Friday, November 30, 2018

The Decline of the Kennel Club Is Good for Dogs

Carol Beuchat writes:

I have pedigree databases for a number of breeds that were compiled by breeders and provided to me for genetic analysis. These include the Irish Wolfhound, Afghan Hound, Belgian Tervuren, Rhodesian Ridgeback, and Portuguese Water Dog. I have compiled the information for number of dogs born per year as reflected in the pedigree database, and in some cases I have also recorded the number of litters recorded per year.

For the odd assortment of breeds I have data for, there is a consistent and very disturbing trend. Since about 2000, registrations are crashing. (Note that the decline in Afghans dates to the 1970s but since about 2000, registrations are dropping even more rapidly.)

These are not slow declines; they are crashes. And if you extrapolate the lines, the trajectories of these breeds will hit zero in just a few years - less than a decade for some. I'm sure there are breeds with steady or even increasing registrations, but we don't have the data to know. In the UK, registrations of many breeds are also dropping, but at the same time the numbers of Pugs and French Bulldogs are going stratospheric. Perhaps that is the case in the US as well.

Population crashes have consequences. Genetic diversity is lost, and the rate of inbreeding necessarily goes up as effective and census population sizes go down. We can expect the incidence and number of genetic disorders to increase. Health will decline and interventions by breeders will become increasingly ineffective. It's not a good situation.

I have to say I completely disagree with Ms. Beuchat. The decline in Kennel Club registered pure breeds is a terrific thing -- it means more people are not saluting the inbreeding of dogs in a small and closed gene pool leading to a predictable rise in disease, exaggeration, deformity, and dysfunction,

It means that more people realize that so long as the Kennel Clubs offer no points for health, temperament, or work, they are simply buying into a marketing scheme that has left scores of millions of dead dogs and scores of breeds ruined in its wake.

Breeds are a failed concept; type is not.

Are terrier types in decline? Running dog types? Hound types? Bird dog types? Molosser types? Lap dog types?  No, no, no, no, no, and no.

There are more dogs in the world, and more dogs in America and Europe, than at any time in recorded human history. We love dogs and we celebrate diversity. Kennel Club inbreeding leading to cookie-cutter conformity is not the road to genetic health or genetic diversity. To think so is to reveal a serious intellectual failing about genetics in general, and about the incredibly plastic nature of dogs in particular.

So what is Ms. Beuchat mourning? It's hard to tell, but I suspect its the pure gene pools that geneticists use to study disease, defect, and deformity.

But if you want to study disease and deformity, we have entire warehouses full of rats, mice, and guinea pigs for that kind of thing. We don't need to continue to inbreed diseased and deformed dogs, or kill scores of millions of good crosses, because a few folks with theories want over-large lab rats or because people with sniffing pretensions want to believe potted histories made from half-baked lies.

Look at the breeds Ms. Beauchat names:  the Irish Wolfhound, Afghan Hound, Belgian Tervuren, Rhodesian Ridgeback, and Portuguese Water Dog.

The Irish Wolfhound is a recreation and deeply inbred and unhealthy to boot.  No one is coursing wolves with these dogs, and in fact they have not been used for that purpose since before their first extinction (and were they ever use to course wolves in Ireland?).  If you want a really large dog that looks like an Irish Wolfhound, but is in fact healthy thanks to a many decades-long program of careful cross-breeding, I can tell you where to look and there are pups on the ground.  But an AKC dog?  Please deliver us from that simple prescription!

The kennel club's Afghan Hound is a dog wrecked by hair dressers.  If you want a true coursing Afghan, they exist all over the world and are called "Tazis," but they too are not a Kennel Club breed.

The Belgian Tervuren is simply a variety of Belgian Shepherd -- a type stupidly split into artificial divisions by hair dressers and dog show ribbon chasers. I have mocked the split in the past and to wring your hand at the slow start and rapid decline of this particular breed while ignoring the rise of the Malinois is a bit like mourning the loss of the Edsel while minimizing the importance of the Ford Explorer.

The Rhodesian Ridgeback is simply an Afrikanis dog mixed with European foxhounds, greyhounds, danes, and mastiffs with the goal of preserving the ridge of hair running down the spine, which is actually a sign of a defect. The Ridgeback is neither scent hound nor sight hound, but simply a modern mixed breed with a fanciful story attached to it. Lion killers? Not many of those were there!?

The Portuguese Water Dog is simply the most inbred and once rarest of a wide variety of curly-coated water dogs that include the Standard Poodle, Spanish Water Dog, Irish Water Dog, and French Water Dog. All of their histories are fictional cockups written to suggest a distinction despite no difference.

And so it goes in the world of dogs.

You want the true story?  Here's the true story:  We have more dogs in American, in Europe, and in the world than at any time in history, and truly useful working dogs are never rare.

Read the last part of that last sentence again; it's an absolute truth.

Working beagles and fox hounds are common, working terriers are common, working bite dogs are common, working running dogs are common, working pit bulls are common, working bird dogs are common, and working herding, guard, and sled dogs are common.

Dogs are as common as dirt and no one who works a useful dog has a hard time finding another one very much like it, providing they are willing to travel as far as their last vacation and spend a fraction of that cost.

And so when Carol Beuchat writes that "Breeds are about to disappear" and asks "Are we going to just let this happen?" I simply have to laugh.

Breeds are a very modern construct, and the idea, as constructed by the Kennel Club, has been a complete failure.

What Ms. Beachat is really saying is that a FAILED SYSTEM is about to disappear, and are we going to just let that happen?

And the answer is Yes, of course.

Darwin 101 is that failures tend to go extinct.  I, for one, count that as progress.


Edze said...

I tried to find more recent numbers of total registered dogs, but apparently the AKC has stopped publishing those.
I take that as a very good sign, it means that this extrapolation of their declining numbers is most likely realistic.

jeffrey thurston said...

I took Ms. Beauchat's Caninine Biology course online. Very informative, very comprehensive and a perfect intro to the canine world. That being said- I always felt there was a weird stealth dichotomy between exposing the problems of inbreeding and keeping dogs "purebred". She had some incredible videos linked in the course including one of Basenji breeders from the US literally schlepping through darkest rain forest Africa to find suitable breeding stock to improve the spectacularly failing AKC Basenji! What would ever be the point of purebred Basenji in the United States? To me her presenting this in a positive light was a sign that for her the idea of purebred dogs was not a bad thing! Ditto the video of Mongolian shepherds trying to preserve the pure bloodlines of a very specific shepherd dog- as if there aren't literally millions of perfectly adapted gigantic shepherd dogs from Central Asia ready to go! I came away confused after completing the course- no one I respect in the dog world believes purebred dogs are a good thing. But she may...