We’ve already gone over the bulldog part of this documentary. I think there are people who are really starting to push for reform in the bulldog–which is getting harder because of the bulldog’s increased popularity.
The Pekingese bit is far more troubling. I happen to have a book called The Lost History of the Canine Race by Mary Elizabeth Thurston. It happens to have some interesting piece on the first Pekes ever imported to the UK.
And it has photographs of them.
They were different from the typical Chinese street dog.
They did have some exaggeration in type.
However, they looked a lot more like Tibetan spaniels than the dogs you see in the show ring. (Tibetan spaniels are not spaniels, in case you were wondering).
These small brachycephalic dogs have been in Asia for a very long time. Indeed, they may be one of the oldest forms of domestic dog. Remains of small, short-muzzled dogs have been found in kitchen middens in the Gobi Desert. These dogs have been dated to 10,000 years ago. And they were very similar to the pug or Peke type.
They were scavengers. Their small size was most likely an adaptation to the Spartan conditions of the human settlements and camps. The shortened muzzles may have been an adaptation to elicit more food from these ancient people. Short muzzles look cute to us, and it is a very human response to want to indulge animals we find cute.
Now, their short muzzles and small sizes were functional in that environment, but it now seems to me that we’ve gone too far with the Pekingese.
Any dog that has to sit on a ice pack after just a short run around the show ring is not “fit for function” — even if that function is to be a pampered pet.
What I find interesting about Pekes is that one almost cannot find the photos of the early dogs in websites associated with breed clubs or show breeders. Their looks have entirely disappeared down the memory hole.
Although looks alone should never determine the quality of a dog, I have noticed something disturbing about the fancy. One must train one’s brain to think of exaggeration as beauty. I find the early dogs much better looking than current show dogs. I am not a Pekingese person, and I’ve not been indoctrinated into their culture.
But I once worked with an assistance dog organization that used golden retrievers. All but one dog was from show lines. This particular dog had no problems retrieving. She did not have to be taught at all. She was gracefully built and reddish in color. Because of her abilities, she was going to be a brood bitch for the program.
The other dogs had no retrieving instinct. They had to be taught to retrieve. They were calmer than she was, but they were a bit harder to work with.
But what was interesting was what the uninitiated public thought of the dogs. We had to do a program for a summer youth program, and the children thought the red bitch was prettier than the other dogs.
Now, they were not indoctrinated in the breed standard. Lightly-built goldens that are red in color are thought of as ugly in the show ring. The average person tends to find these dogs better looking than the show dogs. (I also do, but that’s not my fundamental attraction. Lightly-built dogs are in keeping with working conformation, and darker colors are more in keeping with the breed’s history.)
I think that’s because our brains are designed to reject exaggeration. We have to be trained to learn that exaggeration is good.
Of course, this dog was 8 months old, as were the other dogs. I was told by the director that when the pups were 8 weeks old, no one thought the red bitch was cute. The show dogs were far cuter puppies. They looked like little polar bears. And I think that’s what drives exaggeration in golden retrievers, coarse dogs produce cute puppies.
It was only when they started to mature that the working strain puppy started to look better than the other dogs. She was also learning at a far more rapid rate than the other dogs. Now, this program was more interested in form rather than function, and if one dog was learning so much better than the other dogs, they started to go for those working lines.
The last time I checked with this program, the majority of their dogs were working strain goldens and of the darker color. There were goldendoodles and Labrador or two, but there were no show-type goldens.
But I did find this experience instructive. One must be indoctrinated to like extreme exaggeration. However, when confronted with cute puppies, this tendency is often overridden.
So cuteness is driving certain breeds off the cliff.
And the rest are being distorted through the fancy’s indoctrination.