What is a breed standard and why is it neccessary?

by Stephanie S. Hedgepath

All dogs, with the exception of the toy breeds, were fashioned for a specific kind of work in order to ease man's burden. (Toy dogs are all bred to suit an individual purpose, it just happens not to involve what was and is considered "work.") When man first domesticated the dog, all that was needed was a dog that would carry out the required task with the most efficiency. What form the dog took was of little consequence. As time went on and dogs were used for more specialized purposes, distinct breeds began to emerge. The individual characteristics of the breeds were dictated by the purpose for which it would be used, the terrain it would have to work over and the climate in which it would have to perform its duties. When the first dog shows were held in Britain, beginning around 1843, the entries were limited to sporting breeds. Trials for sheepdogs were first held in Wales in 1873. After that first trial, interest in them spread throughout Wales and it has been theorized by Clifford Hubbard in his book "The Pembrokeshire Corgi" that it was "interest in tests such as these that led Welsh farmers to enter their Corgwn in small mixed agricultural and horticultural shows" with this occuring late in the ninteenth century. With the advent of dog shows came the neccessity of recording a Standard of perfection against which the dogs could be judged. Breed Standards lay down the principles on which a breed is bred. It is a blueprint of sorts detailing the characteristics of a particular breed of dog that distinguishes it from all others. The first standard for the PWC was penned in 1925, with the formation of the Welsh Corgi Club. I'm not sure of the date of the first Cardigan standard.

A standard cannot contain every detail of the dog, thus giving a complete picture of what the dog should be. Beginners often argue that they are unable to get sufficient guidance from the Standard of a breed and this complaint is a valid one, but one which can be overcome. Most breed standards assume you have a working knowledge of the breed, and also a familiarity with the terms most commonly used in dog breeding. Like most professions and hobbies, there is a language that must be learned before you can attempt to understand and learn.

All the points of any breed of dog are relative. Such terms as "moderately, fairly, medium, slightly" are all subject to interpretation and one person's interpretation may vary a good deal from another's! Thus it is the breeder's task not only to learn the Standard for his breed, but to be able to relate the descriptions of the Standard to the purpose for which the dog was originally bred.

In this day and age, because so many who are involved in the sport of dogs are so far removed from the original purpose of the breed, the modern day Standards should be as explicit as possible. The first Standards were rather brief, containing just the essence of the breed. This brevity was due to the fact that those who were involved in the creation of the Standards had a broad knowledge of what was neccessary in a given breed. One thing I have realized in my study of the standards was that certain things were understood to be needed universally in a certain type of dog, such as full dentition in a dog used for the control of livestock or as a hunter. There was no need to call for full dentition in the Standard as it was known by all that it was a neccessary characteristic.

No breed remains completely static. They all change to some degree over the years. It is the responsibility of the true breeder to see to it that the breed does not change so drastically that it loses its original character due to incorrect interpretation of the Standard. We must be careful with broad statements that a Pembroke cannot be too long or a Cardigan have too large an ear, when indeed these are faults that can indeed happen. A standard is the starting place for the novice breeder/fancier. It contains the essence of the breed. It should be committed to memory and should be the beginning of a lifelong quest for knowledge of a chosen breed, not the end of the journey!

These official written standards are maintained by each breed's national club and published in AKC's The Complete Dog Book. If a standard is changed by the parent club, then it cannot be changed again within a five year period, other than for reformatting. A change in any breed standard should not be taken lightly and should only be attempted by those with a deep and thorough knowledge of a breed. The Welsh Corgi standards are good ones, with enough detail to give a good idea of what the breed should be. A knowledgeable dog person should not have a problem relating the standard to the dog and vice versa.

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