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How Far Does “My Interpretation” Go?
Posted on 04/10/2013 in Ringside Conversations.

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Richard (Rick) Beauchamp

Correct type is the ideal - perfection, if you will. We all know that perfection in purebred dogs is probably not going to be achieved in our lifetimes, if ever. We find that even our best dogs will fall either slightly to the left or a bit to the right of it. In this respect, some flexibility in interpreting the standard is allowed. A word of caution here, however, flexibility does not imply that any old interpretation is as good as the next.

There can be observable differences within dogs of the same breed without straying from the original concept of the breed (the breed standard). The dogs remain within the parameters of correct breed type but are of different styles.

Common sense tells us every person who reads the standard will interpret it in a slightly different manner. It is critical to understand that these interpretations do not change the standard or the origin and purpose of the breed. The latter are facts that remain constant no matter who reads the standard, studies the breed’s history, or becomes a breeder. These facts stand firm regardless of how well or how poorly they are understood. If we allow interpretations to create correct type, the variations could, and would, extend beyond recognition. Correct type is what puts the reins on this happening.

No one should breed or judge dogs without knowing all the implications of the preceding paragraph!

Interpretations do create the styles that will always exist within correct type, but they do not and cannot create type itself. A good part of the reluctance to abandon the belief that there are many types within a breed stems from the fear that if there is only one type, an individual breeder or exhibitor may not have it. It may not align with their particular interpretation of the standard.
Accepting the interpretations or variations as styles, rather than types, can help immeasurably in reassuring a breeder or judge that the variations do exist and they can, within limits, be umbrellaed under the heading of correct type.

This can be in a single characteristic, or in the manner that a whole series of characteristics combine to create a different look. For instance, a single characteristic like length of neck can change the style of a dog significantly. The opposite end of the style spectrum would be adding size, bone and coat to a breed.

One breeder may believe just a little less neck creates a picture of greater stability; another may see more length helps portray this breed most accurately. Neither of the two styles is taken to extremes, but while producing a different look both within the realm of correctness.

Each of the two breeders becomes known for their style of dog.

A judge comes along and selects the dog he feels characterizes the breed best. It could come from either the style of dog Breeder “A” breeds or the one that Breeder “B” has striven to produce. However, the judge must keep in mind what the ideal is and, when given the choice, opt for the ideal or as close to it as he can get on the day. In this case, the neck being neither too long for the standard, nor too short for it. This is a simplification of course, but it’s presented simply in order to get the point across.

Understand, the allowance for style doesn’t permit Breeder “A” to make his Schnauzer look like a Borzoi, nor does it give Breeder “B” the right to breed a Schnauzer that looks like a Bulldog. There are common sense limits that keep us from going too far in either direction.

Acknowledging deviations from perfection as different types somehow implies that the deviations are just as good as the ideal, and therefore there is no need to be concerned about achieving the ideal, nor since ideal is not the operative word, one need not worry about extremes. It becomes a breed-as-you-may, judge-as-you-may situation. Perfection may not be achievable, but that doesn’t eliminate our responsibility to constantly work toward getting as close to it as possible. It is the very purpose for having written breed standards. An analogy I have used many times is the great difficulty in climbing to the top of the mountain does not eliminate the mountaintop!

The Breeder-Judge and the All Breed Judge
There are times when a variation, a style, may be acceptable, but not preferable. What follows will take some thinking about in that it flies in the face of “modern” judging in which judging that gives an eye to the breed’s future or how a dog may contribute or hamper its breed exceeds judging responsibility.

A more “old fashioned” approach assumes a judge’s responsibility is to select the best breeding stock from that present. It is apt to be, but not exclusively, a characteristic of the breeder-judge. If paid attention to and given the opportunity to explain the reasons for what a judge of this approach has decided, great contributions can be made to a breed that may sorely need help in certain areas. The all breed judge - particularly the newer all breed judge - understandably may not be close enough to the breed to make calls of this nature.

In all breeds, as said above, we have quality dogs falling to both the left and right of that target of perfection. Let’s use the Bichon Frise as an example. To the one side, the dog a shade sturdier in makeup - in bone and substance throughout - thereby creating a slightly longer, lower picture than perfection would have. On the other side of the line we have a proportionately taller, more elegantly boned dog, with slightly greater length and arch to the neck, giving the appearance of a leggier more exaggerated dog.

They both fall within the spectrum of acceptable, but yet of entirely different styles. They maintain correct type in that they deviate from the ideal only slightly.

What might the specialist say in regard to the two? A breeder judge might give each of the dogs an important win at different times, depending upon the circumstances of the day. Faced with the decision between the two, the breeder-judge might well choose the slightly leggier dog because experience in the breed has taught the judge the “drag” of the breed at hand drifts to an incorrect heavier cast shorter legged and shorter necked dog.

This is a much different situation than a judge or breeder who has made a predetermination that a long neck is the only way to go in the breed irrespective of all else. The standard of the Bichon Frise does not state that the only thing of consequence in the breed is a long neck, and does not indicate in any part that a breeder or judge has license to approach the breed in this manner. Particularly a judge, whether specialist or all breed, should enter the ring determined to award only the style of dog he prefers. Doing so puts the judge in grave danger of a lesser dog of his preferred style being put up over a good one that happens to fall slightly toward another style. It’s all about putting up the dog with the most quality as described in the standard.

I find myself unable to agree that the good all breed judges and the good specialist should always end up in the same place. This is not to serve as a comment in favor of one or the other. Only the most presumptive all breed judge could expect to know the nuances of, say, the Shiba Inu to the extent a longtime and successful breeder judge would, nor would he hope to fully understand the fluctuations that exist as the immature puppy of the breed passes on through the various stages on the road to maturity.

On the other hand, the average specialist does not delude himself thinking he can walk into the ring with the decided advantage of approaching the Shiba with great knowledge, perhaps of all the Spitz breeds, and a solid background in overall conformation, bone structure balance and movement in dogs generally.

It should be obvious both the specialist and all ‘rounder are needed. The good breeder is one whose aim is to produce a line of dogs to succeed under both.

Perhaps we might come closer together - those of us who opt for one true type, and those who say there are many types - if we were simply to agree there are variations within a breed, but standing out there just beyond the variations is that one shining image of perfection - the one that we might both call the impossible dream, the one we all aspire to.

Richard G. (Rick) Beauchamp has been successfully involved in practically every facet of purebred dogs: breeding, exhibiting, publishing, writing. He is the author of numerous breed and all breed books including the best-selling Solving the Mysteries of Breed Type and Breeding Dogs for Dummies. He has judged all breeds throughout the world and was one of the United Kennel Club’s first all breed judges.

This article originally appeared in the March 2013 issue of BLOODLINES Dog Event News.