Tuesday, July 28, 2009

Badgers and Badgering

Today we are featuring a response written in the October, 1970, edition of the American Dachshund magazine which discusses the modern Dachshund and his conformation in relation to badger hunting ability. Specifically, the issues at hand are steep scapulas and short chests, and how these relate to the pet and show Dachshunds of today, or at least in 1970.

We found the reading to be fascinating, not only for the dedication that fanciers have to the breed, but also the humorous and well-written prose.

It also of course begs the age-old question: for if we are not badger dogs, then are we just dogs?
Without any further ado:

Badgers and Badgering
by John Winther
6022 N. E. 107th Ave, Vancouver, Wa, 98662

I was reminded of the fancy's badger problem in July issue where George Spradling registered shock to find in the show ring Dachshunds, some of whom were low-stationed, steep of scapula, and/or short of chest. These faults were viewed as impediments to their bearers for the singular though hypothetical task of slaying badgers.
Mr. Spradling's comments implied that his show placements reflected a sort of badger-killer ranking. Presumably, his winners were most suited for doing-in badgers, while the lesser specimens were perhaps better fitted for more mundane tasks.
While I get a certain vicarious pleasure in the thought that my resident Teckels are keeping badgers out of the snapdragons, I must admit the matter of relating form to function still has me puzzled. Estimating performance in the field from appearance at ringside may be frightfully simple for an old badger killer like George, but my efforts in this direction are beginning to sap the morale of my pack. In a nutshell, I keep rewarding the wrong dogs for keeping the badgers away.
I don't claim to be an authority on the North American badger, Taxidea taxus, much less the European form, although I will confess to a bit of clandestine checking in the local public library recently just to see what the dogs were up against.
To begin with, the badger standard reads almost like a Dachshund standard. I was pleased to learn that both badgers and Dachshunds were robust mammals. Similarly, standard weights for both run 12-24 lbs., a fair match. When I learned that badger holes are about 1 ft. in diameter, I made a mental note to cull any Dachshunds whose dimensions exceeded the proper fit. I skimmed quickly over the part which said badgers 'toe-in' markedly because I remembered that their fossorial friends, the moles, 'toed-out.' Alteration of the Dachshund standard to 'toes-ahead' now struck me as a reasonable compromise.
I was disappointed to discover that badgers do not climb, especially since I have Ami, a rash and persevering Smooth Standard bitch, who does. Just last week I surveyed the trees in the vicinity looking for badgers. Finding none, I praised Ami and rewarded her with a pound of choice chuck. The scapulae which permit Ami to climb are the very same that she uses for walking, running, and digging. That there remains hope for her rests on her excellence in the latter endeavor.
Since badgers move around mostly at night, the thought struck me that Sally probably also deserved some recognition as she has the best nose. She tracks anything and wouldn't be caught dead with her snoot more than 3/8th of an inch from the ground. She has killed rats and cats and rabbits - and will bite on sight anyone who looks like my father - all in all, a poor show prospect, but the best hunter of the bunch, and a show champion son to her credit.
Hummer is a digger, using her scapulae some, but especially her long strong nails. I'm not sure that she is more effective at excavating than say a razor clam or mole, but I am sure she looks more like a dog. I think this is what the badger killers sometimes forget - the Dachshund is more dog than digger.
As my experience in the exhibition of Dachshunds increases, my respect for the placements of multi-breed judges continues to grow. The all-rounders tend to judge Dachshunds as dogs. Probably only rarely would one claim that he was able to sight-rank a class as to its potential for killing badgers. I have never heard a judge of Chows speculate as to the culinary potential of his entry, nor is it likely that a Poodle judge makes his awards with waterfowling in mind.
The subject of Dachshunds and badgers must be confusing to the new fancier. If he tries to grapple with the problem of optimum scapular angle in relation to the historical art of badger throttling, it must be difficult to also monitor the realities of the show ring.
Perhaps we should all be reminded from time to time that the Dachshund is first and fundamentally a dog. The experienced exhibitor eventually learns that good dogs, regardless of breed, share many features in common. Gait and showmanship, for example, have little to do with the specialized tasks for which the various breeds were originally bred. Must we lose sight of the fact that dog shows today are just that - half dog, and half show.
Like George Spradling, I too kill badgers in my sleep. Most exhibitors, however, would be well advised to leave the badger killing to the dreamers. Show dogs merely have to symbolize their heritage. Until such time that someone throws a badger into the ring, it is probably best that we study the handlers who win and learn to pose the scapulae and other parts into a suitable facsimile of the attack stance.

Here is the column to which Mr. Winther replied, from the July, 1970, edition of the American Dachshund magazine:

By George C. Spradling
923 First National Bank Bldg., Wichita, Ks 67202

The Longshore-Southport show held June 7 at Wilton, Ct, had an entry of 90 dogs with few absentees. If we may consider the entry as a fairly good cross section of the present dogs in the area, it might be interesting to compare them with the dogs shown in shows I have judged or attended in that vicinity during the past few years.
On the plus side there were several improvements. Thus, a goodly percent of the dogs shown had good to excellent feet. The reverse was true a few years ago. Back lines and heads were above average; front stance about the same but a little improvement in width of rear stance.
It was, however, shocking to find a large percentage of dogs with steep scapulas. Some of them were so bad the scapula laid right along the neck. Improper layback of the scapula causes padding. In extreme cases it results in substantially a hackney pony gait. Steepness sufficient to cause padding is a fault that seriously impairs the dog in doing the work for which it was bred and hence should be penalized accordingly.
Another serious fault that was more prevalent than average was the number of short chests. A short chest or inadequate ribbing is also a serious fault in that it affects stamina, a necessary requirement for a hunting dog such as the Dachshund. It should be heavily penalized. Too many of the dogs were too low in body stance with the depth of chest at or even below the wrist.
One of the rewards of judging is occasionally finding an outstanding specimen. It doesn't happen too often, but here there were two splendid specimens. sort of a "double-your-pleasure-double your-fun." One was a longhair dog in the Open Class named Bayard L'Aquilon. He was placed Best of Variety and later Third in a strong Hound Group by Mrs. Van Court. the other was a Wirehair bitch who appeared in the Specials class. Her name is Ch Westphal's Donnybrook. Both of these youngsters are of such superior quality they should make spectacular wins in the future. They approach perfection of the characters specified in the Standard.
It was a delight to see them.

Badger image source: early 1900s postcard

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

I am reminded of hunting with my Dachshund, Schatzie, for whom a walk in the woods means an intense search for anything he can sniff out and chase.It really is amazing to see how his hunting instincts manifest themselves, and a real joy to watch his enjoyment of this activity! He has killed...a couple of hapless ducks, and earned his Indian name - Little Wolf, the killer....

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