Tuesday, July 13, 2010

Dr John Burchard on Breed Standards

My friend John Burchard, PhD, postdoc at the Max Planck Institute under Konrad Lorenz, years in Arabia with saluki and falcon, formerly involved in shows and still a presence in open field coursing and an attendant at conferences on dog genetics, (and owner of two of my pups (;-), on the inherent deficiencies of standards.

I have been viciously attacked for printing heretical opinions like this and those of Jess (below), and apparently denounced on FaceBook. Don't waste your typing fingers or your time. I didn't start this war, but I have no intention of giving up. There is more where this came from, including from John, and nobody can call HIM a "beginner". Here he is-- Steve:

I am more than skeptical about written breed standards. I don't know a
single one that doesn't have at least one piece of complete nonsense in it. In
some cases the standard may prescribe proportions which are not reached by ANY
individuals of the breed in question. With the best intentions in the world,
even quite knowledgeable people get carried away in standard writing. I don't
know any exception. I was intimately involved in not one but TWO attempts by
the FCI to rewrite the Saluki standard. The things that happened there, with
the greatest breed experts, would have been hysterically funny if they were not
so sad, and so damaging to the breed. Most of the people involved were well
meaning - and some were not, but that's another story.

I will offer two links here. One is to pictures of the "Sieger show" champions
of the German Shepherd Dog, each year from 1899 to the present. The standard
has not changed, and breeders and judges think they are following the standard,
but the dogs have changed a great deal, and not for the better (the original GSD
was a wonderful, upright, athletic dog; the modern show-line GSD is a physical
and mental cripple, "dog in front and frog behind" as some wag put it. Note
that this is in Germany, where the dogs are required to have a working
qualification before they can enter this competition. The work requirement has
had to be scaled back, because the modern banana-backed dogs cannot jump the
high obstacles their ancestors could ... see
http://www.pedigreedatabase.com/gsd/siegershow_winners.html and scroll all the
way down to the bottom to see what they looked like at the beginning ...

The people who breed those dogs will tell you they are breeding to the standard
(!). Apparently they actually believe that.

The other is to an article by Gabriele Meissen, DVM, Ph.D., on the "Azawakh" (a
Saluki/Tazi relative in the Sahara and Sahel) and the effects of using a
too-restrictive standard. Gabi is still too much under the influence of the
show mentality, and there are a few minor errors (the Wadi Azouag is mostly in
the Niger Republic, not in Mali, it is a now dry valley that joins the Niger a
little southeast of Gao; I've been there, but that was in 1965, before the big
Sahel drought, and the nomads with their dogs were then out in the desert, not
in camps), but it is an interesting and thoughtful article by an intelligent
well-informed person about the problems of an animal I tend to call the
"Eurowakh" (it is not very much like the original). See

It's important to understand these problems are built into the system. Good
intentions will not help you avoid them. You have to avoid the system, instead.

I have a lot more to say about these things, but maybe that will do for


Joanna said...

It's easy to say that every standard has at least one piece of nonsense, but spectacular statements like that need to be backed up. Footnotes, please! Otherwise it's not worth paying attention to.

I find it very interesting that the people who are quickest to say that standards shouldn't exist are also the quickest to deride the appearance of dogs. There shouldn't be a standard, but look what happened to the Shepherd. There shouldn't be a standard, but look what happened to the Azawakh. Standards are bad, but look what happened to the Golden. What you are doing, by comparing what you see with what you think the dog should look like, is applying a standard. It may not be the AKC standard, but it's exactly the same philosophical and practical process.

If you can look at the Azawakh Toboro II and say "That's a good dog, worth breeding," (which he is) and you can look at the Azawakh Gao and say "Oh my gosh, that's a hideously unsound dog and never should have been bred, much less linebred on" (which he is), you are making a mental comparison between those dogs and what makes a dog, of any breed, sound and mechanically worth passing on his or her genes. That's applying a standard.

You have, in your own writing, vigorously defended the idea of dogs of particular breeds being a proper height, weight, build, shoulder, rear, ribbing, feet, and head. In other words, you DO believe in applying a standard.

As far as I can tell, what you are ACTUALLY saying is two things: You don't like some of the FCI standards for the breeds you care deeply about, and you think standards shouldn't have color and coat requirements. Those are completely different arguments, and ones well worth having, but (unless you are not following your own strong feelings on what makes a good dog versus a bad dog) you do not think that standards shouldn't exist.

Mike Spies said...

The failure of breed standards (in the USA and Europe at least) is that they apply very subjective viewpoints on the appearance and confirmation of dogs, but seldom (never, in the case of the AKC breed clubs) require that the dog be able to actually perform their originally intended functions.

My point in case is breeds developed for bird hunting (what my dogs do, and in which I have reasonable experience). Breed standards do not include any performance requirements, endurance, intelligence, trainability, or ability to actually find and handle birds.

So what is the actual function of the breed standard? Bench judging. Useless in the extreme to those who do other than show their dogs.

