Know your Lancashire Heeler
Lancashire Heeler Head
Traditionally Lancashire Heelers are shown free standing and moved on a loose lead, not stacked or strung up, and tails and ears not held up. Some dogs have tipped ears, which although not seen that often are perfectly acceptable, although the majority have erect ears.
Whilst the heads of immature puppies sometimes need time to flatten, the skull of an adult Lancashire Heeler should be broad and flat between the ears and the head wedge shaped, to avoid injury whilst 'heeling'. For this reason the eyes are almond shaped, as a round, protruding eye would be susceptible to injury from a cow's hoof. Dark eyes are preferred.
A strong jaw is needed and a correct scissor bite is called for, with under or overshot mouths to be discouraged. A moderate length of neck is required to allow the dog to turn his head to nip the heels.
Lancashire Heeler Front and Feet
The front should be strong but not too stuffy to allow freedom of movement, with elbows firm against the ribs. A slight turnout of the feet is acceptable, but not exaggerated like the bowed 'Queen Anne' fronts we used to see in the breed.
Lancashire Heeler Topline
Toplines should be level, with good spring of rib, and the body short coupled, with sufficient length of back to enable the dog to twist and turn, but not so long as to cause weakness.
Lancashire Heeler Legs and Feet
Strong hindquarters allow the Lancashire Heeler the power to drive in and deliver the required pressure on the cow's heels and therefore well turned stifles and let down hocks are required, with parallel hind legs both on the move and standing when viewed from the rear. The Lancashire Heeler breed standard asks for small, firm and well padded feet. These are the 'shock absorbers' which enable the dog to work all day and should be nice and tight, not splayed or long.
Lancashire Heeler Tails
Tails are often the subject of much discussion. Provided the tailset is correct, the tail carriage is not the most crucial feature of the dog. Tails are often seen carried down, particularly when standing, usually coming up on the move, and although the standard asks for it to be carried over the back in a slight curve, this can vary from an upright tail to one resting on the back or down to one side. Only rarely will you see a Lancashire Heeler with a tail curled in a tight ring, like a Pug. If two dogs are of equal merit, the tail carriage can be brought into the equation to decide the winner. Judge the whole dog, not just the tail!
Lancashire Heeler Colour and Markings
Another area that causes a problem for judges unfamiliar with the Lancashire Heeler breed is that of colour and markings. Black or liver with rich tan markings. Black should be black with no brown (agouti) hairs, and liver should preferably be a rich dark colour. Tan can range from rich mahogany to a much lighter shade, often fading with age. Tan appears on the muzzle, cheeks and often (but not always) above the eyes. It is also on the legs, with desirable thumb marks just above the feet, but again several top winning dogs have not had them and they should be considered 'the icing on the cake'. Tan is also inside hind legs and under the tail, and although not mentioned some have a 'bow tie' on the chest.
Perhaps we should consider the original Lancashire Heeler breed standard, formulated in 1978. which asks, that "description of the marking should not be too detailed". It also stipulated that "the preferred colour should not include any white whatsoever", with the proviso that a small white spot on the fore chest should not debar an otherwise good specimen from being placed, but at the same time should not be encouraged, with white anywhere else to be penalised.
Lancashire Heeler Coats
Lancashire Heeler Coats should be sleek and shiny, hard and weatherproof, with a fine undercoat which should not show through. Coats should not be too long nor too wavy. Some dogs carry more coat, depending on the time of year, often with a mane around the neck.
Lancashire Heeler Movement
Movement is best seen if the Lancashire Heeler is on a loose lead and should be brisk, smart and free, not hackneying, plaiting or toeing in.
Lancashire Heeler Height to Length Ratio
I would like to draw your attention to the clause in the current standard which refers to the height/length ratio. The original standard stated "the body length taken from the shoulder point to the set-on of tail to be approximately one inch more than shoulder height". At some point this appears to have been translated to "one inch longer than height at withers (measured from withers to set on of tail)" which would give a much longer body length than originally intended. Perhaps a better description might be 'slightly longer than height at withers' which negates the need for precise measurement.
Lancashire Heeler Character
The Lancashire Heeler has come a long way since its humble beginnings in the farmyard, with dogs regularly featuring in group placings at shows. There has been some concern recently that it has become one of a number of vulnerable British breeds. Responsible breeders are not too bothered that it is not a more popular breed, as although most enthusiasts would not be without one, they are not the breed for everyone. They are not lap dogs, and require firm handling from a young age and something to keep them occupied if they are to live happily alongside your family and other pets. If not checked, they can revert to type, and will 'heel' both people and animals.
Whilst there can still be considerable variation in types seen in the show ring, the Lancashire Heeler has not split into separate 'working' and 'show' types, and judges must keep in mind the purpose for which they were originally bred. It must be judged as a farm worker, and not as a toy or a terrier.
Lancashire Heeler Size
The standard calls for an ideal size of ten inches for bitches and twelve inches for dogs, but size alone must never outweigh breed type. Indeed, it is possible to have a line up which consists of substantial bitches and smaller dogs; both are equally acceptable, provided they do not lack breed type, and the dogs look masculine, and the bitches feminine.
Lancashire Heeler Health Observations
Although the Lancashire Heeler is generally a healthy breed, often living into the late teens, one aspect that has to be borne in mind is the possible occurrence of eye problems. Some cases of early-developing Hereditary Cataracts were detected in the early days, and more recently Persistent Pupillary Membrane (P.P.M.) has been found to occur in some puppies. Collie Eye Anomaly (C.E.A.) has also been detected at litter screening in a few dogs of certain lines. Regular eye testing of adults and litter screening is carried out by most breeders and buyers should require to see certificates before purchase. It is now possible to have a DNA based test for C.E.A., so future generations should be free of this problem.
However the most worrying eye problem that has come to the fore in recent years is Primary Lens Luxation, (P.L.L.) which often does not show until the dog is over three years of age. Thankfully as a result of research carried out by the Animal Health Trust in conjunction with Cambridge University (funded in part by the Kennel Club Charitable Trust) there is now a DNA test for this disease, and so it is possible to discover whether dogs are clear, affected or carriers of the condition and DNA testing should be undertaken before mating, with the puppies tested as well unless both parents are clear.
Sadly, some dogs already bred will be diagnosed as affected and by the time the first clinical signs of PLL are evident it is often too late to save the sight, so regular eye tests are still essential if there is to be any hope of catching this dreadfully painful, usually blinding condition in the early stages, and possibly saving some vision by either surgery or medication. Regular testing also helps to identify any other as yet unknown conditions before they become widespread.
Now that the blot on the landscape that is P.L.L. can be dealt with I see no reason why the breed should not continue to go from strength to strength.