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Behind Dog Breed Standards

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The American Kennel Club (AKC) recognizes a growing list of well over 150 dog breeds.  What is behind dog breed standards?  The breed standard itself is simply a written description of the ideal specimen of a breed.  But, ahhh, the nuances!!  AKC judge Betty-Anne Stenmark helps us appreciate the finer points in this article from dogchannel.com.

Behind Dog Breed Standards

Most breed standards have words and phrases that are peculiar to that breed. We call these breed-specific words. In my own breed, the Dandie Dinmont Terrier, the body shape is called “weasely.” Where do you find the meaning of that? Two other terms in the Dandie standard refer to the coat: “piley” and “penciled.” A student can’t consult the dictionary to find the meaning of those words as they apply to dogs. Thankfully, an Australian all-breed judge, Dr. Harold Spira, solved that problem. In 1982 he published a book, found in every serious dog fancier’s library, called Canine Terminology. It is the dictionary of the purebred-dog world and contains the language of the sport.

Although breed standards contain words and descriptions that apply to most dogs, the breed-specific words guide us to define breed type and judge accordingly. You will sometimes hear a critic say, “She judged that breed generically.” That means the judge applied basic dog knowledge to every breed and just picked out the dog that loves to show. This eye-catching dog flies around the ring, but does it have good breed type? If that dog came into an animal shelter, would a shelter employee readily recognize that it was, for example, an American Staffordshire Terrier, as opposed to a Staffordshire Bull Terrier? There are many breeds where only subtleties distinguish it from another.

Some breed standards are so detailed that no bone goes unmentioned. The Dachshund standard even tells us each foot has five toes, four in use. On the other hand, the Saluki standard is so abbreviated that one must do a great deal of supplemental work to understand correct Saluki breed type. It is a standard that has been in place since the American Kennel Club first recognized the breed. The “General Appearance” paragraph states that the breed should give “an impression of grace and symmetry and of great speed and endurance coupled with strength and activity to enable it to kill gazelle or other quarry over deep sand or rocky mountains.”  This is a description that could apply to many breeds and most sighthound breeds, so how does a student guard against judging generically?

Because of the complexity involved in truly understanding everything behind dog breed standards, all AKC judges are not allowed to judge all breeds.  The quoted article goes on to discuss Ms. Stenmark’s mentors in teaching her the intricacies of the Saluki standard.  How well do you know the dog breed standard for your pet?

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