Keeping It Smooth

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Newcomers to our breed may excused if, after watching a number of dog shows, they think the St Bernard Standard must describe a long-haired dog. In fact, the Standard describes a short-haired dog until its final paragraphs, when it adds a few words about the long-haired coat. We often use the terms smooth and rough to distinguish between the two coat types.

The smooth (or stockhaarig) Saints have often been less popular with the buying public and less successful with the judging crowd. Various reasons are thrown up for this: they don't look as big because you can't puff up all that hair with a blow dryer; you can't hide their faults; or they always use roughs in the Hollywood movies. Whatever!

It got so bad about twenty years ago that I felt compelled to write a harshly-worded Fancier article after a National. As I recall, there were only two smooth males entered in the Open Smooth class and none in the Bred-By class. All the top winners were roughs. It made me mad and I said so.

It wasn't just the judging. Judges should always put up the best dog in every class, regardless of coat length. What made me scream was that breeders and exhibitors seemed to be giving up on their smooth dogs and bitches and just leaving them at home. Worse, I was beginning to think that many breeders were thinking that they really didn't need shorthairs in their kennels anymore. Why keep them if they never win?

That kind of thinking leads to disaster. The early Swiss breeders learned that the smooth dogs were absolutely necessary to gaining and holding the correct breed type. Even to the 1960's, Swiss kennels like Leberberg showed this to be true. Albert de La Rie covers this at length in his "The Saint Bernard Classic", still the bible of breed books. Long time, successful breeders understand how true this is and rarely breed rough to rough beyond a couple of generations.

Sadly, in some countries of Europe, such as Belgium, the authorities have taken it upon themselves to declare the smooth and rough as two separate breeds. They do not compete against each other except in the Group ring. Worse, they forbid the interbreeding of the two! This is leading to the utter destruction of proper type in those areas. I know of breeders who are forced to whelp and register their pups in another country before bringing them back to where they live. What bumbling, bureaucratic madness!

On a happier note, on this side of the Atlantic, I find myself most encouraged by both the number and quality of the smooth Saints being shown. Not only shown, but winning at the highest levels. Recent examples include the 2012 National Best Of Breed Winner, Denver, and the 2010 National BOB, Taboo. In certain areas of the country, such as the Pacific Northwest, the smooth entries are equal to or greater than the rough entries. This is a very good sign indeed.

It's not that I like short-hair more than long-hair (and Toni's favorites always seem to be roughs like Eddie) but for whatever reason, if you take the smooths out of the gene pool, the breed degenerates all too quickly. Perhaps the professional geneticists will figure out someday why this is so. In the meantime, I encourage all breeders to Keep It Smooth!