HOW TO JUDGE A LÖWCHEN
What are the important points of a true löwchen and why?
Short introduction to Lowchen history
The Lowchen is thought to be an old street dog from the Mediterranean area. They are hardy, sturdy dogs that can make a living by themselves by begging or stealing. Ancient texts mention the Maltese Lion Dog that is, more or less, our modern Lowchen. Actually, looking back into the history of the little lion dog, Maltese Lion Dog would be the best name for the breed. The Lowchen is one of the oldest dog breeds in the world. We can actually say that the Lowchen is an ancestor of all the Bichon-related breeds.
The breed that we know nowadays as the Maltese, is one version of these original Maltese Lion Dogs. On the island of Meleda they started to breed pure white dogs and that produced the breed known as Maltese or Bichon Maltese. Other versions of the Lion Maltese Dog had a rainbow of colours and it still does. That is what we today mistakenly call a Lowchen. It was called Lowchen because after the second World War, Dr. Hans Rickert, from Germany was thought to be the only person saving the breed. Before him the breed was saved by Madame Bennert in Belgium and, for this same reason, we could have called them by a Belgian name but we don´t.
The FCI calls the breed Petite Chien Lion because they consider France as the place of origin. Actually it was in France where the breed was first mentioned in “modern” European books. The French scientist Georges Buffon (1707-1788), described the Lowchen in his Histoire Naturelle.
Whatever their modern name, these dogs were clipped in a lion-like trim, the real reason for which is unknown. This could be because the lion was a symbol of power. Look how many statues there are of lions in ancient times. Another reason could be of a hygienic nature. Whatever the real reason was, these dogs were clipped in leonine form for centuries. It was the Crusaders who introduced these wild little clowns to the rest of Europe. These quite athletic dogs were running among the Crusaders as they were riding. There are a lot of old graphics depicting this made by the famous artist Durer (see the painting below). These small dogs were loyal in nature, sturdy and athletically- structured. Because of this, they survived the long trips. Actually this was the reason they survived throughout the centuries during violent times in Northern and Central Europe during the wars and revolutions.
Albrecht Durer (about 1496-97)
For sure these original Maltese Lion Dogs were crossbred to several breeds in Europe. There are numerous paintings with Phalenes and Lowchens. Most likely they were crossbred many times and for several generations as in modern dog breeding methods. Of course pedigrees were unknown in those times (from the 1400s to 1800s). These Mediterranean small dogs were most likely heavily inbred in isolated islands so their type was quite dominant and so the breed, or it’s type, survived.
Quite possibly there were less Maltese Lion Dogs, otherwise known as Lowchens, left after the Second World War than ever before. Madame Bennert collected the dogs that were available and that looked as much like Lowchens as possible. It is a fatal mistake to look these dogs as the epitome of the breed or consider them as the original type. They were far away from that. The real breed type was found originally in the Mediterranean area and we are so lucky in having so many wonderful paintings indicating what a true Lowchen should be.
Justus Sustermans (1597-1681) painting of the true Maltese Lion
Dog known nowadays as the Lowchen. This is a real breed typical Lowchen, just the way they should be and the way we should judge and breed them even today. Observe the classically beautiful head and expression. See also the strong sturdy body and yet the elegant breed typical bone.
Here is a modern Lowchen born in the1980s. Look how much this beautiful bitch resembles the wonderful painting from centuries before. This female was considered to be one of the best Lowchens ever seen by the late Mrs. Anne MacDonald (Lowchen specialist judge) and the famous all-rounder Mr. Hans Lehtinen. This bitch is Int & Fin & Dan Ch WW-89, EW-91 Chic Choix Dame de Coeur.
How to judge a Lowchen
(help with the FCI breed standard)
GENERAL APPEARANCE : A small intelligent dog, gay with a lively and alert expression; overall robust with good bone- short and well proportioned body – head carried high – pronounced tuck-up. The movement is proud and determined, accentuated by the floating mane from the lion clip; the unclipped areas should be completely natural and on no account should they be shaped. The lion clip is obligatory for showing.
The Lowchen is a small, very lively, active and alert dog. It is therefore very important in the show ring that the dog is happy and the tail is wagging. It is fine and positive if they jump up happily every now and then. The expression has to be appealing and alert. They look around and want to know what is going on. Lowchens must have a strong, sturdy body. It is therefore so important that the ribcage is also very well developed. Dogs cannot be robust if they do not have a well-developed strong ribcage. Note the photo above of the original type. The head should be carried high as they are alert and curious dogs. They want to know what is going on.
