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Ethics & Breeding Front Assembly Type & Style Type & Structure


What is "Type"?

Patrick Ormos (May '91) (redone, 2002)

There was a dog who lived next door to me whom I enjoyed watching. He had an absolutely level topline, well balanced front and rear angulation, short hocks and good musculature. He used it all very efficiently, in other words, he moved very, very well. I wish that I could judge more dogs which move like this one. There's just one small problem: he has a Keeshond-like head atop a Malamute-like body! He's a cross-bred, a mixture of something or other. He has no breed type. Should he be shown under me, either as a Keeshond, or as a Malamute, I would be forced to withhold, despite his superb movement.

Type is of the essence of a breed. Without it we have nothing to judge, or show, or breed. Without it we revert to a completely functional set of criteria: movement, or hunting ability, or herding ability, or sense of smell, or ....who knows? We would separate completely the issues of form and function. I recently visited a hunting kennel where the sole criterion is the functional ability of the dog: does it hunt well or not? While the owner had carefully bred his dogs for many, many years using this single criterion – and had been fairly successful with it – I had difficulty in identifying the original breed. These dogs had lost breed type. Now, please note that I am not arguing for form over function, beauty over brains, or any of the other unfortunate dichotomies which we argue in dogs. Form and function must go together. What value to the breed is a Corgi who is afraid of sheep or cattle? What value to the breed is a hunting dog who is gun-shy? What value to the breed is a great hunting dog whose breed is in question because type has been ignored? What value is a terrier who is too big to go down a hole? Extremists will come up with all sorts of extreme answers to these rhetorical questions. Middle-of-the-roaders will try to balance form and function in their quest for better dogs.

What is this elusive thing called "breed type"? The German Shepherd standard states: "The Shepherd should be stamped with a look of quality and nobility - difficult to define but unmistakable when present." Some countries add the phrase, "the look of eagles." The Sheltie standard speaks of something called "expression" which is vital to breed type. Without good expression a Sheltie just doesn't look right. Without a good head a Collie is n’t! There should be something about a Puli which shouts "bounce". Without a proper "foxy" head a Pembroke just isn't. The same could be said of each breed. There are certain very specific characteristics which differentiate one breed from another. For example, all the sighthounds have physical characteristics in common, that's why we can group them together as Sighthounds. Yet, there must be more than just coat which separates Afghans from Salukis. It is that "more" which constitutes breed type.

Breed type is that collection of specific characteristics which when taken together separate one breed from another.

Louis Doberman knew that, intuitively if not consciously, when he created the Doberman Pinscher. While Dobes and Rottweilers are similar in color and national origin, it would be a very poor specimen of either which could be mistaken for the other. That difference is breed type. He selectively bred for some characteristics and against others in order to create the Dobe. Captain Max von Stephanitz did the same thing for German Shepherds. He carefully selected for certain characteristics in his cross-breedings in order to produce a specific dog. When the resulting litters began to breed true, we had a new breed. Other breeds developed their specific breed type coincidentally rather than intentionally. The two Corgis bred true to type because of physical isolation. After some early confusion due to their common name it became clear that these were not two varieties of the same breed (one with and one without a tail), but rather two different breeds with different breed types and a similar name (Welsh Corgi).

Several years ago, I attended a Cardigan National Specialty. As I looked around the ring I saw a woman sitting with a red-headed dog bundled up in her lap. I thought how nice it was that she had come to watch this breed with her Basenji. To my consternation, she promptly stood up and took the bitch into the ring. This dog, whatever its other merits, had lost breed type in terms of its head!

We often confuse the discussion of type when we use the word indiscriminately. "Judge A prefers American type, but Judge B prefers English, or German or....." or, "Oh, I don't show under her/him because s/he doesn't like my type." Comments like this confuse both the novice and the veteran. There is only one correct type in each breed. Either the dog looks like its breed or it doesn't!

However, there are several different styles within the limits of breed type. Style is the specific way in which the defining characteristics of breed type are expressed. In German Shepherds there is a head style which is currently prevalent. Those who know their history recognize it as coming down from the F-Arbywood litter, a very influential bloodline in current American dogs. But, those who know their history, also remember another head-type which was very popular at an earlier time, one coming from a German import, Bernd v Kallengarten. Both heads are correct within the limits of breed type, yet both are very different from each other. Occasionally styles become so set and so different that we are forced to recognize that we have diverged into two different breeds, e.g. the American and the English Cocker, the American Staffordshire and the Staffordshire Bull, and perhaps many of our field versus show hunting breeds.

Breed type should be a priority for every breeder. Consistent style should be our goal.

