Success in Show Dogs: Breed Type Is Flexible, Not Liquid

If there is anything that will confuse someone trying to get a handle on correct type in a dog breed, it is to hear about all the "different types" there are in the breed.

If there is anything that will confuse someone trying to get a handle on correct type in a dog breed, it is to hear about all the “different types” there are in the breed — the mountain type, the jungle type, the living room type, the boudoir type. When we look to the breed standard, we find not a word about any of these “types.” What the breed standard says is what makes a good individual dog of the breed and the things that make a not-so-good dog of the breed.

To listen to some of these exponents of “types,” I wonder how in the world they ever get to create a picture of the ideal dog in their mind’s eye.

Correct type is the ideal. Dog perfection, if you will. We all know that perfection rarely if ever occurs in purebred dogs. 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 breed standard must be allowed. A word of caution here, however: This does not mean that an individual’s interpretation of the ideal dog described in the breed standard can flow as far and wide as some might like to see it go. There can be observable differences within dogs of the same breed without straying from the original concept of the dog breed (the breed standard). These dogs remain within the parameters of correct breed type but are of different styles.

Common sense tells us every person who reads the breed standard will interpret it in a slightly different manner. It is critical to understand that these interpretations do not change the breed standard or the origin and purpose of the dog 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 show dogs without knowing all the implications of the preceding paragraph!


Styles Within the Breed Standard

Interpretations of the breed standard 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 dog breed stems from the fear that if there is only one type, an individual dog breeder or exhibitor may not have it. It may not align with their particular interpretation of the breed standard.

Accepting the interpretations or variations as styles rather than types can help immeasurably in reassuring a dog breeder or dog show judge that the breed variations do exist, and they can, within limits, be considered under the umbrella 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 purebred dog significantly. The opposite end of the style spectrum would be adding size, bone and coat to a breed.

One dog breeder may believe just a little less neck creates a picture of greater stability. Another may see more length as helping portray the breed more accurately. Neither of the two styles is taken to extremes, yet each produces a different look, both within the realm of correctness.

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

conformation dog show judge comes along and selects the dog he feels characterizes the breed best. It could come from either the style of dog Breeder “A” produces or Breeder “B.” 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 breed look like a giraffe nor does it give Breeder “B” the right to breed a neck that is far more fitting for a hippopotamus. 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 with achieving the ideal nor, because ideal is not the operative word, does one need to 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 Role of the Dog Show 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” dog show judging. Judging that gives an eye to the breed’s future or how a show dog may contribute to 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 attention is paid to such judging, great contributions can be made to a breed that may sorely need help in certain areas. The all-rounder,  particularly the newer all-rounder, understandably may not be close enough to the breed to make calls of this nature.

In all dog 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 Frisé breed as an example. To the one side we have a Bichon Frisé a shade sturdier in makeup — in bone and substance throughout — thereby creating a slightly longer, lower picture. To the other side we have a proportionately taller, more elegantly boned Bichon 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 an acceptable Bichon Frisé, yet they are of entirely different styles. Both Bichons Frisés maintain correct type in that they deviate from the ideal only slightly.

What might the specialist say in regard to the two Bichons Frisés? 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 Bichon Frisé breed irrespective of all else. The standard of the Bichon Frisé 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. A judge, whether specialist or all-rounder, who enters the ring determined to reward only the style of Bichon Frisé he prefers is in grave danger of putting up a lesser dog over a better one that happens to fall slightly toward another style. Such a judge has forgotten that 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-rounder and the good specialist should always end up in the same place. This is not to serve as a comment in favor of one type of dog show judge or the other. Only the most presumptive all-rounder 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 Shiba Inu puppy 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 Shiba Inu ring with the decided advantage of being intimately familiar with all the Spitz breeds and a solid background in overall conformation, bone structure balance and movement.

It should be obvious both the specialist judge and all-rounder judge are needed. The good dog 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 breed type and those who say there are many breed types — if we were simply to agree there are variations within a dog breed but standing out there just beyond the variations is that one shining image of purebreed perfection. That is the one we might both call the impossible dream, the one we all aspire to.


This article originally appeared in the October 2012 issue of Dogs in Review magazine. Purchase the October 2012 digital back issue or subscribe to receive 12 months of Dogs in Review magazine.



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