Movement is very important. The breed was saved throughout it’s history because it can really move. So, movement must be really easy, flowing, proud and determined. There must be good reach and drive so the dog carries itself proudly.
A shy or passive Lowchen is most untypical. Also nowadays, there are a lot of dogs that do not have the required strength of body especially in the ribcage, which has become all too elegant and narrow. If the dog does not have a proper ribcage and front it cannot carry itself correctly or proudly. This is currently a very common fault.
IMPORTANT PROPORTIONS : The body should be square. The length of the body (point of shoulder to point of buttock) is equal to the height at the withers. The length of the muzzle represents approximately 2/3 of the skull.
The Lowchen has classical proportions. The height measured from the ground to withers is equal to point of buttock. So the overall picture is slightly out of square as there is, of course the additional chest area in front. The muzzle must be short and always shorter than the skull ideal being 2/3 of the skull.
BEHAVIOUR / TEMPERAMENT : Very affectionate and obedient with its masters, attentive and receptive, at ease in all circumstances; capable of being calm and discreet on command. His forthright and tender look tries to understand what is expected of him.
A true Lowchen should always look smart and intelligent. There should be this affectionate and very loyal look in their eyes. However they are happily sure about themselves. A true Lowchen should never be nervous or hysterical in their appearance. The Lowchen is active, obedient, receptive and loyal to his master. Lowchens follow what their owners are doing. Most of all the Lowchen has a soft outlook and is always active with something going on in his mind. If a Lowchen looks aggressive or nervous something is seriously wrong.
This is a perfect Lowchen head and expression. See the short nose, broad skull and large intelligent eyes. This picture is of a male and female.
HEAD : Relatively short and quite broad from the top of the skull to the muzzle; carried high.
The Lowchen head should always be quite short and quite broad. Ears are set about level of the eye. The typical Lowchen head proportions are as follows: The width of the skull is always at least the same (or even wider) than length of the muzzle. On the other hand the skull is always fractionally, or even 2/3 longer than muzzle. This makes the Lowchen head relatively short and broad as the skull is only slightly longer than wide (the difference being about 2/3 of the width of the skull and the length of the muzzle also).
The Lowchen is alert and the head is carried proudly. This means there also has to be enough length of neck.
CRANIAL REGION :
Skull : Relatively flat : as broad as it is long.
Stop : Moderately marked.
The skull is flat and, in the ideal case, as broad as it is long (but at least 2/3 of the length of head). The stop is always clear but moderate, not overdone. Expression must always be tender and soft – never pointing or hard. The true Lowchen face is never flat (i.e. too short in muzzle).
Nose : Black (total pigmentation is obligatory), except for brown coats and derivatives. In the latter case, the nose is dark brown (total pigmentation obligatory). The nose is well in line with the top line of the muzzle.
Muzzle : Rather broad, straight.
Lips : Tight and black, except for brown coats and derivatives, in which case, the lips are dark brown.
Jaws/Teeth : Strong teeth, complete dentition with scissor bite. Absence of the PM1 is tolerated.
Eyes : Set well forward, the eyes are large, very dark, round and well spaced; must be forward looking. The lids are totally pigmented.
Ears : Set low (level with eyes). Moderately long, capable of almost reaching, if pulled, half the length of the muzzle; pendant, well fringed. The fringes can reach, at least, to the end of the nose.
The nose must always be totally pigmented. Pigmentation, however, does not always have to be black and differs with the brown-based coat colours that are very common. The nose must always be in line with the top line of the muzzle. A narrow snipey muzzle is a fault.
The muzzle should always be shorter than the skull and, in an ideal case, 2/3 the length of the skull. The muzzle is well developed, rather broad and always straight. There are a lot of narrow muzzles and weak under-jaws that spoil the correct look of the Lowchen.
Lips should be black or self-coloured in the browns or lemons. The lips need to be tight.
Jaws/Teeth are strong in line with everything else in this well-developed, healthy breed. The breed standard is clear about missing teeth, however I would say that type always comes first. I would not penalise a couple of missing premolars if the type is superior. Unfortunately, these days, there are many dogs missing incisors and this is an even more serious fault than missing premolars.
Eyes should always be forward looking, round, dark and very alert. There should be space between the eyes as the head is relatively broad. Eyelids are to be totally pigmented (black or self-coloured). Eyes should always be large and the expression soft.
Ears are set about the level of the eye, never higher. They should be large enough, pendant and well fringed.
Note the perfect top line, good reach of neck flowing smoothly into the shoulder.
NECK: Of good length, slightly arched, merging smoothly into the shoulders and withers.
