Tuesday, May 13, 2014

In 1960, Sports Illustrated Worried About Dogs

A repost from 2009.

The cover article in the February 08, 1960 issue of Sports Illustrated asked a simple question: Are Dog Shows Ruining Dogs?

And, of course the answer is YES! You can read the entire article here.

I would call attention to something about this article, however.

Notice that not once does it really call into question the role of the AKC, or the contrived standards sanctioned by the AKC, or the problems of inbreeding. In fact, health is barely mentioned at all!

No, instead, you hear that the dogs are no longer able to do much in the field. They are "ruined."

Which is true, but why is that a concern of almost anyone in the world of dogs?

Is there anyone in the world in the last 100 years who has actually depended on a Corgi to make their livelihood with cattle?

Is there anyone in the world in the last 100 years who has bred a kennel of working Standard Poodles and used them as gun dogs over a lifetime?

Is there anyone in the world in the last 100 years who has dug twenty fox on a Fox Terrier?

I don't think so!

None of these breeds were ever true working breeds in the history of the Kennel Club.

And so we are left looking for both the problem and the solution in this article.

The problem, if one can be found, is that some breeds are becoming "too popular" after a show ring win at Westminster.

Eh? How is that a problem?

It isn't, unless you start talking about inbreeding and poor health, but those topics are largely left off the agenda in this article.

The problem with popularity is left vague. Apparently being common is disease enough!

And what is the causal agent of this poorly defined dysfunction? The article says it is the public, the breeders and the show ring judges.

Never mentioned is the fact that it is the AKC that writes the rules, that sanctions the judges, and that approves the standards.

Never mentioned is the fact that it is the AKC that prohibits health checks as a condition of registration, and that prohibits fields tests and health checks as a condition of championships.

Never mentioned is the fact that the AKC greenlights incestous inbreeding, and promotes puppy mill dog breding through special discounts to the puppy mill industry.

No wonder this 50-year old article never changed a thing!

It never defined a problem most pet owners care about, and it never identified a true causal agent that could be brought to heel for causing all the problems. Everything was left vague and amorphous. "They" were causing "problems" and "we" should me mad that "they" weren't doing "something" about it!

The real jewel in the crown comes at the end of this aricle, however, where we find the author suggesting that the AKC recognize more breeds.

To make her case, Virginia Kraft cites no less of an authority than Hitler-apologist and human-sterilization proponent Leon F. Whitney who seems to be as clueless as fruitfly.

Whitney correctly notes that "the American shepherd is one of the few breeds bred for general intelligence among all the dogs of the world."

And so what does he want to do with this dog?

He wants to remove it from the uncontrolled breeding system that produced perfection, and draw it into the controlled breeding system that has produced nothing but dysfunction!

There's some clear thinking!

And guess what? He would like to see the same occur with the Redbone and Bluetick hounds.

Well, his wish has come true. Beginning in January, the Redbone and Bluetick are being put on the road to ruin; they are being drawn into the AKC.


geonni banner said...

"The problem, if one can be found, is that some breeds are becoming "too popular" after a show ring win at Westminster.

Eh? How is that a problem?"

It's a problem in the same way that a hit movie with a dog tends to cause clueless people to say, "Oh! I want one of those!"

They do no research on the breed, no research on the breeder and dump the pup/dog at the shelter if it acts like a normal dog.

Legally Blonde - Chihuahuas
101 Dalmations - Dalmations
Fraser - JRTs
Lassie - Collies

Ask the breed rescues - there's often a rise in dogs coming into rescues of a certain breed after that breed wins Westminster

PBurns said...

I would agree with you if the article was about rescue or dogs abandoned, or the mismatch between people and temperament.

But the article is not about any of that. Instead, it seems to embrace the notion that people who are serious about WORKING dogs go to AKC dog shows like Westminster to find those dogs.

Not true and never true.

Two of the breeds you mention --Dalmatians and Chihuahuas, actually do no job at all -- they are ornamentation.

The idea that dog show wins drive popularity -- a theme the author tries to develop -- is also suspect. The far and away most popular breeds in America are retrievers (labs, goldens, etc.), but those breeds have never been Westminster winners (see http://www.westminsterkennelclub.org/history/bisrecords.html ), nor have they been particularly "ruined" by popularity -- most make fine pets, and good hunting dogs are not too hard to find.

Swedish studies of canine health suggest retrievers are quite healthy as a group (though obviously any large group will have individuals with health, temperament and socialization problems).

The intellectual driver behind this Sports Illustrated piece, I would argue, is the notion that common is bad. This is the sniffing snobbery that says common city Rock Pigeons are "rats with wings" while Passenger Pigeons are miracle angels delivered to us by God. It is a common value easily sold. Madison Avenue would have us believe that because a diamond is "rare" it is therefore precious and good (and never mind if it is useless) while a common piece of iron is to be ignored (and never mind of it can be made into a knife, a spring, a hatchet, or a spoon).

If this article had noted that movies and TV shows can drive unrealistic expectations about breeds of dogs, it would be spot on. If it noted that most dogs in the pound, then and now, are not pure bred dogs but random mutts and casual crosses, it would be spot on. If it noted that many hunting and working dogs have problematically intense personalities and often do not make great pets, it would be close to right. If it actually discussed selection for defect and the true dangers of inbreeding, that would have been valuable. But instead, it simply says "popularity is bad" and that dog shows drive popularity. But retrievers are THE most popular dogs and they are fine, while most dog show winning breeds are not very popular. Facts and reality do not support the thesis!

PBurns said...

To put a point on it: the Chihuahua, the American Staffordshire Terrier (aka Pit Bull), the Dalmatian, the Dachshund, the Rottweiler, the Golden Retriever, and the Labrador Retriever, have never won at Westminster even once in the last 137 years.