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A breed standard (also called bench standard) in animal fancy and animal husbandry is a set of guidelines which is used to insure that the animals produced by a breeding facility conform to the specifics of the breed. It is also used in competition to judge a given animal against the hypothetical ideal specimen of that breed. This article refers to breed standards in dogs.
The breed standard contains a narrative description of the breed and a long, often highly-detailed list of conformation points, any deviation from which is considered a fault and results in penalties against the individual animal. Some breed standards specify the percentages or number of points to be awarded for each characteristic, the total of which equals the dog’s overall score.
The form in which breed standards are written differs among the kennel clubs, but also differs from club to club within the same all-breed organizations. There is inconsistency in the amount of detail required to describe a particular characteristic, and sometimes even in the wording used for the characteristics. The result is that breed standards are open to interpretation and to a judge’s individual taste.
The naming of dog breeds is inconsistent and capricious.
A further problem is that a deviation from the standard in one breed might result in a fault, where a similar deviation in another breed might be an acceptable variant; in a third breed the same deviation might be a disqualification, while in another breed that deviation might result in a breed separation.
The ear shape is a case in point. In erect-eared breeds, an ear that does not stand straight up by the time the puppy is 6 months old is usually faulted. A German Shepherd Dog will be disqualified for a floppy or folded ear. In contrast, the Miniature Fox Terrier breed standard allows a variation where the ear is folded above the line of the skull. The Papillon with a fully dropped ear (not a folded or weak ear, which is a fault) is accepted equally with the erect-eared variant and is known as a Phalène, but under FCI rules the Phalène and the Papillon are considered different breeds. The Norwich and Norfolk terriers have differing ear shapes and are always considered separate breeds.
It must be borne in mind that ear characteristics are only one conformation point; this is multiplied by many dog attributes and variations thereon. For example, another common area of frustration is in the area of bite and teeth. A judge must be aware that some breed standards (usually for working dogs) allow for missing and broken teeth, others require that these are faulted. Working dog standards may also specify that scars are not to be penalized.
In addition, the written standard may vary from country to country. A case in point is the American Kennel Club standard for the Bull Terrier, which states clearly that a level bite or a scissor bite is acceptable, but the Australian National Kennel Council Bull Terrier standard only recognizes the scissor bite. Since an incorrect bite is a serious flaw, breeders in one country might cull out puppies that would be acceptable for show in another country, alternately, international competitors might find their state or national champions marked down or disqualified in a foreign competition or by a foreign judge. During the dog 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 ANKC.
It can be seen that the task of judging is a difficult one. The breed judge must know the standard for one breed, the group judge for all the breeds in that group, and the amount of knowledge an all-breed judge must have is huge. Add in the fact that standards and their interpretations differ between nations, and the task seems monumental. See conformation point for a list of some of the most common areas of evaluation.
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