THE STANDARD’S STANDARD by Arden Holst
Understanding a breed standard is not always as easy as it seems. It really involves the magic trick of transferring words into a mental picture, then applying that picture to a living thing. Sometimes synthesizing an attribute into a single word or phrase can be helpful for remembering the distinct structures or traits of the different breeds. Sometimes it can be misleading. At the beginning of the breed standard for the Standard Schnauzer, square-built, robust, and heavy-set are used to summarize the breed’s appearance. So, how accurate are these adjectives and how should they be applied?
We all have a good idea of what a square looks like. With the Schnauzer, as well as the other square-built Working breeds like the Doberman Pinscher, Boxer, and Great Dane, the “square” frames the body mass from the breastbone to the point of the rump, and from the withers to the ground. It’s a simple way of visualizing whether the height, measured from the withers to the ground, equals the length from the front piece to the point of the buttocks. To achieve this proportion, the loin needs tobe short, which results in a strong, compact body. In the ideal Standard Schnauzer, the shoulder is well-laid-back, the back is short, and the croup slopes slightly to the set-on of the tail.
“Robust” is also a pretty easy fit for describing the Standard Schnauzer. The word itself means strong, healthy, vigorous, rugged, and sturdy. It can also be applied to individuals who are strong in constitution, with enduring good health in body and mind. This seems pretty accurate for this breed, which traces back to working farm dogs in 18th century Germany. They proved their stamina and endurance by guarding the farmyard, keeping the stable free of rats, and herding cattle to market. They showed their courage and intelligence while working as messenger dogs for the German Red Cross during the first World War. Today, they show their strength and stamina in the agility ring and other performance events. They have also been used in search and rescue, and to detect everything from contraband to cancer.
“Heavy-set” is used along with robust and square-built to describe the breed. The term appears only once at the beginning of the breed standard, and I believe the authors meant it to mean that the Standard Schnauzer has good bone and is well-muscled. However, heavy-set in the dictionary is a synonym for chunky, squat, thick-set, and fat. Santa Claus is heavy-set. I don’t think that’s what the authors meant when they attributed the phrase to the Standard Schnauzer. The term is not an idealdescription of this medium-sized, active, athletic dog. Though good bone and solid muscling are attributes of the breed, Standard Schnauzers should be neither course, stocky nor fat. Instead of heavy and round, their body shape is oval, with good depth of chest. They should be well-muscled and athletic, much like the other square-built Working breeds.
The breed standard defines the breed as being of medium size. The designation puts them between the smaller Miniature Schnauzer and the much larger Giant Schnauzer in size. They were the original prototype for the Schnauzer breeds, the useful dogs that were large enough to ward off strangers, but not so large as to consume too many of the German farmer’s resources. Modern breeders, to maintain the breed’s modest size, made height limits a requirement, earning a disqualification if not met. Males must measure between 18 and 20 inches at the withers; females must measure 17 to 19 inches. The inch in the middle, 18-1/2 to 19-1/2 for males and 17-1/2 to 18-1/2 for females, is considered ideal.
The eyebrows, mustache, and beard are called the “hallmark of the breed.” They are like the signpost out front, announcing that here comes a Schnauzer. The coat texture is also considered a hallmark, and coat texture is very important. Ideally, the topcoat should be tight, hard, wiry, and as thick as possible. The hairs of the topcoat have a stiff, wire-like texture, and they “lift” slightly off the back. They are maintained by hand-plucking. Underneath that wiry exterior is a soft undercoat that acts as insulation. Pepper and salt dogs ideally have a gray undercoat, but a tan-colored undercoat is allowed.Black dogs have a black undercoat. Furnishings on the legs are usually longer than the coat on the body, in part, because they are scissor-trimmed rather than stripped. The breed standard states that although usually longer than the body coat, furnishings should not be so long that they detract from the working capability of the dog
Pepper and Salt Color? To get an idea of this, just sprinkle a bit of coarsely ground salt and black peppercorns on a piece of grey paper and you’ll get a sense of the look. The color you see in pepper and salt dogs comes from the hairs in the topcoat that are banded black and white. Nearly every hair has a band of both colors, and the overall shade of the coat is determined by the proportion of black to white and on the position of the bands on the hairs.
To allow a closer look at the breed standard, the Standard Schnauzer Club of America’s approved Judges Study Guide is available on the AKC website. To locate it, Google “AKC Judges’ Study Guides.” (A blue banner with this heading will appear.)Scroll down past the Group listing and three other headings to the complete, alphabetical list of AKC recognized breeds. Under Standard Schnauzers are several options. Click on Judges Education Seminar.
A note to judges: In years past, the Standard Schnauzer was always examined on the floor or ground. A judge may now request that they be examined on a ramp.