Dogs I love: Whitey, a mountain cur, and Ranger, a feist, working a tree. Photo swiped from Henry Chappell's most excellent blog.
From Shaw's play, The Dog-breeder's Dilemma:
OK, the play is actually The Doctor's Dilemma. No dogs. But I can't get that "conspiracy against the laity" comment out of my brain, and it's because of people who have turned dog-breeding into an arcane science. It isn't just the show-dog breeders, either. The conspiracy against the laity includes people who breed dogs for work and people who have never bred a dog or even owned one but who nevertheless "know" that a dog from the shelter is "better" than a "purebred," and both are "better" than a dog from a "backyard breeder."
RIDGEON. We're not a profession: we're a conspiracy.
SIR PATRICK. All professions are conspiracies against the laity.
And we cant all be geniuses like you.
This is bad news for dogs themselves. Consider one of the people featured in the AKC Gazette's annual breeding issue a while ago: she described her efforts to get a live pup from a bitch [a Peke, IIRC] that couldn't carry a fetus to term, let alone whelp, without round-the-clock supervision and intervention. You may be thinking, "They call this a good breeder?" Ah, but the dog was a Champion. It reminds me of the breeder in Dog World who noted a photo of an early Peke — one capable of breeding normally — and remarked, "That was before we perfected the head." I kid you not.
And it gets even stranger. During the AB 1634 battles in California, breeders like the person above were the ones the mandatory spay/neuter bill protected — as if titles handed out for "perfect heads" were evidence that a dog deserved to be in the gene pool. But a mating between your healthy, friendly, unpapered Lab and your neighbor's equally healthy, friendly shepherd mix? Bad, bad you, for sealing the fate of all those pit bulls and Chihuahua mixes in Kern County shelters who undoubtedly would have been adopted by your friends and relatives if only those thoughtless fools hadn't taken your healthy, friendly puppies instead!
Over on the Pet Connection blog, Christie Keith wrote a great post on dog breeding and the threat posed by loss of genetic diversity:
Genes, once lost, can’t ever be recovered. Dogs who died without passing on their genetic heritage are gone forever, barring a few stray tubes of semen hanging out in a canine sperm bank somewhere. And by selecting from a small number of popular sires and focusing breeding programs on extreme conformation traits at the expense of preserving genetic diversity and health, genes are exactly what are being lost. Permanently.And in breeding to a conformation standard, appearance trumps temperament every. single. time. The happy, friendly pup with the conformation "fault" — a muzzle that permits easier breathing, for example — will be the pup sold with a strict spay/neuter agreement. Working-dog breeders have their own priorities: a well-known breeder of working border collies told me once, "If I had a great working dog that bit people, I'd still breed him." ([whispers] So would I.) This individual places every pup in a working home, but that isn't the point.
So, is the canine species doomed? No. But many of our individual breeds may be “doomed,” at least in the terms we in the United States and most of Europe understand the word “breed” today, breeds defined by closed studbooks.
Closed studbooks mean a registry, such as the AKC or its British equivalent, the Kennel Club, will only register dogs whose parents were registered by them as being members of that breed. It means breeders are deliberately limiting the genetic pool from which they’ll select when they breed two dogs together.
The point I think I'm working toward is that America's shelter problem, and America's dog bite problem and America's puppy mill problem, may have a lot to do with the fact that dog breeding has become a conspiracy against the laity. "You can't do it! You don't know enough!" cry the AKC breed clubs. "You can't do it! Shelter dogs will die!" cry the animal rights activists. "You can't do it! You'll make our dogs useless!" cry the working-dog breeders [who are actually correct, but bear with me for a bit].
And so John Q. Public, who wants a dog his kids can fall asleep on, a dog he can take jogging — who isn't interested in dog agility or stockwork or carrying Scout around in a purse, who doesn't want to tackle a rehabilitation project, who is just looking for a puppy that will grow up to be a healthy, friendly, laid-back, medium-sized dog to snooze at his feet during The Daily Show and schmooze agreeably during family barbecues — John Q. is screwed. He knows what he wants, but all he hears is, "You don't really know anything. We'll tell you what's good for you."
He might strike gold at the pound. I did, but with one dog it meant rehabbing a food-guarder; and the landshark, a terrific working dog, growls at small children if they get closer than the length of a football field. [Two football fields, if the small children are making loud noises.] Not much of a problem for someone who shares the dog's aversion, but probably a deal-breaker for parents. Some rescues handle this issue by rejecting families with young children, and as it happens, John Q.'s youngest is a five-year-old.
Perhaps John Q. could visit a dog show and talk to "responsible breeders." He may find a breeder who cares tons about health and temperament and has a comparatively problem-free breed. Stranger things have happened.
Working dogs are out. Too active, and John knows it. His oldest daughter tells him there are some adorable pups at the pet shop in the mall, but his wife saw Oprah's puppy-mill show, so the pet store is a non-starter.
Down the street there's a great dog John Q. admires: a smart, handsome, friendly, vaguely collie-looking dog that he's known since it was a pup. The owner was thinking about breeding this dog to a neighbor's athletic, ball-crazy Lab mix, but now the owner plans to have his dog neutered, since a coworker says intact dogs are more likely to bite, get cancer, etc. [See what actual veterinary medical research says about the effects of spay/neuter here.] Pity, since the pups would have been just what John was looking for. Maybe he'll swing by the pet store after all.
In an earlier post I mentioned Cate, a mountain cur that
I knew before I went that I’d buy one of those pups. The breeder, Greg Coker, is a serious squirrel and ‘coon hunter.And this:
I found the sire and dam calm and friendly, and neither barked or paced excessively despite the visitors and excitement.And this:
Much to its benefit, the mountain cur isn’t recognized by the AKC. Hence the healthy variation in size and color. Until fairly recently, the mountain cur really wasn’t a breed at all, but a “type”bred strictly for working qualities. We all know the benefits of breeding records, judicious line breeding, and competition... We all know the dangers, too. The cur has always been a rawboned, rural meat, hide, and stock dog, the sort of dog unlikely to catch the attention of the Fancy and well-heeled competitors. Let’s hope it never does.In the excellent discussion following Christie's post, blogger slt wrote:
I don’t think breeders need more policing, more hoops to jump through, more ways to cheat on tests and/or more false standards to determine if stock is worthy to be bred from. Rather, a dialogue needs to be opened about 86ing all the “rules” we were taught by the AKC breed clubs and start fresh. Step outside the box, forget what you thought was right and take a fresh look to see if it really *is* right.Amen. To start with, we might acknowledge the historical truth that ordinary folks are perfectly capable of breeding good dogs that suit their needs. And we might consider the possibility that a conspiracy of dunces — from show-dog breeders to mandatory spay/neuter supporters — has made every dog-related problem much worse by marginalizing and disenfranchising people who may not know squat about "perfecting the head," but know enough to want a dog that can breathe normally, be "calm and friendly," and enjoy a long, healthy life.