Introduction to Breed Standards

Standards provide the fundamental basis of all forms of livestock competition in which the appearance of the animal, as opposed to its ability to perform tests, jump obstacles or run more quickly than its peers, determines success or failure. Standards state what breeders and exhibitors should look for in the perfect specimen; and when, as is inevitable, exhibits prove to be less than perfect in some respects, standards should indicate which features are the most important and which are the least when making a decision on which are the winners and which the losers. Without clear standards, all breeding and judging of exhibition livestock would come down to a simple matter of opinion.

For example, if a given judge were to dislike Selfs that have broad heads because he likes them to look like thoroughbred horses, or believes that it is unnatural to keep longhairs in wrappers, then, without standards to tell him otherwise, he would be perfectly entitled to place long-headed Selfs above typey ones and clipped longhairs above long-coated ones. So for anyone who shows any cavies other than pets, and who cares even in the slightest whether they win or lose when they show, standards are important.

Standards have been in existence for exhibition cavies for probably as long as there has been a cavy fancy, well over 100 years. For many years these standards were devised by the relevant Specialist Club for each breed, with new standards or changes to standards having to be agreed by the National Cavy Club Annual General Meeting. As the number of new breeds of cavy began to increase, and as several breed clubs came to identify weaknesses in their existing standards, the discussion of standards at an AGM inevitably proved more and more difficult; and in the late 1970s it was agreed to set up a new body, the British Cavy Council, consisting of representatives of all Specialist Breed Clubs, to undertake the task of vetting standards.

The role of the British Cavy Council in looking at standards is then, as its rules state:

“To determine the Standards to be applied when judging the various breeds of cavy in the United Kingdom, these standards normally but not in all cases being effected by the discussion of proposals made by the relevant Specialist Club.”

In doing this job, the Council attempts, again as its rules spell out:

“To ensure that such standards are phrased to be as clear as possible to judges, breeders and exhibitors; offer a difficult but achievable challenge to the breeder and exhibitor; and provide a logical basis for comparisons to be made regarding the relative merits of exhibits of different breeds.”

There are two types of Standards, known as ‘Full Standards’ and ‘Guide Standards’. As the Council Rules state:

Full Standards are defined for all breeds of cavy that in the Council’s opinion represent varieties that are distinct from all other existing breeds, provide a desirable addition to the Cavy Fancy, and for which a standard of excellence has been established and agreed after a sustained process of breeding and exhibition.

Such standards will describe the most important characteristics of the ideal exhibit of each breed and indicate, via an allocation of points adding up to 100, the relative weighting to be given to each of these characteristics in assessing different exhibits. However, the importance of ‘balance’ in an exhibit must always be considered: an exhibit that is a ‘near miss’ on all characteristics may be regarded as more desirable than one that is perfect in several but very poor in a particular one, and the points allocated are therefore not intended to be used as the basis of a scoring system.”

Guide Standards are defined for breeds of cavy that are in a process of development but that, in the Council’s opinion, represent varieties that are distinct from all other existing breeds, are likely to provide a desirable addition to the Cavy Fancy, and for which a provisional standard of excellence can be stated after an initial period of breeding and exhibition under the auspices of a Specialist Breed Club.

Such standards will describe the most important characteristics of the ideal exhibit of the breed, but are likely to be stated in more general terms than for a Full Standard; and no points allocations will be given to indicate the relative importance of different characteristics.”

Other important Council Rules state that:

“In Open cavy shows the only cavies that may be exhibited are those having a Full Standard agreed by the Council, with the following exceptions:

(a) Cavies of breeds for which a Guide Standard has been agreed by the Council, and as specifically detailed in these notes (including appropriate Crested and Satin versions of Guide Standard varieties).

(b) Cavies of non-standardised colours of standardised breeds, which are viewed as having a de facto Guide Standard, the guidance points being as for the standardised breed but with colour definition(s) remaining to be specified.

(Cavies in these categories (a) and (b) may only be shown in a class or classes specifically defined for Guide Standard cavies and are not eligible for awards in competition with fully standardised cavies.)

(c) Cavies not satisfying the above conditions, i.e. new or emerging varieties, will only be permitted to enter classes specifically defined to allow the assessment of such varieties under conditions laid down by the Council. These conditions will be framed to encourage serious breeding activities aimed at developing valid new varieties, but duplication outside these specific ‘assessment’ classes will not be allowed.

(d) Pet cavies, for which judging criteria are subject to individual opinion but include cleanliness and health. These cavies cannot be shown in competition with cavies in other categories.”

Other Council Rules in relation to Standards state that:

“At any Open show (i.e. not a show held under the auspices of a Specialist Breed Club) there should be at least one breed class available for entry by any breed of cavy that has a Full Standard. There should also be at least one class available for any breed of cavy that has a Guide Standard, as defined above.”

“Judges who are on the panels of Specialist Clubs represented on the Council should at all times when judging in the United Kingdom apply the Breed Standards currently defined by the Council.”

“Breed Names and Standards approved by the Council shall remain the absolute copyright property of the Council. Such Standards and Names may be used, without seeking the Council’s express prior permission, by all Clubs in the United Kingdom organising shows for exhibition cavies, on the strict understanding that Council rules and policies will be followed in defining the schedule of classes to be used in such shows.”

Wash 2: Designed by Simon Neesam for the British Cavy Council © 2020