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Archive for the ‘dog breeding’ Category

Scottish terriers by the tail

Crufts always brings about controversies, but this year, I truly do dream of the days when best of breed bulldogs and Clumber spaniels failed mandatory health checks and dog fancy had a collective meltdown all across the worldwide web.

This year, the big controversies have largely been outside the general interests of this blog. There are reports that an Irish setter was poisoned at Crufts, but this is such a serious accusation that I will leave it alone. We don’t know all the facts. If we were dealing with a dog poisoner, then we’re dealing with a vile person.

And I’m not really interested in talking about truly vile people. Individual malevolence is certainly worthy of scorn, but I’m a structuralist. I’m much more interested in the collective evils that plague society, and in this case, I’m interested in the collective problems with the dog fancy.

Crufts didn’t give us much of that this year, but at the Best in Show judging and presentation, two things happened that got large numbers of people riled.

The one I thought would be more consequential was when a PETA activist stormed the floor with a sign that read “Mutts Against Crufts.” If this had been Westminster, I’m pretty sure we would all still be talking about him. I am not a big fan of PETA, and I’m not sure that this publicity stunt really put the purebred dog reform movement in a good light.

But PETA is not interested in having a rational discussion. It is interested in the theater.

Now, the reason I say that this PETA demonstration would have stolen show if this had been Westminster is because it was overshadowed by another scandal.

This scandal never would have raised the slightest bit of attention in the North American dog show world. That’s because this second scandal involved a handling practice that is so common in North American dog shows that most people don’t even notice it.

When terriers are judged in North America, most of the smaller breeds of terrier are lifted up with one hand on the tail and one hand just beneath the jawline.  Supposedly, it is a way of testing to see if the terriers still have their sturdy tails. If a terrier gets in a bad place, it could be useful to be able to grab it by the tail and pull it safety.

You see this everywhere in North American dog shows. I don’t think it’s he worst way to handle a dog like this, but I don’t think the dogs particularly like it. I’m not someone who is prone to picking up dogs in this fashion, so I honestly don’t what the science is behind the welfare issues involved. I am officially agnostic on the issue.

The dog that won Best in Show was a Scottish terrier. This is one of the smaller terrier breeds that is generally lifted up in this fashion at American shows.  The handler of this winning terrier, Rebecca Cross, is an American, and I’m sure she’s done the tail lift scores of times in the show ring.

And no one said thing.

But when she did it at Crufts–in front of all those cameras– uproar quickly ensued!

100,000 people signed an online petition to have the terrier stripped of her win.

This, of course, created outrage among the show set. The claim pretty much goes that lifting them by the tail gives the judge an idea if the terrier has a sturdy enough tail. If this terrier happened to be deep in the ground battling with a whole clan of badgers and the only thing that the owner had to grab was its tail,  then that sturdy tail would be a life saver.

The problem with that claim is that Scottish terriers are actually working earth dogs.

In Scotland, terriers were used more to bolt the badger and the otter than their English counterparts. Both the badger and the otter are now protected species. The rural Scottish culture that created these terriers doesn’t even exist.  The Scottish countryside was once full of crofters.  In the eighteen and nineteenth centuries, the Clearances depopulated the land in much of rural Scotland. The crofters were driven off the land in favor of sheep, grouse moors, and deer stalking grounds.

The working man’s terriers became show dogs, and the general prick-eared terrier from Scotland became the West Highland white, the cairn, the Skye, the Paisley, and the Aberdeen. The Aberdeen type is the basis behind the breed we call the Scottish terrier.

Now, terriers are still widely used in the United Kingdom, even though “terrier work” is quite controversial over there. There are still plenty of working red fells, Patterdales, Lakelands, borders, Plummers, and Jack Russells. There are even working strains of Bedlington terrier, which is a breed that North Americans think is only for the show ring .

But there are no working strains of Scottish terrier. You will not find them anywhere. A lot of Scottish terriers still have the temperament needed for this sort of activity. George W. Bush had a Scottish terrier that loved to dig out armadillos, but no one can honestly say that there is a great demand for an armadillo dog.