The neck must be of good length and slightly arched. This way the Lowchen has a proud alert head carriage. The ribcage to be well-developed and the shoulders well laid back so merging smoothly into the withers. This is the most common fault with the modern Lowchen. The shoulders are upright and therefore the neck is not merging smoothly into the shoulders. There are also a lot of short necks
Loin: Short, broad and muscled.
Chest: Well developed, down to elbow.
Tuck-up: Well defined.
Without exception the top line is always to be level – there is no compromise here. The Lowchen is a well-built, robust dog and the top line is an indicator of excellent breed typical structure. The loin must be short, relatively broad and well muscled. The loin should never lift on the move. The chest should also be well developed and reach down to the elbow. The rib must be relatively long as the loin is short. Consequently the ideal short body length comes from the longer ribcage and short loin.
TAIL: Set on slightly below the top line. Carried elegantly arched over the back without touching the latter. Only the plume touches the back either when standing or in action.
Tail is set slightly below the top line. It is therefore carried nicely (open) arched over the back. While standing, the tail can even relax down but as the temperament is active and lively the tail is usually wagging and over the back. Too tight, clamped, low-set and high-set tails are such a common problem nowadays and most people seem to prefer the wrong type of high-set tight tail.
Here you can see the real well developed, old fashioned, breed typical Lowchen buttocks as they should be. Pay attention also to the ideally set and well-arched tail carriage.
Shoulders : Well inclined, mobile, well muscled.
Elbows : Close to the body.
Metacarpus (Pastern) : Short and straight viewed from front; slightly sloping viewed from the side.
Forefeet : Small and round, toes tight and well arched.
Upper & lower thigh : Well muscled, the tibia is the same length as the femur. The point of buttock is slightly prominent.
Hock : Relatively strong, the point is at approximately ¼ of the height at the withers, normal angulation.
Metatarsus (Rear pastern) : Robust, perpendicular to the ground.
Hind feet : Small and round, toes tight and well arched.
Because the Lowchen is a proud dog carrying the head high, the forequarters are slightly upright. Shoulders should be well inclined and well muscled. Shoulders should always be smooth, therefore the elbows should be tight and close to the body. Many Lowchens have “loaded” shoulders and elbows that are too loose. Lowchen feet should always be small and round. The pastern is short, appearing straight from the front but slightly sloping when viewed from the side. This is a must as the Lowchen is a well-developed, active dog who loves to move, jump and play. The pasterns need to be flexible so the Lowchen can continue to be the active little dog that he always has been. The toes are well arched and tight. Flat feet are a serious fault.
The true Lowchen always has strong well-muscled buttocks; the real dog of ancient times with the correct Lowchen bottom. As the breed standard says: the point of buttock is slightly prominent. Lowchens need to have enough length in first and second thigh and they should be equal in length. Otherwise the Lowchen is a normally angulated dog with no exaggerations. The hock is strong and the point is narrow enough to be about ¼ of the height at the withers.
GAIT / MOVEMENT : Lively, energetic and with good reach; legs parallel in action, head carried proudly.
The Lowchen loves to move and play and movement is lively and energetic. There should be good reach and drive with parallel action. Head is always carried proudly. Nowadays there is such a problems with fronts. Fronts are very unstable and loose, heads are carried low and the top line is lifting too much. This is all incorrect and untypical for this ancient breed. This breed is made to move, play and jump. Once in their history they moved thousand of miles. Their original way of living was all about active movement. They could not have survived in the arid Mediterranean environment with incorrect movement. The Lowchen should be a well-built dog made to move.
This is the ideal silky coat in perfect condition.
HAIR : The coat is silky, long, wavy, dense; without undercoat.
COLOUR : All colours and combinations of colours are permitted.
Hair is silky in texture, long and wavy – never curly or harsh. The ideal lowchen coat is relatively easy to maintain and always silky in texture. There are far too many curly and woolly or harsh coats. Judges often pay too little attention to incorrect coats.
All colours and combinations of colour are permitted.
SIZE AND WEIGHT :
Height : 26 to 32 cm at the withers, with a tolerance of +/- 1 cm.
Weight : 6 kgs approximately.
It is very strange indeed that the size was changed to be smaller in the latest FCI standard as the type is lost in consequence. This is an ancient toy breed and therefore the ideal size should historically be under 33 cm, however type must come first. There are too many short-legged and long Lowchens. It is not correct to put them up because the size is ideal when the type is wrong. If there is a breed typical well-developed Lowchen in ideal size, it is really easy to judge. So when it is a compromise between the size and type, then type is of utmost importance.