Joanna said...

Mike, your brag pictures of your dogs are them stacked, or close to it. That's because conformation DOES matter, and if you forget that it matters you end up with the stove-pipe rears that are making me nauseous about field-bred Pointers right now. If a hock can be bent backwards while the dog is standing up, I don't care how birdy he is because he's going to hurt the breed.

I don't know how many more times I can say this, but we (show breeders) ALL KNOW that the breed ring = body only. All of us. Know that. It's the first thing you tell any person getting interested in breeding. It's basic breeding bible - show ring = body; never ever ever breed to a dog without seeing him, getting your hands on him, and in a working breed watching him work. We use the show ring for what it's worth; the show ring is like the spell-checker. It's a basic screen for big bad conformation problems. It says nothing else, and your due diligence is by no means complete just because a dog finished a title.

In the show-breeding community there are a few people who breed to the ribbons, who will ignore anything else about a dog if he's a big winner. We have names for those people, and they are not nice. That attitude is derided and strongly criticized, even more strongly than I've seen people get cut for breeding to a MH whose front can't get out of the way of his own back feet.

PBurns said...



For the record, it appears Ms. Joanna raises Corgis.


A breed selected for dwarfism.

And this lady wants footnotes.

From Burchard and Bodio no less. Nice. ;)

To move into the realm of the serious, the funny thing about "the standards" are that they change every 20 years or so; some even more often.

It turns out that "the standards" are not very standard! What a hoot!

And what is not part of "the standard"?


No written UK or US Kennel Club standard requires actual work.

What else is not part of the standard?

A health test.

A health test is not part of any US or UK standard.

And the result?

Well you can see it in the platoon of nonworking and health-challenged dogs and breeds that are a product of the Kennel Club's inbred thinking.

In the world of working dogs, we do not judge down the leash because there is no leash; the dog is judged by the cow, the sheep, the fox, the coyote, the wolf, the rabbit, the hare, the duck, the pheasant and the quail, as appropriate.

No ribbons are handed out.

The "footnotes" are written in wool and hide, feather and fur.

In the world of working dogs, real dog men and women know who the experts are, and they have four legs, or two wings, or pretty serious bite marks. All others are leash holders ;)


Jess said...

I call out anyone who attacks Steve privately over MY words as a lily-livered weasel. THAT IS NOT COOL. I had the balls to present my evidently uneducated opinion IN PUBLIC, if you disagree feel free to do so, here on the blog. That's what the bloody comments are for, people.

Not cool. I am incensed. Sorry, Steve.

Joanna said...

Patrick! Let me know when you actually breed a litter and we can talk.

Yes, I do breed Cardigans. And Danes. And before that field-bred Pyrenees, and before that unregistered English Shepherds. And meat rabbits and fur rabbits and Saanen and Alpine and Nubian goats and purebred chickens and ducks and Dorset sheep and Pilgrim geese. Oh, and Abyssinian cavies. Had reining-bred Quarter Horses but never bred them.

ALL of those animals, from the most to the least productive to society, have written standards. It's the most universally recognized need in all of deliberate animal breeding. And the reason they ALL had written standards is because describing the way a body should look goes a long way toward describing the function the animal should have.

Careful breeders look at more than just whether an animal can produce wool or milk or can chase a cow. They consider whether the animal's body will give it the long and pain-free life it needs, and whether its brain (or its skin, or its mammary system) is being supported by its body or if it's fighting against its body.

If a working terrier is out at his elbows, he may be able to kill a lot of stuff but he'll be arthritic much sooner than one with good blending. If a working terrier has shoulder blades that are set too close together, he will not be able to get his head down easily to dig. If his back is too short, he does not have the flexibility to get out of a hole easily. If he has no rear angulation, trotting will be difficult for him and use up the calories he should be using to dig. If he has barrel hocks, he cannot make tight turns. There's a lot more to it than his chest measurement, and there's a much longer timeframe than the next hunt to worry about.

As much as I want owners to understand structure and conformation, I can forgive one who thinks that chest measurements are the only thing that matters. But if you're breeding, as opposed to just owning dogs, you have a responsibility to not only understand how conformation affects the dog's life, but to stay true to the next generations, who are going to live either painful or pain-free lives thanks to your decisions.

My dogs herd, and I won't breed them unless they herd. I want to see an outrun as soon as they can stand on their feet and play with the other puppies. But as strongly as I feel about that, at least stupid doesn't hurt. I'd rather see people breeding "badly" in a way that damages instinct than a way that damages bodies.

PBurns said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
PBurns said...

Wow a lunatic who is so "loon-a-ticky" that she posts the same thing again and again and again.

Quesiton: Why would I breed a litter Jack Russells or Patterdales dogs when there are a lot of good dogs to be be had for a song?

And why would you?

Corgis and Great Danes and everu other breed under the sun are neck deep in the shelters.

