Judging the Bearded Collie
© Chris Walkowicz
Judging a ringful of bouncing furballs can be intimidating. This is especially true for those who have no experience with coated breeds or with dogs that seem to circle the ring on their hind legs, fully intent to a) plant muddy front paws on your chest or b) wash your face with unsolicited kisses. Relax, brethren! Not all Beardies bounce one-hundred percent of the time, and, contrary to popular opinion, not all handlers encourage it. It does, however, occur and, if an occasional Beardie bounce puts you off, then it’s probably best not to include the breed on your repertoire.
The Bearded Collie in outline portrays a picture of smooth curves rather than sharp angles. In other words, it’s more of a Van Gogh than a Picasso. It’s not as large and square as the OES, nor as sleek as the Border. As you look at the line-up, you should have the impression of sturdiness, along with a winsome appeal, giving one the feeling of strength, tempered by grace. The Beardie is longer than tall, at 5 to 4 even longer than the German Shepherd. We are now seeing some Beardies that do not have the proper length, giving them an incorrect cobby appearance. Its well-muscled body is covered with a shaggy, harsh coat. It’s a medium-sized dog, one we’d like to keep that way. More than one inch over or under the ideal 21-22″ male and 20-21″ bitch is a serious fault. Similar individuals may offer some surprises in the hands on exam, with differences in bone, musculature, forefront and other aspects covered up by a poufy coat.
Starting with the head, note the expression. With puppies especially, it’s important to brush the hair away from the large, affectionate eyes. The typical Beardie expression, described as “bright and inquiring,” is a mixture of angelic sweetness and charming curiosity, accompanied by a twinkle of devil-may-care. Eye color and pigmentation should tone with the coat, i.e., the darker the coat color, the darker the accoutrements: nose, lips and eyerims. Color should also surround the eyes and cover the ears. If the stop appears to be exaggerated through teased hair, let your fingers do the walking through the hair searching for the moderate stop. The broad, flat skull narrows slightly in the front. Sides of the skull are also flattened, with the head forming a blunt wedge. The foreface slopes slightly downward from the plane of the backskull. The adult’s skull ideally fills the hand with fingers spread, bitches being slightly less corresponding with size difference. The head should not appear fine nor coarse, but be in balance with the rest of the body and bone. Ears are set just below the top of the skull at the edge, lifting slightly when alert.
Although we are now seeing some foreshortened muzzles which give the dog a “cutesy” look, this is not correct. The muzzle should be equal in length to the topskull. Encircle the muzzle with your hand. If your thumb and forefinger meet (allowance made for puppies), check for a snipey muzzle, which is a serious fault. Mouth faults often accompany narrow muzzles or shallow underjaws. Bad bites are being seen once again and, although the Standard simply says “meeting in a scissors bite” without mention of bite faults, they should be discouraged. Breeders prefer to see squared front jaws on puppies. The full muzzle ends in a large, square nose.
While standing in front, move the hand down the front to feel the width of chest and the prosternum, which should be gently curved, neither flat nor as pronounced as a Shepherd’s. Moving to the side, check the gently arched neck, shoulder layback, length of upper arm, depth of chest (at least to the elbow). Withers are approximately two fingers apart. The Beardie’s ribcage is nearly egg shaped, oval with it flattening slightly at about the half way mark. Length comes from the angulation of shoulder and rear, as well as the backward-slanted ribbing. The loin is relatively short, about the breadth of four fingers. The back is level, smoothing into the curve of the croup. A steep or flat croup is a serious fault.
The tailset is low, continuing the smooth lines into a slight curve at the tip. Many Beardies — particularly adult males-exhibit their happy-go-lucky view of life by carrying their tail up during movement. As long as the tail carriage is not curved above the vertical, and the flag lowers (or wags) when stacked, this should not be penalized. The Beardie should be well-muscled which can be checked with a quick feel of the thigh.
Many Beardie exhibitors “judge” a judge’s knowledge by whether the coat texture is examined. The double coat consists of a soft undercoat, with a thick, harsh outercoat, which makes a whispery sound when rubbed between the fingers. Far too frequently, we see long, glamorous coats which do not have the proper texture. Silkiness is a serious fault. Whether they have been softened artificially through conditioners or, worse, through genetics, this is not correct. A slight wave (not wooly or curly) is permissable.
Puppies may have close (often called old-fashioned) or puffy coats. Teens often lose their coats in bizarre fashion, from top to bottom, or front to rear. All these variations are acceptable. Length is less important than texture.
During certain awkward coat stages, the back may seen to roll or bounce when it is actually the hair which is not yet long enough to lie flat. A fully coated dog may hide back faults, so use your hands to feel through the coat to the real topline.
Even the pups exhibit the trademark wee beard. The hair parts naturally and should not be knitting needle perfect. “Trim” is a four-letter word in the Beardie community. Most exhibitors “neaten” stray sprigs of hair so the dog doesn’t appear to be wearing snowshoes, but a natural shaggy look should be the goal, not sculptured perfection. Trimming and sculpturing are listed as serious faults in the Standard. PLEASE do not fault the exhibitors who refuse to do it.
Beardies are registered as “born” black, blue, brown or fawn, with or without white markings. The Standard says: “Where white occurs, it only appears on the foreface as a blaze, on the skull, on the tip of the tail, on the chest, legs and feet and around the neck,” i.e., in the Irish pattern. Plain Janes with less white, or even self-colored (I’ve only seen one), should not influence the judge’s opinion — nor should tan markings, or tris, although the tan rarely shows up on a fully-coated adult. One color should never be preferred over another. Skin pigmentation on the muzzle may be freckled or spotted. Probably about 95 percent of all Beardies have the fading factor, meaning the black usually fades to a range of silver to charcoal gray, the blue from powder blue to silver, the brown from sandy to Hershey chocolate, and the fawn from champagne to ecru. This usually occurs during the teenage stage, about ten months to two years. It can be difficult for non-breeder judges to discern whether the dog is a “mismark” or is sporting white beyond the preferred pattern. If in doubt as to color, note the pigmentation and the tips of the ears which usually retain color. After this stage, the Beardie will once again darken, usually to the color of the ear tips. It is unlikely a Beardie with “pinto” markings will be shown under you, but the true white is a glistening snowy white (such as that on the chest, not the silvery/creamy appearance of the faded teenager.
As a herding dog, the Beardie is lithe and agile and should display strength in movement. The length and size make possible the quick turns, spins and leaps necessary to a dog gathering sheep in the crags, cairns and hills of Scotland. Without the proper musculature and ligimentation, the ideal layback of shoulder won’t take the Beardie where it needs to go.
Thus, correct shoulder angulation, along with the ideal croup and turn of stifle is not enough unless the dog also exhibits it through good reach and drive. Gait should be effortless, with the dog seeming to float easily around the ring with the desirable daisy clipping movement.
In order to judge movement, four legs must be on the ground at least a portion of the time, but it is not rare for a ‘boing’ at a corner or when turning to come back on the diagonal. If the judge is unable to view movement adquately, a request for a repeat performance may be required. At a trot, the Beardie single tracks. Bounciness is definitely part of the persona. And the more a judge coos, the more likely the Beardie is to twiggle (tail wagging the body up to and possibly beyond the shoulder). This doesn’t mean a judge should be brusque, but, if you don’t want them to get up close and personal, don’t schmooze!