Article published in the Summer issue of Sheltie International

Analysis of the Standard:

Part 1: A look at Words NOT in the sheltie Standard
By Cadie Pruss, Acadia shelties

While at a show one weekend, a tri bitch came into the ring that I felt was very feminine and symmetrical. I exclaimed, “oh, she is CUTE!” and was promptly told by a professional handler and fellow breeder, “CUTE is not in the standard!” True. Our standard omits many adjectives that convey attractiveness. Since that exchange at the show, I have opened my ears to listen to other words people are using and I am finding all sorts of ways we discuss our dogs.

The words we chose to use as our own short cut reflects our vision of the Shetland Sheepdog. It is ok if we chose our own short cut words. In listening to which words fellow breeders and judges use, we can better understand how they view this breed. Since none of these words are in the standard, we should not criticize which word another breeder uses. Rather, we should inquire if that breeder understands the implications these words have and we should choose our words with caution.

For those who are sticklers for words only found in the standard, there are about 200 adjectives and descriptive phrases in the standard. Most of those adjectives reference some specific part rather than talking about the whole dog. The words chosen to describe the overall sheltie are found in the preamble. It states, “The Shetland Sheepdog is a small, alert, rough-coated, longhaired working dog. He must be sound, agile and sturdy….” Rough-coated, longhaired, working, sound, agile and sturdy describes the sheltie, but does not depict overall appeal- and yet, many of us want a word we can use as a shortcut to mean, “I like that animal. It is my visual interpretation of the Standard” Careful examination of the definitions of “cute” along with a few oft used words, makes it clear that they were left out of the standard intentionally as they a) leave too much room for personal interpretation, b)demonstrate that as words get used a lot, the true definition often gets forgotten, and c) often these words conflict with the standard.

Upon reviewing the written critiques the judges at the national submit to the ASSA Bulletin Board, I found that “pretty”, “lovely”, and “beautiful” were the most common adjectives used to describe attributes of the class winners. These words help us acknowledge attributes and animals that are “pleasing to the eye”- also not in the standard but used by judges in their critiques along with “fills the eye” or “statuesque”. Judges used the word “pretty” many times, but our standard calls for a “sturdy” dog. According to Webster’s New World Dictionary, 2nd College Edition, pretty is defined as, “1. pleasing or attractive in a dainty, delicate, or graceful way rather than through striking beauty, elegance, grandeur, or stateliness.” Since one can not simultaneously be both “sturdy” and dainty or delicate, - “pretty” to describe the overall dog may actually be implying that the dog is not “sturdy”. While most people’s use of the word “pretty” stops at the “pleasing or attractive” portion of the definition, there is more to the definition than that and when read as written in the dictionary, dainty, delicate, or graceful can not be omitted.

The choice of the word “Lovely” evokes emotion in the user. The definition given in Webster’s is “having those qualities that inspire love, affection, or admiration a) beautiful; exquisite c) highly enjoyable.” While talking to fellow breeders about the short cut words they use, it seems than many feel that viewing a correct sheltie should evoke an emotional response- so this word seems to be a good one that offers no conflict with the picture the standard creates.

Of the three words most often used by the Judges of the National Specialty, “Beautiful” jumps to the top of my list as a good short cut word. Webster’s defines this adjective as meaning, “having beauty; very pleasing to the eye, ear, mind, etc. “ The dictionary further states, “beautiful is applied to that which gives the highest degree of pleasure to the senses or to the mind and suggests that the object of delight approximates one’s conception of an ideal;” It seems that this one word sums up the three word expression “pleasing to the eye” and “suggests that the object…. approximates one’s concept of an ideal;” This word says it all and is the word I will use from now on, regardless of referring to male or female.

Elegant” is turning up more and more in descriptions. Webster’s defines “elegant” as, “1. characterized by dignified richness and grace, as of design, dress style; luxurious or opulent in a restrained , tasteful manner; 2. characterized by a sense of propriety or refinement; impressively fastidious in manners and taste.” Since this word is becoming so popular I found myself thinking about it quite a bit. The only word in this definition that applies to the sheltie is “refined” and in our standard, “refined” only refers to the head, not the overall dog. The body should be “sound, agile and sturdy” and the dog should be a “working dog”.

Shelties don’t have to live on a farm to be “working dogs”, but they just must possess the characteristics that working dogs possess. To be “sound” no part can be exaggerated. I believe that the authors of our standard were referring to the body when they used the word “sound”. However, a working dog also needs to be sound of mind, and can not afford to be fastidious in manners; that sort of dog might refuse to work in the rain. As it happens, I do own a farm.. As I was shoveling the winter’s worth of manure out of the barn all I could wonder was, “is it possible to be “working” and “elegant” at the same time?” Here I was, wiping the sweat from my brow onto my shirt, and I thought, “no, the term working implies some sort of grit- so, I looked it up. The word Work took up one half of a page in the dictionary, but “Working” was defined as 1. to exert oneself in order to do or make something; do work; labor; toil”. Well toil was close enough to grit for me.

Stylish” was another word I heard around the show grounds. Webster’s defines “stylish” as “Conforming to current style in dress, decoration, behavior, etc.; smart; fashionable”. Conforming to current style promotes the current fads in a breed rather than promoting the written standard. I began to wonder if the people using that word did indeed mean that the dog was just conforming to a current fad occurring within the breed.

What about the first word I had used as my shortcut word- “cute”. I still did not find “Cute” as offensive as others do. I have read opinions from other breeders suggesting that the word “cute” never be used when describing a sheltie, but I disagree. Wester’s defines “cute” as 1. cleaver; sharp; shrewd 2. pretty or attractive, esp. in a lively, wholesome or dainty way. 3. straining for effect; artificial. I think it is definition number 3. most people think of when they hear the word “cute” and find it offensive. True, shelties should never be a caricature of the breed. Definition 2. brings us back to “pretty”, which in turn refers back to “dainty”. I stand by the thought that shelties are not “dainty” they are “sturdy”, but if one argues that “pretty” is acceptable, then “cute” should be as well. I also find shelties to often be “lively” or “wholesome”, so again, I was not offended by this word.

I think that our current standard is very well written. The “word smiths” of this document must have agonized over which words would help guide a breeder or judge and which words would only confuse. We were left with a void of “short cut words”. This examination of these words demonstrates that multiple definitions of a single word can lead the written standard astray and therefore were deliberately left out of the written document. To me, that would suggest that these words should not be bred for, or judged to, but that does not mean they can not be used by breeders or judges to reflect a preference. No single word will ever describe the whole sheltie, otherwise we wouldn’t need a written standard, but it is nice to have summary words to expedite communication. While we may be left with a void of “short cut words” it is ok if we chose our own. Listening to fellow breeders and judges can help us understand how they view the breed (or maybe just an individual animal). An understanding of the full definition of words will allow us to engage in spirited conversations about the standard, which usually result in a fuller and broader mental picture- and if we want to get closer to the standard, isn’t that what we all really need anyway?


© Cadie Pruss
This article may be referenced:

Pruss, Cadie, Summer 2008 Sheltie International , A look at Words NOT in the sheltie Standard

Nat  – (July 22, 2009 at 6:45:00 PM PDT)  

What a very thoughtful and interesting post! leaves something to think about.

Thanks for your nice comment on my blog! -- As you'll see, I added a labels sidebar right away, it's a great idea :)

~Nat

Shelamo Shelties  – (July 23, 2009 at 7:20:00 AM PDT)  

Thoroughly enjoyed reading your article! Our English language, certainly at times, leaves at lot to the imagination and intrepretation based on one's life & experiences.

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