"What do you think of this dog?". The age old, loaded question, where one is expected to give a (hopefully) correct opinion.
If you're an ordinary (or extraordinary) dog owner, you may be drawn to a dog's temperament, or vivid color. If you're a breeder, you might be drawn to its structure or type. A judge will hopefully be drawing on all of these points, along with knowledge of what the breed should be like. My point is that depending on who you ask, you will get a different answer. And that goes for judges as well. A NIPPO judge and an FCI judge will most likely place different weight on particular aspects of the dog.
My 師匠 (shi-shō) and I are always talking dog, evaluating dogs, and several years back now, we had a conversation about a certain dog. The word shi-shō translates to 'mentor' or 'teacher' in English. In Japanese however, it carries much more weight. It implies that the person being referred to is a true master of their craft. Their student would be referred to as their 弟子 (de-shi). This relationship shows great respect both toward the teacher, since the student deems them a true master of their craft, and toward the student, since the teacher deemed them a worthy individual to pass on their knowledge to.
So after that daisy picking, back to my teacher and I, talking about a certain Shikoku. He'll usually ask me what I think, which is always sort of a pop quiz. I think at the time I started listing faults that I could see. He stopped me there. He said, "As an ordinary dog owner, you don't really know what a dog is supposed to be like, so you see what you like. Those are the first things you notice. When you become a student of the breed, you begin to notice faults, and all too often these are the first things you will comment on. But a true breed preservationist/specialist should see the good traits in the dog first. What parts of this dog do you want to pass on to the next generation?"
I've thought about this a lot over the years, and why it is so important. In trying to breed a better dog, I need to focus on what is good, and try to keep those traits, while carefully removing the faults. If one's focus is always on the faults, you end up breeding toward a 'safer' dog, but you may have lost a lot of the essence of the breed along the way. ただの犬になる (tada no inu ni naru) is something I've heard numerous times in regard to the Nihon Ken. It roughly translates to 'it will become just a dog'. Four legs, prick ears, and a curly tail still make it a spitz type canine, but it will have lost the uniqueness of the aboriginal Nihon Ken.