Thursday, April 14, 2016

It's Time to Ditch Breeds for Type

From Shooting Times in the UK comes support for devolving breeds back to types, starting with working spaniels:

I discussed the broad subject of the survival of the English springer as a breed with a friend who’s a veterinary surgeon. He is convinced the best future for our three most numerous native spaniels — the English, the Welsh and the cocker — would be best served by mixing them together to create a “super-spaniel”. He would give up on the Sussex spaniel (“too inbred to be worth bothering with”) but would consider letting the field spaniel into the mix. He didn’t see a future for the Clumber in its current form, though he did suggest that crossing it with suitable cockers might help to rescue it from certain oblivion.

As ideas go, this is as radical as it gets, but there’s no doubt that it would solve the current problem of inbreeding, by simply turning the clock back 130 years to where spaniels were in the late Victorian era. That was a time of selective breeding, leading to the formation of the various breeds, and the establishment of breed clubs in the early years of last century. I’ve always been a fan of our different and diverse spaniels, but I think my friend may have a point. Does the rising popularity of the sprocker hint at our spaniels’ future?

I do not think the idea radical at all and have, in fact, proposed it in the past. Indeed, in the world of working terriers this is done often enough, with a bit of Patterdale being crossed with Border Terrier, and the progeny crossed back again with a dog that might contain a bit of Jack Russell three generations back.

Pure bred? Papers? That means nothing in the field!  

As I wrote some time back:

Prior to the 19th Century, there were very few "breeds" of dogs; most were just types.

This seems to be a point of confusion for some people who are a bit shaky as to what constitutes a "breed" versus a "type."

The Oxford English Dictionary says a breed is "a line of descendants perpetuating particular hereditary qualities."

In the modern world, it is generally deemed to be an animal that "breeds true" for at least seven generations.

But what does it mean to "breed true?"

Good people can, and do disagree. The Kennel Club, for example, splits breeds that other registries and countries lump together, and vice versa.

The good news is that the real experts -- the people who actually work their dogs on a regular basis rather than merely parade them around at the end of a string leash, are not too often confused.

A genuine terrierman knows what a true terrier is, just as a running dog man knows what a true sighthound is. And as for the houndsman, he will tell you a good dog is never the wrong color, and the same can be said of those who herd sheep for a living, or depend on dogs to carry them over 200 miles of open arctic snow and ice.

But, of course, these people are in the minority today, aren't they?

Instead of people who engage in honest work with types of dogs, we now have show ring theoreticians who are obsessed with breeds of dogs.

For them, a dog is not what it does, it is whatever the piece of paper says, and that piece of paper is all wrapped up in a romantic history cocked up years ago by an all-breed book writer penning paragraphs about a dog he never owned and never worked.


Susan said...

Agreed! My past 3 dogs have been "herding type" dogs, but were not purebred, nor were they inbred. They were able to do their job without any fancy papers.

Kim Campbell Thornton said...

That's kind of how spaniels used to be. You could get Cockers and Springers in the same litter.

Gina said...

I agree! Let's mix up the retrievers. Flat-coats and goldens were the same breed, once. Let's break them up by work type, not "purity".

Heather Houlahan said...

Throw some setter in there, too.

jeffrey thurston said...

Isn't already that way for people who use dogs? I'm thinking of the Iditarod sled dogs- 90% of which are mutts- or our JRTs which just have to kinda look a certain way but with outsize prey drive, or real sheep dogs, or real shepherd dogs etc. etc. A lot because of this blog I now see "purebred" dogs as ugly, pathetic creatures- like paint by number works put up to my scruffy terrier's real Rembrandt beauty...