AKC Dog Breed Standards
See why dog breed standards are important, how they are used in the dog show world and some examples of AKC breed standards.
February 5, 2013
The Rottweiler breed standard says that this dog's "compact and substantial build denotes great strength, agility and endurance." Photo by Isabelle Francais.
Dog breed standards are a set of standards written by breed clubs and approved by the AKC. Breed standards include guidelines and rules for the breed’s appearance, movement, temperament and faults. These standards are a written “word picture” of the perfect specimen of that particular dog breed. Breed standards are written so that the dogs bred today are healthy and can still perform the functions that they were bred to do many years ago, such as retrieving (Golden Retrievers), hunting (Coonhound breeds), guarding (Rottweilers), etc. When dogs are judged at conformation shows, the judge will compare each dog to the breed standard (not to each other), and the best dog will be the closest to the ideal dog described in the breed standard.
Every five years, breed clubs can suggest changes to the standard, but changes to breed standards are rare. This ensures that the standard cannot be changed to suit the dogs currently being produced by an important breeder. We must breed to the existing standard, not change it when it no longer suits us. The purpose of the breed standard is to keep breeders on the same page and to ensure that there is a relatively singular, well-thought-through, clearly defined ideal.
Each breed’s standard is different, and some are more detailed than others. The Dachshund standard is very detailed, while the Saluki standard, on the other hand, is so short that students of the breed must look elsewhere to completely understand correct Saluki breed type. Whether a standard is detailed or vague, each breed standard can be read subjectively. For example, words like “slight,” “excessive” and “sufficient” can mean something slightly different to different people. And most breed standards have words and phrases that are unique to that breed. For example, the Dandie Dinmont Terrier breed standard says that the ideal body shape is “weasely” and that the coat should be “piley” and “penciled.” While a dictionary won’t tell a new Dandie Dinmont Terrier fancier what this means, their meanings are out there in dog world literature. An Australian all-breed dog judge named Dr. Harold Spira published a book in 1982 called “Canine Terminology,” which is the dictionary of the purebred dog world and contains the language of the sport. Students of the breed can also learn from experienced fanciers who would like to mentor them.
Most breed standards require time and experience to completely understand. New show dog owners should find a mentor in the breed can show you quality dogs and explain what to look for in the breed.
AKC Breed Standards
What follows are some excerpts of AKC breed standards that describe the perfect, ideal dog of each breed (great examples of nearly ideal dogs are the Top Dogs in United States History). Each excerpt below is from the “General Appearance” section of the AKC breed standard. For complete breed standards, visit the AKC website.
Beagle. A miniature Foxhound, solid and big for his inches, with the wear-and-tear look of the hound that can last in the chase and follow his quarry to the death. Read more about the Beagle>>
Boxer. The ideal Boxer is a medium-sized, square-built dog of good substance with short back, strong limbs, and short, tight-fitting coat. His well-developed muscles are clean, hard, and appear smooth under taut skin. His movements denote energy. The gait is firm yet elastic, the stride free and ground-covering, the carriage proud. Developed to serve as guard, working, and companion dog, he combines strength and agility with elegance and style. His expression is alert and his temperament steadfast and tractable. The chiseled head imparts to the Boxer a unique individual stamp. It must be in correct proportion to the body. The broad, blunt muzzle is the distinctive feature, and great value is placed upon its being of proper form and balance with the skull. Read more about the Boxer>>
Bulldog. The perfect Bulldog must be of medium size and smooth coat; with heavy, thick-set, low-swung body, massive short-faced head, wide shoulders and sturdy limbs. The general appearance and attitude should suggest great stability, vigor and strength. The disposition should be equable and kind, resolute and courageous (not vicious or aggressive), and demeanor should be pacific and dignified. These attributes should be countenanced by the expression and behavior. Read more about the Bulldog>>
Dachshund. Low to ground, long in body and short of leg, with robust muscular development; the skin is elastic and pliable without excessive wrinkling. Appearing neither crippled, awkward, nor cramped in his capacity for movement, the Dachshund is well-balanced with bold and confident head carriage and intelligent, alert facial expression. His hunting spirit, good nose, loud tongue and distinctive build make him well-suited for below-ground work and for beating the bush. His keen nose gives him an advantage over most other breeds for trailing. NOTE: Inasmuch as the Dachshund is a hunting dog, scars from honorable wounds shall not be considered a fault. Read more about the Dachshund>>
German Shepherd Dog. The first impression of a good German Shepherd Dog is that of a strong, agile, well muscled animal, alert and full of life. It is well balanced, with harmonious development of the forequarter and hindquarter. The dog is longer than tall, deep-bodied, and presents an outline of smooth curves rather than angles. It looks substantial and not spindly, giving the impression, both at rest and in motion, of muscular fitness and nimbleness without any look of clumsiness or soft living. The ideal dog is stamped with a look of quality and nobility — difficult to define, but unmistakable when present. Secondary sex characteristics are strongly marked, and every animal gives a definite impression of masculinity or femininity, according to its sex. Read more about the German Shepherd Dog>>
Golden Retriever. A symmetrical, powerful, active dog, sound and well put together, not clumsy nor long in the leg, displaying a kindly expression and possessing a personality that is eager, alert and self-confident. Primarily a hunting dog, he should be shown in hard working condition. Overall appearance, balance, gait and purpose to be given more emphasis than any of his component parts. Read more about the Golden Retriever>>
Labrador Retriever. The Labrador Retriever is a strongly built, medium-sized, short-coupled dog possessing a sound, athletic, well-balanced conformation that enables it to function as a retrieving gun dog; the substance and soundness to hunt waterfowl or upland game for long hours under difficult conditions; the character and quality to win in the show ring; and the temperament to be a family companion … The most distinguishing characteristics of the Labrador Retriever are its short, dense, weather resistant coat; an “otter” tail; a clean-cut head with broad back skull and moderate stop; powerful jaws; and its “kind,” friendly eyes, expressing character, intelligence and good temperament … Above all, a Labrador Retriever must be well balanced, enabling it to move in the show ring or work in the field with little or no effort. Read more about the Labrador Retriever>>
Poodle. That of a very active, intelligent and elegant-appearing dog, squarely built, well proportioned, moving soundly and carrying himself proudly. Properly clipped in the traditional fashion and carefully groomed, the Poodle has about him an air of distinction and dignity peculiar to himself. Read more about the Poodle>>
Read more about grooming show dogs>>
Rottweiler. The ideal Rottweiler is a medium large, robust and powerful dog, black with clearly defined rust markings. His compact and substantial build denotes great strength, agility and endurance. Dogs are characteristically more massive throughout with larger frame and heavier bone than bitches. Bitches are distinctly feminine, but without weakness of substance or structure. Read more about the Rottweiler>>
Yorkshire Terrier. That of a long-haired toy terrier whose blue and tan coat is parted on the face and from the base of the skull to the end of the tail and hangs evenly and quite straight down each side of body. The body is neat, compact and well proportioned. The dog's high head carriage and confident manner should give the appearance of vigor and self-importance. Read more about the Yorkshire Terrier>>
Complete Breed Standard for the Lhasa Apso
The complete AKC breed standard for the Lhasa Apso breed. Read More>>
Complete Breed Standard for the Pomeranian
The complete AKC breed standard for the Pomeranian breed. Read More>>
The Evolution and Interpretation of Breed Standards
Some breeders and judges of some breeds have never seen a specimen that represents what the breed was and could be. Read More>>
Breed Standard Maintenance
Johnathan Jeffrey Kimes takes a look at non-compliance to dog breed standards in the dog show world. Read More>>
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