And a nine-banded armadillo is nothing like a European badger or otter.

So if no one is really breeding a working Scottish terrier, the entire ritual of picking it up by the tail is just playing make believe.

At the most charitable, it is a hypothetical abstraction. It’s not a real adaptation on a real working dog.

This year’s big controversy, which I’m calling “Tailgate,” is more revealing about the culture of the dog show than it is about welfare concerns.

My guess is that the Kennel Club will make a very strong stand against picking up terriers by the tail at its shows.

And that will be it.

Meanwhile, Scottish terriers will continue to have very high rates of cancer and von Willebrand disease. They will continue to suffer from their own peculiar disorder called “Scottie cramps,” and they will continue to have an average lifespan of about 10 years.

Which, for a terrier, is pretty pathetic.

And it is a shame. This breed does occasionally have a reputation for being a bit surly, but a lot of these dogs are real characters, very sharp and responsive and clever creatures.

They are known for the deep loyalty to their people, and it is a real shame that people have allowed this breed to go so far downhill.

They have come a long way from the badger setts and otter holts, but now they must be looked at more realistically.

Playing pretend about the sturdy tails isn’t helping the discussion at all.

All of this rancorous debate over the ethics of terrier-lifting isn’t going to amount to much.

It’s just going to continue on. One camp will say that it is causing the terriers too much pain and stress, while the other is pretending they are evaluating real working dogs.

There is no real room for a discussion about the issues raised by closed registries and popular sires in this debate, and as this debate rages, much time and energy is being wasted.

Such is the tragic condition of the dog world in 2015.

Side-tracked by Tailgate.

 

 

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Photo by Marlies Kloet

Photo by Marlies Kloet

On the Pedigree Dogs Exposed Facebook group, debate is very common, and things have heated up in the aftermath of Crufts.  So many controversies are going on with Crufts this year, but one of them that has me curious is one involving the issue of breed standards.

Last week, rancorous debate ensued when it was suggested that the golden retriever that won the breed at Crufts was overweight. I don’t have an opinion about the weight of the dog, but I was curious about why golden retrievers in Europe are so divided between show and working types.

The answer I was given was that golden retrievers in Europe were just pets, and it didn’t matter if they were built for the purpose or not.

Earlier I had posted an image of a golden retriever winner at Crufts in 1927, and I asked why they were okay with breed changing so much.

The answer I received was that the breed should just be allowed to evolve.

Both of these answers are problematic.

Everyone who gets interested in dogs learns that dog shows and breed standards were developed to preserve the breed, but if conformation is allowed to slide just because the dogs aren’t used anymore or are allowed to “evolve” based upon fashion, then how can anyone say that dog shows have anything to do with preserving the breed?

I got no answers to that question.

This evening things have taken an even more bizarre turn when the issues turned to those surrounding the tendency to breed for extreme type in conformation with dogues de Bordeaux. On my group, it was asked why dogues de Bordeaux were being bred to look like giant red English bulldogs, and it just so happens that we have video of the author of the FCI standard for that breed excoriating breeders for producing such extreme dogs.

So if the even ideas of the people who helped standardize the breed don’t matter, then the entire edifice of the dog show is pretty tenuous.

It ultimately comes down to people will breed whatever they like, just so long as the judges award them with prizes. Judging requires understanding the standard, but much of the standard is like scripture– quite open to interpretation.

If all it comes down to is what wins in the ring, then this appears to be one of the worst ways of selecting breeding stock. Breed type and what wins in the ring become self-fulfilling prophecies rather than objective ways of evaluating dogs.

I assumed that some of this was going on all along, but I did not expect it be articulated to me in such a way.

It is rather quite distressing.

And yes, people do use golden retrievers in Europe, but it is now all but impossible to have a dual purpose dog in the breed now.

And people still do breed dogues de Bordeaux that look and move soundly.

It is just that dog shows and breed standards aren’t what they are portrayed to be. They are not the final word on a dog’s quality.

