by Bram Godfrey of Top O The Day Blog
A friend of mine recently sent this article to my breed club and I so agreed with it that I just had to share it with you all:
I was at a dog show last weekend, and, not unusually, the topic of discussion among several breeders and handlers during the lunch break was responsible breeding and the idea of “bettering the breed”.
One Gordon Setter breeder contended that this idea has proven to be the undermining of the integrity of many breeding programs, and a Sheltie breeder went so far as to say it has caused the ruination of a number of breeds over the past thirty years. An all breed handler noted that the big winning dogs of thirty years ago were not so much campaigned to their status as they were simply deserving of it, and even those defensive of the“bettering the breed” idea were in full agreement with that pronouncement.
For those who have been active in the dog fancy for a number of years, the controversy between “bettering” and “maintaining” the breed is not new. What IS new, or at least fairly new, is that little is heard any more from the “maintaining the breed” camp. It seems newcomers to the fancy who have arrived within the past ten or twenty years or so are fully indoctrinated with the “bettering” theory, and are not even cognizant of the “maintaining” side of the argument – or even of the fact that any argument exists!
“The great winning dogs of the 1970’s” were not, by far, improved on. Their outstanding qualities were lost to the breeds by a concentrated effort to produce reliable mediocrity. This is not bettering the breed, it is bettering the chances of any and every litter producing dogs that are decent enough to win. Such mediocre champions are being campaigned against each other to attain great show records, as though it were the number of wins, and not the quality of the dogs that is important.
That statement was made by a judge who declined to have his name attached to it on an internet blog, and perhaps that refusal is testament in itself to the problem of the general deterioration of breed quality in show dogs.
The dog fancy, once comprised of individuals and families devoted to what every breed club’s code of ethics still defines as the promotion and preservation of the breed, has lately broadened its membership to include the player of the dog show sport. In the well considered opinion of many, it is this player who has brought a whole pack of unwelcome cards to the table. While everyone prefers to believe that the competitive nature of dog shows bodes for the end result of the best of the best rising to the top, what we wish to believe is in sad conflict with what we know to be fact.
The top winning dog in one non-sporting breed, a dog that won both the national specialty and Westminster, crosses over in the front and peddles in the rear. In one sporting breed, hocking out has become the usual mode of rear movement (NOT per the standard!) and a judge who seeks a dog with a correct rear end assembly will not be asked back for another assignment.
At one breed national last year, the winning dog was so structurally deficient that the handler refused photos to be taken except for head shots. All of these dogs have been heavily campaigned, widely advertised, and despite their deplorable lack of conformation quality, used in breeding programs designed to “better the breed” by creating similarly unsound but politically connected “show dogs”.
Does this mean that purebred show dogs have gone to hell in a hand basket? As the puppy millers are finding it increasingly difficult to register their mutts with the AKC, and have thus turned to admitting the unregisterable status of their “designer dogs” with the twist of attempting to capitalize on their mongrel status by claiming it to be “superior”, the fancy may well understand the incongruity, but the public is not so perceptive. Dog showing was never meant to be a sport, and to the conscientious breeder / fancier, it is still not. The disgruntled group of breeders, handlers, and judges I had the privilege to converse with last weekend are not tossing in the towel and turning over the future of their breeds to the heavy campaigners and cookie cutter champion producers. They are representative of a solid core of reputable dog people who WILL maintain and preserve the breeds. They will even finish champions, and now and again take home a big win. They will represent their dogs both knowledgeably and honestly, placing the majority of their puppies in appreciative homes where they will do the work they were responsibly bred to do as exemplary sporting dogs, watch dogs, hunting dogs, herding dogs, and companion dogs par excellence. They will keep puppies which best represent the breed standard – Not the current fad – for their own enjoyment of the breed, contribution to the future, and yes, appearances in the show ring. Those appearances will be for the purpose of exhibiting their honest contribution to the maintaining of the quality of their chosen breed, and when the judges are confident enough to look hard, they will both see and select them. Bettering the breeder, bettering the fancier, bettering the purpose of showing dogs, and bettering the education of the public who love dogs as we do is the goal of those who strive to maintain the breeds.