Understanding What “Type” Actually Is
Posted on 10/17/2008 in Ringside Conversations.
Richard G. (Rick) Beauchamp
(This article originally appeared in the September 2008 issue of BLOODLINES Magazine.)
The debate that concerns itself with whether or not there are one or many correct “types” in any given breed wages on as it has for many years. I find the topic an extremely important one and one that must be clearly understood by anyone who hopes to fully understand what the art and science of dog breeding and dog judging are all about.
As important an issue as breed type is, I find it the least understood of any of the many complexities purebred dogs provide. In fact, my own research and discoveries in this area serve as the core message of the recently published second edition of my book, Solving the Mysteries of Breed Type.
One of the major points stressed within the pages of the book is that dog fanciers stray from the actual meaning of the word type by consistently interpreting the word, rather than defining it. An interpretation gives us an individual’s personal explanation of the meaning or intention of a word or a piece of work. Obviously that explanation will vary from one person to the next based upon their own experience and their ability to express themselves. An example of interpretation within the dog lexicon is, “he believes the statement ‘slightly longer than tall’ means no more than one inch longer than height at the shoulder.”
Someone else may believe that the same statement means more than an inch, and yet another may see it as less. Obviously “slightly longer than tall” is a statement that cannot be readily defined.
Expressing one’s self as a breeder can be seen in the dogs that the breeder produces. Judges express themselves in how they place their dogs. However, what type requires in order for the word to be fully understood is to be defined. To define is to state the precise meaning of. An example of defining size might be, “The ideal height for that breed is 12 inches at the shoulder.”
How then do we go about defining the word type? We must have some criteria in order to do so. For the purposes of my book, I created a list of dogs I’ve known through the years that are generally conceded to have been of great type. I then posed the question, “what makes them eligible to be included in this list?”
What I began to realize was that regardless of breed the listed dogs shared certain specific characteristics in which they could be scored very heavily. These high scores were not in just one of two respects, but in a number of them. And thus I began to realize that it was the sum of a specific list of characteristics that provided the basis - and thus the very essence - of the dogs being included in the elite group I had created.
Where all the dogs on my list excelled was within the essentials that defined type in their respective breeds. The essentials:
The origin and purpose of each of the breeds differed, and these differences dictated what the essentials would look like.
There should be no question that the breed standard is where we look to find the descriptions of these essentials of type. Some of our standards present this information far more accurately than others do. Some breed standards require further research into history, origin and purpose before we have the information we need to understand the breed’s essentials or essence.
The Argument for “Different Types”
The argument presented by those who believe we have different types in a given breed is that each person who reads the standard interprets the specifics of a standard differently. It is important to realize that these interpretations do not change standard, origin, or purpose. These (standard, origin, and purpose) are facts that remain constant no matter who reads the standard or studies the breed’s history. The facts stand firm regardless of how well or how poorly they are understood. If we allow interpretations to create correct type the variations would extend beyond the pale. Correct type puts the reins on this happening.
Interpretations create the styles that will always exist within correct type but they do not and cannot create type itself. I think a good part of the reluctance to abandon the belief that there is a variety of types in a breed stems from a fear of rejection - "If there’s only one type, I may not have it!” “If there is only one type, that may not be as I understand it.”
However, 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 that they can, within certain limits, be umbrella’d under the heading of correct type.
What I’ve found helpful is seeing correct type as the ideal - perfection, if you will. But since we all know that perfection seldom (never?) occurs when dealing with nature, we find that even our best dogs will fall either slightly to the left or a bit to the right of it. This can be in a single characteristic or in the manner in which a whole series of characteristics combine to create a look, a style.
Successful Breeder “A” breeds and becomes known for the style of dog he sees as defining correct type best. Generally speaking, we could say that that interpretation falls slightly to the left of what might be considered - a trifle overdone. Breeder “B” breeds a style of dog that falls a bit to the right of ideal - a bit underdone. A judge comes along and selects the style of dog he feels characterizes the breed best. It could come from either style but he and we must keep in mind what the ideal is and whether breeder or judge opt for the ideal, or as close to it as we can get on the day, when given the choice. This is a simplification, of course, but it’s presented simply to get the point across.
Acknowledging deviations from perfection as different types somehow implies that they are the same as achieving the ideal. It then becomes a “breed as you wish, judge as you wish” situation. We all know that perfection may not be achievable but that doesn’t eliminate our responsibility to constantly work toward it.
I think we have lost sight of the value of our specialist judges and the role they can play in preservation of breed type. The breeder-judge may not in fact select the dog of the hour that has won all the all breed shows down the line. He or she may select a dog that, in addition to overall quality, has the characteristics that the breed is in danger of losing or has in fact already lost.
I know there are those among us who believe judging that gives an eye to the breed’s future or how a dog may contribute or hamper its breed exceeds judging responsibility; however, if the judges’ responsibility were to select the best breeding stock from that that is presented, how else would he or she proceed? If paid attention to and given the opportunity to explain the reasons for what they have decided, a specialist judge can make great contributions to a breed that may sorely need help in certain areas. The all-around judge could understandably not be close enough to the breed to make that call.
In Bichons, as I’ve said time and time again, we have quality dogs falling to both the left and right of that mythical target of perfection. To the one side, the dog with sturdier shorter bone and proportions throughout - shorter neck, shorter legs, 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 greater length and arch to the neck giving the appearance of a leggier, more exaggerated dog.
They both fall within the spectrum of correct type, but they are of 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? As a breeder judge, I could give each of the dogs important wins depending upon the circumstances of the day. Faced with the decision between the two, I would undoubtedly choose the slightly leggier dog (you know - along with that “all things being equal” caveat). Experience has proven the “drag” of the breed drifts to the heavier cast shorter legged and shorter necked dog.
Even in the most carefully planned breeding, these off-type individuals appear. They are undesirable in that (1) the drag of the breed is to the long cast, short legged dog of coarse bone, and (2) the maturation arc of this type is clearly much shorter than ideal and as they mature or peak or at a very early age (nine to ten months), they then decline toward a heaviness and coarseness that at times borders on dwarfism.
As a breeder I know this. I know the difficulty involved in maintaining proper balance in the breed and how quickly a breeding program can slide out of hand.
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 Kennel Club Books.