Viva the Standard!

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HJ van der Merwe 


  Be thy mouth or black or white,    
  Tooth that poisons if it bite;
  Mastiff, greyhound, mongrel grim,
  Hound or spaniel, brach or lym;
  Or bobtail tike or trundle-tail;
  Tom will make them weep and wail:
  For, throwing thus my head,
  Dogs leap the hatch, and all are  fled.[1]                       

 Judges are dedicated individuals within the dog lovers’ society who have been allowed, through the agreement of the members of that society, to qualify themselves and be certified to officiate as assessors at dog shows.  As such, these individuals have the obligation to be well versed in the letter and spirit of the breed standard and be skilled in the application of that knowledge when confronted with a live specimen of that breed. 

This is a grave responsibility with far reaching implications for spectators, other judges, dog owners, breeders and ultimately the dogs themselves.  Judging is not a role to be taken lightly, for “… the general who understands war is the Minister of the people’s fate and arbiter of the nation’s destiny.”[2] 

If Edgar, the son of the Earl of Gloucester, believed that by the “throwing” of his head he could cause all the dogs to make a hurried exit from the building, how much more is the influence of a judge “throwing” his or her head (in a manner of speaking)? 

A Bulldog is a Bulldog 

There are those who believe that the authors of the breed standard of the English Bulldog had a skinny, Boxer-like mongrel in mind when they compiled that blue-print we attempt to uphold to this day.  It boggles the mind to understand how proponents of this school can harbour such misguided theories even after having studied the breed standard in detail.  As Plato wrote in ancient Greece: “They would be very loath, I fancy, to admit – which is that they are being convicted of pretending to knowledge when they are entirely ignorant.”[3]

 We should not allow old paintings of certain dogs to be the sole source of information from which we form our mental image of the ideal size and shape of a Bulldog.  Read the standard: it is clear!  At the time when the breed standard was penned it was used by breeders who entered their own dogs into competitions against each other.  “Flame or frost; it makes no difference.  A truth that, in one age, can hold its own in a burning fiery furnace can, in another, vindicate itself just as readily amidst fields of ice and snow.”[4] 

Deviations from the breed standard 

To use an example: how is it possible for a qualified judge, registered with the Kennel Union of Southern Africa, one whom we should expect to be passionate about dogs and a person to be regarded as an office bearer in the battle to uphold the breed standard, to give the highest accolades at a dog show to a specimen with a wry jaw? 

What faith can spectators have in the integrity of the judging when confronted with this kind of blatant favouritism?  What faith can a breeder have in the opinion of the judge regarding any of the other placings that the judge made on the day?  But by far the most far-reaching consequence is the potential impact that placing has on the quality of the breed.  The handler may be led to believe that the major genetic fault in his dog is not so bad after all and small-time breeders may be convinced that it is not such a bad idea to breed their dogs to that one or at least to get hold of some of his offspring. 

The purpose of breeding to a breed standard is the improvement of the individual specimens and the breed as a whole.  It should go without saying that we have to breed OUT the mistakes and genetic deviations and breed IN the sound qualities, “for nothing that is imperfect is the measure of anything, though some people sometimes think that they have already done enough and that there is no need for further inquiry.”[5]  

People are leaving the sport 

Concern about falling statistics has been raised for many years now at all levels of our sport: from the sitting room at home to the decision halls of KUSA. 

Let’s face it: who in his right mind is going to go to the endless effort and astronomical costs to purchase breeding stock, setting up and maintaining kennels, breeding, feeding and training dogs, and entering and travelling to and from shows all over the country, if the breed standard is being crucified in front of their eyes? 

Losing against a better competitor is regarded as positive criticism and motivation to try again.  Losing against a mediocre specimen is regarded as “politics” and severely demoralising.  Losing is not an enjoyable experience, but being cheated is totally unacceptable.  As Lady Troubridge said: “‘Cheat’ is an ugly word to use, but it is the only word that can describe unfairness in playing games, and it describes, too, the worst of selfish discourtesies.”[6] 

Uphold the standard 

From a breeder’s perspective the breed standard gives us a blue print, an architectural drawing towards which to build our breed, where each dog or bitch is another brick in the wall.  From a judge’s viewpoint the standard provides a measuring stick, an ideal guide, to be applied to each and every specimen presented in the ring on the day – irrespective of who holds the lead, pays for the handler, hosts the show, or is going to be the next judge to look at his/her dogs! From a spectator’s point of view it is a joy to see how the breeders bring their best to the field and the judge applies knowledge and experience to decide the winner for the day. 

It is our responsibility to know and understand the breed standard as breeders and as judges.  It is also our joint responsibility to educate the spectators.  For, “can you enjoy watching a baseball game, if you know nothing about baseball?  Can you enjoy watching a play, if you don’t know the language the actors are speaking?  You might get some pleasure out of the movements of the players on the field or the actors on the stage, but it would be a weak shadow of the pleasure you would get if you watched with understanding.”[7] 

Viva the standard, viva!


As it was said in the days of “Tales of two Cities”: It was the worst of times but also the best of times. As Mervander has made their final bow at the Northern Transvaal Bulldog Club championship show under one of the most honourable judges we have come across in Mervander’s 60 years of showing, we bid breeders and judges Mervander’s last farewell. A great thank you to breeders and judges who has always upheld the Standard of our breed and to the slaughterers that mutilated our Bulldog Standard, a small reminder: What goes round, comes round. 

Viva the standard, viva!

[1] From Act III, Scene IV (p 108), King Lear, The New Clarendon Shakespeare, re-printed 1980

[2] From “Waging War” (p 113), The Art of War, Sun Tzu (Translated by Samuel B. Griffith, 2005

[3] From “Socrates’ Defense (Apology)” (p 9), Plato: Collected Dialogues, Edith Hamilton & Huntington Cairns (Editors), re-printed 2005

[4] From “Sir Ernest Shackleton’s Text” (p 32), A Casket of Cameos, F. W. Boreham, 1924.

[5] From “Republic – Book VI” (p 739), Plato: Collected Dialogues, Edith Hamilton & Huntington Cairns (Editors), re-printed 2005

[6] From “The Etiquette of Games and Sports” (p 333), The Book of Etiquette, Lady Luara Troubridge, 1926

[7] From “Foreword by Isaac Asimov” (p 9), Fantasy Art Techniques, Boris Vallejo, re-printed 1995