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Soundness or Type - Which Is More Important?
Posted on 08/11/2006 in Ringside Conversations.

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By Richard G. (Rick) Beauchamp
It seems the question, “Which is more important, soundness or type?” is one answered periodically and pretty conclusively, only to be raised time and time again. We can understand the why of the question – getting one or the other is far easier to come by than finding both to an acceptable degree in the same animal.

A typical example of lack of understanding can be seen in a letter I received from someone who had judged a very large entry at a breed specialty match. The writer spoke of “a bitch in one of the classes that was plain, not very typey, and she never put a foot wrong.” It appears the writer was somewhat taken by this particular bitch and eventually put her first in the class over a significantly typier but less sound competitor. This, despite the fact that “comments and opinions of those standing by were adamant on type over soundness.”

It is difficult to make valid comments on the class the writer referred to in that we would really have to actually see the individuals she was referring to. So much depends upon what all the dogs in the class looked like on the day – how lacking in type the bitch in question was and to what degree the typey ones were unsound.

And “on the day” is so important. I can remember before I started judging, saying that it would be impossible to put such and such a dog over some other being shown at the same time. Once I started judging, however, I realized that doing so would be more than possible. The factors are all too variable to ever say never.

Yes, that flashy, “never puts a foot wrong” kind of a dog will have a place in the ribbons when there are no dogs there that excel in breed type and who are reasonably sound enough to place over it. But that is not what a judge is looking to do. Rewarding the dog whose only virtues are flash and soundness over one of correct type who might be marred only by a degree of unsoundness is counterproductive to what breeding show quality animals is all about. I will explain why.

Certainly you’ve seen that mixed breed dog trotting down the street – head held high, level topline, tail waving happily behind him – glancing right and left as if he owned the world. His front legs reaching, the hindquarters driving, all in perfect balance and coordination. What else could you ask of any dog?

A lovely sight, right? Sound? Well, in a general sense, yes. He has all his proper parts in place and functioning, as they should for a dog. It appears he can see, hear and has obviously been able to eat well enough to keep him in fine fettle.

But don’t ask things like whether or not he is of proper size or if his attractive way of going is suitable for retrieving or galloping or for draught purposes. Don’t get too technical because the dog has no standard of quality against which to be judged. He has no criteria to meet. So he’s sound (not infirm) and he’s showy (a jolly temperament). Nothing more, nothing less.

Frankly most breeders give away sound, showy dogs as pets year after year. They come from the deepest blue of blooded lines. If soundness and charisma were the ultimate criteria for selection, the breeder’s task would be greatly simplified. But it is much more complicated than that for the breeder and judge.

What complicates the equation is that we are given the “type” factor to deal with. Type carries us into an entirely different arena. Here, where and how a dog puts his feet becomes the issue and the dog may or may not be required to have to have that jolly temperament. And even if he was – the degree of jolliness (if there is such a word) might well come into play.

Those coming from the working breeds (any breed created to perform specific tasks) are most apt to separate soundness from type in the belief that their respective breed must, above all, be able to perform. There is no argument with that except that there is no way on earth for a judge to determine if any given working dog can or will perform. One can only assume that if a dog is constructed in the manner required by the standard he would be able to perform. In other words, the judge relies upon the standard to describe the type of dog that can perform a given task. That is breed type.

In purebred dog parlance, type has been given us so many definitions that they provide the breeder and judge with room for unending discussions. In fact, that is exactly what inspired me to write my book, Solving the Mysteries of Breed Type. The seminar devotes itself to the elements that must be included if we are to fully understand what is now popularly known as the “essence” of a breed.

Webster's Dictionary defines essence as, “the intrinsic or indispensable properties that serve to characterize or identify something,” and “the most important ingredients; the crucial elements.”

Many years ago, the famed Poodle doyen, Hayes Blake Hoyt, succinctly described type in this manner: “...the dog which most closely resembles its standard both in motion and appearance is the most typical of a certain kind of dog developed for a particular purpose; it has type.”

It would only stand to reason that in order for a given purebred to embody the essence or type of its breed, it would most certainly have to reflect the purpose of that breed whether that purpose were to be built strong enough to pull, fast enough to catch or small enough to be carried around in one’s pocket.

We don’t need or want our Toy Fox Terrier to be constructed so that he is able to bring down and hold a 400-pound gorilla. Nor do we want our American Pit Bull Terrier built so sleek and trim he could successfully streak off across the desert after some leopard. What we are looking for is appropriate soundness.

We want our breeds to look like what they were conceived to look like in the first place. And if they are constructed in that manner, we will only be able to assume they will be able to perform in that manner, whether that’s dashing off after the gorilla or slipping into your pocket.

Thus, breeders and judges have need to see soundness as an adjunct to type. I make it one of the five components of breed type: character, silhouette, head, movement and coat. Not necessarily in that order, in that they share equally in defining type. Just to make sure my meaning is clear, I do want to point out that “movement” here includes appropriate soundness.

In my mind, you cannot put soundness in opposition to type. Separating soundness from type all too often leads to imposing the general rules of soundness on breeds not governed by them. For instance, the correct Miniature Pinscher moves with hackney motion in his forehand. Boxers have undershot jaws. The Chow Chow moves with a stilted gait, and the Pekingese has foreshortened and bowed front legs. These breeds are as their standards say they should be. They are appropriately sound because they are made as their standards require.

In these breeds, or in any breed for that matter, soundness is determined by type. Its absence would constitute a serious blemish; its presence without the other four elements of type would have no value.

In Summary
So to the writer, I would be inclined to say that rewarding the “plain, not very typey” bitch for soundness alone – would ignore all else the breed standard calls for. The writer did mention that the breed in question was the Whippet. The question she must ask and the rest of us are left to ponder is, just how much does a Whippet’s ability to trot nicely prove about what this coursing breed’s real purpose is?

Each and every judge I know approaches their task in a slightly different manner, but I for one will always feel more satisfied with the dog who represents himself well in all five of the components of type rather than in only one.

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.