|This is not hunting; this is theater.|
Over at the Last Word on Nothing, they note that the Labrador Retriever on Downton Abbey is a dog out of time, and they wonder who messed up the British version of the dog,
You get one guess.
Sometime in the last couple of decades, the Labs in the show ring got fat. The Kalispell breeder’s friend, a woman whose chocolate Lab grew up too small to compete in the show ring, resented it. She’d read an article in Gun Dog magazine that described early Labs so light and compact they could ride in the bow of the boat. “These dogs here today would tip a boat over!” she said. Everyone laughed.
How this happened, and why, no one seems to know. The best answer I got at the Lab show was “judges like fat Labs.” But nobody else seems to — not my lunch companions, not the Midwestern duck hunters who prize their agile water dogs, not even the keepers of the breeding books. The Labrador Retriever Club, Inc., better guardians of the breed standard, apparently, than any kennel club in any country, wrote a stern letter to the American Kennel Club last April, imploring judges to remember that the Labrador retriever should possess an “athletic, well-balanced conformation that enables it to function as a retrieving gun dog.”
When a Breed Club writes a scorching letter to the AKC telling them that show ring judges are failing at their basic task and ruining the breed by putting up over-large fat dogs, you would think that would be a "heads up" to review how judges are selected.
But not at the AKC. As I noted some years back, breed clubs are essentially powerless in the AKC:
The Kennel Club is a huge money-making bureaucracy dependent upon selling people on the "exclusivity" of a closed registry and a scrap of paper that says a dog is a "pure breed". So long as people are willing to buy Kennel Club registered dogs that have predictably higher chances of serious physical impairments than cross-bred dogs, the Kennel Club (and Kennel Club breeders) have little motivation to change the way they do business.
Let me hasten to say that the Kennel Club is not filled with evil people intent on doing harm to dogs. It is, in fact, filled with regular people who are different from the rest of the world only in the degree, and the way, they seek ego-gratification and are status-seeking.
This last point is import: the Kennel Club is not primarily about dogs. Dogs do not care about ribbons, pedigrees, titles, and points. These are human obsessions. The reason a human will drive several hundred miles and stand around all day waiting for 10 minutes in the ring is not because of the dog, but because the human needs that ribbon, that title, and that little bit of extra status that comes from a win.
Each to his own, but let us be honest about what dog shows are about -- they are about ribbons for people. The dogs themselves could not give a damn.
It is unfair to fault individual breeders and breed clubs for the failures of the Kennel Club, as these smaller units are powerless to change the larger whole.
Breed clubs are small and largely impotent by design. Because the Kennel Club does not require breeders, pet owners, or even show ring ribbon-chasers to join a breed club as a condition of registration, these entities remain small, underfunded, and unrepresentative.
Breed clubs, like dog shows themselves, are also steeped in internecine politics and dominated by big breeders and people who over-value "conformation."
It is only by conforming to the AKC system for decades that anyone can hope to move up in the AKC hierarchy -- a situation that guarantees intellectual and bureaucratic inbreeding.
In the end, the AKC is a closed registry in every sense of that word. It continues to embrace the failed genetic theories of Victorian England because it is incapable of serious reform within the Club itself.
So, what to do? As always use your eyes, use common sense, and if you are serious about a working retriever of any kind, go to people who own guns and put their dogs in the field over something more than tennis balls.