What does “Rustic” Mean to You?

A good many breeds have “rustic roots,” which is to say that in their early days, most were simple country dogs working on farms and fields. They hunted, pulled carts, controlled vermin, and moved or guarded stock. As such, they had rustic appearances: Natural, unfettered, and certainly not manicured. Put another way, had they been vegetation, they were a bush and not a topiary.

As some dogs were moved from pen to parlor, their human companions “civilized” their coats into something more practical to maintain, and more pleasing to smell and behold. Other dogs, such as retrieving Poodles, were already trimmed to streamline their performance in water.

As dogs became recognized as breeds, the show ring beckoned, and coats became the focus of more attention. We need not go into the history of how the show ring impacted grooming and coats, but we will mentioned that the stewards of several breeds  – the fanciers and breeders – sought to remind judges of their breed’s working heritage by including language in breed standards that discourage, if not penalize, excessive trimming, as well as using the word, “rustic” to define the breed’s heritage.  A few examples:

From the Portuguese Sheepdog standard: “Medium sized dog, medium long (Sub-longilinear), with appreciable rusticity and sobriety;”

“The Bergamasco Sheepdog is a medium-sized dog of rustic appearance;”

“This is a rustic, working shepherd’s dog,” from the Berger Picard standard;

It’s important to resist the siren call of the scissors or clippers when entering a competitive environment even when the standard tacitly says, “Don’t do it!” An article written in 2014 by Lagotto owner, Jacki Barbieri, recounted the looks she got when entering showgrounds with her correctly groomed dog. She wrote of how people who stared at the dog, and then at her as if to say, “Lady, did you forget to groom your dog?” As Puli owners, her experience resonated with us.

It struck us – at first – that the word, “rustic” seems to appear in the standards of only coated breeds.  In addition to the aforementioned breeds, the following breeds are also described as rustic: The Estrela Mountain Dog, Portuguese Podengo, Spanish Water Dog, PBGV, Croatian Shepherd Dog, Barbet, Rafeiro do Alentejo, and Portuguese Podengo Pequeno, all breeds with coat. We soon realized, however, that three AKC recognized (or eventually recognized) breeds with short coats also include the word.

From the Kai Ken standard: “Rustic and natural as opposed to appearing “cute” or highly-refined.”

The Dogo Argentino’s standard reads, “The Dogo is a strong, tenacious and rustic dog that was created to protect family and property;”

And finally, the French Pointing Dog/Pyrenean type:  “General appearance:  Rustic dog, not heavy but sufficiently muscled.”

As a point of interest, and at the time of this writing, the term, “rustic,” doesn’t appear anywhere in the AKC breed standards Non-Sporting, Terrier, and Toy breeds.

Image: French Pointing Dog by © Zuzana Tillerová | Dreamstime.com

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