And it's not like you work either dog, is it? You say you herd your Corgis. Right. Put up a video of them doing an outrun, lift, and pen ;)

No, for you dogs are about ego-gratification ribbons.

You are the kind of Kennel Club person who thinks a cow cares what color the dog is, or whether it has a tail or not. Priceless!

And please come out and show me about working terriers, LOL! I want to be taught by a master. If you want to come dig on the dogs and explain how a dog that is "out at the elbow" will get arthritis and be of no use in the field, let me know. But be advised that you will be carrying the post hole diggers ;)

Oh, and please DO post a video of your dogs at a herding trial. We will ask Don McCaig to critique the technique!


Heather Houlahan said...

Joanna has trolled my blog as well, same tune, pretty much the same chorus. La la la dog shows, La la la AKC.

This post -- http://rufflyspeaking.tumblr.com/post/691323733/how-to-annoy-me -- leads me to strongly suspect that she has outworn her welcome on many a "stupid" blog.

Of course she willfully twists the argument that cosmetic "standards" for dog breeds -- those scraps of inerrant scripture that are simultaneously parsed and venerated and flouted by the True Believers -- are harmful to the health and function of the population with the Dancing Straw Man of "No one should apply any criteria whatsoever to distinguish a sound dog from an unsound one, a dog suitable for a given function from one less suitable, or any structural or cosmetic marker that indicates the animal is a member of a given breed."

If Joanna thinks that those of us who sob with grief when we see a slinking, wobbling, banana-backed "German shepherd" are lamenting some failure to exhibit the right fancy points -- well, I'd fear for the genetic health of her corgis, if it wasn't already a moot point purely on the basis of their -- ahem -- completely functional genetic dwarfism.

smartdogs said...

There used to be a breed in the US that included health and temperament testing in its standard and required breeding practices but a small group of ribbon and dollar hungry bastards sold it to the AKC. I wish a virulent pox on them all.

And for a standard describing two breeds rarely shown where the goal is still (mostly) work see these:
http://www.englishshepherd.org/ESCBreedStandard2004.htm and

Joanna said...

Heather - that actually made me laugh. No, the "how to annoy me" post was prompted by someone on a corgi blog saying that it was really awesome to buy puppies from pet stores. She deleted all the comments that were negative. I've not been thrown off any blogs or discussion boards permanently, at least that I know of; Scotty invited me back, as a matter of fact, and comments on my posts too.

And good Lord, I am RABID about soundness being definable. In fact, the one time I really *did* get in trouble on a discussion board of pet owners was when I said that so-and-so craptastic breeder was breeding unsound dogs and nobody should buy from them. I am not sure if you actually read the comments I wrote here, but my entire thesis is that sound dogs are the ones we should be defining and breeding and unsound dogs are the ones we should be rejecting, regardless of whether they're show-type or field-type.

And yes, dwarfism is functional for a working dog. It's a huge tradeoff, which I am very much aware of, but there's a reason the mutation exists in virtually all the functional groups of dogs from antiquity - there are dwarfed herders, dwarfed hounds, dwarfed bird dogs, dwarfed terriers, etc., and were LONG before any inkling of show-dog status was imagined.

You shorten the legs and you can have a dog with the same strength and power on a much lower center of gravity and smaller package. In herding dogs, they can corner faster and they roll rather than breaking when they're hit. In spaniels they move slower, allowing hunting on foot. In terriers they're better on rocky and uneven terrain while retaining a big enough body to go against bigger game.

The trade-off with a dwarfed dog is IVDD, as the tradeoff with a very large dog (like the CO, which is spoken of with great admiration - and with good reason - on this blog) is a vascular and adrenal system that is not built to support that size of body, or the tradeoff with a coursing hound is too little fat and the attendant liver issues. The dwarfed breeds, as a whole, live longer and healthier lives than either of the others (the giants or the coursing dogs), but there's no question that we do pay a price.

I personally try to make the price we pay as low as possible - I breed little, sound Cardigans who put minimal weight on their spines. I don't want a bitch over 30 lb and I spayed - despite her big wins - the only one I have that went over that weight. My current bitch puppies look like they MIGHT hit 25, which is going to make them look ridiculous in the Open class, but I finished their mom at 26 lb with four majors and I'm going to be dang proud to put these girls in the ring because they can *fly.*

No argument from me on the GSD - I just watched a friend's shepherd take her first blue ribbon (in a big BBE class, so it was kind of a big deal) with a dog who stands on her FEET, not her hocks; the same judge withheld first place in Open because the dog was so unsound. There was great cheering from the non-GSD folk, and it was all we talked about at lunch. I very much doubt it'll happen again, but I can hope!

PBurns said...

How about that video of your dogs actually doing work Joanna?

I HOPE what we see is not sheep or cattle in a pen being harassed by a madly barking dog -- i.e. an AKC herding farce.

What I HOPE we see is a nice outrun (a half mile would be fine) and then a lift, fetch, drive, shed and pen.

