Breed Standards and Working Descriptions/Standards:  Why They Need to Remain Separate

Photo by Mike Arnett

A breed standard is a conceptualization of the ideal specimen of its breed, and as such, is to be written and researched very carefully. The accepted definition of "breed standards" (The Complete Dog Book) is: "The set of breed descriptions originally laid down by the various parent breed clubs and accepted officially by international bodies." ASCA is the largest single-breed parent club in the U.S. and, as such, has a responsibility to maintain its respected status in the international community. To combine a working and breed standard into a single document flies in the face of tradition, in which written standards hold to a specific format and contain similar elements. Also, at least 11 other AKC herding breeds have working/herding descriptions, and NONE are attached to their breed standards.

In 1975, the Australian Shepherd Club of America formed a committee, headed by Robert Kline, DVM, with the purpose of writing the breed standard for the Aussie. Dr. Kline is quoted as saying:

"Contrary to the beliefs of many, such a standard is not a textbook, but rather an outline describing structure, breed characteristics, color, size, uses, etc., put down in as precise and accurate a manner as possible. In order to perfect such a document without in fact ending up with a textbook the size of a physician's anatomy book, it is predisposed that the people using such a standard have a working knowledge of animal traits, vocabulary, and methods used by the industry to enable them to understand and interpret said standard so as to make it a usable instrument." (All About Aussies, 2nd edition, by Jeanne Joy Hartnagle-Taylor, p. 18,
Copyright 1996 by Jeanne Joy Hartnagle-Taylor.)

Photo by 2mc Design

Essentially, what he means is that a standard needs to be as concise as possible, and yet still attempt to describe the ideal specimen in such a way as it can be USABLE to those who are breeding and/or judging the breed. The longer a standard is, the more difficult it is to judge by, and if a working description were to be added to the standard, it would make judging the breed an impossible and ludicrous task. A conformation judge cannot evaluate the working style/characteristics of dogs in the ring. Here is a quote from Jeanne Joy Hartnagle-Taylor, All About Aussies, 2nd edition, pp. 17-18:

"Written by people who knew the dogs firsthand in the environment where they were originally developed, the Breed Standard is the blueprint for judges to evaluate against."

Photo by 2mc Design

The ASCA Bylaws (see below) specifically state that the Breed Standard is the only standard by which Aussies are to be JUDGED. It doesn't state what KIND of judging-only that they are to be judged by the one standard. If a working description were to be placed within the standard, dogs being judged in the stockdog events would also have to be judged against the combined working/breed standard. It may sound ridiculous, but because the Bylaws MANDATE it, then either the Bylaws would have to be changed, or stockdogs would have to be judged by the entire standard, just as conformation dogs would be have to be judged on their working style. Of course, that would require an entirely new judging system, with judges qualified to judge both working and conformation. I don't believe such a system would ever work, as both the Conformation and Stockdog Programs would have to be changed drastically, nor do I believe the ASCA membership would approve it.
Gail Karamalegos
ASCA Breeder Judge
Member ASCA Breed Standard Review Committee

*ASCA Bylaws: .Article 2, Section 1, C.  To encourage members and breeders to accept one breed standard for the Australian Shepherd as approved by the Club as the only standard of excellence by which Australian Shepherds shall be judged.


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