Foreword by John Buddie – As so many discussions get caught up in the minutiae of soundness, sometimes the concept of the “importance” of soundness gets lost. I have posted this piece by the famed poodle breeder Charlotte Hayes Blake Hoyt before, but always feel it is worth a read every now and again. While originally written for the Poodle fancy, so much of it is applicable to all breeds.
The breeder as well as the dog judge is frequently asked which he prefers…”type” or “soundness”. In fact, I, as well as other judges often receive a questionnaire from different breed clubs in which question number one is usually: “Which would you place first, the SOUND dog or the TYPEY dog?” It might seem to the novice breeder that these two qualities are opposed, as well as being of equal value, and that, therefore, one has to choose between the!
Now this is a common confusion among dog people whre3 there should be none, for “Type” and “Soundness” are never opposed, nor are they equal in importance to the judge. The breeder will, and should, have a different value concerning them as we shall see at the end of this article; nevertheless, to both breeder and judge, type and soundness are separately important to a purebred dog.
They are not equal in importance to the judge, because a breed to be distinctive from other breeds MUST have type; if a dog lacks type one may not even know what kind of dog it is! For example, know what particular breed it represents; we may even not be able to evaluate its soundness! Therefore in a purebred dog TYPE IS OF PARAMOUNT IMPORTANCE. However, no matter how typical it may be, if it IS unsound, it should not win in the show ring.
In dog parlance, what, exactly does the word “Sound” mean? It means an animal with all its proper physical parts in place and functioning as nature intended. It means that a dog can move properly and vigorously; can see, hear, and scent; can breed; a dog which wants to do all these things, whose disposition is alert, poised and cooperative.
A dog with one leg deformed or gone, with an eye blind or even with entropian with a testicle missing IS Unsound; a dog with such nervous or bad temperament that it cannot behave in a reasonable or controllable manner is Unsound. On the other hand, a dog maybe only “temporarily” unsound. For instance a dog could be lame and recover; a dog could have a fit, be uncontrollable during this period, and yet be normal in every respect after this temporary unsoundness was over.
To further illustrate the difference between “Soundness” and “Type” in our breed: A Poodle could have very short, narrow, highest ears, definitely wrong in “type,” but because such ears do not impede its ability to hear and because both ears are there, it is a “sound” poodle. On the other hand, should there be only one ear, due to some accident; the dog is unsound, because a dog should have two ears.
A blind dog is unsound, but a dog with round light eyes is not, in fact, light eyes often possess a keener vision. In our breed, however, they are not typical, and are, therefore scored against in the show ring.
“Soundness” is often considered to mean sound movement only, but this word is not that limited. It does refer to proper movement but it also refers to the ENTIRE CONSTRUCTION, as well as the physical and mental WELL BEING of a dog. When, however, a judge says a dog “moves soundly,” he means that the dog moves correctly for its breed and that within the confines of its breed structure, it is Able to move freely and vigorously. A Bulldog does not gait like a Poodle, but within the confines of its breed structure, it can move with perfect soundness.
Our breed, being developed for retrieving under difficult weather and water conditions, must not only move freely and vigorously, it must be “nimble,” light on its feet, and strong. Therefore, toeing out, sometimes indicative of weak pasterns is unsound in a Poodle; crossing over in front indicates lack of chest or loose shoulders and unsoundness. A high stepping gait that does not cover much ground indicates a steep shoulder, unsound in a Poodle. For the dog with weak pasterns, lack of chest, loose or steep shoulders could not have lasted long in his retrieving days, nor could he on a cross country hike today. SUCH a dog is built incorrectly for his kind of work. He is unsound.
There is, however, a more subtle but equally important interpretation of the adjective “sound”. For instance, a dog with on testicle can sire, yet in our breed it is ruled unsound. The answer lies in two facts. One, as we have stated above, all parts of such an animal are not there; two, although what is there can function normally, it is abnormal in that this lack can be inherited and eventually produce a line of poor breeders, dogs with insufficient spermatozoa. Therefore, the rule of soundness, namely that ALL PARTS CAN FUNCTION MUST BE THERE AND ABLE TO FUNCTION, is broken right in the beginning; the first dog is partially unsound.
THIS SAME TRUTH APPLIES TO TEMPERAMENT – BUT ALAS! NO RULE HAS BEEN MADE CONCERNING IT THE BREEDER ALONE FOR HIS OWN AND FOR THE BREEDS PROTECTION MUST TRULY CONSIDER “SOUNDNESS” IN TEMPERAMENT! DISREGARDING THE ULTRA NERVOUS ANIMAL IN A BREEDING LINE IS VERY DANGEROUS; OVEREMPHASIS ON NARROW, FINE SKULLS IS ANOTHER GRAVE MISTAKE. REMEMBER A SANE DOG IS NOT ONLY MORE BEAUTIFUL, HE IS SOUND AND HE CAN POSSESS PERFECT “TYPE”!
Again, “soundness” in its more subtle form applies to hip dysplasia. The animal can gait at times – almost normally, so normally that the judge may not be able to catch the deformity – yet as we all know, at other times, the poor creature is in great discomfort and is unable to stand. This horrible malformation can be inherited resulting in a line of weak hindquarters, and often cripples.
To return to judging….How does one evaluate “soundness”. I recall a very great judge telling me that in the ring he first selected the most “typical” and FROM THESE THE MOST ‘sound”. A good answer from the judge’s point of view! If one wished to go further, one could detail what soundness mattered most: I believe it would be, first the gait, although body conformation and temperament are very important. Still the general answer is the best…..FIRST, THE MOST TYPICAL AND FROM THESE…THE MOST SOUND!”
The breeder, however, MUST score differently knowing full well the importance of “type” he must still pursue “Soundness” as though it was of equal important, for to him it is. Without soundness his type will degenerate. In fact, he must occasionally sacrifice type for soundness, for only in this way will he, in the end, produce perfection. But never, NEVER must he sacrifice “soundness” for “type” for in so doing he will turn against nature, and in all our efforts to produce in individual TYPE of dog, we must have nature working with us. Only nature’s rules can make a creature’s beauty both useful and secure.