ARE WE HELPING OR HURTING PUREBRED DOGS?
Tam Cordingley, CSI Instructor, SAAB Member
How many times have we heard someone say “mutts are smarter”, or “mutts are healthier”? We scoff at such comments but there may be a kernel of truth to them.
In dog training we teach something every time we handle a dog, it may be something good or it may be something bad, but we teach something. There is a cause and effect for every action. In the purebred dog world of dog shows, we need numbers to improve upon the physical appearance. It can’t be done with one dog. In keeping numbers, manageability becomes important. Quiet in the kennel. Good eaters. Clean in the kennel. Not destructive. In breeding for easy manageability are we sacrificing brains?
Think about the social lives of dogs. They were supposed to live in a pack. We put one, or at the most two, in a separate pen. This becomes their territory. We expect them to not bark to guard their territory, not bark to warn off other dogs, not bark out of boredom, definitely not to bite the kennel help if we are lucky enough to have such a thing.
We expect an animal who is programmed by God to hunt for food and run great distances for that food, to be quiet, not pace, not tear up the kennel. At best we give them a toy or two, at worst they are to live peacefully in a concrete jail living out a life sentence.
Most don’t even have a patch of dirt in which to dig. We expect them to act like cows. Existing quietly with bovine stoicism rather than canine intelligence. Only a dumb or terminally dull dog will live like this. A really smart dog either has to have activity and human input or it will go crazy.
The best part of this dog’s day is the food bowl. Over-eating (and owner indulgence) is common. There are many Terriers and Border Collies who indulge in endless circling or weaving. Interestingly enough these same behavior traits are found in Thoroughbred and Arabian horses, never in Coldbloods, draft horses, or Warmbloods. Only in the so-called hot blooded horses.
Another thing we expect our dogs to do is to show well. By show well, most mean to gait easily and stack and bait. Let’s think about stack and bait for a second.
Of course a dog should be able to stand still to be examined but this mindless attention to a piece of liver sickens me. As a quick attention getter, sure, do what you must, but the minutes long focus on a dead piece of meat? Please! You will notice in the activities where a dog must think and be intelligent to function (drugs, police, guide, handicapped assistance), the dog is rewarded with fun. A ball, towel, rag, or whatever the active mind and body really wants, not on a dead piece of meat.
Why would any reasonable dog stand stock still and at attention with his object of attention being a piece of liver? Dogs are hunters. If the dog stood and stared at his food source he wouldn’t live long. The food source would run off, as prey animals do, and the dog would starve to death.
I like to show my Terriers with a squirrel tail, or a piece of rabbit fur. They don’t gaze endlessly and mindlessly at it, in a motionless trance, but they do stack and show beautifully with light in their eyes, for a little while. Usually terminating by either me popping the tail back in my pocket for another quick peek later or the dog jumping and grabbing it to “kill” it over again. Either way this is the embodiment of the Terrier, the essence of the breed, the quick, lively, and active hunter. If I wanted statues I would have them, no expense feeding them, no picking up, no barking, no fences. Maybe that is what I’ll have in my next life, but in this one I have live dogs to enjoy.
What is breeding better dogs about?
Is it for the ribbons? Surely not, anyone can buy all the ribbon they want much cheaper than showing dogs to get them! Is it about Championship Certificates? Well, they are pretty, and satisfy the ego by saying our dogs are better than someone else’s. One hopes, at least this one does, that we breed dogs, hopefully better dogs, for the love of the breed.
Certainly it follows that you can’t improve a breed by creating dogs that can’t
breed yet modern science has given us methods to do so. If God intended them to breed they would be able to do so. Have you ever noticed that if a bitch can’t
or won’t breed, she usually also has trouble whelping, often won’t mother the pups, and her pups have the same problems. What difference does it make if
she is pretty if she cannot perform the most basic function of a brood bitch, breeding? How can any of us found a bloodline on animals that can’t breed. This
doesn’t only apply to females. If a male won’t breed he isn’t worthy of breeding. End of story. I don’t care how many Best in Shows he has won or who
owns him, if he can’t breed he shouldn’t be bred. This is not to say we can’t try diet, exercise, or stress reduction techniques, but the bottom line is the
same ---if they can’t breed naturally they shouldn’t be bred.
In our county there is a man who breeds Boston Terriers. Most of us would look down on him as a puppy factory, backyard breeder, or worse. He has two bitches and breeds each bitch once a year. He has never shown a dog or won a point. He has, however, enriched the lives of many people with his wonderful and healthy Bostons. They breed naturally, free whelp, raise their puppies, breathe normally, and he has never had one returned for health or temperament. Now then, I ask you, are the show dogs better?. They must be forced to breed, held and restrained, often have caesarian sections, often won’t or can’t raise the pups, are prone to breathing and stifle problems.
And then there are the overprotective breeders. Not just concerned about the welfare of their dogs but so obsessed with control that they can’t sell or place a dog. Everything must have strings. A breeding animal, with papers, can’t be bought, they must be co-owned. These people feel that only they, and a select few friends, are good enough to own a purebred Whiffle Hound. Purebred Whiffle hounds are so special that the common person could never understand them. If these concerned owners do not “protect” the breed it will go to hell in a handbasket, propelled by the common rabble that might want to own one.
Well I hate to break it to you folks, but if no one is allowed to own a breeding Wiffle Hound, the breed will become extinct when the controlling ones die, or a breed specific problem requiring an outcross occurs. Where are the next generation of Whiffle Hound fanciers to come from if one can’t be bought? And where will the pet buyer go when he reads about a Whiffle Hound and would like to have one? He will go to one or two of these holier than thou breeders, who preach from every car bumper about buying from a breeder, and he will be grilled and insulted. He will give up and go to a backyard breeder or pet store, where he can buy a dog and not marry the breeder.
This is not to say every breeder should sell to every buyer. Far from it, BUT if we, as breeders, refuse to sell to anyone we are writing our own death knell. Yes, screen buyers and homes, be sure your pups go to good homes, but let some of them go. No breeder has 100% show pups, everyone has some pets, spay or neuter if necessary, but let them go. Educate, educate, educate but let them go.
In my opinion the current crop of show breeders aren’t doing any great favors for the breeds they profess to love. They are, in the main, creating dogs who couldn’t begin to do the job for which they were intended. Many are procreating weaklings and dogs with poor survival instincts. I implore you to remember always that almost all breeds of dogs have a function. The generic showdog is pretty but seldom correct.
If you truly care about the breed you love, concentrate on producing a healthy, typical, and sound specimen first. Winning comes second. The dog should be the object of a breeding program, not our ego.
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