Dealing with Breed Standards, Part 1
Posted on 12/13/2007 in Ringside Conversations.
Richard G. (Rick) Beauchamp
It wasn’t much more than 100 years ago that what had begun as trials to compare one dog’s working ability to another developed into competitions in which excellence of structure was also awarded. The assumption was that the dogs that were constructed best would perform best. As construction and theory became major criteria, so did interest in the purely decorative breeds rise in prominence at dog exhibitions.
In a day when the world still held an appreciation for accomplishment and authority, the dog fancy revered its own breed masters. Their word was law. Those were also the days when, after many months of erratic judging, exhibitors traveled long distances to have their breed “set right” by the breed authorities. When the masters judged, they put the dogs in proper order and in proper order they stayed for many months to come.
Replacing Breed Authorities
The picture is much different today. In far too many cases, the rank novice feels his or her opinion is every bit as valid as that of the veteran of many years of experience. Sadly, this attitude is not one that is restricted to the dog game alone. We are only a small slice of society’s pie.
Today we must rely more heavily than ever on our breed standards. If ever there was a time when our standards had need to serve as blueprints, it is now. Our true breed authorities continue to fade into the past and are being replaced by the vocal newcomer. The changeover in exhibitors is ever more rapid. It is said the average life of today’s exhibitor is only three to four years.
Therefore it is critical we develop rules which are clearly understood by all; that is we must be a great deal more specific on what constitutes correct breed type. We can no more expect to produce correct breed type without breed specifics than we could expect a builder to erect a worthy structure without a well thought-out blueprint.
There can be great resistance to opening up breed standards at all for fear that in doing so type will be changed, and I can most certainly empathize with that fear. Just allow an unqualified someone to change a breed standard, and a breed can suffer damage that may take generation upon generation to undo.
That said, there is a huge difference between clarification or improvement and change. A simile I’ve used often in the past is the one of a man taking a sport coat to his tailor to be altered. He wishes to have the jacket fit better. He does not take the sport coat to the tailor to have it made into a tuxedo jacket. One represents improvement; the other change. If the gentleman wanted a tuxedo, he would go out and buy one.
There are times, however, that a standard must be looked at and if it does not serve the original intent of the breed (not a current fad or fancy), then clarification may well be appropriate. Perhaps it is time we rethink the old adage, “dog standards are written for those who know the breed.” At the rate we are going, we may well wind up with our respective breeds in the hands of those who are certain that only what they have in their own yards is what the breed should be.
There are certain defining characteristics that constitute a breed’s “essence.” Without these characteristics, we are without breed type. Our breed standards must clearly indicate what these defining characteristics are and how they are formed.
What is Wanted
While many standards err on the side of too little information, still others waste a great deal of space on telling the reader what is not wanted - fault listing. In many cases, the faults listed are those which almost any dog fancier will already recognize as such or that the novice should be learning from his primer on general canine anatomy. It seems redundant to call out cowhocks as a fault when sound construction and efficient movement has already been asked for. When dark eyes are stressed as desirable, it seems common sense would indicate light eyes are a fault.
Dwelling on faults takes both the breeder’s and the judge’s attention away from what all standards should be about, and that is stating in positive terms what the breed is and/or should be. Look at it this way - only telling a real estate agent you do not want a shanty by the sea side will take him or her a lot longer to get you into the house you want than if you were to start off by saying you’d like a ten-bedroom villa in the hills.
Even better, stating specifically you want the ten-bedroom villa on three acres with pool, tennis court and stables to accommodate twelve horses would lead you to your dream house even more quickly. I’ve attended too many seminars where the presenter spent so much time telling those of us in attendance what the breed should not have that there was practically no time left to tell us what was wanted.
A standard written in positive and specific terms sends a judge into the ring, or the breeder to the whelping box looking for the dog or puppy with the most quality. It particularly keeps judges in touch with their sole responsibility while in the ring. That responsibility is to find the best dogs in a given class and line them up in descending order of quality.
