Why all the chatter about breed standard?

A few days ago I wrote an article about what it means to adopt a Greyhound.  Overall this article was well received.  However, some comments I found thought provoking.  I also reviewed other posts throughout social media and there continued to be a theme:  what is the standard for a greyhound and why that matters to you as an owner.

The American Kennel Club (AKC) judges each breed of dog based on a written standard.  You can review the AKC written standard for greyhounds below.

Head –  Long and narrow, fairly wide between the ears, scarcely perceptible stop, little or no development of nasal sinuses, good length of muzzle, which should be powerful without coarseness. Teeth very strong and even in front.
Ears ­ – Small and fine in texture, thrown back and folded, except when excited, when they are semi-pricked.
Eyes ­ – Dark, bright, intelligent, indicating spirit.
Neck – ­ Long, muscular, without throatiness, slightly arched, and widening gradually into the shoulder.
Shoulders – ­ Placed as obliquely as possible, muscular without being loaded.
Forelegs ­ – Perfectly straight, set well into the shoulder, neither turned in or out, pasterns strong.
Chest ­ -Deep, and as wide as is consistent with speed, Fairly well sprung ribs.
Back ­ – Muscular and broad.
Loins ­ – Good depth of muscle, well-arched, well cut up in the flanks.
Hindquarters ­ – Long, very muscular and powerful, wide and well let down, well-bent stifles.  Hocks well bent and rather close to the ground, wide but straight fore and aft.
Feet ­ – Hard and close, rather more hare than cat feet, well knuckled up with good strong claws.
Tail ­ – Long, fine and tapering with a slight upward curve.
Coat ­ – Short, smooth and firm in texture.
Color ­ – Immaterial
Weight ­ – Dogs, 65 to 70 pounds: Bitches, 60 to 65 pounds

If you are like me when you read this, it sounds very similar to what you see in a National Greyhound Association (NGA) greyhound.  First, what is the difference between the AKC and NGA?  Both are registering bodies; however, the NGA is special as they only register greyhounds.  All American racing greyhounds are registered with the NGA.  The NGA doesn’t have a written breed standard so to speak; rather, NGA greyhounds are bred to a performance standard, meaning they are judged on their ability to excel in running sports.  When we look at the AKC written standard for the breed, the NGA greyhound fits the description in that standard.  So why do we find ourselves disagreeing on the breed standard again and again?  The answer is rather complicated.   I think that show breeders thought that breeding a greyhound with exaggerated structural features was sexy and the dog would be able to compete in the group and best in show ring at dog shows.   They succeeded.  There is no functional purpose or advantage for the exaggerated changes we see in most greyhounds that compete in the show ring.

Actually, dogs that are exaggerated are not good for our breed and here is why.  These dogs are not functional in that they are deficient in athletic ability.  They are able to participate in running sports but unable to compete on the same level with coursing-bred greyhounds or racing greyhounds.  If you read into the written standard above you will understand all these qualities are desirable because they improve the greyhound’s speediness and athleticism.  By exaggerating the structural features called for in the written standard we are taking the functionality and the most important part of the greyhound away.

I have listened and read comments about show greyhounds and see things such as “isn’t she beautiful” or “she’s living art”.  I appreciate these opinions but I want to know if they have ever seen a greyhound running after a lure or quarry.  Have they ever seen true poetry in motion?

I am not sure that I will ever feel that a hound standing in a ring is more lovely than a hound doing what they were bred to do for centuries.  I will never see how loping in a ring can be more beautiful than raw power on the coursing field or sand being flung all over the track by a hound that can scoot.

I understand that dog shows are a lot of fun to a lot of people.  I wish we would see more functional dogs at these shows.  I proudly support the breeders that are promoting functional hounds and I hope that in the future at Greyhound specialties you will not see a dog win breed in the ring that is not able to compete in the field but instead a Greyhound that can win in the ring and on the lure coursing field.

As stewards of our breed we must advocate for functionality.   Our focus should not be on what can win the group and best in show ring but what can make a hare turn and break track records.  We simply must focus on the raw power of our breed; after all, it’s why they are still with us.

