Don’t Do Dull

“Dull” isn’t a word one would expect to find in a breed standard, but in fact, four standards mention it in some variation, none of them desirable:

  • When approached, the Border Collie should stand its ground. It should be alert and interested, never showing shyness, fear, dullness or resentment;
  • Sussex Spaniel: The brows are fairly heavy, the occiput is full but not pointed, the whole [head] giving an appearance of heaviness without dullness;
  • The Bernese Mountain Dog ‘s coat is thick, moderately long and slightly wavy or straight. It has a bright natural sheen. Extremely curly or extremely dull-looking coats are undesirable;
  • The Newfoundland is a sweet-dispositioned dog that acts neither dull nor ill-tempered.

As you can see, the word is used with regards to behavior, coat, or a structural attribute, and of course this makes sense since “dull” refers to a lack of brightness whether it’s a coat that lacks shine, a depressed deportment, or a structural component. We find “dullness” as used in the Sussex Spaniel standard particularly interesting because “heaviness without dullness” might seem a contradiction in terms. What does this really mean?

It’s tricky.

dull, term, Sussex Spaniel,Border Collie, Bernese Mountain Dog, Newfoundland

Sussex Spaniel by Vera Reva/Shutterstock

As we see it, the words suggest that a Sussex’s head should convey a sense of weight or solidity, but without imparting a lethargic (or dull) expression. Put another way, “heaviness without dullness” means that the dog’s head should look solid, but not cloddy, substantial but with an attentive expression. A correct expression is an important feature of any breed, and the Sussex tends to have a serious, if not somber countenance emphasized by fairly heavy brows. Anyone who has met a well bred Sussex Spaniel, however, is aware that a somewhat sullen expression is at odds with the breed’s delightful and cheery nature. It’s important not to mistake a laid-back, easy-going and mellow demeanor with a lack of interest. Anything but!

Top image: Sussex Spaniel by Susan Harper appears with consent;
We are happy to include the watermark for the artist’s protection

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