Now, occasionally, I get comments (and sometimes very heated and very long discussions) that usually end up with someone showing me a show dog doing the work of a performance-bred dog. It doesn’t matter what the breed is. If there is a split between show and working forms, there will be someone who has a show dog that is used in working trials and tests, usually just to prove that they can do it.
It’s not so much that they can’t do it. I’m sure you can find dogs with working instincts in show lines.
It’s just that many of them lack the ability to do it efficiently.
Performance-bred dogs are developed for performance. Performance denotes conformation– not written standards. Written standards might even be based in reality and have all sorts of science behind them, but in the world competitive dog shows, it’s what wows the judges and “what’s in style” that actually rules. And those “fancy points” or “flourishings” can be the exact opposite of what a dog needs to do its work efficiently.
I’ll just go to what I know best for an illustration.
I an working golden retriever, the absolute last thing you want is 8 or 9 inch feathering streaming of the dog. That much feathering can easily drag in the burrs if doing land work, and that much feathering will get bogged in the water, which will make the dog extremely slow and cumbersome in the water.
You also don’t want a dog with excessive bone. You want more bone than a setter, because the dog migh be working in very cold water and needs volume to retain heat. However, you don’t want the Newfoundland-type body in a working retriever. You also want a more agile body that can really run out with style and has stylish water entry.You can’t get that by loading a dog up with bone. Breeding for too short in the leg and too heavy in the body is a selection against stylish water entry and agility in the field
Now, a big Newfoundland can retain heat far better than any retriever, and it’s a much stronger dog. It’s also a much slower dog in the water, and if it’s running hard on land, its heat-retaining body is at a major disadvantage. And that’s why we need to keep in mind, that golden retrievers are not Newfoundlands. (This has to be repeated every once in a while.)
Now, golden retrievers have had very scientific and analytical revisions to their AKC. If you ever read a good golden retriever book, you’ll often get more detail in gait than you’ll ever read in any other breed book. However, all of the science that went into making sure the gaits were efficient didn’t stop the development of the golden Newfoundland dog.
Now, I’ve read defenses of breeding so much bone in goldens. It goes like this:
Tweed water spaniels were said (in one breed descriptions) to be heavily boned. Thus, it’s a good idea to breed for a lot of bone in a golden retriever, because it’s in keeping with the breed’s history.
1. Tweed water spaniels varied greatly in appearance. Some may have had more bone than others. When I look at the first litter of the Tweedmouth strain, I see dogs that are rather gracile in appearance and also are light gold in color (not cream). Their sire, Nous, is a heavier built dog, which was the style for wavy-coats in those days. However, when goldens and flat-coats were actively trialed, the main goal of most breeders was to breed out the heavier bone. That’s why flat-coats have their current conformation, and why most goldens, until recent decades, had very similar conformation.
2. Can someone show me a working Tweed water spaniel or Tweed water dog today? Oh that’s right, you can’t. The breed is extinct. It most likely got absorbed into golden, Labrador, and flat-coated retrievers. It may also have disappeared into the curly, which the other breed that is well-known to have had a bit of TWS in it. I usually prefer to call the TWS the “Tweed water dog,” because its characteristics were more similar to the St. John’s water dog and retrievers than other breeds of water spaniel. The other reason why the breed became extinct is that it probably didn’t have the conformation to really compete with the modern retrievers. The later accounts all suggest a dog with very heavy bone, and that’s a problem for a working retriever.
I’m sure that someone can find a show-bred golden doing retriever work. I’m sure they exist. However, that’s not my point. A performance bred dog has actually been selected for generations to have the temperament it needs to do the work. And what’s more– its conformation has been selected by what works in the field, not what wins ribbons at dog shows.