What is a Fault in Purebred Dogs?

Ch. Stoan’s CowBoy of Windshadows

“A fault is a deviation from the standard of perfection as described in the AKC Standard for Saint Bernards. Because nobody has ever seen a dog that meets every aspect of the Standard, you must assume that every dog has his share of faults. Yet the showrings are full of good dogs with virtues that are far more significant and numerous than their faults. The judge’s job is to find the dog in the class before him that most closely meets the Standard. So where is the problem?

Have you ever stood quietly outside the ring and listened to the opposing factions describe the same dog? The first group will decry that animal as being an awful specimen that is nothing but a collection of odious faults with only a sprinkling of acceptable attributes. Meanwhile, the other bunch will glowingly conclude that the same dog is a compendium of virtues enhanced by an occasional minor flaw – the sort of deviation from perfection that only adds character to a thing of beauty. Is one party wrong and the other right? Perhaps not, because it would be pretty hard to argue with scientific precision against either position.

This muddle is given birth by the subjective nature of faults and by the fact that the discerning of faults seems not to be a truly objective process. Not only does beauty lie in the eyes of the beholder, so also does the state of having faults. From a rather shallow perspective, it appears that a truly objective evaluation of any particular dog or group of dogs is almost impossible to obtain.

You may well ask, “How can this be, when we are only asking of the experts that those features and functions which deviate from the official Standard be identified and evaluated? Can this be so hard to do?” The answer appears to be, “Yes!”

Three separate elements area at work here to cause all of this confusion. They are:

  1. The so-called experts’ knowledge, ethics, reasoning ability and freedom from kennel chauvinism.
  2. The method of determining the relative importance of various faults.
  3. The clarity of the written Standard.

The first item – the degree of expertise found in the experts – is a trivial subject. As long as you think logically whil talking to all of the experts and look skeptically upon all the bits of wisdom you are told, you will be able to deal adequately with the problem.

The second item – the relative importance of one specific fault in comparison to another – is the subject of the next chapter and will not be covered here. (Written about in this blog: https://alpinepublications.net/2016/03/24/how-to-classify-faults-in-the-purebred-dog/ )

The third item – the clarity of the Standard – must be discussed in depth. That is because our Standard, like all written Standards, is highly subject to various interpretations. The obvious solution would be to simply fix the Standard so that it is clear. As I will explain, this simply will not work.

The problem with any written Standard is that each is the output of a committee, and any such committee effort must result in a series of compromises. Those areas of any Standard  where the committee members had unresolvable differing opinions are always obvious. They are the places containing the most vague language. Less obvious, perhaps, are the topics that were considered to be so well understood that they were not worth mentioning. These are the subjects that are just plain missing. Certainly, vague language and assumptions of the obvious do not lead to the exactness and clarity that we would like to see.

…It is my opinion that if you really study the Standard, dismember it down to its smallest components, and then put it back together one piece at a time, you will gain the insight required to see through the fog inherent to all Standards.

You have to add some wording to the Standard that is only implied but that is required to make the pieces fit together. You have to contemplate the fuzzy text to understand the two sides that were compromised over a particular issue. You have to surrender some of your pet concepts and preconceived notions – and that can be a real trauma. Nevertheless, I strongly recommend that you take the trouble to do it. I promise that there is a complete Saint Bernard described in our official Standard – you just have to look for it carefully.

Why is it important to gain this knowledge? Remember that a  fault is a deviation from the Standard. Therefore, you can never truly deal with a fault without first gaining a thorough knowledge of what a perfect Saint Bernard should be.”

Excerpted from Saint Bernards from the Stoan Perspective, written by Stan Zielinski.

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