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PostSubject: FCI Breed Standards:   Fri 27 Aug 2010, 11:22 pm

The Stranglehold of the "Country of Origin"

The President's Column 1/2005


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Sometimes FCI breed standards change more often than people change the models of their cars. Why?
Since Finland is a member of the International Cynological Federation or the FCI, it has to follow the FCI breed standard even if these standards may not have much to do with the breed’s historical development -- or even if they do not always make much sense.
The problem stems from one of the FCI’s basic principles: that the breed’s country of origin determines the breed standard. Under this principle, outsiders have preciously little to say on which country is adopted as the country of origin. This, in turn, has led to situations where the breed’s population may be much larger and its quality higher elsewhere than in its official country of origin.
As the FCI is a motley collection of countries with wide differences in their traditions of pure-bred dogs, the skill and knowledge in drawing up breed standards that can stand the test of time and avoid addressing passing fashions and fads, is equally variable. Besides, all too often local politics seem to carry too much weight when amendments to breed standards are drafted.
An good illustration of the “political” influence on breed standards is the FCI standard for the Pomeranian, which is included in the German Spitz standard as adopted by Germany for all “German Spitz” breeds from the Keeshond to the Pomeranian. This in spite of the fact that the breed was developed in England in the Victorian era and first introduced into Germany as late as 1974.
Germany’s influence is explained by its strong historical position within the FCI as one of the few continental European founding members. As a result, the rest of us have to follow the German standard, and our Poms have been lumped with the other Spitz breeds into the Spitz group rather than the Toy group. Over the years, few serious breeders have been contemplating importing breeding stock in Pomeranians from the FCI-designated “country of origin”, and, Ironically enough, Germans have been importing Poms from the English-speaking world in recent years to ensure that their dogs are competitive as the toy dogs known elsewhere as Pomeranians.
In the so-called “superpowers” in the dog world (Britain, the United States, Australia), breed standards were written to stand the test of time for decades to come, and the objective of breeding pure-bred dogs was to seek perfection as described in the breed standard. In many FCI countries, on the other hand, breed standards seem to change more often than people change the model of their cars as breeds standards are molded to fit the dogs that have been produced rather than vice versa.
You don’t have to look far for examples, especially as the last few years have seen a spate of new breed standards. In the just two decades, several breed standards have been changed 3-4 times. Here are a few examples:
• The Chihuahuas have now their third breed standard as Mexico has used its prerogative as the country of origin to determine what the valid standard should be at any given time. The first of these three standards described dogs that we have come to know as typical in Finland as well as in Britain, where Chihuahuas have traditionally been a strong breed. By the time the second version was published, Mexicans had concluded that Chihuahuas should be shorter, leggier dogs as often seen in the United States. With this change, ruby eyes and flat tails were omitted, although the flat tail has been reintroduced in the latest standard. Meanwhile, health experts question whether a Chihuahua weighing 0.5 kilos, as allowed by the standard, ever could be a sound representative of the breed or a freak of a dog.
• In Germany, the 1974 German Spitz standard covering the Pomeranian did not recognize black and tan Pomeranians, which are not allowed in Britain. In the next version published in 1990, this color combination was accepted, but an old but rare color, blue, was dropped. The next version of the breed standard was published in 1998.
• The Lowchen standard, too, has been stretched and reshaped several times by the French. In the 1990’s, brown (explained as chocolate or liver) and its derivatives were disallowed, only to be reintroduced in the new standard published last year. As a novelty, the new standard contains a long list of “eliminating faults” ranging from small or almond-shaped eyes to a missing incisive or ears that are not long enough or do not have a fringe! If a poor judge were to follow this standard to the letter, he or she might not have any dogs left to give awards to! And poor breeders would not have many award-winning dogs to use in their breeding programs in a breed that is numerically small worldwide.
To top it all, the breed’s proportions has been changed and are now described in the same terms as those of the Fox Terrier (“height at withers equals the distance from the point of shoulder to the point of buttock”). Perhaps it would be appropriate to ask how breeders can keep up with the changes (although the FCI nowadays sends the amended breed standards to the national kennel clubs a few months before they take effect rather than after they have already come into force.) Does anyone seriously believe that breeders can change a breed overnight to accommodate the whims of the latest breed standard?
• A lot of arm twisting has also been going on in the case of the Schipperke, with the country of origin, Belgium, insisting that the Schipperke’s undocked tail should be carried like the Belgian Shepherd’s. The Nordic countries, where tail-docking has been banned for several years, argued that undocked tails on dogs produced out of Nordic, French, British, South African or Australian dogs are spitz-type tails, set high and carried neatly over the back. They tried to show that producing Belgian Shepherd-type tails is impossible – unless you produce shy dogs carrying their tails tucked between their legs! Since then, a small concession has been made and spitz-type tails are now tolerated but not desired.
• The FCI Havanese standard is in a class of its own. For years, solid black or any black color in the coat was a disqualifying fault. According to the Chairman of the FCI Breed Standards Commission at the time, black color in the Havanese meant that the dogs were not genetically pure-bred Havanese. It took only a few determined German breeders to embark on a campaign to change the breed standard, and lo and behold, black Havanese suddenly became pure-bred and acceptable under the FCI standard.
If you look at the process of drafting and approving breed standards in countries such as Britain and the United States on the one hand and the FCI on the other, the only conclusion one can draw is that while those two “superpowers” in the pure-bred dog world write their breed standards with due deliberation to describe the ideal dog in its breed, in the FCI, the writing and approval of breed standards is suffering from a strangle hold of the breed’s “country of origin” which leaves breeders around the world at the mercy of sometimes small but powerful cliques.
Today’s sport of pure-bred dogs is highly international. Elsewhere, borders separating nations and political blocks are fast disappearing. One would expect the same development would apply to the dog world and to breed standards.
A few feeble attempts toward universally acceptable breed standards have been made – with very little progress. The English Kennel Club, the American Kennel Club and the FCI agreed at their meeting as far back as in 1996 that a manual listing the differences in the breed standards by the three organizations would be produced. This manual was then to be translated into the official FCI languages (ie. English, German, French and Spanish) and distributed to the members. So far, there has been no sign of such a manual!
And one should not expect universal breed standards as long as the FCI remains as weak and inefficient an organization and as exposed to the whims of its individual member countries as it is today.
Kirsti Lummelampi
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Copyright © The Finnish Toy Dog Association & Kirsti Lummelampi 2005
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