Variations in Breed Type

At what point do "styles” become so diverged that they should be considered breeds?

By Jon Kimes | Posted: November 3, 2014 10 a.m. PST

Nothing can be more pleasurable than to have a breed that is globally consistent, with all breeders striving for the same ideal. It allows for a broader array of opportunities for breeding programs and the ability to exhibit to judges from around the world. Exhibitors are able to show worldwide and to form friendships globally.

Certainly a common theme among many of these breeds has been long-term interaction with other countries. We see this situation today with most terriers, Labrador Retrievers, Cavalier King Charles Spaniels, Pointers, Poodles and Petits Bassets Griffons Vendéens, for example.

If the purpose of breeding purebred dogs is to advance and promote one’s chosen breed, is the goal compromised when the concept of "ideal” for a particular breed varies from country to country? When do type "styles” diverge to such an extent that the styles can only be rationalized into breeds? There have been, for more than a century, diversions between "working type” and "show type” in a number of breeds, but when the "show type” further subdivides into such variation that they may lead to a "new” breed, have breeders failed at their job?

I find this a fascinating circumstance to contemplate when studying various breeds, and I came to understand some of the patterns that seem to result in these differences.

English Springer Spaniels
Here is an example that shows that the English Springer Spaniel has probably not diverged as much as many say. A typey ESS in the US is basically the same as a typey British-style dog. On left, Ch. Cerise Winsome Winter Rose from the US (photo by Ruth Dehmel). On right, Australian Sup. Ch. Kinsheran Darcy Dulton, a British-style dog, although he is actually Australian (photo courtesy Kendra Huber).


Original Country Development

One of my observations is that early imports into the US can set the "type” for generations, and while the breed’s home country may continue to develop, modify or refine its dogs, the American dogs remain reminiscent of the original stock.

The Cardigan Welsh Corgi, for instance, was imported to America in the early 1930s. One of the first imports was a bitch named Cassie, who was also the foundation bitch for the UK bloodstock of the breed. America could not have started off on more equal footing. By the 1970s there were murmurs of "American vs. English” type Cardigans. Had the American breeders taken the breed into a new direction, diverging from the original imports? In fact, quite the opposite occurred. In the 1970s there were many Cardigans whose pedigrees extended to the earliest imports, and they looked very much like the dogs first imported. Meanwhile, the British breeders continued to refine the breed, to make silhouettes elegant with reachy necks, deeper briskets, prettier heads, rounder bone and altogether a more singular, handsome animal than the original working dogs. Ultimately the problem was resolved as several American kennels imported more dogs and bred to the English look, and today breed type is reasonably consistent worldwide.

A similar situation happened with Bull Terriers. Founded on some excellent English imports, the Bull Terrier in America in the late 1960s looked remarkably consistent with Bull Terriers of the 1930s. The improvement in the American breeding programs over these decades appeared to be focused more on structural soundness. Meanwhile, the English breeders continued to "advance” the breed, breeding more substance, more bone and, most notably, more head sophistication: wider, more filled and profiles with greater arc. In the 1970s, the English type became the ideal after a group of committed breeders established specialties and used UK judges. Today North America stands shoulder to shoulder with the best kennels worldwide.

The Akita was first brought to America in numbers by servicemen who were stationed in Japan during World War II. The specimens brought to America developed lines here, producing handsome animals that were the initial definition of Akita type for most of the world. However, these original imports were ostensibly not the "original” Akita in type but had been the result of crossing native Akitas with European dogs for fighting around the turn of the century. After WWII, the Japanese fancy was determined to purify the breed and essentially re-create the breed as it had been historically known. The Japanese Akita Inu today closely resembles other Japanese spitz breeds, while the American Akita has now been separated by the FCI into a separate breed. This is an interesting case of type revision by the home country.

The Golden Retriever in America is an example of a type very similar to original imports, whereas the English breeders have continued to embellish the head type, and increase bone and substance. An interesting twist is the prevalent pale gold shade in European bloodlines. It is the opinion of some that the American breed standard could be construed to consider the lighter gold shade as undesirable. The shade of color adds an additional complexity for those breeders who would otherwise choose to take advantage of European breeding efforts.