A positive, specific standard does not mean that breed disqualifications cannot be called for when and if necessary. If something is entirely untypical of the breed, and ridding the breed of such a fault is important to maintaining breed type, it should be so stated. However, disqualifications should be specific and not a matter of degree. In other words, disqualifying a dog for “size over fifteen inches” is a specific and valid disqualification, as is black in the coat of a white breed. However, asking a judge to disqualify a dog that is “too big, too dark, too light in eye” is asking the judge to make a judgment call on something that is a matter of degree and not something that has a specific determination.
Who Should Write Standards?
While most fanciers will find little to argue with in the foregoing, actually getting standards written in the requisite specific terms is another matter. Standards are usually the result of too much input from too many people with too little real overall dog knowledge. There are certain principles of canine anatomy that apply to all dogs, regardless of breed. Single breed enthusiasts are often totally unaware that what they call for may be anatomically impossible or, if possible, contradicts what is called for in another part of the breed’s anatomy. Nor do enough dog fanciers realize that when one portion of the anatomy is altered, it affects all the other parts attached to it.
A perfect example of that took place when the Havanese breed became recognized by another registry. For reasons known only to those who made the decision, it was decided that the Havanese should have a short upper arm which would accomplish the odd “flashing of foot pads” as the dog moves toward the viewer.
Although calling for a short upper arm did in fact produce the peculiar movement desired, what the writers failed to realize is that: 1) changing one bone in a dog’s anatomy affects the bones that it is attached to; and 2) changing movement changes construction. The result has been that one sees Havanese about whose entire front assembly has been foreshortened, and the dogs stand low and dwarfed in front and high in rear. Further, front construction has been so compromised that it has become difficult to find many dogs in some entries that come anywhere near front quarter soundness.
I have had the privilege of judging Havanese at UKC shows since they were recognized in 1991, and what I recall most vividly about the breed is its beautiful, easy, ground-covering movement. Light and springy, but with definite reach and drive.
One example I recall vividly is a dazzling gold bitch I gave a hotly contested UKC Best In Multi-Breed Show to at a winter show in Michigan. What I find particularly interesting about this bitch is how much she resembled two other breed greats I was later able to judge abroad.
Without a doubt the late Paloma de Chaponay of Tammylan in England stands as one of the most exciting examples of the breed that I have had the privilege of seeing or judging. Paloma’s beautifully balanced construction, typical breed movement, and excellent coat texture set her far above her competitors.
I awarded Paloma Best of Breed at Crufts in 2004. She was entered in the Veteran’s class, and I would have guessed her just old enough to be eligible for that class. Imagine my surprise to find she had already celebrated her thirteenth birthday and that my placement was the third consecutive time she had won the Breed at Crufts! Her overall outstanding record of wins has been achieved under a number of highly respected English and European judges.
Another outstanding example of the breed is Indio vom Kapflesberg at Snazzipaws - a striking red male owned by Paul and Julie Connolly who reside and show in Ireland. Havanese had not yet achieved full acceptance with the Irish Kennel Club when I judged this important dog, but he went on to win great respect in toy breeds competition from what might be considered the rare or limited classes here in the U.S. Even though, Indio went on to become the Top Winning Toy Dog in Ireland. And that was accomplished over all of the long-time recognized Toy breeds shown in Ireland and England.
What these three dogs shared was their beautiful balance, correct angulation and ease of movement.
Most breed enthusiasts are well-intentioned. Those involved in writing standards, however, must not only be aware of correct anatomical construction for their own breed, they should also be familiar with a number of other breeds and have a good working knowledge of canine anatomy in general. Think of it this way, as well meaning and concerned for your welfare as your friends and acquaintances might be, would you hand them a scalpel and invite them to the hospital to pitch in and help with your heart bypass surgery?
This is particularly important for those who create entirely new breeds. Although one often wonders why it is we need even more than the four hundred and some breeds recognized throughout the world, still it appears there is need on the parts of some. These are the fanciers who, above all, need the guidance and a well-experienced dog person - one who is not only familiar with many breeds, but also has judged over a long enough period of time to fully understand what the average judge needs to know in order to judge a breed properly.
(Continued in Dealing with Breed Standards, Part II)
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.