Evaluating Soundness

In this issue, I will continue with Hayes Blake Hoyt’s definitions of type, soundness, style and quality, which appeared in Frank Sabella’s book, “The Art of Handling Show Dogs” and is repeated here with his kind permission. As a breeder of top-winning Poodles in the 1930s-1950s, Mrs. Hoyt was also a top-winning owner-handler, capturing the top award at both Westminster and Morris and Essex. All material from the book is in italics. My comments are in regular type.

This definition of soundness should give every reader pause for thought–deep thought!


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 them!

Now this is a common confusion among dog people where 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, a mongrel may be gloriously sound, but as it lacks type, we do not 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 entropy, with a testicle missing is unsound; a dog of such nervous or bad temperament that it cannot behave in a reasonable or controllable manner is unsound. On the other hand, a dog may be only “temporarily” unsound. For instance, a dog could be lame and recover (example: a pulled muscle causing lameness); a dog could have a fit, be uncontrollable during this period, 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, high-set 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.

To further illustrate: An undershot bite is not unsound–such a bite is perfectly feasible for a dog’s use–but it is untypical. Such a dog is scored against for lacking “type.” Flat feet, provided pads are thick and toes strong are not unsound, but they are untypical; so is a squirrel tail sound because it is a perfectly normal physical tail, although it is not a “typey” one.

A blind dog is unsound, but a dog with round, light eyes is not; in fact, light eyes often possess 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 (Mrs. Hoyt was a Poodle breeder), 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 one testicle (a monorchid) 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 that can function must be there and be 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 breed’s 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. Leave room for brain tissue. 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, often cripples.

I, for one, would like to see our Standard disqualify such dogs for life, because the animal itself is in pain. Hip dysplasia is a far worse unsoundness than monorchidism (also known as cryptorchidism).

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.” (This quote is often credited to Annie Rogers Clark, but Mrs. Hoyt credits it to a “he.”) 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 importance; 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 an 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.

As both a practicing breeder and a judge, I find the above paragraph to be quite interesting. We all know that the judge should seek the dog that exhibits the most breed character (look for the most virtues) and the breeder should have a firm grasp on the most important breed characteristics that make its dog unique from all others, as well. But the breeder had darn well better know which faults they have in their breeding stock, so that they can try to fix them in the next generation! What good does it do us to have a dog with a stunning headpiece if the dog cannot perform well enough to acquit the duties it was developed to do in the first place? As a judge, I just have to know that the dog has a fault and to what degree that fault weighs in against the dog’s virtues. As a breeder, I must know the ‘whys and whats’ of the fault–why is it where it is and what is causing it? So, if a judge decides to put up a dog with a beautiful head, he is correct in doing so, as he is going first and foremost for what in most breeds is the best indicator of breed type. If a judge decides to put up the dog with the overall best outline and movement, but may be lacking in head type (but still identifiable as its breed), then that judge is also correct, for he is helping to preserve the working abilities of the breed in question. What any and all judges would far rather do is find the dog with the stunning head that is undeniably recognized as its breed from its silhouette and can move in the exact manner dictated by its breed’s structure. But this is not a dream world and we know that all dogs (like all people) have faults. What we should all continue to endeavor to do is produce a dog that looks like its breed, acts like its breed and moves like its breed–the complete package. For if we do not, then why have differing breeds at all?

Any questions or comments, or to schedule a seminar, contact me via email: jimanie@welshcorgi.com.

  • My involvement with the world of showing dogs began in 1969 with the purchase of my first show dog, a German Shepherd Dog. In the mid-seventies I began breeding and showing Pembroke Welsh Corgis under the Jimanie prefix and have finished a championship on a Pembroke Welsh Corgi on the average of one a year for the last 45+ years - almost all were breeder/owner handled to their titles. In 2010, I formed a loose partnership with two long-time friends, Denise Scott and Linda Stoddard, and we now breed and show under the Trifecta prefix. I am a breeder/owner/handler and still breed and show. Over the years I have owned and shown dogs mostly from the Herding and Sporting Groups plus a few toy breeds. I started out showing dogs from the Herding Group, but as a hunter, I always had a “bird dog” and thus also showed Brittanys, Pointers, Golden Retrievers and Irish Setters over the years. I have finished dogs in several other breeds from the Sporting and Toy groups. I started my judging career in 1988 with AKC approval to judge German Shepherds, Cardigan and Pembroke Welsh Corgis. I judge the Herding, Sporting and Toy groups and several of the Non-Sporting breeds, as well. I have been fortunate enough to have judged dogs all over the US and Canada and also in Finland, Norway, Sweden, Jamaica, New Zealand, Australia, Ireland, China, the Philippines, Mexico and the United Kingdom. In 2011, I was accorded the supreme honor of being asked to judge the Welsh Corgi League show in the UK and in previous years both the Cardigan and Pembroke Nationals in the US. I have also had the honor of having judged many National and Regional Specialties for breeds I did not breed, own or show from the sporting, herding and toy groups throughout the years, an assignment I always enjoy! Some of the highlights of my judging career have been judging at Westminster Kennel Club in 2006, doing the Herding Group at the Rose City Classic in Portland which was shown on Animal Planet and the national specialties for Clumber Spaniels, Field Spaniels, Australian Shepherds, Miniature American Shepherd, Bouviers (Canada) and the Top Twenty competition for the Golden Retriever Club of America as well as both of the Corgi national specialties in the US and Pembrokes in Canada and the Welsh Corgi League show mentioned above. I make my living as an artist, mostly through the design of counted cross-stitch and needlepoint but also through paintings and sculpture as well as jewelry. I have recently begun authoring and producing DVDs on the canine, mostly dealing with structure and movement. Last, but certainly not least, I’ve been married to Jim Hedgepath since 1972 and am the mother of two and the grandmother of four. Thank you for the honor of being invited to judge your dogs.

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