Wednesday, February 25, 2015

Dog Show Koolaid

At the risk of being seen as difficult, let me point out that the commonly repeated lines, framed above, are mostly bunk.

A pedigree is simply a piece of paper. By itself, it tells you nothing, and may not even tell you what breed the dog is.

Conformation. What does that word even mean? Conformed to what? Conformed to a "standard" that has been changed several times and remains so vague it can be nearly impossible, absent a caption line, to know what breed of dog is allegedly being described?

Performance is right -- but only for a performance breed. There is no job that a Maltese or an English Bulldog does that a Papillon or a Beagle cannot do better.

The poetry and repeated rhetoric that underpins the world of dogs tends to fall apart quickly if it is examined very hard. Look at the phrase "form follows function". Nope. That's not even true in that sentence, much less in the world of herding dogs, guard dog, or dirt dogs!



Gaddy Bergmann said...

One particularly pernicious area of conformation is leg morphology. A dog - being a wolf - is supposed to have certain features in its limbs. The elbows should be naturally close to the rib cage; the stifle (knee) and hocks (ankles) should naturally have some angulation to them; and the legs should be of a certain minimum length to prevent strain on the back.

Sadly, many dog breeds are bred - either intentionally or incidentally - to have screwed up legs. And it's often in the breed standard! Many molossers have out-turned elbows, which reduce the dog's speed and stamina. Many breeds are also straight-stifled, with rear legs that look almost as straight as a human's. This is very detrimental to dogs, again reducing their ability to walk and run.

And of course, short legs are a plague in many dog breeds. To some degree, short legs can be an advantage. The old working corgis had short legs to help them avoid the kicks of cattle. Old working dachshunds and terriers had shorter legs to help them move around underground. Sadly, today's corgis, dachshunds, and some terriers (like the Skye) have legs that are much shorter than those of their working ancestors. Now, enter the basset hound; their short legs were intentionally bred to slow them down so people could follow them on foot. Their locomotion was intentionally hampered. And today's show-bred bassets are even worse off, with even shorter, more crooked legs.

Ironically, the dogs with the finest morphology are often those whose conformation has been completely ignored. They just have healthy legs (or backs, or whatever) because they have retained the normal, natural legs of a canid, and either no one has had the chance to mess them up, or else they did in an ancestor, but that dog was lucky enough to outcross and have normal descendants. Yes, performance does matter, but it's often despite rules about conformation, and not because of them.

jeffrey thurston said...

"Form follows function" works in engineering and industrial architecture- in dogs I would say that it's almost the opposite- function was followed by form as in "Let's send the skinny fast dog to chase rabbits- Let's send the freakishly small dog down the hole- Let the big mean one guard the sheep!"

seeker said...

I believe that a pedigree is as
important as your research and knowledge of the breed. In horses, for example, you can research problems and skills by checking the history and activity points. At a stable I boarded at there were 3 mares that were pretty much identical to the average eye. But one was a winning roping horse who carried statistics on her wins and loses. Another (mine) had notes on official training for Search and Rescue and her Endurance Competition results. The 3rd had no stats, but her bloodline showed she was the daughter of a champion show horse that (unfortunately) carried the dreaded HHYP gene that causes a type of seizures. To the average guy these wouldn't mean much but to an educated buyer it speaks volumes. I know you researched your dogs bloodlines. You know what those things like height and weight can mean. But it is all predicated on your knowledge. So if you're going to spend the big bucks, do your homework.
Just my opinion.
Debi and the Jack Rat Pack.