The Clumber Spaniel, the Standard, and the Judge by Bill Ironside (Belcrum Clumbers UK)

previously published in Clumbers Celebrated 1995

The Kennel Club standard appears to leave so much open to the interpretation of its meaning by individual judges that it is possible to see winners which are as different from each other as chalk is from cheese. I say `appears’ reservedly as there is so much in the standard which is absolutely hard and fast yet is ignored in the ring. This results in such a variety of winners of such different sizes and shapes that the true picture of a Clumber Spaniel becomes extremely blurred, if not lost altogether. It has taken twenty (20) Championship shows this year to see the first Clumber Spaniel reach the short list in a gundog group and we have had no winner nor runner-up in the last three years. What a sad tale when we reflect upon the many honours won by our breed in the past, including of course a Best in Show at Crufts.
In the first nine (9) Championship Shows this year [1994] nine different dogs won Challenge Certificates and in bitches there were eight (8) winners. This could suggest that there are either so many great Clumbers in the ring or that they are all mediocre. There are some extremely good exhibits but not as many as this would suggest. The lack of group placings is evidence that the best is not being seen at this level. Most judges who aspire to judge groups have run the rule over good Clumbers and know the score and they will not “put up” or even “pull out” exhibits which do not acquit themselves well. From a long-time exhibitor’s point it is extremely sad to see your breed representative acquit him-, or herself poorly. The future of this lovely breed is in the hands of the person in the centre of the ring whose knowledge of the standard, and its application, are of paramount importance.
Although the standard is termed a guide it is not just this as there are so many points which are emphatic and are not open to other than one interpretation. It bears close investigation and at least some comment in trying to see how the authors intended it to be read and applied. This then is how the standard describes the mature Clumber Spaniel to me. This picture has been arrived at from long experience with the breed in showing a great many good dogs, working them and breeding them. I had my first experience of a Clumber when I was three years old, 67 years ago. I believe we lost him when he was years old, but have been unable to trace him despite my database of some three thousand Clumbers. I came back into the breed about twenty five (25) years ago and was lucky enough to campaign what was possibly the first Clumber of modern times to become a real force in both the show ring and the field. I refer of course to Champion Tollylog Angus Mor of Belcrum who appears in the pedigree of most of today’s top Clumbers so I think I can claim more than a modicum of knowledge of the breed.


“Well balanced, heavily boned, active with a thoughtful expression, overall appearance denoting strength.” This then is the picture one should see when the dog, or bitch enters the ring. Balance is easily gauged by the judge with an eye for a dog. Heavy bone means just that. Activity does not mean racing round the ring like a Dervish, but refers to movement befitting the size and dignity of the dog. Expression is judged on close inspection of the dog and the eyes are here to be read. The saying goes “The eyes reflect the soul”. Where the problem often arises is in applying the phrase: `Overall appearance denoting strength’. This is disregarded most of the time as so often very moderately boned animals are put forward. The main faults are lack of width of thigh and the non-existence of second thigh, high hock joints, giving no drive from the hindquarters, upright shoulders, preventing the dog reaching forwards, soft pasterns and dipping back. A strong, well muscled neck should carry the head proudly. Strong, but not too heavy shoulders in good angulation should make the picture complete.


Not readily apparent in the ring with the possible exception of intelligence which he displays in his expression and his general demeanor and behaviour.


Too little attention is paid to this with the result that the breed now harbours more than its fair share of vicious and of nervous dogs. Such a fine line divided these two character flaws. The really vicious dog is usually quite predictable whereas the nervous one cannot be relied upon once it becomes frightened or upset. Its only recourse, should it think itself in danger, is to resort to its teeth to protect itself. Again, a dog of any breed cringing its way round the ring is a pitiful sight. Too many dogs are unapproachable on the benches and far too many carry their aggression into the ring and attack other dogs and even the judge. Sometimes the excuse is offered that the perpetrator is a stud dog and is allowed this lapse in character. This is nonsense. Vicious behaviour in the ring must be dealt with harshly, as must similar conduct on the bench if we are to retain the fine reputation the breed enjoys and which makes it so very attractive as a family dog.