And after you post the video, which I know we ALL want to see, you can tell us why the COLOR of the dog is very important to the work (the topic of this thread).

And then you can tell us why a DWARF breed is preferred by all the REAL sheep and cattle men all over the world. ;)


Matt Mullenix said...

I'll be embarrassed if this sparks or stokes a flame war, but I'd like to contribute support for the notion of work as the most meaningful standard.

I'm not a breeder of dogs or hawks--although I value good breeding in both and have kept and used well-bred hawks and dogs almost every day for more than 25 years.

My definition of what makes for "good breeding" (for my purposes) is the demonstrated field success of the animals' parents and siblings (less so its more distant relatives). I've hunted with enough captive bred hawks and dogs to satisfy my own belief that like-begets-like.

My advice to those in the market for a good Harris hawk: If you want a great bet on a smart, eager (and sound!) young bird, find a breeding pair that was reluctantly retired for breeding after 7-10 seasons of steady performance in the field, catching game daily and under conditions similar to those you will face in your own location.

That's a bet I would put good money on, and have, many times! :-)

Nonetheless, there are complications to this formula. A good falconer or dog person can make a fine hunter out of an almost totally unknown quantity. Wild hawks (with no known "pedigree") can of course make great falconry birds, and mutts from the pound can hunt as some clearly have. Also, breeds not "made" for some types of work can do them anyway.

But the only way to know these things with certainty is to leave the world of theory behind you and enter the many worlds of work.

In those worlds, form, function, husbandry, wisdom, experience, genius, and luck are all tested against the standard of the work. In hunting, ultimately, its headcount---style points are important (and the thrill of the chase, etc), but style without substance has no meaning.

A hunting animal, wild or tame, must kill enough to keep itself fed or to earn its kibble, depending. A herding dog or cutting horse must put enough livestock in the pen at the end of the day to keep the farm in operation.

At some point, some where, the rubber has to meet the road.

Now, I realize not all of us are on the same road. If a shepard wants dwarf Corgis herding her sheep, I think that ought to be her right. Who are we to say what her standard ought to be? Her standard is her satisfaction.

But if the standard is set instead (or also) by the number of sheep herded on working farms over several generations of famer and dozens of dogs, I would not expect to see dwarves at work. I would expect to see what I see on ranches around Amarillo, Texas while I'm hunting jackrabbits: Leanish, squarish, handsome, and very smart dogs that look to me a lot like Border Collies.

Heather Houlahan said...

I actually was a member of the standards committee for the first breed that Smartdogs posts.

In general I agitated to get references to fancy points and show-dog bullshit thrown out of the standard. The ESC does not sponsor or condone dog shows, so references to things such as "penalties" are complete nonsense.

I was not wildly successful in my efforts to inoculate the ESC's breed description from the creeping crud of Fancy language, but perhaps excluded the worst of it. A big battle that I lost was over calling it a "standard" in the first place. There is one sentence in the cosmetic section of the final standard that I contributed word-for-word. I bet you can find it.

The show-dog standard worshipped, but not owned, by the newly-minted show-dog "club" begins "According to legend ..." and degenerates from there.

Fortunately, a grand total of three families in the world are subjecting their ES dogs to the idiocy of the pageant ring as of 2010. Since the Overlord to which they pay tribute sponsors the Special Olympics of the show dog world, all their dogs are "champions" and most are "grand champions." Every entrant gets a ribbon and a hug. (Unless "disqualified" by being the "wrong" color or having the "wrong" color nose. Right colors are very important to their Overlord -- so important that it will deregister and ES that enters the pageant ring and is decided to be the wrong color.)

This is widely regarded as pathetic in the community. There is no particular demand for the offspring of these wunderhunds. The Special Olympics "titles" are not recorded in our genetic database.

PBurns said...

Bingo Matt!

In the world of work, the work counts. There is no judging up the leash or down the leash, because there is no leash. The count is in the bag or in the pen and it cannot be faked.

And yes, if people get their joy doing something that is not real work, God Bless. I have never said anything against Earthdog trials or any of the other stuff. But let's not confuse it with work!

I am no hawker (as you know!) but you and I both know the world of hawks, falcons and eagles has a lot of folks who never let a bird off a creance and many (too many!) who only walk around with a bird on fist at Rennaisance Fairs and junior high school show-and-tells. They can talk history and theory, etc. but in the end they are not true hawkers or falconers as you understand them. They are people who own birds.

I love what you said about a good falconer being able to do at least OK (maybe great) with a bird of unknown origin. True too for dogs much of the time. But you and I both still look for a dog or a bird from hunting lines and that is proven in the field. And why? Simple: Because time is valuable and we all hope to do "better than average." A gifted animal in the right hands and given the right experience at the right speed is a thing of real beauty. It is the edge you hope to ride. And with dogs, at least, it does not have a damn thing to do with color!


Matt Mullenix said...

Patrick I have always admired your support of work as the standard, and I see you as supporting its application to people and animals alike.

