Why is the Standard Important to Pet Owners – Part 1

Again and again I read the statement “I don’t want a show dog, I only want a pet. So why is it a problem if I buy a puppy from someone who just has dogs and raises a couple of litters a year?”

I am going to try and explain why it is important to buy a puppy from someone who cares about the quality of their puppies.  To do this I am going to discuss this from the viewpoint of health issues that can arise as a result of a breeder not adhering to the breed standard.

Each breed has a standard that describes a perfect specimen of the breed    Some are very detailed, some less so   Some state how breed attributes are to be ranked   All are a word picture and subject to interpretation which is why quality breeders exhibit at shows.  By doing this they get objective opinions about how the dogs they own/produce stack up against the standard and the competition

Every sentence that is in a breed standard is there for a reason  It says what the correct attributes are for the breed and what faults are   It is the severity of these faults that can affect the pet buying public

I’m going to discuss this in terms of the two Corgi breeds – the Cardigan and the Pembroke – but what I am going to write can really be applied to ANY breed  

First, I am going to say that I have never bred the perfect dog   I think I have bred some very nice ones over the years, but not even Dolly was perfect, as magnificent as she was.  So don’t think you will ever get a “perfect” dog, but you want to try and get one as close to the standard as possible.

Second, note that there are two types of faults, cosmetic and  structural faults    A cosmetic fault is one that will prevent a dog from being shown, even if it is structurally perfect   A structural fault will affect a dog physically.  And a structural fault can affect a dog physically and seriously if it is severe enough   Cosmetic faults can include coat length (excessively long and fluffy or extremely short and tight), colouration  (mismarks, unacceptable colours, etc), and pigmentation (nose is brown instead of black)    Cosmetic faults are undesirable for showing but have no effect on the health or longevity of the dog    Some faults, like fluffy coats,pop up even in well-bred litters, but good breeders do not intentionally breed to produce them  

What should be of concern is the severity of structural faults  in any puppy you are considering purchasing.

A couple of Ferris Wheels

Behold the Ferris Wheel back in the early days of Amusement Parks.   The ride is a miracle of engineering and balance, and it is critical that each angle and section of steel is precisely equal to all of the others.    Yet, despite the precision of the angles and lengths of steel, it is still imperative for the ride operator to load the ride-goers in a balanced manner., loading equal weights on opposite arms, and ensuring that the ride is totally balanced before beginning higher speed revolutions.  Physics and art combined to create a safe and strong amusement park favourite.

But how would you feel if you saw one of the pieces of steel wasn’t quite as long as the others, or not quite as wide?  Or if it had some sort of a bend in it?   Would you still feel safe on that ride when it picked up speed?  Or if the operator loaded it an unbalanced manner – loading all of the weight in consecutive seats and leaving the other side empty? 

The twin Grand Island bridges over the Niagara River

These two bridges were built in 1935 (the bridge on the right) and in 1962 and carry approximately 72,000 cars a day safely over the rushing waters of the Niagara River.   What is interesting to note is that even though the decks of the bridges have needed replacing the structure of the trusses has maintained their integrity for 8 decades with simple maintenance painting.   Again it is very important that every angle and truss length be exact in length and angulation to maintain the safety of the crossing, and ensure that vehicles don’t plunge into the rushing waters below.

Dog breeding, to a breeder who is committed to breed integrity, is a combination of physics and art, just as bridge building is, or designing amusement park rides that are subjected to high levels of centrifugal force.

Skeleton of the Cardigan Welsh Corgi from the Illustrated Breed standard of the CWCCA

The canine skeleton is also a miracle of engineering.  While the basic number of bones is unchanged from breed to breed, each individual breed has unique differences based upon the purpose for which the dog was bred.  The front assembly of a terrier which needs a specific structure to dig for rodents, is different from that of a galloping sighthound.   The front assembly of even the Cardigan and Pembroke corgi differ, due to their difference in the shape of the chest, and the terrain upon which they had to work.

Each feature of the breed is there for a specific reason.  Deviations of structure, not only do not look correct, but also give rise to health issues. 

In this article, and follow up articles, I am going to discuss the various features of the corgis  and the issues that can arise from improper structure.

Lets start with the head.

Many of the features of the head were bred into the two breeds to ensure that they could do their function of herding cattle.

The bite, should be preferably a scissor bite so the dogs can pinch the legs of the cattle, but a level bite is acceptable.   What is not acceptable is an overshot, or undershot mouth, as these dogs could not do their job properly.   Since the majority of today’s dogs are no longer herding cattle why should you care about the bite?   Because an improper bite can give rise to dental problems.   Teeth that are not properly placed can dig into the gums causing painful sores and/or ulcers.  A dog with a severe overbite or underbite could have problems eating.  A dog can have a wry mouth, where one side of the jaw grows faster than the other.

There are some wonderful photos of all of the different types of bites on the “JaneDogs” website. 

Dog with proper stop and muzzle

Dog with not enough stop

The shape of the muzzle is  a feature which differs between the two corgi breeds.  The Cardigan has a shorter blunter muzzle than the Pembroke.  Another feature of the breed is a well-defined stop – the transition between the back skull and muzzle.  The reason for this and the distinct eyebrow ridge, was to protect the dog from the kick of a cow.   The bony prominent structure should deflect the kick and protect the eyes of the dog.   While most dogs are not in danger of being kicked by a cow, they still should have this protection for their eyes from other dangers – branches on forest trails, for example.

I hope that this first explanation will help to open the eyes of future corgi purchasers to some of the reasons we stress the importance of breeding to the standard.

I hope to follow this up in a day or so and hope to tackle the subjects of the front assembly and the topline.   Please feel free to pose questions that you may have about the structure of the Cardigans and Pembrokes.



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3 Responses to Why is the Standard Important to Pet Owners – Part 1

  1. Sandie Ellicott says:

    Thanks for this Shelley. As a “performance” and “pet” person I absolutely agree on the importance of good structure. Looking forward to the next installment.

  2. Wendy says:

    Look for to the next installment, thank you

  3. Mike Lyons says:

    Thanks Shelley. Readers should know that the same care taken over centuries to perfect the standard corgi structures was also taken to perfect the standard corgi personality and optimize the breed for good health. Structure, personality and health are interconnected in purebred dogs at a genetic level; if you tamper with one, you tamper with all three. If some oddball starts breeding corgis to act like retrievers, the resulting litters will have non-standard structure and bad health. If a backyard breeder with no understanding of the standard casually chooses a breeding pair, most likely the puppies will have poor structure and that means poor health and personality too.

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