Breed for the Total Dog: The Pitfalls of Overcorrecting

It seems to me we serious dog breeders are all in the same boat: continuing the effort to produce the canine specimen who best represents the standard of our breed. We study our written standards word for word, coming up with an interpretation of what it all means. Taking this knowledge and understanding to the whelping box, we critique our litters accordingly, deciding on which pups stay, destined for the show ring, and remain in our breeding programs.

What brings colorful mixtures to the plate are the interpretations themselves. When learning, we all comprehend things differently. When reading, we tend to focus on certain points, making assumptions about which ones are critical and which ones are only slightly significant. The result is that show rings are full of nice representations of each breed, however different. Thus our judges have the opportunity to apply their own interpretations as they line up their winners. This in turn (unfortunately or not) can influence breeders to change their breeding goals.

Many breeders believe it’s all well and good to criticize a standard, an individual dog, or a winner, but that there is a bottom line we all agree on. This bottom line exists because each breed was developed with a certain intention. Whether it was to be the perfect lapdog or guard dog, every breed was created for a particular reason.

When we get too wrapped up in the dog-show world—a fun place to be, assuredly—we sometimes lose our way, forgetting what the original breeders had intended.

How many of you have taken notice when a breed suddenly appears to have lost its length of leg, or the loin becomes too long? Heavy bone becomes fine bone, massive heads become overly refined … I could go on. This is due to overcorrecting. Although breeders are to be commended for recognizing problem areas, often they will overcorrect, breeding too far to the extreme opposite, rather than remaining within the confines of the standard. Judges should refrain from overcorrecting in the ring, which reinforces the inappropriate direction.

At one point years ago breeders all realized they needed to “fix” Border Terrier rears, so they all went home and did just that. Several national specialties later, while proudly admiring the nicely corrected rears, they all gasped and said, “Now look what’s happened to our fronts!”

Lesson learned: Breed for the total dog, not just its parts. —Lynn D. Looper, Border Terrier Club of America

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