Official Standard of the Greyhound. c/o The American Kennel Club.  Retrieved December 1st, 2016 from http://images.akc.org/pdf/breeds/standards/Greyhound.pdf_ga=1.268297802.576806201.1479637347

16 Replies to “Why all the chatter about breed standard?”

  1. I agree with you 100%. The AKC standards have created monstrosities of some breeds. I fear that health is compromised in many cases through breeding to exaggerated standards. I cannot help but thinking that the bloat and heart issues more common in AKC greyhounds may be due to some of the breeding for AKC traits and also the tiny gene pool from which many breeders draw.

  2. Greyhounds should be bred for speed & agility (at high speeds) — not for what people THINK a fast dog should look like. If this is not producing a 'look' that you like, then you are in the wrong breed.

  3. It's actually not the standards that are exaggerated or have created monstrosities. Rather, it's the interpretations of the standards by those breeding primarily for appearance instead of function. As this blog points out, the AKC standard describe NGA racing greyhounds quite well.

  4. I agree with the emphasis of this article. If we could get better education or more importantly experience for show judges this would help. By this I mean getting coursing experience or getting coursing judges into the ring. This is not only important in sight hounds. The problem is actually much worse in some other breeds. Consider the difference between a field trial Labrador and a show dog. We are actually more fortunate with most of our sighthounds as the contrast is less striking but certainly not less important. The biggest problem with judging a show dog and looking for qualities that can perform in the field is you cannot judge heart or drive in a show ring no matter how good you are.

  5. I agree with you 100% Here in France most of the greyhound never see a coursing field or a track. But they win all in the show ring. And my grey enjoy to be on a field but they don't being on a show ring.

  6. I have to disagree somewhat. I love the BREED, regardless race bred or show bred. Seen some stunners off the track, and some pretty plain show bred dogs. I have show bred dogs myself and they EXCEL in sporting events, not just the showring. Of course some are breed far too exaggerated and while they might win big and I like them – they are not my personal type. I like athletic dogs. Otherwise, I enjoyed your blog on this subject.

  7. As I move past 25 years as a connoisseur/owner/exhibitor/breeder/judge, having owned NGA/Irish/AKC greyhounds, deerhounds, whippet, and bred and owned innumerable borzoi, I've seen so many of these debates. A breed is only as good as its stewards. While I have great pride for the performance of track dogs, I wish that health and temperament were a greater priority – because I value them as companions as well as athletes (every one of my NGA greys died of osteo). AKC greyhounds, well, let's just not go there – I just keep hoping that the trend will shift back to moderate (although outliers can sometimes be very valuable in a breeding program). I shifted to borzoi within 5 years of my experience of NGA greyhounds, although I continued to own them for years after; I wanted a dog who could compete in amateur performance without breaking, who was long lived and less susceptible to cancer, who was more partner and less dependent. As a breeder, I test them in every way possible, and the standard is a critical part of that blueprint. On the field, in my home, genetically, and, yes, in the ring. All of these help build my perspective of the perfect dog. While I value field competition, my perfect dog is not just a running dog. He lives in my home, hopefully to extreme old age, and his running years are just a part of that time, though they define who he is. His temperament and health define him, too, as does the quality of his coat, and the expression in his eye. There is a reason we call it "preservation" breeding – because the best of us preserve what no longer would exist, and keep those pieces of history thriving in the modern world.

  8. Thanks for your comment. The epigenetics of osteosarcoma is interesting. If memory serves me, there 33 potential sites of mutation in the greyhounds genome to trigger osteosarcoma. With this strong risk correlation what causes these mutations to be expressed and some and not others. Is there an epigenetic cause for this? There are so many questions! Cancer biology is booming, as these changes are not only seen in dogs be humans as well. The more we learn about osteosarcoma in the Greyhound the more we learn about osteosarcoma in children as the tumor, mutations, and disease process are incredibly similar.

    The NGA greyhound has to be trainable. They have to learn how to race and live in a kennel. I find the NGA not aloof when compared to AKC dogs. I do believe that there are many factors to consider when breeding but performance has to be at the top.

Comments are closed.