Concept of breed, variety and standard

In 1984, the FCI formally passed Professor Raymond Triquet’s motion to establish a zootechnical definition of the concepts of dog group, breed and variety.

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Species and breed

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According to Professor Triquet, a breed is “a collection of individuals with common traits that distinguish them from other members of their species and that can be genetically passed on to the next generation.” For him, a “species is determined by nature while a breed is determined by the dog-fancy culture.” Human selective breeding can lead to the birth of a new breed, but will never result in the creation of a new species.

For example, Jack Russell Terriers (a breed) were created when Parson Jack Russell crossed various terriers in an attempt to create a better hunting dog. However some dogs, such as Languedoc Sheepdogs, have never been officially recognised as separate breeds. Others, such as the Chambray, the Lévesque and the Normand-Poitevin, slowly disappeared because of lack of interest and were eventually permanently removed from the FCI register.

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Breeds no longer used for their original purpose

For example, few Yorkshire terriers are now used for catching vermin - most are kept as pets instead. The same is true of Labrador Retrievers, which were originally used for hunting together with pointers, but are now not often bred for their working abilities.

Suspension is now pending for breeds such as the Braque Belge, while the Berger Blanc Suisse and the Russkiy Toy are awaiting final approval. Over the past fifty years, the number of breeds recognised by the FCI has practically tripled in response to increased expertise in breeding or sometimes simply because of a desire to create something original.

Group, breed, variety

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Group is defined as “a collection of breeds having in common a certain number of distinctive traits they can pass on.” For example, dogs belonging to group 1 (sheepdogs) all share the original instinct to guard livestock despite having dissimilar morphologies.

Variety, according to Professor Triquet, is “a subdivision within a breed in which all specimens have a common, genetically transmissible trait that distinguishes them from other specimens of that breed.”

For example, the longhaired German Shepherd is a variety of the German Shepherd breed, although there may be no longhaired dogs among its offspring (if long hair is passed on by a recessive gene). Similarly, many breeds include several varieties, for example coat colour and texture or ear carriage, such as the Dachshund, which comes in three coat varieties: smooth, wire and long.

Breed and standard

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The standard established by the breed’s native country is the only one recognised by the FCI, although some countries sometimes try to impose their own varieties.

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Standard is defined as “the collection of traits that defines a breed.” It is used as a benchmark at dog shows to judge how well a dog conforms to the behavioural and morphological traits of its breed.

Each breed has a single standard approved by the FCI, as established by the breed club in its country of origin, which is solely authorised to change this standard. In spite of this, some countries try to impose their own varieties. For example, British and Canadian varieties of the Akita Inu have been unsuccessfully proposed for recognition by the FCI, while the American variety was recognised in 2006. Others are recognised only through national genealogical proceedings.

Some varieties, such as Toy and Apricot Poodles, are eventually accepted by the country of origin as officially belonging to the Poodle breed.

Beauty and sporting body type standard

Some dog breeds are difficult to classify within the existing groups because they may no longer be used for their original purpose. To maintain purity, some breed clubs have imposed natural aptitude tests or even working trials, such as field trials for certain hunting dogs, which enables a dog to be judged based on its behavioural aptitudes, not just physical appearance and phenotype. In some countries, like the United Kingdom, where a show champion is not necessarily fit for work, working and show dogs are two distinct lines from a morphological point of view.

Usefulness of inter-variety breeding

Dog shows, competitions and championships allow judges to promote the use in reproduction of those dogs with beauty and working traits they feel will “improve” the breed. This practice keeps selection in line with the goals of the breed club, but does risk producing exaggerated individuals that are too far away from the breed standard or even the gradual appearance of different varieties if working traits are incompatible with beauty criteria. To avoid this trend of creating new varieties, which threatens the integrity and standard of a breed, the best specimens of each variety of the breed should be regularly mated to preserve the working and beauty traits appropriate to the breed. The Belgian sheepdog, which comprises four distinct varieties, is an excellent example. Groenendaels and Tervuerens are regularly mated with each other, maintaining a degree of homogeneity, while Malinois are mated with other breeds to improve working aptitudes, such as bite and indifference to gunfire, the loss of which could threaten the integrity of this variety.

So, intra-breed selection oriented solely to working aptitudes may result in an individual that does not conform to standard, such as the English setter, all the more since morphological characteristics are lost much more quickly than working traits are acquired.

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Concept of breed, variety and standard
    Concept of breed, variety and standard

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