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Type Versus Soundness?





Not to be taken without the proverbial grain…



Type  Versus  Soundness?


Some of the best dog people who judge are on record as valuing type over soundness, stating that a dog must look like its breed in order to be worthy of reward and that this is far more important than good movement, and they note correctly that sound dogs can be found at the local pound.  That is quite a popular opinion, it seems; but please, in any breed that still performs a function, can type and soundness actually be divorced?  Can serious unsoundness be incorporated into the ideally typical (hence the word “type”) specimen?  I certainly hope that no one feels that there is any chance that the ideal specimen of any breed  with a job to do can be unsound. 


I want to be quite clear here and make it known that I am not suggesting that we as judges should expect perfect movement, or that it is not acceptable and absolutely necessary for a judge to forgive, in any breed,  a certain degree of deviance from ideal movement. ( I’m also not talking here about the Big Open Side Gait which is often seen in some breeds where it is not required, such as Akitas, and rarely seen in some breeds whose standards asks for it, such as dachshunds.)   

Very few dogs move perfectly and many dogs with minor movement faults can perform their jobs admirably; most dogs do not need to possess perfectly balanced movement or the ideal rear drive and exemplary reach in order to put in a good day’s work. So, I’m not talking about demanding perfection of movement, but about requiring basic, get-the-job-done, functional movement.


What disturbs me is the rewarding of dogs who possess lovely breed type but are clearly not sound enough to get through a day of the work the breed has been developed to perform.  I should add that a big part of this issue for me is that I do not think that it is fair for judges to build in their personal preferences as to “kennel type”, “style” or  “prettiness” when interpreting a breed standard until they have pared their field of candidates for reward down to a group of dogs that all display at least some degree of each of these: breed type, balance, and soundness.


The distinctive major aspects of breed type or “form” in most breeds are there because they ideally adapt the dog to its various functions, and it is with good cause that most of the effective breed seminars begin with a “form follows function” premise.  Surely any purebred dog that is lovely to behold only until it moves would probably be more of a burden than an asset to, for example, the hunter who has to carry his earthdog from den to den or back home from the fields, the dog’s unsound or inefficient movement having worn him out too early in the day.  So, isn’t functional movement in truth an integral part of the dog’s form, the part that proves that his form can actually function?


There are those in the dog world who think that dog shows have created an arena where the functions of the dogs can be forgotten and where beauty and style can carry the day.  However, if that were so we could legitimately start ignoring the very factors that separate one breed from another, since those breed-specific factors have evolved precisely because of the differing functions of the breeds.  For example, Siberian huskies and malamutes wear some of their subtle but obvious contrasts because of differences in their sled-pulling duties that have to do with load-weight and distance; herding dogs have evolved into such distinctive breeds due at least in part to the differences in the animals herded and the terrain over which they work.  So how can judges, in the name of breed type, turn around and ignore functionality, given that the specializations of function have determined breed types in the first place?  Beats me!


© Lisa and Andrew Warren, all rights reserved