When I can look at a specials ring at a National Specialty and pick out different kennels just by looking at the dogs, then I tip my hat to their breeder. Even when I disagree with his/her choice of style, I must still acknowledge the accomplishment. "You can always tell the XYZ dogs because of their heads. Look at those toplines and bodies, they must be from the ABC kennels." Such statements are compliments to the breeders' accomplishments. (Note that while we occasionally use such comments to disparage another breeder, here we are not dealing with that kind of negativism, but will instead assume that these are positive comments.) If we now understand the difference between type and style, what is the next step? Theoretical understanding of this difference is only a beginning, albeit a vital one. We must move to knowledge gained through education. Learning to recognize type, and then style, is vital for successful breeding. But first we must learn general dog lore, for only then will we understand how to develop type and style. The neophyte must learn the jargon of dogs (what are the withers?), the basics of correct movement, skeletal structure, musculature, etc. All of this is fundamental before moving on to learning about type and style. How often I see the process reversed! It is discouraging to hear a new Shepherd breeder rhapsodize about their dog's "high withers" and gorgeous type when what I see are straight shoulders up on the neck and bad breed type, or the Corgi breeder who extols his dog's "natural topline", a popular current euphemism for a sway or roached back, or a Sheltie breeder who lauds his dog's "stylish head carriage" when what I see is an ewe neck and straight shoulders. Learn the basics first, then learn type and style!

An "eye for a dog" is what we are all trying to develop and educate. We try to translate aesthetic language into breeders' terms as we look for line, balance, harmony, form, flow, etc. How do we tell the difference between good head carriage and an ewe neck? [hint: drop a perpendicular line from the base of the ear and see where it falls.] What's the difference between a rigid topline, a "natural" topline, and a good topline? [hint: what does the topline do on the move as compared to the stack?]

May I suggest some of the following to help in our quest for education:

(a) Join the national and local breed clubs,ifdTa local all-breed club. The specialty clubs will help you to learn about your specific breed. The all-breed club will help you to learn about dogs in general, and to keep a balanced perspective on your breed. Sometimes people who only belong to specialty clubs are unconsciously swayed by current fads in their breed.

(b) Buy dog magazines, not just local, but national and international. Look for photos, and compare them with what you see in your own backyard, and locally. Fill your eye with the picture of the breed. How does your local breed compare with that in the original country, or a country which has greatly developed that breed. Are you under the influence of a local fad? Use this information to correct your eye.

(c) Collect old magazines and books about the breed. Read as much history as you can find. How has the breed changed over the past 10, 25 or 50 years? Note that not all changes are necessarily for the better. What has improved and what has been lost? It is of very little use to line-breed on a famous dog about which you know very little! What were the good and bad points of this dog?

(d) Talk to the older breeders and to the famous breeders. What can they tell you about the breed, its history and its development? What are they stressing in their own breeding programs, and why? Respectfully ask older breeders to go over dogs with you. What do they think? Why? Don't "fault judge". Look for the qualities in dogs first, then discuss how the faults take away from the general quality. Judging faults is a common and disastrous mistake! As breeders we strive for the best, not the least faulty!

(e) Get the AKC videos, the slide shows, the Gazette, etc. Go to any seminars on your breed that you can get to. Organize an audio-visual presentation and get some breeders to do a commentary. Be intentional about learning.

(f) Go to dog shows: all-breed, specialty and national. The national specialties are very important. You get to see more quality dogs in one show that you can probably see all year locally.If you can travel, go to international specialties, compare the dogs in the UK, or Germany, or ... to your local area. What do you learn. Specialties are a breeder's showcase. It is there that you can begin to see the subtle differences between one style and another. It is there that you begin to really see breed type, too. Go to all-breed shows, what do the judges look for? Usually it is different that what specialty breeder-judges look for. What is the difference?

(g) Read the standard, and compare it to other countries' standards. Try to form a mental picture of the perfect dog in your breed - assume that "Fido" is not perfect, however much he is loved. Why do we want the perfect dog to look like that? What are you looking for, and why? (Again, if you don't have a good grasp of general dog lore, then the Standard just won't make any sense to you.)

(h) Learn the specifics of your breed's movement. All breeds move in generally the same way, that is, they all put one foot in front of the other and fall forward because of gravity. Now how does that translate into the specifics for your breed? All the achondroplastic (dwarf) dogs will have some similarities, but Dachshunds, Corgis, Bassets, Dandie Dinmonts, and Skye Terriers will also differ from each other. What are those differences and why do they exist?

(i) Begin to learn pedigrees and bloodlines in your breed. Most of us unfortunately start here, and skip the rest. We breed for beautiful pedigrees. But the truth is that we show a living reality, which may or may not represent its pedigree. We've all heard the joke about the judge who responded to one outraged exhibitor's, "Why did you place him fourth? He has a much better pedigree than the other dogs!" with the wry comment to show the pedigree next time rather than the dog. Successful breeding rest on a foundation of thorough breed knowledge.

Breed Type is an absolute requirement for successful breeding, showing and judging. Style is the crowning achievement of a successful long-term breeding programme.

Patrick Ormos



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