Coughlin’s Defense of the Standard (1946)

(After reading an interpretation of the standard written in an issue of Blueprints 1946 edition, Mr. Henry W. Coughlin wrote a five page letter to the secretary and editor of Blueprints. He expressed his interpretation of the standard and his “consternation and distress” over the previously printed article.)

January 23, 1946

Dear Roessle:

I read the recent issue of the Kerry Blueprints with some consternation and a real distress. I speak particularly, and with such restraint as I can muster, of this business of a Kerry Blue being contained in an 18—inch square.

When I first saw the sketch of the hemmed—in Kerry on page 39 of the Club’s Breed Book, to which the last Blueprints refers, I devoutly hoped it was a draftsman’s error and you were lost for something to fill up the page. After reading the recent issue of the Blueprints, however, with its recommendation that judges should frown upon Kerries over or under the dimensions you refer to, the necessity of taking it seriously became urgent indeed. If it is not quickly subjected to the spotlight of thorough scrutiny, the original error can lead to a full comedy of errors.

I have no quarrel with the objective of producing Kerries standing 18 inches tall or thereabouts. It is with squeezing an 18—inch Kerry’s body into 18 inches from the point of shoulders to the face of the buttocks that I take vehement exception.

This error, an egregious one, flows from the too common failure to distinguish between short bodies and short backs. Neither the standard, nor reason, nor plain Kerry sense calls for a short body from the point of shoulders to the rear face of the buttocks. A consideration of Kerry anatomy will make demonstrably clear that to foreshorten that dimension will compel sacrificing power and proper angulation of the front and rear.

The standard could, and I think properly, demand a fairly short back, although it doesn’t. By back, I mean the distance between the withers and the stern or point of set—on of tail. Additional length of body on front of the withers and behind the pelvic region means additional power, flexibility and free movement, of which the Kerry is particularly capable because of its well—developed and powerful quarters.

Only with that additional length in front can you secure the long shoulder blade and its approach. to a right angle with the bone of the upper arm. A shoulder well laid back gives the long forearm which, in combination with a short back, is so desirable in any Terrier or Hunter. And it is only with the additional length behind that you can have the wide hams, long thighs and well—bent stifles which can properly support the weight in movement, and which enable a terrier to stand like a cleverly made hunter, covering a lot of ground. So much for the significance of a short back as against a short body.

Turning now to the Kerry standard, it does not specify that the back be short, but weasels with the words “medium 1ength”. I quote:

“BODY——Back strong and straight, medium in length, well— coupled. Loin short and powerful, ribs fairly well—sprung, deep rather than round.”

The word “medium” is, of course, open to interpretation. The dictionary defines it as, “that which lies in the middle; hence, middle condition or degree.”

Just what the specified Kerry back length is in the middle of is not clear. I am sure we all would agree that the Boston terrier’s back should not come into consideration as defining the lower limit of short back length. It is so extremely short that it gives rise, along with stifling free movement, to the Caesareans and other whelping troubles which are all too common in this breed. Confining ourselves to the Terrier Group and checking the other terrier standards, it would be a fair conclusion that the shortest end of the scale for reference is the ultra short back demanded in the fox terrier. What the long end of the scale should be, as to which the Kerry length would be medium, it is difficult to conjecture. Possibly only one point of reference is necessary, namely, the short end.

The Irish Terrier people handle the problem with the inimitable Gaelic approach of defining the short back by what it ain’t. Their standard states, quite bluntly, “The short back, so coveted and appealing in the fox terrier, is not characteristic of the Irish terrier. It is objectionable.” The merit in the Irish Terrier people’s approach~ should not be dismissed too lightly.

It would be putting it too mildly to state that the suggestion that a Kerry body be contained within an 18—inch square confuses the accepted Kerry standard. If one were to follow both these instructions and force a Kerry 18 inches tall having a medium, not a short length, back into the square, the customary section of the Kerry which lies forward of the withers, if any section remained at all, would give you a nightmare instead of a dog, I shudder at the thought of such a Kerry in motion, if he could move at all, with the resulting flattening—out of the angulation of the shoulder.

One of the most impressive attributes of a well—made Kerry, and which, to a large extent, makes him stand out in the Terrier Group is the controlled power and beautiful freedom of movement which he exhibits, as contrasted with the stilted gait of many of the smaller terriers. To sacrifice this characteristic, as this square box would do, should give us deep and serious pause.

