I know this is an old theme on this blog, but I think I need to say it again:
Many official breed histories are absolute bullshit.
Official breed histories are actually creation myths.
They orient the entire culture around the breed in question, for virtually all breeders use a sort “original intent” argument to justify what breed standards say and how they are interpreted.
Of course, this actually gives official breed historians an unbelievable amount of power over the breed.
So if an official historian wants a particular type of dog rewarded in the ring, the historian will promote that type of dog as the “original.”
I’ve done a bit of this on the blog, especially in the early days. I’ve since become a bit more nuanced, and I am open to greater diversity in type as being historically correct.
That’s actually a much healthier way of looking at all dogs, but as virtually everyone knows, dog shows and the dog fancy are not about diversity.
They are about conformity. They don’t call them diversity shows. They call them conformation shows. Conformation. Conformity.
So within official breed histories we have the corrupting forces of the origin myth and the power breed historians have to shape how dogs are bred.
And both of those forces have a tendency to Pravda-ize the way this histories are written.
Even the really good histories are like this. I really appreciate Richard Wolters’s historiography on the Labrador retriever, but I found it very breed blind and often dismissive of well-established historical facts– such as the close diplomatic relationship between Portugal and England/UK– for my taste. My biggest complaint is that he fails to realize that St. John’s water dogs were not Labrador retrievers as we know them today and that all the retrievers that were developed in Britain were derived from this stock– not just the Labrador retriever.
But if well-researched history can have these problems, sloppily researched ones are far worse.
And they are even for so if the sloppiness comes from some sort of conscious or subconscious agenda on behalf of the breed historian.
Chinese crested dogs probably have the worst example of this problem.
The official story says these dogs were carried on the Chinese junks. They were used for rodent control, and when the sailors were too far from land to get provisions, they ate these dogs.
Never mind that there virtually no evidence for this claim.
However, there is plenty of evidence that these dogs originated in the United States in the twentieth century.
But the official breed historians and virtually all fanciers of this breed still adhere– almost like barnacles– to the Chinese junk story.
It is a junk story. I will give them that.
The only one of these bogus breed origin stories that has been debunked and has also been accepted by the vast majority of the breed’s fanciers is the old story that golden retrievers are derived from Russian circus dogs.
Lord Ilchester, a nephew of Dudley Marjoribanks, 1st Baron Tweedmouth, discussed part of the family retriever studbook in an article in 1952 issue of Country Life. This story was picked up a golden retriever historian named Elma Stonex, and she published the results of her research in a book. In 1959, the Kennel Club accepted Lord Ilchester and Elma Stonex’s work as the official history for the breed. The dogs are derived almost entirely from yellow or reddish wavy-coated retrievers, which were then heavily outcrossed to black wavy and flat-coated retrievers.
And the bogus creation myth was put to rest.
One still runs into people who still think that golden retrievers are Russian or derived from Russian circus dogs. It’s still a much more romantic than the real one.
To make things more complicated, a large percentage of dog breeds are said to be of ancient origin, when they probably are not.
It would be cool to think that the pharaohs hunted with dachshunds or Great Danes, but it’s not likely.
And it’s not what the genetic evidence suggests.
Dog people should be more concerned with what the facts actually are.
Once we get grounded in objective reality in this area, we can have a discussion about objective reality in others.
But we can’t if everyone wants to believe things for no other reason than they sound cool.
So if you’re going to tell me the origins of a dog breed, please provide evidence that is backed up with some sort of scientific evidence.
Gleaning breed origins from historical accounts– especially those from ancient history– is a very dubious undertaking, and dog historians would be wise to be careful in assuming any ancient origin for any breed from a passage in some ancient parchment or inscription.
But if people can’t figure out the origins of Chinese crested dogs, what hope is there for breeds that are at least several hundred years old?
People want to belief the folktale.
They want to worship their breed through the creation myth.
And in doing so they train their minds away from objective reality and trying to figure what is actually true.