Breed standard (dogs)
A breed standard (also called bench standard or the standard) in the dog fancy is a set of guidelines covering specific externally observable qualities such as appearance, movement, and temperament for that dog breed. Breed standards are not scientific documents, but are written for each breed by clubs of hobbyists called breed clubs for their own specific requirements. Details and definitions within breed standards for a specific dog breed may vary from breed club to breed club and from country to country. Dog breed standards are similar in form and function to breed standards for other domesticated animals.
Content and purpose
The breed standard for each breed of dog is distinct, giving a detailed "word picture" of the appearance and behaviour of an idealized dog of that breed. Included in the breed standard description are externally observable aspects of appearance and behaviour that are considered by the breed club to be the most important for the breed, and externally observable details of appearance or temperament that are considered by the breed club to be unacceptable (called faults). In addition most breed standards include an historical section, describing the place of origin and the original work done by the breed or its ancestor types.
However, breed standards do not include testing requirements for health, requirements for genetic testing, or requirements for specific types of training or work; breed standards are only intended to describe the breed's externally observable qualities. Breed clubs often make other requirements for health testing or work testing, but these are not covered in the breed standard itself.
Breed standards and conformation shows
The basis of judging in conformation dog shows is breed type, the whole of the characteristics that are typical of a breed. Breed type is outlined in the written breed standard for each breed, and the judge looks at the entered dogs for the ones that most perfectly resemble the judge's mental image of ideal breed type. Dogs are judged against the judge's mental ideal, not against each other. The goal of the conformation show is to identify breeding stock for the breed, and the breed standard is "the standard or model which breeders endeavour to achieve." Conformation shows are not intended for the examination of the entered dogs for fitness for purpose (such as hunting skill in a dog traditionally used for hunting), and while dogs may be excused by a judge for obvious lameness or illness, the dogs are not tested in the ring for genetic health or examined for the general health of the animal beyond externally observable appearance and behaviour as described in the breed standard.
Breed standards are not quantified, and are interpreted by the judge in a conformation show according to the judge's experience with the breed and the judge's personal taste. As judges are selected by the exhibitors whose dogs he or she is judging, errors in comprehension of the breed type and breed standard result in the judge not being invited to judge again, so the problem is self-correcting. In addition, breed clubs and national kennel clubs provide regular seminars for the training of judges in the details of the individual breed standards and how they are interpreted. Sports that rely on the judgement of one or more judges, rather than on a system of competitive scores without judges, are sometimes accused of being lesser sports.
Breed standards are written by individual breed clubs, and, if the breed club is a member of a national kennel club, the standard will go through a process of being approved by the national kennel club so that the members of the breed club can take part in the dog activities sponsored by the national kennel club. The national kennel club only directs the form of the breed standard, the breed standard itself is written by the breed club or clubs.
The Fédération Cynologique Internationale is an international group which regulates breed standard formats so that dogs from member countries can compete in shows internationally. The Fédération Cynologique Internationale only approves standards, it does not write the standards; the breed standards for each breed are written by the country of origin (or a sponsoring country, in the case of some breeds). Individual national kennel clubs may still have their own variations in the details of the breed standard used in conformation shows within their own country.
Formats and details
Each recognised breed of dog has a written standard, many of which have been developed and slowly changed over the last few hundred years. Some breeds were described by fanciers in a written breed standard in order to provide guidelines for breeders participating in the sport of conformation; other breed standards, such as those written by the Spanish veterinarian Manuel Marques in the 1930s, were written to provide a description of a native landrace breeds that were in danger of dying out. Since the origins and purposes of standards vary, the contents, teminology, and organisation of the information in a standard also varies.
The Fédération Cynologique Internationale, which organises international dog sports and events, including conformation shows, does have a basic outline for a breed standard format. However, not all national kennel clubs belong to the Fédération Cynologique Internationale. The American Kennel Club is the world's largest kennel club, and it does not belong to the Fédération Cynologique Internationale, and does not use the international breed standard format.
Since the purpose of the standard is to assist those who show, live with, or work with the specific breed, lack of a consistent format between standards for different breeds has never been shown to cause any problems for fanciers of the individual breed. Breed standards are not scientific documents, and are not standardised throughout the world.
An example of breed standard variations from country to country is the American Kennel Club standard for the Bull Terrier, which states clearly that a level bite or a scissor bite is acceptable, and the Australian National Kennel Council Bull Terrier standard, which only recognizes the scissor bite. Since an incorrect bite is a serious fault, breeders in one country might cull out puppies that would be acceptable for show in another country, alternately, some competitors might find their local champions unable to compete internationally. During the conformation show at the 2004 Sydney Royal Easter Show an unusually large number of protests against the judges’ decisions were lodged; it was felt by some owners that the international judges did not completely understand the commonly accepted breed standard interpretations of the Australian National Kennel Council. It is up to the exhibitor to know the rules of the governing body under which he or she is showing a dog.
In breed standards, the term fault does not imply that a dog with a fault cannot be a good companion; it is merely an indication that dogs with faults should not be chosen for breeding unless the dog has desirable qualities that outweigh the fault. Faults may be minor, such as a color the breed club has decided is undesirable, or the fault may be major, such as structural problems that would prevent the dog from doing the work for which it was bred. Fault is used to describe an aspect of appearance or temperament that is considered by the breed club to be detrimental to the breed type of the breed, and dogs with major faults will not finish a kennel club conformation championship.
Faults are described for each breed separately. Individual dog breed articles may cover what is considered a fault in that particular breed.
Although most dog fanciers show only in their own country, under the rules of one registry, international shows have increased in popularity. Efforts have been made by the Fédération Cynologique Internationale to ensure that breed clubs in its 84 member countries use the same descriptive language in their standards, using a basic outline approved by the Fédération Cynologique Internationale General Assembly in June 1987 in Jerusalem. The American Kennel Club, one of the largest in the world, does not belong to the FCI, nor does The Kennel Club (UK), the oldest kennel club. There have been measures taken to regularise standards between the Kennel Club (UK), the Canadian Kennel Club, and the two main American clubs. An agreement at the 1981 World Congress of Kennel Clubs defined a standard format for breed standards across the major dog registries and a similar effort was made for breed registries in the United States at the Dog Registry Conference, held in October, 2006 in Kalamazoo, Michigan.
Not covered by breed standards
Breed standards only cover externally observable characteristics of the dog, and even there breed clubs can be very contentious about the exact definition of details. The breed club for each breed may set additional requirements, ones covering qualities not covered by the breed standard, such as rules and guidelines for health testing and work testing. However, since breeders are free to leave and join (or form) another club if the breed club's requirements for breeding become too troublesome to them, there is no effective control over health and working qualities that are not described in the breed standard. Breed club members have no control over the quality, health, or fitness for work of dogs being bred by non-members. Even when breed clubs require health testing before breeding their dogs, and raise funds for research on specific disorders, such as syringomyelia in Cavalier King Charles Spaniels or dermoid sinus in Rhodesian Ridgebacks, volume puppy producers and breeders who are not members of the breed club cannot be compelled to contribute to research or to perform the tests. Breed standards can only be used to determine by appearance whether or not volume puppy producers and breeders who are not members of the breed club are breeding dogs that appear to be of the advertised breed.