Tuesday, March 15, 2011

The Purpose of Breed Standards

There is an Official Breed Standard for every purebred, recognized breed of dog. Although those standard may have some variations depending on the registry, the purpose of the Standard is the same. The Official Breed Standard is a written description of the ideal dog of that breed.

These standards were not written by a single person, or written on a whim. The standards are full of history; dating back to the earliest recordings of the breed. Earliest standards have been changed, of course. Changes to the standard are now made by committee decisions, and then must be approved by the Parent Club, and then channeled through the AKC. No changes are made without a proven need, and most changes are in the form of clarification.

As breeders, we have a responsibility- no- an obligation to breed to the standard of our breed. The points in the standard describe what we call Breed Type. Those things that make our breed different from all of the other breeds- what makes a Cardigan different from a Pembroke- or a Bassett Hound! Breed Type encompasses many things: Silhouette, front, structure, balance, color, coat, head style, tail set & tail carriage, bone, etc. etc.-- and movement. Breeding to the standard means that your dogs are recognizable as Cardigans from a distance as Cardigans; no one is confusing them for corgi-mixes or border-corgi's.

But breeding is not an exact science, and certainly not every puppy born is going to ooze breed type. The reputable breeders work hard to follow the "rules." Breeding soundest, healthiest, best example of the breed (the bitch that is the closest to the standard) usually gets you closer to your goal, than breeding a mediocre bitch with glaring breed type faults. By the same token, breeding dogs with disqualifying faults is not breeding to improve.

Cardigans list 5 Disqualifying faults, 4 of which are what I consider "breeding no-no's" (and this is just my opinion):

Blue eyes, or partially blue eyes, in any coat color other than blue merle.
Nose other than solid black except in blue merles.
Any color other than specified.
Body color predominantly white.

Why are they no-no's? Because they are going to always be there in the pedigree- and they will come back to bite me-- or some other breeder down the line-- and they are disqualifications according to our current AKC Standard! Breeding decisions are very personal, and are completely tied in to a persons ethics. This is just where I have drawn the line for myself.

Official Breed Standards are very important for the history and the future of our breeds, and our sport. We expect Judges to make their choices in the ring according to the Standard. We educate those judges using the Standard, and we select dogs as examples of the breed, to educate those judges, using the Standard as a guide. Does it not make sense, then, for breeders to shoulder the responsibility and adhere to the standard when making breeding decisions?

Tuesday, March 1, 2011

Fault Judging

Get any group of breeders together, and the talk soon turns to to the big winners of the day. It is always interesting to hear other breeders opinions, and most of us can spend hours talking about bloodlines, structure, breed type and movement.
When we educate judges, we ask them to evaluate the entire package; not overlooking faults in favor of virtues, but weighing those faults and prioritizing the virtues. Evaluate the Cardigan as a whole- the sum of his parts.
It is even more important that breeders and exhibitors learn to evaluate the entire package. No Cardigan is without faults, and all Cardigans have virtues. How those virtues and faults work together is how experienced breeders (and judges) make their decisions.
Finding faults in a dog is very easy! It is also a very negative and damaging way to evaluate dogs. How many times have you sat ringside and heard comments about "So n So's" straight shoulder or bad tail set? When you look at your own dogs, do you see the faults first? Are you able to appreciate your dogs "parts", and evaluate him as a complete dog?
The fault judge is one that will discount an otherwise worthy dog for one major (or minor!) fault. The fault judge is someone who will not be able to see past cosmetic faults, or perhaps a less-than-ideal tail set, and appreciate the other qualities that the dog possesses.
We talk alot about how the Cardigans front is the hallmark of the breed- but it is not the only thing that makes a Cardigan worthy of being shown or bred... or not! A Cardigan with a great front- yet short in back or with an atypical head or curly,wiry coat or oval bone- is just not a great Cardigan. By the same token, a dog that is otherwise exceptional who has a poor coat, or a round eye, or a straight rear- is not a bad dog. Both dogs have virtues, and the strength of those virtues must be weighed against the severity of the faults.
Most successful breeders will agree that they would rather have an exceptional dog with one major fault, then a mediocre dog; a dog without major faults, but no outstanding virtues. Always remember that mediocre begets mediocre!
The next time you have an opportunity to see a group of Cardigans, try to find the virtues first- before you are tempted to point out the faults. Start training yourself to appreciate the dog as a whole-- the sum of his parts.
As always, I encourage you to visit the CWCCA website or Cardigan Commentary website for more information on judging our wonderful breed.
While on the CWCCA website, click on upcoming events, and find a supported entry or regional specialty near you.
Looking forward to seeing you around the rings!