I agree, so long as its possible to do so without making the scheme a social hierarchy.

I'd oppose the notion that the difference between those who do work with animals and those who do something other than work with them is a hard barrier---Worse than a social hierarchy would be a caste system, with no chance for changing one's position or practice or one's mind about the nature of work.

If we discounted as good future falconers all the people with a passing fancy for the sport, and all the Ren.Fest actors and all the show-and-tellers, we would deny outrselves what is (honestly and probably) the largest source of new falconers available.

"Largest but not best!" you might say.

I couldn't argue aginst that. The best falconers are rare, and who knows where they come from? But I support all comers. Everyone starts somewhere, with something; a love of animals is as good a start as any.

So I'm against elitism as shortsighted and just bad manners, while I'm able (I believe) to know real work when I see it, and to admire it as something I aspire to do myself.

Ultimately, I think there is plenty of real work in the world to be done and too few workers. The more we can recruit and encourage, the better.

PBurns said...

100% agreement there Matt!

I LOVE to see folks move from AKC go-to-ground to real hunting. It happens too, and I should know as I came down that road myself. Yes, believe it or not, I used to show dogs in the AKC long before I owned a decent shovel (but shhhh... tell no one!). So 100% agreement that however folks get there, we want to encourage them to come down the road if they can, and they want. And, of course, people can go as far as they want. But the color of the dog does not define the work, as we both know, and as anyone knows who works their dogs knows. Yes, you can have prejudices and preferences (we all do) but let's admit that those are not about the work and that the work is the standard for a working dog (and health is part of the standard for all).

And, of course, John Burchard is dead right that just about every "standard" has nonsense baked right in, and that nonsense is often saluted as "necessary for work" by romantics and fancy (show dog) fanatics.

Pick any (theoretically) working breed, and you will find nonsense in the standard -- coat color, nose color, tail sets, and the rest. And yes, there is a LOT of nonsense about "angulation" and "shoulder lay" too.

Before people pay too much attention to that kind of thing, however, I always suggest people talk to (and watch) someone who REALLY works their dogs. Not too many people hang their family fortunes on rounding up sheep and cattle with dwarf dogs, not too many police departments are using Mastiffs and Great Danes to guard and patrol, and not too many gamekeepers are winking out fox with Kennel Club Welsh Terriers. A lesson to be learned there!

In theory, of course, theory and practice should be the same. But in practice, they are not.



Steve Bodio said...

"Not too many police departments are using Mastiffs and Great Danes to guard and patrol"

Agree of course Patrick (;-)0-- but can't resit teasing a bit-- some of the "ancestral" types do a bit better. I can send pix and a tiny video clip of "tobets"-- the Kazakh version of Cat's aziats-- bred and trained to do border patrol work and compete in Schutzhund, by the people who also bred my tazi Ataika.

Of course such dogs are agile and athletic, and kill WOLVES in "normal" life-- no great Danes!

PBurns said...

My favorite breed along this vein are the "terriers of oppression" -- the Black Russian Terriers -- created by the Red Star Kennel in the USSR to guard their borders and bases. The breed is a bit thick-coated for our borders, of course. Might work in Alaska to keep out those pesky Canadians, however...;)


LabRat said...

Tobets aside, you also don't see many of the livestock guardian breeds being used by the police or military.

It is certainly not because they cannot guard, but because they are less suited for the purposes of the police and military than the European protection breeds (of which the Black Russian Terrier has a great deal in its makeup). A police or war dog needs to be much more biddable than a flock or estate guardian- and willing to do things like chase down and hold a man on command even if, in the dog's eyes, he is not an immediate threat. They need to have high drive and be relatively reactive.

I own another breed that bills itself a guardian and is not often found in Schutzhund or police work, though some skilled trainers have accomplished it, Akitas. They are low-drive and tend to be inhibited- they like to know what's going on before they decide what to do about it. I am not half the trainer it would take to turn either of my two into a ring-sport dog. (At least one of them has been a bystander at a working-dog group's practice sessions for bite work. He thought the man in the padded suit was the most hilarious thing he'd ever seen, not a threat.)

Can they guard? Well, no one's ever tried to kill me and it's highly unlikely one will ever. Los Alamos is ridiculously low-crime. However, when two guys that may or may not have been cable guys jumped our fence, the male that was out there cornered them and held them there raising hell until human help could arrive and resolve the situation. Given that this is suburbia and not a DMZ border, this was exactly what I needed him to do- not take them down and bite as a "true" working guard dog likely would.

Mastiffs and Great Danes are, by historical reputation, "estate" guards, meant to patrol properties and handle trespassers- that may or may not be actually hostile. Is this true? I don't know. Is a more low-drive and inhibited dog that can act independently, is physically intimidating, and can at the very least put the fear of dog into a random B-and-E puke a much better choice for anyone who would like to have a protective dog about the place than a "true working" guardian breed? Oh yes.

LabRat said...

Can't edit the comment- I meant "for just about anyone who isn't a police department or military force".