Adopting Country Modifies

Cardigan Welsh Corgis
Top: This tricolor is Ch. Domino’s Beau Jester, a top-winning Cardigan in the US, born 1963. Below: Eng. Ch. Parmel Digger was a CC record-holder in the UK for many years, also born 1963.

A good example of breed divergence in the adopting country is the case of the Cocker Spaniel, which resulted in the division of the Cocker Spaniel into the English and American breeds. The Cocker Spaniel in America was bred to a type which differentiated it from the original imports by being smaller with a shorter muzzle, deeper stop and rounded backskull with a more compact and exaggerated bodyline. While still considered a single breed, there were advocates of both types, but it was recommended by the parent club in the late 1930s not to mix the types. In 1946, the American and English versions of the Cocker Spaniel were separated into two breeds by the AKC.

When the Lowchen club created the breed standard upon AKC acceptance, the club made the overt decision to slightly increase the size and change the head description to allow the muzzle to equal the length of the backskull, rather than be shorter than the backskull as idealized in all other countries. These changes had no historical defense; they were simply made to better describe many of the dogs in America at the time. Several years later when I was installed as Chair of the Standard Revision Committee, our goal was to realign the breed standard to internationally accepted breed type. The battle was long and severe with half the club officers resigning, but today the standard allows the American breed ideal to be consistent with global opinion. I believe this averted the creation of the "American Lowchen,” which would have been a devastating outcome for this very rare breed.

Many opinions have been issued on whether English Springer Spaniels in America have diverged significantly from the English-style dog. The English Springer in the United States was impacted by the talents of the likes of Julia Gasow (Salilyn) who developed the breed into an animal of high style with excellent soundness and form. One might contemplate whether this direction was really any different than the British breeders who transformed other breeds into stylish show dogs, such as with Bull Terriers as earlier described. Much has been written about global type differences in the breed with no decisive conclusions, although my study indicates the "ideal” type is actually very similar conceptually. Besides the preference for American dogs to be clear of spotting and spotting being prevalent in English bloodlines, there seems to be a greater tolerance for head type variation in the United States.

It is as yet unclear to me how the Collie in America was conceptualized differently than the British version. As with many other breeds, excellent English specimens were initially brought into the US; in fact, this was a breed de rigueur at the turn of the century, with several of the wealthiest families in the United States participating in the breeding of top Collies. There was agreement on both sides of the Atlantic that head type was a key breed characteristic. The English version is softer and more wedge-shaped and presumably does not require quite the single-minded focus on every aspect of the head that American specialists demand. To English eyes, the American version is foreign, and the differences do not seem reconcilable. I might say something very similar for the Shetland Sheepdog, breeders on both sides of the water formulating the breed using their version of the Collie as the pattern.

There are, in fact, several examples of adopting country modification. The Brittany for proportion, the Border Collie (through Australian breeders) for proportion and bone, and the American Eskimo/White German Wolfspitz for proportion, are but a few more examples. Even in the Chihuahua, we see a definite difference in silhouette sought by European judges versus the American ideal, which is slightly more shorter-bodied. And the traditional Molera, which was always recognized as a historic breed characteristic of the Chihuahua, has become unacceptable by the FCI.


When Styles Become Breeds

Modern Corgis
Top: An important bitch, Ch. Shady Miss, bred by Norma Chandler in the US in 1966. Bottom: Ch. Shamrock’s Faith Hill was Best of Breed at the National in 2009. Note how Cardigan type changed in the US when comparing this bitch to Parmel Digger. Photo courtesy Susan and Lennah.

So the question remains, "At what point do breed ‘styles’ become so diverged they should be considered separate breeds?” I theorize when key breed characteristics are not in agreement globally, the divergence is irreconcilable. In such examples it is often key differences in perceptions of ideal head type which lead to thoughts of separating styles into breeds. Can the American Collie and the English Collie truly become one when the main disagreement exists on head type, which is considered to be that breed’s key characteristic of breed type?