There are those who put far too much emphasis on the quality, or quantity, of head. This is only one part of the dog and, although very important in deciding type, it should not be allowed to sway the judge unduly. After all in the old system of judging it was only worth a maximum of 10 points out of a total of 100. It is not a simple task to judge and compare heads on their own let alone reach a balanced assessment of the dog overall.
The standard states “Head and Skull:- Square, massive, medium length, broad on top with decided occiput, heavy brows, deep stop, heavy, square muzzle with well developed flews. No exaggeration in head and skull.” The study of the Clumber head is to be approached with a great deal of care and the way to approach this is to look for balance in the make-up of the head and between the head and the remainder of the animal. Luckily the standard allows one to do this as eyes, ears and neck are separately described. Beware of short stubby muzzles as gundogs must be able to pick-up and carry game. Again a long snipey muzzle is undesirable. Eyes too close together spoil the expression and are completely uncharacteristic. Once the features itemized in the above have been studied individually they must then be included in the final assessment of the head as a whole. One just cannot be too careful when judging the head properties as this is most important in assessing `type’ but it is only one part of the make-up of the dog and should be seen in its correct perspective. The head is important but must not be allowed to outweigh the remainder of the standard. Beware of the overdone head but remember that there must be character in it and it must be a large head.


“Clean, dark amber, slightly sunk, some haw showing but without excess. Full light eyes highly undesirable.” There has always been this question of haw and unfortunately the standard does not really cover the amount that can be visible but it does state that haw is shown, a point so often overlooked. Individuals may not like it but, as there is provision in the standard for it, they must be guided by this. One finds that dogs with heavy flews show more than others and the standard calls for well developed flews. Not very simple is it? It would seem that the weight of the flew pulls down the lower eyelid thus revealing the “Typical diamond eye” of the Clumber. We are moving towards a tighter eye in the breed, but, until the standard is changed, judges should not penalize any haw showing. Light and protruding eyes which are entirely foreign to the breed, are becoming more acceptable then the correct Clumber eye. A tale of over-correction but without any authority for it.


“Large vine leaf shaped, well covered with straight hair. Hanging slightly forward. Feather not to extend below the leathers.” The standard does not mention how they are set. Low set ears detract from the appearance of the head whilst ears set on top of the head look ridiculous. The position which gives most balance to the head is when the top of the ear is level with the eye. Length is not covered yet one sees so many judges pulling the ears forward at full stretch ostensibly to reach the front of the muzzle or some point beyond. When you study the head of the dog your eye should tell you when the ear is of the correct length. In this instance a judge does have more licence.


“Jaws strong, with a perfect, regular and complete scissor bite, ie. the upper teeth closely overlapping the lower teeth and set square to the jaw.” There should be no problem with this description. This is really precise and covers everything except the number of teeth. The only problem is that this check is often cursory and means nothing. Very often the small teeth at the side of the mouth are missing and this is not detected. The requirement is for a complete scissor bite and for regulatory in the placing of all dentition.


“Fairly long, thick, powerful.” One should be able to see at a glance where it fits into the shoulder and how it carries the head. The broad lump of muscle should be firm to the touch and should extend right along the crest. A short, non-existent neck takes away all the grace of the dog.


“Shoulders strong, sloping, muscular, legs short, straight, well boned, strong.” On the face of it easy to read and apply but beware of those unfit dogs so low on their pasterns and so many unsound dogs suffering from shoulder trouble and upright fronts giving little freedom to stretch the front legs and allow a good coverage of ground when required to move both at work and at play.


“Long,” how long? “Heavy, near to the ground. Chest deep. Well sprung ribs. Back straight, broad, long. Muscular loin, well let down in flank.” This slightly is more difficult if read literally. It could bring up a picture of a Basset Hound or possibly a Dachshund. We have to look much more deeply into the purpose for which the dog was bred to apply this. He is not required to crawl on his belly into tunnels or burrows but he is required to carry large heavy game, keeping it clear of the ground to avoid further damage to it on rough terrain and he is required to get over modest walls and fences both in search of game and when retrieving. To do these tasks he must have quite some clearance from the ground. The fact that his chest should be deep must allow him to be a little longer in the leg than the phrase `near to the ground’ would suggest. It does not state touching the ground. Length again depends upon the height and bulk of the dog and as long as one remembers that he must have an overall appearance of strength and balance it should not be too difficult to interpret the standard as it was meant to be read. Just remember what his purpose is and why he was bred and nurtured for all these years as a gundog. The first and last impression of a Clumber must be that of a dog of great substance. If your eye is suspect then your hands will tell you. When you lay hands on a Clumber you should feel “There’s a lot of dog here”.


“Very powerful and well developed. Hocks,” or more correctly hock joints “set low, stifles well bent and set straight.” To have power in the hindquarters the animal must have muscle carrying along the rib cage and the back down through the thigh and second thigh to drive the rear end and propel the dog forward. Lack of muscle tone and straight stifles give rise to pitter-patter movement and a high unbalanced rump. When the stifles are not correctly set we of course have cow-hocks and the weakness associated with this. Well bent stifles allow the short hocks to really push the back feet off the ground and reach really well forward and cover so much more ground in a stride.