Marcus Hooker said...

It's easy to see why Eurowakhs have been created. The FCI standard for Azawakh is ridiculous, it goes on and on, talking about ridiculous proportions, and eye color, and coat color, blah blah blah. And the result is an unattractive, non-functional dog. The Azawakh Club of America standard is much nicer, it is more of a general picture of what an azawakh should look like instead of a point-by-point account of every detail of the dog.

stevea said...

I have never understood the dependence on breed standards. Breeds are collective traits within a species. They assume generalities about the performance of a member of the assigned group, yet provide no real information about the abilities of the individual.

Standards are nothing more than a consensual set of criteria by which aficionados of a shared past-time allow the equivalent of "my d... is bigger than yours."

I'll take my sub-standard hawk out with a sub-standard dog and have experiences that will be utterly meaningless in the view of those who measure success by the yardstick of conformance.

The rabbit and duck may disagree with such people.

My best dog came from a puppy mill. I have a papered, conformed, full-fledged idiot on my hands now.

He's not really the idiot in the equation. It's me. I haven't learned enough about him yet to allow him to succeed.

Matt's entirely correct.

It is a disservice to every living creature, human, hawk or dog, to assume that you know or understand anything about them based on their conformance to preconceptions and standards.

It is a human conceit.

Anonymous said...

Not a new debate, but had to add my few cents worth. I think you are comparing apples and oranges. Whether you are looking at a dog because of it's work or it's conformation...if it is for the purpose of a registry, there has to be a 'standard'. If all you want is a dog to guard your sheep, well you get one from from dogs bred for the purpose of guarding sheep. So what? If you get one because you want to register it, you do it through the criteria of that standard required for registry. what is the problem? If you have a setter you want to compete with in field trials, this will certainly be a different dog than the one out in the north woods with his master or running around a showring. Then again, success and conformation are not one and the same, are they? Nor is one necessarily mutually exclusive of the other. If you don't like the idea of a written breed standard, and just want to judge your dog against the work it needs to do...then why in the world do you care what other people are doing with their dogs. Rather than implying that a functional dog is the only and higher game in town, or that a dog bred for show is useless for work, recognize that hunting, herding, and guarding, unfortunately, is a club that includes very few lucky members. And that's because we are no longer an agricultural society, good hunting is hard to come by for large sections of the population, etc, etc. So rather than throw rocks, count your blessings.

Mike Spies said...

joanna wrote, "Mike, your brag pictures of your dogs are them stacked, or close to it. That's because conformation DOES matter, and if you forget that it matters you end up with the stove-pipe rears that are making me nauseous about field-bred Pointers right now. If a hock can be bent backwards while the dog is standing up, I don't care how birdy he is because he's going to hurt the breed."

Joanna, my dogs are not 'stacked' the pictures on my blog are my dogs pointing wild birds in big country. I run my setters on wild birds every Fall for three months, during which time they cover MILES of ground at a run. They do it daily. I also prove my dogs at field trials (American Field / AFTCA events only) and they do their share of winning. This separates the dogs that are sound from the also rans. My dogs are registered with the Field Dog Stud Book - NOT AKC. The FDSB has no 'standards'. They do not have breed clubs. They are concerned about one thing, and only one thing... PERFORMANCE.

I reject the whole concept of junior hunter, and master hunter that is so revered by the AKC folks. Aside from providing some novice with a ribbon or plaque, the only thing that this demonstrates is that a dog has some basic instinct and can stand the pressure applied in training for the AKC test regime. FDSB dogs are at a totally different level.

Compare these canine field trial athletes to the English setters that meet the 'breed standard' developed by the English Setter Club of America. The AKC dogs are big, slow and stupid and their confirmation is dysfunctional - except those that were bred from FDSB dogs and registered with the AKC (needless to say, they do not meet standards of the English setter fancy, but people in AKC field trials want to win, and some know a good thing when they see it). The FDSB dogs are smaller, faster, more durable, smarter and outclass the AKC 'woods ponies' without drawing a deep breath. In fact, we have trouble attracting AKC people to our events... they seem to think they don;'t have a chance, and usually they don't.

How is it possible that those FDSB field trial / hunting dog people can breed a dog that is far superior and yet have no standard other than performance?

Some food for thought.

HTTrainer said...

This is the opening question from a recent AKC survey, I think it tells us a lot. It tells me that the AKC is having a big problem getting the numbers up at conformation shows.

"I believe that if the following change(s) were implemented conformation shows would be better both for exhibitors and Clubs: "

But if the AKC is just a registry, why is it worried about entry number$?

PBurns said...

A clue can be seen in this graph >>



Anonymous said...

