Friday, July 23, 2010

Weight - a Lightening Rod

Anyone that knows me personally or reads my blog knows that it K-I-L-L-E-D me to put weight on Bug, both last year and again this year, to finish him. However, I made a good faith agreement with his/my breeder, Holly, to try and finish him when he came home with me. He was finishable and only needed 3 singles at that time. The hard work of finding majors was already done.

Unfortunately, I learned the hard way that a dog, or at least a Cardigan, cannot be competitive in the breed ring at performance weight. "Performance weight" equals xylophone ribs. I want to feel every single one of those suckers and see them, too.

This year I half-heartedly started fattening him up because I was really hesitant to put weight on him while he was coming back from an injury. I received his Physical Therapist’s blessing to put weight on him for the show ring and so I started by upping his food.

In order to be competitive in the breed ring Bug eventually gained 5.4 pounds (starting weight was 31 pounds). That is 17% of his body weight. Imagine gaining that much weight in 5-6 weeks? I think it is safe to say you would be miserable.

At 34 pounds, after he did nothing at a show, I spoke to the judge about what she liked and didn’t like in my dog. Her sole complaint about Bug was his weight. That confirmed what my handler and Holly had been saying for weeks - the weight discrepancy between performance and the breed ring is real. Judges do not like skinny dogs regardless of their structural attributes or the fact that it does not say anywhere in our breed standard that a Cardigan must be heavy. Note: there is a difference between bone and weight.

I had been in denial; Bug needed to be heavier in order to be competitive.

Ultimately I had to resort to adding Satin Balls to his diet in order to reach his "show weight," that lucky number where the judges think he looks "good." For Bug “show” weight is 36 pounds, for other Cardigan dogs I know it is closer to 40 pounds, for some it might be below 36 pounds.

As it turns out Bug’s Physical Therapist was astounded by the impact the additional weight had on his swimming (he had trouble swimming straight! and was listing a lot more), UWTM (he was lagging) and general muscle health (iliopsoas started showing signs of tightness after being very soft and pliable for months). I am surprised that she was so surprised, only because the mantra at rehab is "a thin dog is a healthier dog." Repeatedly they witness that taking weight off a dog has them acting 10 years younger. Why should it not work in reverse?

Bug is now on a fairly strict diet. He has lost 2.5 pounds of the 5.4 pounds he gained to be competitive in the breed ring. He will not be going back to agility or herding until he reaches a minimum of 31 pounds. My personal opinion, obviously influenced by having a long backed dog and dealing with soft tissue injuries, is that it is not healthy for a dog to be training and competing heavily in performance sports at breed ring weight.

Can a dog do it? Can a dog be at show weight and compete in herding or agility? Absolutely. Is it wise? In my personal opinion, I think the likelihood of an injury occurring goes up astronomically. Having dealt with soft tissue injuries not even caused by performance sports, but definitely impacted by weight, I don’t think it is worth the risk.

In the future, in order to get the right dog (i.e. great structure plus temperament) I would consider the breed ring again. However, while that dog was showing I would stick with foundation work and avoid heavy, repetitive training of contacts and weaves or trialing.

What I would really like is to see a trend toward dogs in the breed ring at the appropriate working weight. Is that possible?

What are your thoughts about weight and dogs? What about the discrepancy between performance weight vs. breed ring weight? I would love to know what you think, particularly those of you with long backed dogs where weight can contribute to back issues.


manymuddypaws said...

I think it's really, really crappy that fat dogs win in the breed ring. When I was showing Wicca she was beat all the time by her fat brother who not only was out of shape and huge, but also had a bad temperament. But he'd get breed every time over my skinny, happy go lucky bitch. I gave up and spayed her.

Cardigans aren't the only breed that have a difference between show and breed weight/size. I would say pretty well every breed has a similar issue to varying degrees. This year the show that hosted the Cardigan Specialty also had a Lab specialty and I was pretty horrified to see them. Huge fat dogs that could barely waddle around the ring. It was pretty awful.

Sara said...

Wow, that is all so interesting. I know pretty much zip about the breed ring, and what is expected. Seems like they want what is almost unhealthy, especially as the dog gets older.

Seems like most dogs were originally bred to do some sort of "work" and were most likely kept lean as a result. I wonder when the expectation changed?

Katrin said...

Well you know where I stand when it comes to weight- skinny is preferred. Monty weighs 28#s and all those ribs can be acconted for.

Red Dog Mom said...

I think it really depends on the individual dog. Sam, Bug's grandpa, was actively competing in breed and agility at the same time. He weighed between 36 and 38 lbs but he's a big, rangy guy and any lighter than 36 he starts looking emaciated. He was also considerably older - 7-8 years old - so more physically mature.
As Sam ages, I don't worry so much about his weight but he's pretty steady in that 36-38 lb range. However, I also think about the fact that if I keep his weight super low, if he becomes really ill he won't have any reserves to draw from.
I check ribs regularly and if anyone feels like they are carrying more than a "summer weight" blanket over those ribs, a diet ensues.

Taryn said...

I really don't see the point of breed ring dogs being so fat. It certainly doesn't compliment their structure, as the musculature and bone structure can't show through. I definitely don't get it.