I think it may be long past time for the pretense to be dropped entirely.

 

 

 

 

 

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wetterhoun-golden-retriever

A few years ago, I did a blog post about a wetterhoun/golden retriever cross.

A wetterhoun, as you may recall, is a water dog from the Friesland province of the Netherlands. The dog was used to hunt otters and polecats, as well as being used as waterfowl retrievers. In function, they are very similar to the market hunter’s water spaniels or water dogs that were once common across the North Sea from Norfolk to the River Tweed.

The owner of the above dog commented on my post leaving this photo of the dog in profile. The dog is much more retrievery in conformation than wetterhounesque. (I always wanted to use wetterhoun and -esque in a word).

wetterhoun golden retriever

Apparently, someone has bred this cross back into golden retrievers, because here is a dog that is 3/4 golden retriever and 1/4 wetterhoun.

The backcross is even more like a golden retriever. Indeed, if this same dog were seen in, say, 1890,  we’d have to call it a wavy-coated retriever.

I don’t know how common crossbreeding is in wetterhouns, but this is still very much a working breed in its native region in the Netherlands. There has historically been a lot of crossbreeding between wetterhouns and the other Frisian gun dog breed, the Stabyhoun. I had heard rumors that crossbreeding between stabyhoun and wetterhoun were again happening, though on a much more limited scale, but I cannot find any record of it.

If the dog in the last photo had been selected to be gold or yellow in color, I don’t think you could tell it from a purebred golden retriever.

So these two breeds, though similar in function and perhaps ancestry, could be used in a backcross program without many problems.

It’s just that in the dog world that exists right now, we don’t have the ability to do this with legitimacy.

This has to change.

 

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neapolitann monster

There might be a few things wrong this dog.

This dog is gonna take on the gladiators and all the Germanic tribes at once!

 

 

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Retromops on the left. Conventional pug on the right. (Source)

Retromops on the left. Conventional pug on the right. (Source).

Pugs have a lot of problems associated with their bizarre phenotype. This is a breed that is well known for its scrunched-up muzzle and head, which cause problems with oxygenation and with cooling. We’ve been through this enough times on this blog that I’m going to leave them alone on this post.

However, the question becomes how could we fix the problems that pugs have.

One answer to this question comes from Germany, where pugs have been crossed with “Parson Jack Russells” (long-legged JRTs) and then bred back into pugs. Longer-muzzled dogs were then selected from the back-breedings.

This is definitely a way of fixing the pug issues related to phenotype, but it does involve cross-breeding. And it also involves ignoring both the breed standard and what is actually winning in a particular breed.

Which are not easy to do.

This new type of pug is called “Retromops.”  It is “retro” in that it resembles an older form of pug that had a longer muzzle, and the word “mops” is what pugs are are called in other Germanic languages besides English.

The dogs are pretty retro. This is a painting by the English artist Henry Bernard Chalon of a pug in 1802.

pug 1802

With the exception of the cropped ears, this dog strongly resembles the Retromops.

Of course, this dog lived before there was anything known as a kennel club, and the concept of a “purebred dog” was actually quite a bit up to interpretation. George Washington was breeding foxhounds and water spaniels just few decades earlier, and all he did was just make sure that dogs that looked  and acted like foxhounds were bred to foxhounds and the dogs that looked and acted like water spaniels were bred to water spaniels.

But that’s very different from created a closed registry breed.

There were also no breed standards. That concept doesn’t come to the fore until many decades later.

And yes, it’s very likely that English pug breeders crossed their dogs with terriers.  There couldn’t possibly be a vast supply of pugs in Europe during their first few centuries of being exported, so it would make sense that someone crossed a pug with a terrier every once in a while.

And perhaps more often than that.

Modern breeding systems and conformation showing created the conventional pug.

The conventional pug has lots of health issues, but even if it can be shown that Retromops have a much better quality of life, I doubt that there will ever be a demand for them.

People want pugs to look like the conventional pug. They don’t want something looks like a sort of border terrier/bulldog/spitz.

