Interpreting a Mathematical Model of the Height/Weight Clause
Perhaps no other element of the breed standard has been so tirelessly discussed, argued and refuted in recent (and not so recent) history as the Height/Weight clause. So why push it ad nauseum? Why beat a dead horse? Because, my dear Staffriends, this horse is far from dead. We will not be able to leave this topic alone until one of three things happens: The first two options are the ever-present clichés, “change the standard to fit our dogs, or change our dogs to fit the standard.” The third and most fundamental manipulation would be to re-educate ourselves on what ‘Stafford Balance’ is as outlined in the breed standard.
Like it or not, the conformation ring is the most widely accessible measure of “standard fitness,” if you will, that attempts to provide some sort of continuity in interpretation that reaches beyond our own back yards. The best thing about it is that the dogs are actually present during the evaluations and discussions, and we all know that real, live Staffords are much less obscure than internet babble, especially mine. In the conformation realm we are quick to a point finger (some fingers are more appropriate than others) at the judges for their lack of ability to recognize a standard dog and for their general Stafford incompetence. A more real problem, however, lies within ourselves. We often allow our personal opinions of what balance is to overrule all factions regardless of what’s explicitly stated in the standard. Acceptance of wide variation in breed type is not inherently bad, but what we justify in the name of this endearing quality is often grotesque.
The height/weight clause is the absolute easiest passage to interpret with objectivity. The remaining 90% of the standard is subject to varying interpretations. Why must we make subjective the only quantitative portion of the breed standard? It seems that when we find something so straightforward as inches and pounds that we should embrace it and utilized it as a tool for decoding further subjective elements of the standard such as the all-important notion of balance. Take what you already know, milk it of all its inferences, and explore every related system with the new knowledge and perspective. This is how science works.
What are the dimensions of a Stafford that exhibits the ideal balance of Bull and Terrier regardless of personal opinion? Use the givens first. Begin with withers to ground = withers to tailset to get the proper proportion for two of the three dimensions. Beyond that we are given the height and weight ranges and told that they are directly correlated. This means that if a dog is the maximum height then his weight will also be the maximum weight if he is in balance. In determining the mathematical model for the progression of weight/height ratios throughout the standard range let me warn against simply saying that there is a 10 pound difference over two inches so we just add 2 ½ pounds per ½ inch. A 14-inch dog should carry 2 pounds per inch while a 16-inch dog carries nearly 2.4 pounds per inch. Remember that this is because as the height increases, so does the length, and consequent total ratio of weight-to-height. The ratio should increase in even increments from 2.0 pounds per inch for a 14-inch male to 2.38 pounds per inch for a 16-inch male. In the bitches, you can see the minor difference this approach makes.
The following tables relate weight to height as outlined in the breed standard.
The breed standard does not imply that a dog who is 16-inches and 38 pounds is necessarily a perfect balance of bull and terrier. It is possible for a 16 inch Stafford to be a 30-pound terrier-type who is fattened up to 38 pounds. Such a dog will not be well balanced. The standard does however, imply that a 16-inch dog who is the ideal balance will be very close to 38 pounds. The difference is exemplified by the following: “He is 16 inches and 38 pounds therefore he is balanced.” Versus “He is balanced, therefore he is 16 inches and 38 pounds.” The height/weight clause is an implicit test of balance, not an explicit description of one.
It follows that a 16 inch male Stafford who weighs 48 pounds may be an evenly proportioned, beautiful animal with powerful presence, but he is in no way shape or form a Balanced Staffordshire Bull Terrier. He is equally out of balance as a beautifully comprised 16-inch, 28-pounder. According to the standard, neither can possibly be correct.
Many will argue that height and weight discrepancies are faults just like anything else and should not be given such critical attention. Non-conformity with the objective model of height and weight stated in the standard is not an isolated fault such as prick ears. It is systematic indicator that the fundamental ingredients of the dog are not properly blended, i.e. the Bull and the Terrier proportions may be “out of whack.” The severity of nonconformity should not simply stated in terms of a seemingly fit dog being 8 pounds overweight for instance, but that the additional 20% body mass has greatly altered the overall the balance and consequent type of the animal. If a Staffordshire Bull Terrier is fit and still 8 pounds over the standard for his height, then it is absolutely unfounded to argue that he is a Balanced specimen of the breed. He may be a powerful, square, sound canine who captures our attention before his standard-sized counterpart, but we must not allow ourselves to be held in awe over his striking presence for more than a moment lest we simply drop our commitment to the breed standard all together.
Here’s the kicker to all this: I have a fairly fit ten month old bitch who at date is 15 inches tall, 14 ¾ long and 29 pounds. Just to look at her, I’d bet that 90% of us would say that she needs to fill out and put on a bit more bulk. This includes me. In my eyes, if she were finished at these proportions she’d lean too much toward the terrier side. According to the standard however, a mature 15-inch bitch with ideal balance will be about 29 pounds. We have conditioned ourselves with so many non-standard dogs because their powerful presence catches our eye that we are unable to identify what standard balance is anymore. Or at least, we seem not to prefer it. And so what do we do when personal preference clashes with the guidelines of the standard, particularly the irrefutable, objective ones? For me it is to strive to gain a new perspective….I have found that it is not the judges who need immediate re-education. It’s me. I remind myself of this every time I look at my “skinny” little bitch and think that she’d look better carrying a couple more pounds. I’m realizing that perhaps there is only one way to follow the standard, and that’s to follow it all the way.