The breed standards for small dogs often seem at pains to convince the reader of the pooch's mettle. Did you know that the Scottie is the John McClane of dogs?
"The Scottish Terrier should be alert and spirited but also stable and steady-going. He is a determined and thoughtful dog whose 'heads up, tails up' attitude in the ring should convey both fire and control. The Scottish Terrier, while loving and gentle with people, can be aggressive with other dogs. He should exude ruggedness and power, living up to his nickname, the 'Diehard.' "
Unwanted attributes are frequently likened to those of other animals. Poodles should not have a ewe's neck. Many breed standards speak ill of the cow hock.
The authors of the sheltie breed standard are particularly attuned to characteristics the ideal dog should not exhibit. Her ears should be "small and flexible, placed high, carried three-fourths erect, with tips breaking forward." "Bat ears" are a fault. Her feet are to be "oval and compact with the toes well arched and fitting tightly together." "Hare feet" and "cat feet" are both faults.
Like the breed standard for the Afghan hound ("He has a straight front, proudly carried head, eyes gazing into the distance as if in memory of ages past"), the shar pei standard conjures the image of a rather imperious dog—or, perhaps, just an imperious band of enthusiasts?
"Regal, alert, intelligent, dignified, lordly, scowling, sober and snobbish essentially independent and somewhat standoffish with strangers, but extreme in his devotion to his family."
Owners of dogs in the sporting group tend to be particularly proud of their animals' derring-do in the great outdoors, stressing performance alongside appearance.
"The Pointer is bred primarily for sport afield; he should unmistakably look and act the part. The ideal specimen gives the immediate impression of compact power and agile grace; the head noble, proudly carried; the expression intelligent and alert; the muscular body bespeaking both staying power and dash. Here is an animal whose every movement shows him to be a wide-awake, hard-driving hunting dog possessing stamina, courage, and the desire to go. And in his expression are the loyalty and devotion of a true friend of man."
Like other dogs originally bred for fighting or guard duty, the boxer retains some of its pugnacious spirit. Its standard walks a delicate path, acknowledging the breed's rough-and-tumble past while trying not to scare off potential owners.
"Deliberate and wary with strangers, he will exhibit curiosity, but, most importantly, fearless courage if threatened. However, he responds promptly to friendly overtures honestly rendered."
Standards for dogs, like the ridgeback, that have a distinctive characteristic naturally devote considerable attention to describing that characteristic.
"The ridge should be clearly defined, tapering and symmetrical. It should start immediately behind the shoulders and continue to a point between the prominence of the hips and should contain two identical crowns (whorls) directly opposite each other."
Color is of paramount importance to some breeds. Regarding the coat of the wheaten terrier, the authors of its standard are unequivocal:
"Color: Any shade of wheaten. Upon close examination, occasional red, white or black guard hairs may be found. However, the overall coloring must be clearly wheaten with no evidence of any other color except on ears and muzzle where blue-gray shading is sometimes present. Major Fault—Any color save wheaten."
The pug entry opens by noting that the ideal dog should be multum in parvo—much in little. It's also an apt phrase for breed standards. With remarkable economy, they paint a detailed portrait of each breed and—standing in the background holding a leash and a plastic baggie—its human champions.