Even if the Retromops looks like the pug that was introduced in Europe originally, people are so attached to the current standard pug that I doubt they would accept the longer-muzzled type.

This breed has been branded to look a certain way, and because it has no function other than to be a companion, looks are a huge part of what makes a pug “fit for purpose.”

It’s a sad situation, but there is at least one way to make a better pug.

Unfortunately, it’s never going to be accepted or widespread.

But I certainly wish that it could succeed.

With pug popularity on the rise, it’s very unlikely that this model could ever take off.

Of course, someone will mention the puggle, but the puggle concept was always about creating a designer crossbreed. It was never about making a better pug.

So until there is a sea change with the public and within the established pug fancy, we’re pretty much stuck with the conventional pug.

But we should be going retro.

 

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Now there’s a fine dog!

AKC champion! Must be quality!

Source.

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bulldog with baby

I think there is no other way to describe the sudden popularity of the bulldog than as one of the greatest tragedies in modern dogs.

A bulldog is an unfortunate beast that is a medley of genetic disorders and physical deformities masquerading as both toughness and cuteness. Such animals can only be celebrated by a culture that has become totally alienated from what a dog actually is.

We live in a world that wants laid-back dogs, and nothing can be more laid-back than a dog that easily overheats and cannot oxygenate itself fully.

Just as the Chinese empress expressed a desire for her pekes to have bent legs to prevent them from wandering off,  we created a “tough working dog” that can be easily kept in an apartment.

If this is the future for dogs in this country, then I weep for it.

We’ve modified the ancient wolf to fit our needs, but now we’re pushing it to the limit. We no longer want the actual dog. We just want the caricature, not the real thing.

And you’d think the English bulldog would be the only dog like this, but you can also see the rise of the “exotic bully” from the general pit bull/AmStaff lineage as another attempt to create the same thing.

The professional bulldog world is full of denial. The official talking point is that the only unhealthy bulldogs are bred by puppy millers, but this is a pretty hard dog to puppy mill on a large scale. It is very hard to get bulldogs to mate naturally, and virtually every bulldog that has been born has been delivered via cesarean.

This is not to say that there are no bulldog mills; it’s just they are very uncommon.

And certainly aren’t the main cause of this breed’s problems.

The main cause of this breed’s problem is that to be a good quality bulldog, it has to be deformed in so many ways. The breed standard celebrates deformity over soundness. The only way for them to be sound is for the bulldog fancy to redefine what soundness means!

I see these people in their little groups harping on about the animal rights activists as being the source for all criticism of their breed.  The truth is the animal rights activists are always looking for things to pounce on, and most of what they find is bogus.

But every once in a while, a blind pig finds an acorn.

When bulldog fanciers blame all their problems on animal rights activists and refuse to acknowledge simple facts about their dogs, they are feeding the fires of animal rights stupidity even more.

Currently, there are dozen of breeds of “original” or “working” bulldog, most of which are attempts to create dogs that look like those in paintings from a certain time period. It’s a noble effort, but in the end, the majority of the world’s bulldogs will be in this breed.

I don’t think it’s ever going to be fixed, but its popularity is likely to be fleeting. Most people can’t afford the vet bills or the anguish that comes from losing a dog that dies before the age of 5 or 6.

And the dog will remain owned only by the true believers, who sound less and less rational as time moves on.

So the bulldog will go on and on, a creature with no purpose other than what its looks symbolize. To be sure, it is a monstrosity, but one that exists solely because we wish to keep it this way.

This is a breed that should have been removed from the multi-breed registries ages ago. It was the first breed to be utterly deformed through show ring fads. It was one of the first breeds to be shown in 1870’s in the new dog fancy system, and by the 1890’s, there were already complaints about how poorly the animal moved and how hard it was to breed.

Those complaints, like this one, will fall on deaf ears. The keepers of the bulldog know it all already.

They will continue down their well-worn path. It is a path that doesn’t lead to better dogs.

It leads to tragedy.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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