If conformation or breed standards don't matter...Why then, don't you just make breeding decisions based on the work...if a 'pointer' (or an Irish, or a Red and white in the field has your Eng, or Gordon setter beat everytime out...is more birdy, steadier on the point, whatever it is you measure...then breed your setter to the pointer. No? What am I missing? Obviously, here in the west, we depend on those breed standards to back up, at some point, the 'breeds' we choose...and the 'breeds' we are all talking about. Every post has mentioned a recognized breed that happens to come with a standard. Every breed mentioned evokes a picture in everyone else's mind of that dog. Becuase we recognize dogs accorrding to 'breed'.

PBurns said...

"Aomnymous," you might want to read a little about the history of dogs in general, and working dogs in particular. If you do, you will learn that most working dog breeds predate written standards, and that broad types of dogs predate all breeds. You will also learn a bit about how real working dog men and women breed dogs.

Here's a hint: it's not based on show ring standards, which is why show breeds and working breeds no longer look too much alike, most of the time.

Mike Spies said...

"If conformation or breed standards don't matter...Why then, don't you just make breeding decisions based on the work...if a 'pointer' (or an Irish, or a Red and white in the field has your Eng, or Gordon setter beat everytime out...is more birdy, steadier on the point, whatever it is you measure...then breed your setter to the pointer. No? What am I missing?..."

What you are missing is that, as Mr. Burns pointed out - the 'standard' arrived AFTER the breed. Breeds were developed by crossing dogs to gain or eliminate traits. The resulting dogs were then bred closely to fix the traits within a breed bloodline. As generations passed these traits become breed characteristics. To avoid inbreeding depression and to improve the breed outcrosses were made to other bloodlines within, or outside of, the breed.

The reason for breeding within a breed or bloodline is to tap a pool of predictable traits, the result is that you can know within reason what to expect in a litter. This can, and is, done without reference to any breed standard. A breed registry does NOT require a standard, just knowledgeable breeders and honest record keeping. Still, even within the breeds existing today a lot of outcrosses happen, often with honest intent. This is not a bad thing if it is disclosed in such a way that the genetic mix is understood by a buyer of these dogs. But out crossing to other breeds defeats genetic predictability. The gene pools are different and may not produce what is expected from the cross. Since the canine genome is larger than even the human genome genetics for breeders is a complex subject.

If I am buying an English setter puppy, I want to know what the genetic package is - what traits the dog is likely to exhibit. No one wants to buy a performance animal and find that what they have is junk. Ergo, we have breed registries so that we can obtain dogs from known ancestry that have a high chance of performing well. This is true of dogs, cattle, pigs, race horses, etc.

None of this needs a written conformation standard if the dogs are performance tested and the performance record is open to the public.

Anonymous said...

Gosh, gee whiz, thanks for the tutorial. You seem to imply that a standard is not an artificial creation by men who were looking at what they produced after isolating a particular tiny population. Now that the look is fixed it's easy to say we don't breed for that. I mean what are you saying...some wandering village dogs were gathered up somewhere, and slowly weeded down until, voila... trial setters? and they just all happened to not look like pointers? I understand that behavior does have a shape, I understand your criteria is how does the dog perform...but these dogs often have the identical behavior and were chosen to produce and fix a look as well as the ability. then this 'breed' was given a name. they were not, like the primitive dogs, shaped by the environment with survival of the fittest. Lawerack might be a bit surprised to hear that. so give me a break Mr Burns...and save the condescending tone for your minions.

LabRat said...

Pointing out that written standards are often nonsensical, can lead to extremities of type that are basically deformities, and often have nothing to do with the purpose of the breed != saying "EVERYTHING SHOULD BE BRED TO EVERYTHING AND THERE SHOULD BE NO BREEDS WHATSOEVER".

Obvious troll is obvious.

Mike Spies said...

"You seem to imply that a standard is not an artificial creation by men who were looking at what they produced after isolating a particular tiny population. Now that the look is fixed it's easy to say we don't breed for that. I mean what are you saying...some wandering village dogs were gathered up somewhere, and slowly weeded down until, voila... trial setters? and they just all happened to not look like pointers? "

Not sure what point you are trying to make. Setters (as are many breeds) the result of centuries of selective breeding. It is not about how they LOOK, it's about what they can do. Pointers are probably a later development, but they have no doubt been crossed back and forth with setters to obtain the traits that were desired by breeders. Since you seem to be unreceptive to tutorials, I will go no further in explaining the origins and relations between pointers and setters.

Anonymous said...

