Looking at the Breed Standard from a Performance Perspective

May 8, 2020

Written by:  Megan Esherick CPDT-KA

This post was requested by a long time PBGV breeder who was curious about how aspects of the breed standard impact a PBGV’s performance in dog sports. I thought this was an interesting question and decided the best approach was to go through the breed standard one section at a time. Please note that any opinions expressed are my own and not necessarily speaking for the entire PBGV performance community. The official breed standard appears in italics.

American Kennel Club PBGV Standard

GENERAL APPEARANCE:
The Petit Basset Griffon Vendéen is a French scent hound developed first and foremost to hunt small game over the rough and difficult terrain of the Vendéen region. To function efficiently, he must be equipped with certain characteristics. He is bold and vivacious in character; compact, tough and robust in construction. He has an alert outlook, lively bearing and a good voice freely and purposefully used. 

The most distinguishing characteristics of this bold hunter are: his rough, unrefined outlines; his proudly carried head displaying definitive long eyebrows, beard, and moustache; his strong, tapered tail carried like a saber, alert and in readiness. Important to breed type is the compact, casual, rather tousled appearance, with no feature exaggerated and his parts in balance. 

Any deviation from the ideal described in the standard should be penalized to the extent of the deviation. Structural faults common to all breeds are as undesirable in the PBGV as in any other breed, regardless of whether they are specifically mentioned.

This is really the most important part of the standard. The qualities that make the PBGV well suited for hunting are the same traits that give him the athleticism to compete in agility or the scenting ability for nose work. I do feel like the “voice” portion of this paragraph is often misinterpreted. When PBGVs are hunting are expected to give voice if, and only if, they are on a hot trail. Any another barking on the hunt field is undesirable. In other words, a dog who barks in the breed ring in the absence of rabbits is not displaying that they meet the breed standard. Reality is that PBGVs do bark when they are highly aroused. This isn’t a big problem in agility, but can be a challenge in rally or obedience when every vocalization results in lost points.

Sadly, the casual, tousled appearance described above is no longer rewarded in the breed ring, except under the occasional breeder judge.

SIZE, PROPORTION, SUBSTANCE: 
Size – PBGVs measure between 13 and 15 inches at the withers. Height over 15 inches is a disqualification. Height under 13 inches is a disqualification at one year of age or older. Proportion – When viewed in profile, the body is somewhat longer than tall when measured from point of shoulder to buttocks, as compared to the height from withers to ground. Substance – Strong bone with substance in proportion to overall dog.

Size is one area where the ideal for at least one dog sport differs from what the standard calls for. Because of jump height cutoffs, in the US, a PBGV really needs to be 14 inches or less at the withers to have a competitive agility career. This is probably one of the reasons why many of our top agility dogs have been female. On the hunt field, smaller dogs have an advantage when going into deep cover to flush game, but larger dogs have the advantage on longer pursuits as they tend to have a longer, faster stride. Most really great packs have a balance of both.


Head – The head is carried proudly and, in size, must be in balance with the overall dog. It is longer than its width in a ratio of approximately two to one. A coarse or overly large head is to be penalized. 
Expression alert, friendly and intelligent. 

Eyes large and dark with good pigmentation, somewhat oval in shape, showing no white. The red of the lower eyelid should not show. The eyes are surmounted by long eyebrows, standing forward, but not obscuring the eyes. 
Ears supple, narrow and fine, covered with longhair, folding inward and ending in an oval shape. The leathers reach almost to the end of the nose. They are set on low, below the line of the eyes. An overly long or high-set ear should be penalized. 
Skull domed, oval in shape when viewed from the front. It is well cut away under the eyes and has a well-developed occipital protuberance. Stop clearly defined. 
Muzzle – The length of the muzzle from nose to stop is slightly shorter than the length from the stop to occiput. The underjaw is strong and well-developed. 

Nose black and large, with wide nostrils. A somewhat lighter shading is acceptable in lighter colored dogs. A butterfly nose is a fault. Lips – The lips are covered by long hair forming a beard and moustache. 
Bite – It is preferable that the teeth meet in a scissors bite, but a level bite is acceptable. 

While the description of head and appearance may seem cosmetic, there is a lot in this section that does impact performance. An overly large head will impact a dog’s overall balance and cause them to bear excessive weight on their front. The long eyebrows and the long hair on the ears, while rarely seen the show ring anymore, are absolutely critical to protecting these sensitive areas when hunting in thick cover.

While all dogs are capable of doing nose work or tracking, a PBGV’s large nose and wide nostrils predispose him to be extremely skilled at these activities. A black nose implies a dog with good overall pigment. This is easier to accomplish in darker colored dogs. From a performance standpoint, dark pigment on the feet usually results in fewer paw injuries but nose color itself doesn’t really impact scenting ability. However, chemically changing the color of the nose for the show ring will almost certainly damage the most important of the PBGV’s senses.

An incorrect bite would be most problematic in sports requiring retrieval, like obedience or flyball.

NECK, TOPLINE, BODY: 
Neck –The neck is long and strong, without throatiness, and flows smoothly into the shoulders. 
Topline – The back is visibly level from withers to croup. There is a barely perceptible rise over a strong loin. Viewed in profile, the withers and the croup should be equidistant from the ground. 
Body muscular, somewhat longer than tall. Compact, casual in appearance, with no feature exaggerated and his parts in balance. Chest rather deep, with prominent sternum. Ribs moderately rounded, extending well back. Loin short, strong, and muscular. There is but little tuck-up. 
Tail of medium length, set on high, it is strong at the base and tapers regularly. It is well furnished with hair, has but a slight curve and is carried proudly like the blade of a saber; normally pointing at about two o’clock. In a curved downward position the tip of the tail bone should reach no further than the hock joint. 

