A fault, in animal breeding, is a characteristic whose state or quality falls outside of the acceptable range for the attribute being judged. This article discusses faults in dogs. (See Conformation point for a list of some of the more common areas in which faults can occur.)
There are many faults, which may be said to be major or minor, or may be considered so serious as to merit disqualification. Unfortunately, these delineations differ among the various breed clubs.
Whose Fault is it? Interpretation of the Standards
There are no hard-and-fast rules when it come to faults; these are decided by individual breed clubs and written into breed standards, so what constitutes a fault may differ from breed to breed. Some breed standards are punctilious in the extreme, spelling out exactly what constitutes a fault in every part of the animal, and the degree to which each fault must be penalized. Some are more loosely written, leaving more open to interpretation by the judge, or not describing a conformation point at all, which leaves the matter up to the individual judge’s taste. A particularly troubling instance is one where the breed standard states that the fault is to be penalized to the degree of the severity of the fault; conformation points which are open to human interpretation cause much ill-will at dog shows.
For example, most breed standards list a ‘scissor bite’ as the correct one. Dogs with a level bite, an under-bite or an overbite are said to have a ‘fault’. Under many breed standards, the judge must decide the degree of severity of the faulty bite, and therefore how much the dog must be marked down in relation to other dogs. However, some breed clubs find a level bite acceptable; some find it equally acceptable with the scissor bite. The all-breed judge, therefore, would have to know that this dog from this particular breed must not be marked below that dog from that other breed solely on the basis of this dog’s level bite, as the level bite is not a fault in this breed.
Another example is coat colour. A given colour may be acceptable, it may be preferred, it may be the only acceptable colour, it may be a fault, or it may be a disqualification. Sometimes these colours change over time, often after much in-fighting and bitterness. For many years, the only acceptable coat pattern in a Dalmatian was white with black spots, very recently liver spots have been accepted as a variant, but black still appears to be the preference of most. A black German Shepherd Dog is penalized; a white GSD is disqualified. Many GSD fanciers like the white colour and continue to breed for the white coat; some lobby for its acceptance into the breed standard, others argue for the creation of a new breed.
The breed standards for working dogs usually specify that scars, broken teeth or other damage that evidence injuries sustained during a working career (often termed ‘honourable scars and injuries') are not to be penalized. This sometimes holds true for show dogs whose breed comes from working lines; the Australian Cattle Dog is an example of this as are some terriers, where the breed standards specifically state that scars are not to be penalized on the conformation bench.
Conformation points and faults are very divisive in the dog-breeding community and are hotly debated. Fanciers note that such qualities have the capacity to change the breed, and sometimes even minute details are argued over to a point that would astound the average pet owner.
Often it is the breeders of working dogs who are the most vehement, pointing out that changes in fashion and fancy have led to what they see as a loss in working dog qualities of many breed that have show lines.
See also: dog breeding