Certainly, part of divergence can be a result of the foundation stock of the early breeders. The Soft Coated Wheaten Terrier right from its early days in America sported a coat that in no way resembled the silky, shiny, flowing coat that is a key breed characteristic in its native Ireland. What becomes the norm to American eyes may be an aberration to breeders in the native country. Soft Coated Wheaten Terrier authority and breeder Maureen Holmes was critical of American stock and stated American breeders were ruining the breed. Without corrective steps taken early on, either led by the breeders themselves or by the judges who judge the breed, it is possible for a breed to go down a path that inevitably leads it to become something else entirely.

There have been arguments that one can appreciate excellent examples of differing breed type. In practice, this is not feasible, as one cannot judge dogs in the ring using two breed standards and end up with a worthwhile outcome. As a Cairn Terrier breeder-judge, I find it is very challenging to try to stick to "type” when faced with quality animals that vary so much in proportion. In attempting to put up the "best dog overall,” the specialist judge may well leave out very good specimens of a type that the judge does not idealize, and this is unsatisfying to both the judge and exhibitor.

The FCI has become the most global kennel club, and it identifies a breed’s "country of origin” and uses that country’s breed standard as the official breed standard. In essence, this should work to standardize a breed and not allow it to fracture into regional subtypes. FCI shows can then be held around the world and still use the same breed standards. But it should be the breeders who come together to standardize a breed worldwide. This is done most successfully through exchanging stock as well as judges who specialize in the breed. It comes from being committed and honest and admitting that a country’s breed fancy may have gotten off track. As we work toward not only breeding better examples of our breeds but healthier dogs, too, we must all be mindful of not closing the available gene pool off from worldwide bloodlines.

The most recent barrier to continued integration of breeding lines is the direction by many countries to no longer permit tail docking. While not a genetic issue, it can result in breed separation if breeders allow it to do so. While some fancies, such as many of the spaniel breeds, appear to be accepting of natural or docked tails in the ring, others are decidedly less willing to accept such deviation from tradition. The Pembroke Welsh Corgi fancy, for instance, has a long history of dependence on imported stock and yet seems to be unwelcoming to undocked dogs into the American ring. Time will tell if the rest of the world’s breeders will be willing to export exceptional stock to America if such dogs are guaranteed no chance for exhibition.

Never before have so many North American breeders competed around the world with their homebred dogs or worked in such a global, reciprocal way sharing valuable bloodlines. Yet divergence in the styles of many breeds continues unabated. It will be interesting to see where this decade takes us.


From the November 2014 issue of Dogs in Review magazine. Subscribe to receive 12 months of Dogs in Review magazine, or call 1-888-738-2665 to purchase a single copy.


3 of 3 Comments View All 3 Comments

Give us your opinion Give us your opinion on Variations in Breed Type

User Avatar

Debbie   Jacksonville, Florida

1/18/2016 12:45:37 PM

Another bone of contention to me is when a color is acceptable in the founding country (and in fact most countries) but US doesn't recognize - even when it's in most all of the dog's backgrounds. (Ex. black in GSPs)

User Avatar

Janet   Sumner, Washington

12/9/2015 11:15:24 AM

Hate to be the bearer of bad tidings, but many many show ESS ARE in the field and getting hunt titles. True, they do hunt tests, not hunt trials...two different styles of testing...but I know several JH/SH and a couple of MH ESS....I think it is more an issue of desire by the owner then lack of ability in the breed.

Get Adobe Flash player

Melian and Tiny   Etna, CA

12/9/2014 11:44:59 PM

Interesting that the ESS is shown as an example that type doesn't differ much. However the difference between the "show" type and the "hunting" is vastly different. You wouldn't even know they were the same dog. I doubt the show type could even work in the field. I've had both.

Login to get points for commenting or write your comment below

First Name : Email :
International :
City : State :

Captcha Image

Get New Captcha

Top Products