Someone recently asked, “What exactly is that supposed to mean?” It surprised me to hear that, as it seems self-evident to me. It was always one of my lynchpins in understanding Scottie type. It seemed odd that someone might not realize its importance. I recalled some lessons from my childhood when conversations with breeders were totally mesmerizing. I could sit for hours and listen to stories of the past or anecdotal accounts of shows. Most importantly I loved hearing discussions and debates on our breed. Many had their own nuances that influenced their breeding but they all agreed that symmetry and balance was essential in understanding our breed. This was referred to so many times from people like Ruth Johnson, Dick Hensel, Bob Marshall, the Grahams, the Kirks, Mrs. Stalter, Barbara Kingsbury, and so many others that symmetry and balance became imbedded in my brain. So much that no matter what Scottie I looked at, the overall picture had to be one of symmetry and balance. It even caused me to lose in Juniors when a judged asked me, “What was the most important thing in my standard?” I responded, “Symmetry and balance” and was told I was wrong. I should have said, “Head, movement or body type.”
In later years as a handler I used symmetry and balance to help my clients better understand how their dog matched up to the standard, even if some of the parts were not quite perfect. But that their dog might deserve to finish because in the end the picture presented was that of a Scottish Terrier. Maybe their dog didn’t have the best head or structure, but the type was still there in that image.
As a new judge learning other breeds this concept helped me better understand ratios and proportions of other breeds; the ability to stand back and see if the silhouette portrayed the correct proportions without getting lost in faults. If I could find that picture I would always find type. The details would follow.
To answer that first question, “What does it mean?” Webster's definition of symmetry reads: the quality of having symmetrical parts; balanced proportions; beauty of form arising from balanced proportions. And Balance: an aesthetically pleasing integration of elements; a state in which different things occur in equal or proper amounts or have an equal or proper amount of importance. When I apply this to our breed I believe it means that if I have a dog with a long elegant head I may find that I am looking at a slightly longer body to balance that head. If a dog is a little taller, then all other parts will be a little larger. If we were to shrink that dog to the proper recommended height all other parts would shrink correspondingly with the shape remaining the same. It is ratios of the parts to the whole as I stand back and look at the outline of the animal that will make it pleasing to the eye with no one part exaggerated (Webster: to enlarge or increase especially beyond the normal). This is the visual cue that I am looking at an outline of correct type.
Today I find many people discussing our breed and getting so hung up on individual pieces of the dog that the dog as a whole is no longer seen. Basically they no longer see the forest for the trees. The danger is that we then end up with caricatures (exaggerations) instead of a balanced dog. Ultimately that may also lead to fault judging.
Consider this, a dog that is not the most sound might win because the whole picture was more correct as a result of being a better balanced dog than the one that moved around the ring perfectly but had a head that belonged on a smaller dog or a neck so long the dog might fall over if it leaned forward. This is something I will always try to impart to people new to the breed. Because at the end of the day when you look at a Scottie you should see a symmetrically balanced outline and not have to wonder if it is an Aussie, Glen, Cairn or Westie.
Kathleen J. Ferris
Published 11/2014 in the AKC Gazette