As to performance weights, I work very hard to keep my guys ribby. If I think there is any weight gain, someone misses a meal or two. Unfortunately for Wilson, it's usually him. He's a big boy(13 inches at the withers), and even slim he weighs 39 pounds. Jimmy(12 inches) seems to stay slim easier and weighs in at 33.5 - 34 pounds. Both the chiro vet and canine masseuse we see say Wilson could still benefit from losing another pound or two, but then he almost would get no food at all! Most "pet people" think my dogs are too skinny, but then most "pet dogs" are FAT.

Cat, Tessie, & Strata said...

Like everyone else here, I hate the fact that fat dogs are what is "in vogue" in the breed ring.

In both of my breeds, it is not quite as bad, but I would probably have to put 1-2lbs on Strata (my Sheltie) and 3-4lbs on Tessie (my Springer) to be similar to everyone else.

Neither of these breeds are shown "fat", but the thing is, judges and breeders are BOTH unfamiliar with seeing either of these breeds in hard, working condition. You put your hands on Strata or one of his performance siblings and they feel like rock sculptures under all that hair. HARD muscles and every rib able to be felt.

Kathy said...

Well, I think it is no secrete that I think the bring ring was origionally in my understanding showing to see whose dog was the best of his breed, which was a breed developed for certain jobs. I think with my breed Border Collies, you look at the breed ring and those dogs usually have NO relation in looks or structure to working dogs and as heavy as corgis sound like they are in the breed ring those are dogs that could not do the work they were bred to do. Can you imagine them herding cows all day at those weights and trying to stay alert enough and fast enough darting around to not get hurt? I keep hearing about lots of breeds where they breed for weird things that actually make dogs unable to perform the job they were bred for, and what sense does that make. Isnt it funny that having the dogs at a working condition also keeps them safe and healthier, hummmm. I wish for the sake of all of our dogs and where all the breeds are going that the dog world would appreciate dogs for how they are supposed to look and what matches their origional purpose.

Dawn said...

I was able to show Peace to her Ch at a working weight. She still occasionally wins at her working weight. Perhaps though she would win more often with more weight, but I wont do that. She is not as lean as it sounds like some prefer though. She is slightly over 30 pounds, you can see her ribcage, but there is a slight layer over it. On the other hand she is well muscled. I have had judges comment on her muscle tone.

I will say that last weekend at the UKC show, the dogs in general were much more lean than you see at AKC. And many of the working dogs were awarded top honors. In fact 2 of the BIS for the weekend were weight pull dogs, a hairless crested with great muscle tone and a pittie.

Sam said...

What bothers me is that judges don't appreciate a lower-weight, active dog. I feel like they should know that being skinny is much better for a working dog (seriously, ever see an overweight working BC??).

I have heard that the problem is pretty political in nature - that there are judges who'd probably like to put up smaller, skinnier dogs, but don't because of the flack they might get from others. Don't know how true that is, since I have no experience in the breed ring.

I, personally, prefer a skinny dog. I like to see at least a little bit of rib. Marge is actually still pretty skinny, but not skinny enough for my taste. In the winter, she really drops down because she's so active.

Joanna said...

I've honestly not seen that judges don't like thin dogs. I finished Clue very easily, and she was 26-27 lb at the time. She finished when she was two, and the last weekend I actually took off weight so she'd be back to very light and fit before I let her be seen. Friday is in the ring now and she's quite thin; Sarah's boy puppy is thin and light. I haven't had my hands on Cheryl's young Smarty kids but they don't look heavy to me.

Judges do tend to like a substantial Cardigan, but that's not weight. That's bone and general skeletal and muscle mass. A good substantial dog can be at herding weight, even be a SMALL dog at herding weight, and still look very impressive. A soft dog with light bone is not substantial; she's just fat.

I don't get my Cardis down to the point that I can see rib, because in my dogs that means they've lost every bit of width. They'll burn the internal fat and a substantial amount of muscle, especially in the rear, before they take off that last bit between the ribs, and they end up looking and feeling like crap. I DO want to feel every rib easily with my palm.

Since I got to see Bug finish, which was super fun, I can tell you that in no way did I have the impression that he got the point because he was heavier. The judge just liked him. He was very consistent that day and was putting up dogs that looked and moved like Bug.

There are a LOT of fat Cardigans out there, and that means there are a lot of fat Cardigans in the ring. But if you see those same dogs in the Veterans class later, they're even fatter and it's obvious that the owner just keeps her dogs that way at home. Thankfully we're not in as bad shape as the Pems, where I've seen six-month-olds who already had big rolls round their necks, but we definitely have some breeders and owners who don't know what a fit dog is. But I've honestly not seen that attitude carry over into the judging decisions.

teri said...

I am clueless about the breed ring. But having an active cardigan, thin is in. Gimli is small...10 inches at the withers and his agility weight is 25 lbs. Since retiring he has gained about 2 lbs. I cant imagine how uncomfortable he would be as a butterball. He already has shoulder issues, add 5 lbs and wouldnt be able to move at all. We do therapy work at the hospital, and everyone always complements how great of shape he in. More specifically I hear 'wow! A corgi with a waist!' :)