When asked to quickly summarize Skye Terrier breed type, most long-time devotees will respond, “Long, low, and level.” And the Skye certainly is. However, these words are not the first used to frame the ideal specimen in the breed’s AKC standard. In this breed blueprint, the Skye is initially described as a dog of “style, elegance, and dignity; agile and strong with sturdy bone and hard muscle.”
Only in contextualizing these descriptors is it said that our breed should be “long, low and level.” In other words, long, low, and level is WHAT the dog should be--- but having both a bearing of style, elegance, and dignity AND strength and agility is HOW the Skye should be. While these may seem like subtle distinctions, the way breeders and judges prioritize these descriptors may have potentially great implications for our breed’s trajectory.
Though I have often read the breed standard, it has recently occurred to me that I have typically focused more in its descriptions of structure than essence. I have begun to think more deeply about the implications of the words used to describe the essence of our breed—and have found them helpful in getting back to the “big picture” of ideal Skye Terrier breed type. Interestingly, doing so has also helped me to better understand various structural elements as well.
For example, it has been said that the breed standard for the Skye is the only one among the terrier breeds to use the word “elegant” in describing an ideal specimen. When watching our breed run around the ring or across the dog park, he should distinguish himself as such. From my humble perspective, in order to evaluate style, elegance, and dignity, is it important to see our breed on the move.
In keeping with this focus on movement, for many Skye breeders, an excellent front is the “holy grail.” It seems to me that this goal would become even more elusive if one only selected for lowness. From my perspective, it is an eye towards elegance that moves the breeder to balance the demands of lowness with structural soundness. Selecting for lowness alone could potentially result in straighter fronts, greater likelihood of premature bone closure, or extreme curvature of the front legs, each a predisposition in the breed which could compromise the quality of life for individual dogs and set breeders back for several generations.
Judges must also be vigilant in reinforcing these essential breed descriptions. Simply pointing to the longest, lowest, and most level dog in the ring may inadvertently reward a dog who is too coarse, possessed of a stilting gait (the result of straight shoulders), or a gifted handler who can make any dog seem level. Indeed, it takes more than lowness, longness, and levelness to create style, elegance, and dignity. A dog may be structurally proficient, but does a dragging tail, flagging countenance, and the absence of any terrier pluck conjure up the image of strength and agility? Such characteristics are the exact opposite of style, elegance, and dignity.