“Large, round, well covered with hair.” Naturally nails should be short and pads sound.


“Set low, well feathered, carried level with back.” Note no mention of whether it should be docked or left in its natural condition. Where tails are docked in other breeds it states this within the standard and when this is not then the assumption is that the tail should be of full length. Judges will do their own thing in this but surely cannot penalize a full tail. If the standard is read literally then the docked tail is the culprit. Don’t let us quibble about this. It will be resolved in time and after all “The tail, long or short, doesn’t wag the dog.” The terrier tail should be penalized more than it is as should any “gay” tail. They stick up like sore thumbs and are entirely uncharacteristic.
The American Kennel Club standard does call for the tail to be docked, but is probably to be amended to allow a choice of docking or of leaving natural tails.


“Rolling gait attributable to long body and short legs. Moving straight fore and aft with effortless drive.” How much of a roll appears in the movement of a sound, well balanced dog? Very little. If the dog moves straight fore and aft surely this means that the hind legs follow in the same line as the front ones. When a dog rolls, the hind legs must move near the centre line of the body, thus going off the true contrary to the requirement for straight forward movement. I feel that this has been carried forward in the standard from the days when the Clumber was a much longer and a much lower slung dog and it no longer applies.


“Abundant, close, silky and straight. Legs and chest well feathered.” There is little room for contention here.


“Plain white body preferred with lemon markings; orange permissible. Slight head markings and freckled muzzle.” One could read the remark re markings as lemon or orange markings. Slight head marking is a bit ideal and limiting.


“Ideal weight Dogs 36kg (80lb) Bitches 29.5kg (65lb).” It is good to see the difference in weight between dogs and bitches. Although this can only be a guide it does show the difference between the sexes. I was reading the American Kennel Club standard the other day and was more than a little surprised to learn that over there it would be possible to have a dog and a bitch of the same height and weight, side by side in the ring and both within the standard. The dog could be at the bottom of the male standard of 19 inches which is the top of the bitch height requirement and they could each weigh 70lb being again the bottom bracket for the dog and top for the bitch. I hear there is a move afoot to further reduce the size of the Clumber over there. I thought you did it all big in the States and I’m sure it is a mistake to change the standard to match the dog. Breed to the standard and don’t spoil the breed. Look what is happening to the English Springer. I never want to see a Clumber come to that. It looks as if the ground work is already being laid for this as I note that there is an allowable variation of three inches in the height of bitches but only two inches in the case of dogs. I would have thought that the other way round would have been more the thing.


When the judge has completed his examination of the dogs in the ring it is time for him to reach his final decision and place the dogs in order of merit. This should be a summing up of all that he has found in the dogs, their good points and their faults, committed to memory which is refreshed as he gives a further cursory examination. If he is unsure of movement he can ask for the dog to be moved again so that he is then more sure this is the dog he really thought it was. He can then confidently choose his line-up and turn to his judging book to enter his placings and comments.
This is how it should be done and often is but now and then it appears that the judge forms his opinion from the picture the dog makes when stacked up in the line up. A lame dog or one with other major faults can look very good when it is only required to stand and look pretty. What has gone before is often forgotten or disregarded and might just as well not have happened. An incorrect bite, a poor front, cannot be seen from a side view. If a judge is not sure that he can recall his findings then he has recourse to making notes and can refer to them at this point so that he does find a worthy winner who will do both him, and the breed, proud.
I shall always remember what a very good, and much experienced judge said to me: “Remember, you are not the only one to judge this dog. Your judging will be judged by those who follow you and has already been judged by the persons who have been over it before, possibly only yesterday.” It is a sobering thought and a good one on which to finish.
No, I am not trying to teach my Grandmother to suck eggs. (She would have to be a very old lady). This is how I hope I judge my favourite breed and I ensure that I read and endeavour to understand the standards of any other breeds I agree to judge. I am not too proud to ask advice from those more knowledgeable in their breeds. Judges must be prepared to learn and to apply the lessons learned fairly without fear or favour and this is how I would like my dogs to be judged. No fair minded exhibitor grudges success to a better dog on the day but it does give rise to a certain amount of chagrin to be placed behind an obviously inferior exhibit.

Good judging can eliminate cause for complaint and a thorough knowledge of the standard is a prerequisite to this. I hope this will help in the interpretation of the standard of the Clumber Spaniel.



2 thoughts on “The Clumber Spaniel, the Standard, and the Judge by Bill Ironside (Belcrum Clumbers UK)

  1. Pingback: Trainee Judges Lectures and Information | Clumber Spaniel League Victoria

  2. Pingback: Trainee Judges Lectures and Information | Clumber Spaniel League Victoria

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