Thursday, May 17, 2018

Skim Milk as Cream

In the wonderful libretto of Gilbert and Sullivan's H.M.S. Pinafore, there is a pretty good line:

Things are seldom what they seem,
skim milk masquerades as cream,
Highlows pass as patent leathers;
Jackdaws strut in peacock's feathers.

Isn't that the truth!

Am I alone in noting that a lot of people who claim to know a great deal about dogs never seem to actually take their dogs out into the field? Their dogs are always too young or too old, and -- oh! -- their aching back just went out as well.

For these folks, the "too cold" season rolls into the "too wet" season, and then "baby season" followed by "had to go to a dog show," followed by "too hot" and "the ground is too hard," followed by "too wet" and then "too cold" again.

For some of these characters, year after year goes by and there is never a report or picture of an actual dig in the field. Lots of dog shows, of course. Lot of puppies. Lots of talk about pedigrees, and structure, and "movement," and theories of breeding, but apparently no actual digging in the field. Some of these folks can conjugate canine pedigrees as if they were reading out of the "begats" sections of the Bible, but don't ask them for a picture or date of their last dig!

Which would be no big deal, if these folks simply stopped insisting they had workings dogs and were "protecting" a working breed. They do not, and they are not!

And no, work is NOT killing a rat on the breezeway or a possum out by the carport.

Of course skim milk masquerading as cream is not unique to terrier work, is it? I am told there are whole tribes of hawkers who parade their birds around on their fist, but have never flown a bird free from its creance.

There are expert sailors that have never left the bar stool, lawyers that have never tried a case in court, architects that have never put up 20 sheets of drywall, and race car drivers that cannot change the oil on their own cars.

Priests and nuns seem to have no compunction at all about lecturing the world about sex and birth control, while politicians who send their own kids to private school seem to be certified experts on how much money it takes to run a public version of the same.

And, in truth, sometimes it makes no difference. A cubic zirconium ring is no worse than a real diamond, as far as I can tell.

Ditto for an expensive-looking bottle of wine that remains uncorked.

Only when something is used, does its true nature reveal itself.


Matt Mullenix said...

I hear you, and I agree!

But theory has to have a place in testing. Given how little even direct experience can tell you about the interactions of so many complicated variables, careful formulation of theory can guide your actions and help channel your efforts in productive directions.

It takes both theory and practice, and good record-keeping to make progress, I believe.

I'm proud to be taking a small part now in the rebuilding of my friend Tom's Harris' hawk stock, the originators of which were destroyed by Katrina. What he is working with now are relatives, some progeny several generations deep in his breeding, plus a few notable wild hawks thrown in.

The hawk I have was sired by a 4th generation captive bred bird, formerly of his stock; and his mother was a wild bird. He was interesting from the start as one of the tamest and most inquisitive individuals of his group.

But other than that, we knew little.

Now after several months of hunting, we know more about him and two of his sisters. They are (so far) proving to be tenacious, tame, smart, and best of all, successful hunters. But none of them is fast. This is not a disappointment, given their obvious good qualities, but something we could not have quessed without fair trial.

And it's a negative, if you believe that faster is better given equal heart and tameness. I do. Who wouldn't?

The theory comes in as we consider how best to breed these birds. What traits do we want to breed in? What risks are we willing to take?

Hawks can be bred, generally, just once a year and only after several years of maturation. They have only 5 young per clutch, generally, and these can't be counted before hatched. And then there are 15-16 weeks of raising and feeding to consider before training. So it is not something to take lightly.

Nothing can guide the decision now except the best theories we have, tested by the next generation of offspring in some future season of hunting.

What I think is more important than theory and practice (though of little use without either) is simple love of the sport. You have to love it---the real thing for what it is---or both your theory and practice risk flying off on some weird tangent.

I've seen falconers who have too much interest in theory, the effect of which is usually ridiculous but sometimes interesting. I've seen falconers who eschew all theories and simply hunt, and that tends to lead to success and enjoyment (good things!) but to few general improvements.

But I've seen no good falconers who did not love the sport.

My own way is full is love---for the hawks, for what they hunt, for where we hunt---and long on hunting (I love to hunt!). I'm shorter on theory, but I respect it and recognize its value.

Caveat said...

Speaking of skim milk, let's not forget politicians who like to expound on 'public safety' around dogs - what threatens it, how to create it and most importantly, the techniques to use when pandering to the ignorant in order to self-promote.

Your blog is terrierific and I'm glad I came across it a few weeks ago.

I'm just a lowly pet owner with a soft spot for terriers. My ancient miniature Dachshund must be from working lines because he is a relentless, stone-cold killer - when he gets the chance. He came out of the back door of a local SPCA due to his indomitable and snappy nature. He and I hit it off immediately and 11 years later we are still great friends. Despite his heart failure he can still give a rodent a good run for his money, probably due to the fancy medications.

I also have two Brussels Griffons who are intense hunters of bugs, birds, squirrels and mice. I suppose their terrier ancestry is still strong, despite the meddling which made their faces so inefficient.

Even though I'm not out in the bracken every weekend, I admire those who are.

There's a big place for pet dogs in my opinion but I fully agree that the dog snobs who have ruined so many fine breeds and types really need to come off it. The people who show at Westminster are not breeding working dogs but beauty queens. Why don't they just face it?

You find working dogs at events where pedigree and appearance are much less important than drive.

Thanks to everyone who is still using dogs for their original purposes and keeping the fire, started so long ago, burning brightly in these Dark Ages of dog ownership.

One of these days, I just might join you.

gabboon said...

Hummphhh. I admit I hate the heat. So does my dog. I've not been working him because of baby season, more like toddler season, and family issues had to take priority for a while. But soon I will fly my hawk off the creance and take the dog to the field and all will be right with the world. my world, anyway. However I'll be the first to admit the only thing I know is how little I know.

Chas S. Clifton said...

When I had my first Chesapeake Bay Retriever (late 1980s), I joined the local Hunting Retriever Club chapter to learn training techniques and, maybe, meet some hunting buddies. HRC is big about being the anti-AKC. Competitors, as you may know, wear cammies, not white jackets, and the words "field trial" maybe never cross their lips, or they will be banished.

I did learn some training stuff (mainly to let Chessies do it their way), but what finished me was eavesdropping on a conversation between one of the female club stalwards (FCS) and her friend. FCS was bitching that her husband had taken their dog duck-hunting and just ruined him for competition by letting him develop all sort of slovenly habits -- in one weekend.

Andrew Campbell said...


Awesome. Hilarious stuff, indeed. Will need to make sure I pass it along (anonymously) to a few culprits myself.

But hang on: are you saying that the reason I can't hit the birds my dogs point isn't because of the relative humidity, the angle of the sun, or the color of my shooting glasses?


Edze said...

"Only when something is used, does its true nature reveal itself."
Try to explain thát to the conformation breeders of show bordercollies, aka barbie collies among people with real (working) bordercollies...
You get the same funny excuses why their dog, nor its parents, nor its grandparents ever came near a sheep but still working capacity was magically retained over the generations. Because, you know, function follows form...if it looks like something a showring judge thinks looks like stockdog, well then it must be able to work sheep, right?...right? Yeah, RIGHT. Put it on a field, and point it towards some undogged free range ewes. Sit back and enjoy the show. But, for some reason, that never happens.

LRM said...

Tangentially, if you like Gilbert & Sullivan, 'Topsy Turvy' is a brilliant film.