havanese as being a “head” breed, a correct head is what gives the breed its endearing expression.  What should be a broad, slightly rounded skull with parallel planes and a muzzle slightly less than the length of the skull has too often become a long, down-faced muzzle. Happily, many judges are picking up on this issue and are able to appreciate dogs with correct heads.  More exhibitors and breeders should be sensitive to this, too.

The lengthiest section of the Standard discusses presentation.  A future article will be devoted to that section in its entirety.

It is not enough to read a standard.  We each need to understand what we’ve read!

–Alice L. Lawrence,
Havanese Club of America