I made it a point to trace the origin of this square concept and found that it ran back to the book, “The Modern Kerry Blue Terrier1’, written a number of years ago by Mrs. Violet Handy, the British handler. On page 13 of that book, where the offending drawing appears, she states, referring to the Kerry Blue:

“The chief points for consideration are the relative proportions of the skull and the foreface, length of the head, length of neck, height at withers and length of back from withers to set—on of tail. The ideal proportion is reached when the height and length measurements are the same. (See drawing.) A more detailed description of each point follows. This description is only to help novices, and, of course, there is no hard and fast rule. But if a Kerry Blue is as well—balanced as this, and has the other essential points, he should be a very good one.”

The drawing is a typical Fox Terrier, with little resemblance to a Kerry Blue, and it may well have simply reflected Mrs. Handy’s personal feeling, at that time, that a Kerry should look like a Fox Terrier, in which breed she was also interested.

Having a Kerry in mind, with its typically freer and more powerful movement that the Fox Terrier, I found it very difficult to reconcile the above Statement on balance with the “other essential points” of Mrs. Handy’s book. Typically, on page 17, she illustrates her idea of the correct body with the shoulder blade making approximately a right angle with the bone of the upper arm, in reference to which on an earlier page she states,

“SHOULDERS——Front View: They should slope steeply downwards from the withers to the elbows. Side View: They should be long, well laid back, and should slope obliquely backwards from points to withers, which should be clean—cut. A shoulder well laid back gives the long forearm, which, in combination with a short back, is so desirable in any Terrier or Hunter.”

I was finally compelled to the conclusion that Mrs. Handy was simply attempting to give rough guidance and only for the novice as she expressly states, for her Fox Terrier type standard would raise great ructions with the Kerry Blue’s usual conformation.

Sometime since ‘the book was written, Mrs. Handy must have had occasion to change her views, for in a recent public statement she is now advocating a conformation radically at odds with this original idea of forcing a Kerry into a square.
In the January 1946 issue of the American Kennel Gazette our esteemed George Proctor quotes from a lecture by Mrs. Handy on Kerries at a recent English show, as follows:

“Shoulder angulation”, according to Mrs. Handy, ‘can make or mar a Kerry. Balance in a Kerry may be confirmed by the following rough measurements: Nose to occiput should equal occiput to withers and withers to stern should be two and one—half times the length of either of these. From the withers to the toes should be a similar measurement, giving a square, balanced In his column Mr. Proctor comments that Mrs. Handy has a lot of truth in what she says.

Adopting the above proportionate measurements, a Kerry having a 7 1/5—inch head length would be 18 inches from the withers to the stern and 18 inches high at the withers. This is a far cry from the compression of a Kerry into an 18—inch square from the point of shoulder to the face of the buttocks. Such a Kerry would be more nearly framed by a rectangle 18 inches high and, I would estimate, 21 to 23 inches long. The body length in excess
of 18 inches would obviously be the greater the better the angulation of shoulder.

I am relieved indeed to see that Mrs. Handy has let the Kerry out of that trap, free to breath and move as beautifully as is his wont. I say this without expressing any opinion as to the merits of her newest suggestion until it has been the subject of thorough analysis and critically explored Meanwhile I wonder what happened to the Kerry which anybody might have bred on the strength of Mrs. Handy’s earlier recommendation that the whole body be hemmed within an 18—inch square.

This now leaves the current recommendation of the sauare in the lap of Kerry Blueprints which is proudly holding the sack from which Mrs. Handy, its original sponsor, has wisely seen fit to vanish.
If you still feel that a Kerry Blue Terrier’s body should fit into an 18—inch square I feel it at least should be made a subject for thorough analysis and discussion by the Club members. Meanwhile, I would suggest, with propriety, that any action be suspended in conveying the above recommendation to judges, as the Kerry Blueprints has in my opinion ill—advisedly and prematurely suggested.

I have no doubt that you will wish to print this letter in full in the next issue of the Kerry Blueprints so that it will come to the attention of the same recipients as the Kerry Blueprints issue which evoked these comments. It will at least serve to caution the recipients against taking breeding steps or other unfortunate action until the question is finally and officially settled.

Henry W. Coughlin

Last Updated: 08/24/2003, 7:18 pm