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Dealing with Breed Standards, Part II
Posted on 12/13/2007 in Ringside Conversations.

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(continued from Dealing with Breed Standards, Part I)

Richard G. (Rick) Beauchamp

Continuing on with our previous discussion of breed standards, I must say that I have never been able to understand why it is that introducing breeds that are well-established elsewhere to the U.S. requires a new standard. One would think that a standard that produced the kind of dog that got someone interested in the first place would be more than adequate to continue right on with.

Yet we find that as well-meaning as those who introduce a new-to-the-U.S. or not previously recognized breed may be, they seem to undervalue what those who created the breed in the first place actually had in mind. They unwittingly discount the reasons for wording the original standard in the manner it was written. Tweaking a few words here and there may not seem to have untoward consequences on the surface, but as discussed last time, we are not able to change or “fix” one anatomical part of an animal without that change affecting the bones, muscles and ligaments that surround it.

Long-time and experienced dog fanciers familiar with many breeds are acutely aware of the consequences of changes, and are also able to put a given breed into a broader perspective. Those without extensive dog knowledge may find certain terms completely accurate in describing what it is they desire in their breed, but fail to realize those terms are too general for those coming from outside the breed. Let’s use angulation as an example.

Correct hindquarter construction for both the Akita and (American) Cocker Spaniel call for moderate angulation. A perfectly suitable and sensible requirement except that those who know the two breeds well, know that that particular portion of the anatomy on the two breeds couldn’t be more dissimilar. On a scale of one to ten, ten being the most angulation, the Akita would come in at about three or four tops, while the Cocker could easily push a ten. New breed enthusiasts may know what they want the term to mean, but it shouldn’t be difficult to see how widely the word “moderate” could be interpreted by not only someone new to the breed but also by both breeder and judge.

The Ideal Standard Committee
In the 1970s, those involved with the Bichon Frise decided they would like to attempt to achieve official recognition for the breed in the U.S. They realized the breed standard existing at that time was the result of years of changes called for by those who looked at the dogs they had, and based their recommendations on that basis.

Any number of illogical statements were included in the standard of that time, and quite frankly there were other statements that were included for no other reason than someone involved in the writing of the standard had a favorite dog whose look they felt should be perpetuated. The transitions through the years had shifted away considerably from the original French standard of the breed that had been put into place in 1933.

The first order of business was to organize a standard committee. Included were a long-time Bichon breeder who had bred only that breed, and another breeder who had bred a number of other breeds prior to his involvement with Bichons. Another member was not a Bichon breeder, but an expert in the field of canine anatomy. The final two members of the committee were a multiple group judge and an individual who had extensive background in the actual writing of breed standards.

The committee obtained translations of the original French standard (several translations were required to make sure the translations by persons outside of purebred dogs did in fact convey the meaning intended). The committee discovered that what the original standard described was a dog that did exist in the U.S., but was just one of a myriad of “versions” of the breed all touted as being “correct.” That said, there were a significant number that conformed to the demands of that original standard. It was decided that what was good enough for those who had originated the breed was more than adequate for the present.

To better conform to English terminology, certain portions of the original standard were rewritten, but the changes were clarifications and not anatomical changes. As expected, there was at least some objections registered by those who had dogs that would be eliminated as breeding or showing prospects because of their departure from what was required of the breed. Interestingly, however, when the objectors were asked to submit specific anatomical reasons (other than that being what their own dog or dogs looked like) for their objections, there was silence.

There can be little doubt that the Bichon has thrived and become not only a popular American breed, but a popular and strong contending show dog around the world as well. And though America was not the originator of the breed, following the original standard of the breed permitted America to become credited for the development and popularization of the breed.

Those who attempt to write standards without broad multiple breed experience, and little or no experience as judges, are often inclined to make every flaw the breed might have a disqualification. It must be remembered that a judge must adhere to the dictates of a respective standard regardless of whether or not he may personally agree with everything in it. A disqualification is just that - it eliminates a dog from further competition, and in the minds of some, the subject dog should not be used in a breeding program

This is a strong and serious demand and serves a breed well when the disqualification called for respects the integrity of the breed and guards the breed against slipping away from its original intent. Disqualifications do not serve the breed well when they are vague matters of judgment, or are so many that they interfere with the breeder’s or judge’s attempt to seek quality. That is, too many disqualifications take the breeder’s and judge’s eye away from seeking the dog with the greatest amount of quality, and direct him to be more concerned with choosing on the basis of lack of faults. A dog whose chief merit is that it has no disqualifications is of little consequence in a breeding program or a judge’s line-up unless the fact that the dog has no disqualifications is preceded by the fact that it has great quality.

A dog of great quality with a known major flaw can be vastly more useful in a breeding program than a dog that has little or nothing to contribute to the gene pool outside of its lack of faults. The clever and experienced breeder is able to deal with known faults in most cases. Given the no fault/no quality dog, the breeder then has to look for a mate capable of doing the entire job of stamping quality rather than it being the job of both parents.

To those who might argue with my previous statement, I can only ask the following: which is more valuable to the breed, a) the dog of great type of a breed that has a size disqualification that officially measures 1/16 over the maximum; or b) the mediocre dog who has little to nothing to offer his breed outside of the fact that he measures within the limits set forth by the standard?

Understand, I am not advocating ignoring a disqualifications and faults. To the contrary, I only wish to impress the seriousness of a disqualification when one is incorporated into a breed’s standard.

Address the Real Problem
It is also important that writing faults and disqualifications into a standard actually addresses the problem at hand. This another good reason for seeking the advice of someone with a strong background in canine anatomy.

Another fatal error that can be made in attempts to correct a breed problem is misdiagnosis – blaming the wrong part of the breed’s anatomy for the problem. For instance, an upright shoulder can give the impression of short necks and long backs, when in fact it is the shoulder that is to blame, and therefore no amount of faulting or fixing the neck or back will correct faulty shoulders. Too much angulation behind can make the dog appear to be struggling with his front, when the fault does not lie in front at all but in the rear that gives more push than the front needs and can handle.

Another misplaced fault can occur in coat. In some breeds there is a constant hue and cry over “too much coat.” Actually, just as often as not, the real fault is in the texture of the coat rather than the amount. Removing debris from hard silky hair is relatively easy. Twigs, brush and burrs caught up in cottony coat are all but impossible to eliminate without the use of scissors.

Like in all things, care and knowledge should accompany enthusiasm in writing standards. Moderation should accompany all decisions. In other words, be careful what you ask for. You may get it!

The information contained in Mr. Beauchamp’s “Solving the Mystery of Breed Type” series that appeared in BLOODLINES, can be found in his book, Solving the Mystery of Breed Type, published by Doral Publishing, Inc.