It's not that having a Standard of some sort is at fault--it is how the Standard is used and/or worshipped. Yes, as long as there have been anything like a "purebred" dog, there have been standards/criteria of sorts, but they should never be written in stone(in other words, if it ain't workin', change the dang thing!), and they should be based on criteria besides just a certain physical appearance. And the AKC Standards and principles are THE WORST, in my opinion, because they have this notion of the ONE perfect example of the breed that everyone tries to breed(and inbreed and inbreed) too--how sensible is that--trying to make a breed of dog(or anything) into carbon copies of one another? And the Conformation Show tribe can go on and on about "form-follows-function", but still refuse to see that the form they are producing ain't functionin'! At least not as well or efficiently as the ancestral types did, and if that's the case(as it is in breed after breed), are you really producing superior, better dogs? Are you really "preserving" them when they no longer function as they originally did--yea, do not even LOOK like they originally did in some instances? These are all arguements the conformation show people parrot, and they are simply wrong! If one REALLY is going to produce better dogs, then one MUST also breed for ability, health, temperment with the same emphasis on them all. It's not that these things aren't considered at all by show people, but they are NOT emphasised, and what they consider excellent conformation, in the political world of dog showing, trumps the more functional aspects every time!(with only rare exceptions). Sometimes it helps the dogmatically :) minded show people to use subjects OTHER than dogs for examples, to get these incredibly obvious(to everyone with a lick of common sense on this subject) points across. Take autos--who would consider a GREAT LOOKING car sitting in their yard much use or practicle if it didn't run worth a hoot and/or you had to take it to the shop for repairs all the time--most people would not long tolerate such a car. And the vegetables shown at country fairs--what if they were BEAUTIFUL, but tasted like crap and had zero nutritional value? Could these car manufacturers and vegetable growers claim to be producing superior products? No one would buy that notion for a second, and yet this is EXACTLY what has been done with many purebred dogs bred and influenced largely by conformation showing.....L.B.

Anonymous said...

.....And another thing that conformation show people are EXTREMELY ignorant about is ACTUAL animal function and what is good/bad in conformation--their minds are just TOO NARROW(like their bloodlines) on the subject. I have tried to figure out exactly where some of these conformation "no-no's" have originated, and the best that I can come up with is that early turn-of-the-century dog shows, of which most were won by Fox Terriers, had this notion of breeding dogs to conform to horse standards of the time. It was just decided(by somebody) that what was bad conformation in horses was also bad for dogs--things like cow-hocks and being high in the rear, etc. But if you study MANY types of animals(including wild canids--especially the dogs' ancestors--wolves), you will quickly discover that some of the best runners, the swiftest beasts and those with great endurance(wolves, deer, antelope, cheetahs, etc. etc.) are by gosh, somewhat cow-hocked and high in the rear! So obviously it is not impairing these creatures in any way, or they wouldn't survive. So who decided human aesthetics was an "improvement" on Nature? And WHICH humans--I personally don't get my panties in a wad if I see a cow-hocked greyhound--they look just fine to me. This idea of beauty and aesthetics tends to be very different between working and show people in dogs--I tend to ALWAYS actually PREFER the looks of working huskies, sighthounds, trailhounds, herding breeds, etc. compared to their exagerrated, non-functioning show bred counterparts. Which, in discussions I've gotten into with show people, absolutely makes them froth at the mouth! They are just so brain-washed as to what is "proper", that they cannot see any other beauty to a thing if it does not fit their standard. Well, I have an old saying I like to use in answer to their "form-follows-function", and that is, "handsome is as handsome does"........L.B.

Anonymous said...

Having seen "shepherds" in the show ring and been involved in army dog training and veterinary treatment, and having had sightounds compete in both the show ring and in open field coursing, I have come to the conclusion that breed standards are, in general, a cargo cult.

Standards talk about soundness, length of leg, slope of shoulder and how many inches above the ground a hock should be, about ear structure and tail length. Then the "experts" come and make usually long, sophisticated and well thought-out comments on how such and such detail allows the dog to perform its designated work in that and that way, how a dog with such and such croup would have an advantage over another dog, etc. They go to great lengths in building such theories, which are usually internally consistent and logically sound within their system of reference. And these people think they are doing their breeds a favour.

Now here is the problem:
They are dead wrong.

Has anybody ever been able to show an advantage in working of a rose ear over a prick ear? Has there ever been a neutral investigation of how working ability in a shepherd is influenced by its shoulder angulation? Do we have any data on how well a cat foot performs versus a hare foot in the field? No, we have not. All we have are people who repeat their detailed theories over and over again, to the point where everybody thinks they are the truth.

The truth is, what matters most in a dog's working ability is its mental capacity to work. If that is there, and if the dog does not have physical deformities that would be medically relevant, it can do the work. Look at military Malinois - their trot is so unsound as to make a conformation judge puke, yet they can work all day, every day. Why do we know this? Because they actually do it. Look at racing or open field Greyhounds, which are far too small and straight to do anything in the show ring, yet they can catch and kill a hare. Why do we know this? Because they actually do it. Look at Staghounds coursing and killing elk or coyotes, then look at show Deerhounds, which are more likely to break a leg than to do any of that deer killing they were intended to do. Why do we know this? Because Staghounds are used to do the job.

The theoretical interpretation of breed standards and "soundness" as a predictor of working ability is useless, not backed up by any empirical data and, as such, a highly sophisticated, internally consistent cargo cult. Sure, it provides endless opportunity for reasoned discussion based on fine points. But it has nothing of substance to do with whether or not a dog can do a job it is supposedly bred to do.

Cheers, John, you might recognize who wrote this.

I'll see you in open field ;-).