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Watching Beardies Grow

by Carol Gold

Mary, Mary quite contrary,
how does your Beardie grow?

In different ways, all out of phase,
When he's done, I do not know 

A Doberman puppy looks like an adult Dobe seen through the wrong end of a telescope. Watching him grow up is just like enlarging the picture. The same holds true for many other breeds. But take snapshots of your Beardie at 8 weeks, 6 months, a year, 18 months and three and you might have trouble convincing people the pictures were all of the same breed, let alone the same dog. 

Beardies go through a lot of developmental stages. What you'd expect to see in a two-year old Beardie would horrify you in a four-year old. The delightful, show-winning 10-month-old can turn out to be merely mediocre at maturity, while the almost unidentifiable 18-month old can grow into the epitome of the breed, given a year or two. 

It's important, if you're showing, breeding, or even just trying to convince your relatives that the breeder didn't sell you a mutt by accident, to have an idea of the various stages Beardies go through in the process of growing up. 

Every breeding family will, of course, have its own variations on development, so I won't get too detailed. But, in general, all Beardies go through most of the same stages. 

Let's start with puppies. When they're between 6 and 8 weeks old, they offer you a window on the future. What you see at that age is what you'll have when they're mature at three years or older, no matter how ugly or beautiful they get in between. So set your puppy up and take a good look. 

If your puppy has a good broad, flat skull at this stage, it will probably have one at maturity. If it isn't broad and flat now, it won't be. The stop (the indentation between the eyes) should be much more defined than in an adult and the foreface should be short and almost as wide as the skull. The jawline - the row of teeth between the lower canine teeth - should be straight, and the puppy should have a good chin. The canine teeth should meet correctly. As long as they do, then a slight overbite will probably correct itself. (Some puppies at this age have narrower lower jaws than upper jaws and this can cause the lower canines to push into the roof of the mouth. Given time, this usually corrects itself, because the lower jaw continues to grow after the upper jaw is done, but it can take until the dog is nearly a year old. Before gambling on a show puppy with this problem, check with the breeder about the dog's family history - it may be a common idiosyncrasy that always corrects.) 

Body length should be slightly shorter than you'd want in an adult, although the puppy should still be longer than high. Puppies with adult proportions usually end up too long in body. Front and rear legs should be slightly wider apart than you'd expect in an adult. They will come closer together as the puppy grows, so if they're adult-proportioned, or close together at this age, your Beardie will probably be unacceptably narrow in front and/or rear as an adult. 

Watch the puppy move. His feet should track true - no turning out or in, no cowhocking of his back legs or crossing over of the front ones. He may show all of these faults later, as his bones and muscles grow, but he mustn't show them now. Even at this young age, he should move with good reach in front and plenty of drive and extension behind - these qualities are not going to appear if they aren't there now. It's hard to see in some puppies because they're too busy bouncing and pouncing and galloping, but be patient and watch - even the liveliest pup will settle down into a trot for a step or two and if you're quick, you can see what's ahead for him. 

His topline should be straight and firm, no dipping or roaching back. Tailset is important, but carriage at this age doesn't matter as much. Many young puppies carry their tails very high but they usually will be alright as the pup grows older, as long as they're set on right. 

The coat should be straight and crisp even in its puppy plushness. A soft or curly coat will never get better, only worse, and aside from being wrong, it's a misery to take care of. 

By the time a Beardie puppy reaches 9 or 10 weeks of age, that window on the future has closed. The puppy grows rapidly and his various parts don't keep up with one another. Expect him to do a lot of growing until about 6 months of age, then slow down and grow in spurts from then until 18 months, or even older. A lot depends on his family. Some lines do all their growing by 6-7 months, and barely add a quarter of an inch after that. Others grows slowly but steadily after 6 months and can get their last half inch or inch between one and two years old. During major growth spurts, particularly between 6 months and a year, puppies often gain height first in the rear, so they run downhill for a while until the front end catches up. 

Front feet go off, too, and often point east-west as a ballerina's. As long as your pup started oft true, and as long as he's well-reared, his front end will eventually straighten out, but this often takes until he's over 18 months old and starting to gain muscle and broaden in chest. The same happens in the rear, but rear muscling takes even longer to develop. 

Along with muscling goes "body" - a combination of muscle and bone development and padding. A 6-month old puppy should have plenty of body. There should be a nice, solid, well-packed feel to his trunk, and his ribs and hip bones should be well-covered (but not fat). But somewhere around a year old, suddenly that nice solid Beardie turns into Mr. Skin and Bones. Suddenly ribs and hipbones stick out, there doesn't seem to be muscle anywhere and you just have sort of a scrawny, gangly dog on your hands. All of this is due to the adolescent horribles which befall Beardies between one and two years of age. You might as well resign yourself to closing your eyes for a year and waiting for time to change your Beardie back into something you want to show people. 

Coat goes through adolescent stages, too, just as it does throughout the other phases of growing up. The puppy plushness you saw at 6-8 weeks disappears quickly and by three months most Beardies look like kids who have outgrown their clothes. By 6 months, the first-year coat is coming in. It usually appears first across the shoulders an you can see the "break" appearing along the spine. Puppy coat is usually softer and thicker than adult coat, but it still must have a hint of harshness and be free of curl. It often flops into the eyes. Some lines don't get very long first-year coats; others get coats of almost adult length. 

After your dog is a year old (exactly how long after depends a lot on the time of year) his coat will change drastically. It can happen in a couple of ways. Some dogs just drop all that nice puppy hair and carry a short and very scruffy coat for months. (I've had Beardies who looked uncomfortably like Schnauzers at this stage.) Others start growing new coat from their shoulders back and keep the old puppy stuff - now dry and flyaway - until it's replaced by the new hair. This can create a Beardie that looks like two different dogs sewn together in the middle. 

And then there's colour. Most Beardies pale to some degree. The amount they fade has no apparent relation to the colour they are, to how dark they are as puppies nor to how dark they will be as adults. 

You can see the paling start around the eyes or on the legs where the colour meets the white or on the tail as early as 7 weeks in some puppies. Others don't start to pale until later and some can do it quite rapidly when they're in late puppyhood. Generally, the most faded stage is around a year old. Many dogs fade out so much that the white markings are indistinguishable from the colour. Colour starts to return with the late adolescent coat and can come rushing back with the third-year coat (when the dog is 2). 

By the age of 2, most Beardies have started to put themselves back together again, though it will still be a couple of years before you have a mature dog. By 2, they'll have a coat, though ii won't be very long or full. (You can tell a two-year-old by the great amount of daylight under the body. It often makes them look high on the leg.) The hair stays out of their eyes. Two-year-olds have started to get muscling and body, and you won't be embarrassed when Beardie friends drop over. Your family will even begin to believe you got a real Beardie after all. 

Some two-year old dogs may even be showable. But here's where the need for knowing a dog's age comes in. Your two year old won't have the body, muscling, coat length or depth of colour that a 4-year old will have. If the judge knows your dog's age and knows breed development, he'll realize those things are yet to come and can evaluate accordingly. But he'll also know that if your dog is four, he shouldn't still look like a two-year old. 

Few Beardies are mature in body, coat, or mental development, until they are three or more. Most are in their prime at 4 to 7 years of age and they're stayers. It's not unusual for a Beardie to be shown and winning at 10 years old. So hang on. Beardies are like fine wine ... they take a long time to mature, but they're worth waiting for!


Copyright © 1997 [Carol Gold].
All rights reserved.

 
 
   


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Last revised: November 11, 2010