Type VS. Soundness: A Real Conversation Piece

By Ariel Sleeth

If you want to instigate a rousing doggy discussion, just bring up the topic of type versus soundness. It does not follow that being for type is being against soundness, but among working dog breeders you will most certainly be on the side of the minority if you are on type’s side.

It goes without saying that all breeders want both type and soundness in the dogs they are breeding. Some breeders put more emphasis on the one while other breeders emphasize the other. Where do you stand in this controversy? If we cannot have both in the same package, which quality should be more heavily valued: type or soundness? Which should be more heavily penalized?

I believe that lack of soundness is much more heavily penalized by judges (not necessarily by our standard) than is lakc of type. I believe knowledge and appreciation of type must be put back into the proper prospective. It should be the degree of unsoundness and the degree of type that is the indicator of a dog’s worth. If this were the means of determining quality, no dog would become a big winner if he lacked either of these qualities to a serious degree. I don’t believe you will find a typey dog lacking in soundness winning top awards too often. But the reverse is true. All too often the sound dog lacking in type is winning groups and group placements when he does not seem a worthy representative of the Sheltie.

Typ-e is the signature of the breed. It is the head quality combined with balance and outline that determines breed type. Type needs protection, and this is only forthcoming from a minority of the licensed judges who have the experience and depth of knowledge of the Shetland Sheepdog. With so many variances within our breed, it is not an easy task for the all-rounder to adequately asdsess the breed. It seems we learn about breeds in degrees. We become knowledgeable about correct movement long before we can fully evaluate and appreciate the detail of correct type, which is a combination of many parts in relationship to each other. The breeders who have gone before us and brought the Shetland Sheepdog to the degree of excellence that we have inherited must have valued type very highly. There were considerably fewer animals with this elusive quality on which to build.

It is infinitely easier to win under more judges with a sound Sheltie lacking in type than it is with a typey Sheltie lacking to the same degree in soundness. Type is more difficult to achieve in a breeding program, more difficult to maintain when you have it, and is not even recognized by many judges, so no credit is given for your achievement. The breeder cannot be blamed for giving more credit to soundness in his breeding program under these circumstances.

The late Ed Pickhardt, a renowned Collie breeder and judge of all breeds, stated most emphatically, “Give me a good head, the rest I can get from a mutt.” A dog without type is common, lacking that quality or “look” that makes his breed distinctly different from some other. When can common ever be fulfilling, even though the dog is sound!

It is a breeder’s dilemma that the greatest head may go unappreciated while the dog is penalized for a short tail or a minimum of coat. A competing dog may receive full value for his lack of head quality because many judges are not type-conscious. The same dog may also earn pluses for an abundant coat, which is easily recognized.

This is where specialty judges and all-round judges complement each other. The specialty judge is able to evaluate all aspects of his or her breed and give knowledgeable consideration for type and head qualities as well as structure and movement. The all-rounder usually concentrates on movement, condition and showmanship. Head qualities are considered only to the degree that the all-rounder is knowledgeable in each particular breed. It is certainly understandable that no judge could know all of the breeds to the same degree of thoroughness as the judge who specializes in only one or two breeds. The Sheltie who wins extensively under both the all-rounder and the specialty judge is usually one well worth your consideration in a breeding program.

As a dog breeder I wanted soundness, don’t ever mistake that. But as a breeder with responsibility and a deep love for the Shetland Sheepdog, I want a total dog: one that has the beauty and elegance of his breed with the structure, soundness and intelligence of a herding dog. Type is the artistry of breeding, soundness the mechanics—both are a part of the total package, but the art is the soul of the breed.

Note: As the Shih Tzu is so much a “head breed,” this article is certainly applicable to it. Reprinted with permission from The Shih Tzu Reporter.