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Breed Standards as Gospel

Moses Tablets

I am a boy from the South. I was brought up not to discuss religion, politics or sex in public. Although I have been a Roman Catholic all my adult life, I was raised in the local Southern Baptist church from my earliest memory until I graduated high school. I have fond memories of that time. It was an era before the Southern Baptist church became politically involved. In fact, it was considered downright rude, if not blasphemous, to talk politics in church. The one distinguisher of the Southern Baptists of that era was that every man was his own interpreter of the Gospel. I came away with the simple, perhaps simplistic, guide, “What would Jesus do?”  There were spirited debates over the Bible. There were those that believed in a literal reading of the scriptures, those who though that the world was created in seven days. The majority opinion was that God had a different concept of time and created the universe over millions, even billions of years. The one thing I remember was that everyone respected everyone else’s right to have a different opinion. Sadly, today it is hard to find any forum where people respect each others’ differences and their right to hold a different opinion than their own.

I took part in a recent discussion of the interpretation of AKC standards. Over the years I have become a bit of a skeptic on the subject of standards. Some of our standards have been altered multiple times. It’s not that I object to changing a standard. It’s the reason for changing a standard that’s often an issue. I tend to bristle when an attempt is made to alter a standard to reflect the existing crop of dogs rather than describe the perfect example of the breed. I go with the simple, perhaps simplistic, “What would a breeder do?” I remember the late, great judge, Ann Rogers Clark saying, “Make them typey. Then make them healthy. Then make them pretty.” My interpretation of that advice is first make them able to do what they were bred to do, e.g., Cairns should be able to dig, fit into rocky crevices and go to ground.

Even more controversial are attempts to create a new breed to fill a void. One successful execution of that concept is the Black Russian Terrier. The BRT is unusual in that it was a government project. Developed by the Soviets during the post-World War II era as a guard dog for the Soviet army, the BRT was officially recognized in the US in 2004. Another ongoing project is the Silken Windhound. With origins in the 1980s, the Windhound is a much more recent breed. Admitted to the United Kennel Club’s registry in 2011, the Silken Windhound, has not yet achieved AKC Foundation Stock Service status. Borzoi breeder Francie Stull wanted a smaller version of the Borzoi, hardy enough for the harsh Texas terrain. From where I sit, Ms. Stull has achieved what few of us will in a lifetime, a whole new breed. And she did it the way that the breeders of old did it. Ms. Stull bred 200 Borzoi champions before she began her Windhound endeavor. She has field-tested her dogs, taking them out along with her horses.

Next time you are planning a breeding, look at your breed standard and ask yourself, “What would a breeder do?” And that’s today’s Back Story.

Written by

Billy Wheeler has been attending dog shows as a spectator and exhibitor for over 40 years. Billy is the man behind the popular Dog Show Poop. He is a retired management consultant who has advised multiple organizations affiliated with the AKC and the Cat Fanciers Association on business management, long range planning, customer service, and legislative matters. After 25 years of living in the big cities of New York, San Francisco, and Washington, DC, he now resides in his hometown of Memphis TN with his wife, Brenda, her Toy Poodle and his Cairn, Scottie, & IG. When he is not blogging, Billy can be found in the kitchen cooking, and listening to opera.
  • Ann July 11, 2013 at 11:06 AM

    Terrific article! Let’s please go back to the time of good manners and NOT discuss everything in public forums!

  • Collin July 11, 2013 at 11:26 AM

    I couldn’t agree with you more, Billy. We must protect our breed standards from dilettantes who see them as documents that can be changed at the drop of a hat to reflect whatever is happening in the current day. Not so. Breed standards are meant to show us the way to go, not the way we’ve gone.

  • Patricia Princehouse
    Patricia Princehouse July 12, 2013 at 6:24 AM

    Very interesting article about important issues that are difficult to articulate. If you can arbitrarily change how a breed should look or act, then why have purebred dogs at all? We have inherited breeds that arose for specific jobs at different cultural moments. Some of those jobs still exist and some don’t. Our job as breeders is to preserve the traditional range of morphology and behavior of the original breed. Otherwise we are creating a new breed -which is fine if there is a new job that necessitates it. But changing a standard to make it fit better with the dogs that are winning is not okay. The only reason to change a standard is to use words that will better convey traditional type in current vernacular. Language may change, ideal canine type should not.

  • Kathy G July 14, 2013 at 10:29 AM

    Reading all of the above comments, I must say that Billy, Ann, Collin and Patricia are right on the money. Our standard hasn’t changed since 1936; however, the look
    of our breed IS changing, The bottom line is….it comes down to the judging. The judges are the “last word” in the way our standard is perceived. Knowledgeable
    judges are revered. We need more of them to help keep our standard on track. Breeders can do their very best; however, if the judges aren’t acknowledging the
    standard than what can be done to insure that the correct dogs are being selected?

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