While good structure won’t make a performance dog faster or easier to train, a well balanced dog is most likely to have a long career with fewer injuries. PBGVs were bred to work with noses on the ground, so length of neck is an important feature for hunting as well as tracking. A short loin will typically result in tighter turns on the agility course and fewer trips to the chiropractor between trials.

Long tails are more prone to injury, especially on the hunt field. Tail injuries are usually minor, but can take a long time to heal.

The description of the rise over the loin is a bit problematic for me. The more abdominal muscle a dog has, the more evident the rise over the loin will be. I feel like dogs who work regularly are sometimes penalized in favor of dogs who spend more time in crates and exercise pens because breed judges are not familiar with the results of athletic conditioning in dogs.

FOREQUARTERS: 
Shoulders clean and well laid back. Upper arm approximately equal in length to the shoulder blade. Elbows close to the body. 
Legs – The length of leg from elbow to ground should be slightly more than half the height from withers to ground. Viewed from the front, it is desirable that the forelegs be straight, but a slight crook is acceptable. In either case, the leg appears straight, is strong and well boned, but never coarse nor weedy. Improperly constructed front assemblies, including poor shoulder placement, short upper arms, out at elbows, lack of angulation and fiddle fronts, are all serious faults. Pasterns strong and slightly sloping. Any tendency to knuckle over is a serious fault. Dewclaws may, or may not, be removed. 
Feet not too long, between hare and cat foot, with hard, tight pads. The nails are strong and short. 

Agility dogs do thousands of jumps in their careers and they land on their fronts every time. As the sport has become more competitive, shoulder injuries from weaving are also happening more frequently. Front assembly is important!

A PBGV with incorrect proportions is likely to carry more weight than a correct PBGV of the same height, which is a disadvantage in most dog sports.

It is widely accepted among sports medicine veterinarians that dewclaws serve a function and should not be removed.

HINDQUARTERS: 
Strong and muscular with good bend of stifle. A well-defined second thigh. Hips wide, thighs well-muscled. Hocks are short and well angulated, perpendicular from hock to ground. Feet are as in front. Except that they must point straight ahead. 

Agility dogs land on their front, but take off on their rears, so this is just as critical.

Balance is more critical than the amount of angulation, but as a rule straighter dogs will turn more tightly, but more angulated dogs will have a bigger stride length. Moderation is important, as dogs need to be able to both turn and go straight.

COAT: 
The coat is rough, long without exaggeration and harsh to the touch, with a thick shorter undercoat. It is never silky or woolly. The eyes are surmounted by long eyebrows, standing forward but not obscuring the eyes. The ears are covered by long hair. The lips are covered by long hair forming a beard and moustache. The tail is well furnished with hair. The overall appearance is casual and tousled. 

The rough, unrefined outline and tousled appearance of this rustic hunting hound is essential. Any sculpting, clipping, scissoring or shaping of the coat is contrary to PBGV breed type. The PBGV coat should be clean, neatened as necessary, but always remain casually disarrayed. Any deviation from the ideal described here and in the General Appearance Section of the official standard should be penalized to the extent of the deviation. 

A PBGV needs his coat for protection in the field. Most are currently shown with their eyebrows scissored, ears stripped to the leather, and all hair removed from the throat- these dogs can’t hunt without risking serious injury! Big fluffy legs will get caught in the brush. Scissoring will damage the coat.

It’s not usual for dog sports like agility to be held in dirt arenas or outside in all kinds of weather. A correct, harsh coat is dramatically easier to maintain than a soft fluffy one. I worry that there will be less need to breed for this, as it has become acceptable to fake coat texture with styling product in the show ring.

COLOR: 
White with any combination of lemon, orange, black, sable, tricolor or grizzle markings, providing easy visibility in the field. 

People who hunt in open country sometimes prefer lighter dogs for visibility. I don’t think it matters as much for other sports, but wish people would realize that all of the above colors are equally acceptable in the show ring. There’s no need to add red color to grizzle PBGVs to make them more eye catching.

GAIT: 
The movement should be free at all speeds. Front action is straight and reaching well forward. Going away, the hind legs are parallel and have great drive. Convergence of the front and rear legs towards his center of gravity is proportional to the speed of his movement. Gives the appearance of an active hound, capable of a full day’s hunting. 

Not much to add, except that this is important for any sport.

TEMPERAMENT: 
Confident, happy, extroverted, independent yet willing to please, never timid nor aggressive.

Jeff Pepper often points out during judge’s education that “cute” doesn’t appear in the breed standard. I would like to point out that the word “naughty” also doesn’t appear either. PBGVs should be trainable and willing to work with their people. Some of the places we ask our performance dogs to work (Westminster agility comes to mind) are extreme in relation to where they would normally hunt for rabbits, so more confidence is better for a high level sport dog.

DISQUALIFICATION:
Height over 15 inches is a disqualification. Height under 13 inches is a disqualification at one year of age or older.

Most of the oversized PBGVs I have seen (they are rare now) tend to have structural faults that I would want to avoid. I do have an undersized PBGV who is amazing at flushing rabbits and is a very consistent agility partner, but she is not as fast as my other hounds. Also she’s a champion- no one ever measures the small bitches.

Approved April 22, 2014
Effective July 1, 2014

I know some of my views aren’t universally popular, but hopefully this provides some food for thought. It’s really important for breeders to understand that serious performance competitors need dogs with excellent structure.

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About Me

 

I am a professional dog trainer, dog sports addict, and small scale breeder of PBGVs.  For more information about The Clever Hound LLC dog training: