Feeds:
Posts
Comments

Archive for the ‘dog breeding’ Category

A Couple of Foxhounds, George Stubbs. 1792.

A Couple of Foxhounds. George Stubbs. 1792.

As strange as it may seem, the dog fancy’s sins began with the Enlightenment and stem from its rationalist, scientific values.

This may seem a bit of contradiction, but the best way to understand the dog world is that began with science but a science that largely ignores the modern concepts of population genetics. The modern science of population genetics says that closed registries that celebrate breeding only an elite within that closed off population are  a recipe for long-term disaster.

But that’s something we’ve only understood since the twentieth century. The beginning of the scientific dog breeding actually start at almost the same time as scientific selective breeding systems were starting to be used to improve livestock.

And this begins almost a century before the development of an institutionalized dog fancy.

It begins with advent of the English Agricultural Revolution in the middle part of the eighteenth century.  This was the era in which the manorial systems were replaced with fenced and walled off pastures and fields, and new techniques of crop rotation and selective breeding increased farm outputs.

The English Agricultural Revolution was important for the development of the Industrial Revolution, for now it became possible to feed large numbers of factory workers in the cities. And the Enclosure that came with the Agricultural Revolution displaced large numbers of people who readily moved into the cities to find work in factories.

Without the English Agricultural Revolution, there would have been no Industrial Revolution, and the rise of the British Empire in the nineteenth century probably never would have happened either.

But it is the part about selective breeding that affects dogs the most.

Now, before the eighteenth century people did selectively breed dogs and other domestic animals. However, it was not a systematic effort.  The world relied heavily upon types we would now call landraces, and selectively breeding landraces is a much slower going system.  Regional variants of the same basic animal develop in this system, which is why you have shaggy saluki-types in the mountains of Afghanistan and Pakistan and smooth-coated ones on the Deccan Plateau. It also is why naturally bob-tailed collie-type sheepdogs were common parts of Wales but were virtually unknown in the North of England and the Scottish borders.

All domestic animals had pretty much followed this path for thousands of years, but systematic selective breeding of domestic animals would change all of that.

The most famous scientific selective breeder of the English Agricultural Revolution was Robert Bakewell of the Dishley Grange House in Leicestershire. Bakewell created improved strains sheep, beef cattle, and workhorses using a system that included a lot of inbreeding.

Bakewell lived before Mendel laid the foundations for modern genetics, and he lived long before there was even a concept of DNA.

All he pretty much knew was that if you selected for a trait and bred tightly for it, you would soon created a population that had those traits almost universally.

Understanding that one could do that with domestic animals meant that one could create new, greatly improved strains fairly rapidly using incestuous matings and rigorous selection.

The dog fancy’s roots are definitely out of Bakewell’s selective breeding notions, but I had always thought that it took quite some time before these ideas ever got applied to domestic dogs.

It turns out that I was wrong about that.

Only six miles from Dishley Grange is Quorn Hall, and at the same time Bakewell was doing his selective breeding experiments, a man named Hugo Meynell was working on producing the ultimate foxhound.

Contrary to what one might assume, foxhunting is not an ancient English custom. Indeed, the practice started in the seventeenth century and began to develop into its modern form in the eighteenth century. Before men rode to hounds in pursuit of the fox, they rode to hounds in pursuit of the deer. However, the violent political upheavals of the seventeenth century had resulted in deer becoming quite scarce in England.  Displaced people poached deer, and they soon were found only in a few parks and forests.

However, the English aristocracy wanted to run their hounds, and it wasn’t long before they switched their hounds from hunting deer to running an animal that most Europeans regarded as vermin. The red fox eats of a lot poultry. It also takes a lot of game birds that were kept for shooting purposes, and foxes do occasionally take the odd lamb.

So the deer hound packs were converted into foxhunting packs.

With the foxhound begins the modern Western concept of a breed.

Martin Wallen writes:

The first dog in the modern era intentionally bred following a scientific method was the English foxhound. This method proved so successful that it became the model throughout the nineteenth century as people developed increasing numbers of dog breeds. Significantly, the creation of the foxhound coincided with the fundamental shift in agriculture toward the understanding that animals and landscape formed an integrated system of resources capable of supplying human needs through methodical management and improvement. This same understanding of systems also began to examine what had hitherto appeared an incomprehensible variability among animals—especially dogs—as a parallel to the no-less-troubling variability among humans, and to arrange the varieties into taxonomies that grouped beings with similar qualities into categories that came to signify essential qualities in individuals (Cultural Critique, no. 70, Fall 2011, pg. 127-128).

Wallen points out that Meynell used Bakewell’s system of “scientific breeding” to produce the hounds:

The “science” that men like Meynell… and Bakewell put to use involved restricted breeding between closely related individuals and destruction of animals that did not clearly manifest the desired qualities. Just as Bakewell judged his animals with an ideal measure of rapid meat production (Overton, 165; Pawson, v), Meynell evaluated his hounds against the conceptual ideal, the telos of “foxhound,” characterized as “fine noses and stout runners,” the canine element vital to the success of hunting foxes in the modern countryside (Hawkes, 4; Vyner, 15). Although Meynell and the others did not set out to create a “breed,” they plainly intended to create an improved hound that would serve a single purpose they valued within the institutional framework that cast animals as resources. Instead of adapting their activities to available hounds, they created a distinctly modern hound that facilitated their sport. Toward that end, they regulated their hounds’ sexual activities and life cycles, segregating serviceable individuals into a group delineated by recognizable and consistently reproduced qualities. The segregation is actualized in the pedigree granting inclusion to the hounds conforming to the standard, and excluding those that do not. (John Hawkes, Whipper-in—or the man who controlled the pack—for Meynell, clarifies what “exclusion” would have meant when he recounts that “in the spring of the year, [Meynell] broke in his Hounds . . . and he drafted them according to their defects” [7]; “to draft” a dog means to kill it.) With such power of judgment, these privileged men created an actual breed that would reliably and consistently pass on its qualities to future generations, and that would only ever act and look in defined and expected ways (pg. 137).

Meynell’s entire outlook of foxhounds and foxhunting was heavily informed by the Enlightenment, and his ideas about breeding and training foxhounds appeared in a pamphlet called The Meynellian Science:  or Fox-hunting upon System.  It was written by his whipper-in, the aforementioned John Hawkes. The idea that hounds could be rapidly improved as cattle could be definitely caught on.

Over the next century, breed improvement programs of this nature would run deep into the world of dogs. The zeitgeist of improvement through consanguinity and ruthless culling is still very much a part of the world of dogs today.

Never mind that this is running in direct contradiction with what we now know about population genetics. Too many dog breeders think they just inbreed and select their way out of problems that are actually the result of a closed registry breeding system that celebrates breeding from an elite.

The modern concepts of conservation breeding require conserving as many genes as possible and allowing outcrosses to other breeds. Virtually every dog breed in the closed registry system is in need of some sort of conservation breeding program, including many breeds that exist in large numbers.

This is not say that Hugo Meynell and Robert Bakewell were bad people. They simply didn’t know what we do now, and their methods were good science for their day.

Modern science says that we’re causing lots of problems by holding onto the old science, and if dog breeding today were as concerned with keeping breeding current with contemporary science as Bakewell and Meynell were, modern fanciers would be changing their ways.

But the dog fancy isn’t changing.

As the nineteenth century progressed, dog shows became more important than the actual function of the dogs. The same methods that were used to produce the superior foxhound were used to produce the deformed bulldog.

It’s currently being use to produce the freakish creatures that now comprise the “exotic” strains of American bully.

Inbreeding depression issues are rampant in the world of purebred dogs, as are the rise in inherited diseases, but all we get are complaints about dog food and blame-shifting to the puppy millers.

The system we have put dogs into is simply wrong for them.

The Meynellian Science of Breed Improvement goes on and on.

And the only “improvement” being a sort of ironic gesture of what was once the most modern way of animal husbandry.

Our modern Western concept of  a “dog breed” began with foxhounds, not with dog shows. And there is no other animal in the UK that is more associated with the establishment than the foxhound. It was a creature bred by the elite to hunt an ennobled quarry. Where once the Anglo-Saxon and Normans had run the deer through forests, now came the red-coated hunters on horseback in pursuit of the little red dog with the black stockings. The fox became an ersatz deer, and the foxhound became the symbol of the English conquest of nature, which it exemplified through its improvement through “scientific breeding” and the simple fact that it was used to kill a wild dog that never knew any master.

The foxhound and the foxhunter are now reviled in their native country. The fox is given greater nobility in a nation without wolves or any other wild canids that now cannot be killed. Foxhunting is now under a rather porous ban, which may change with the Conservatives winning big in last week’s general election.

The policy toward the both animals has changed as the symbols have been manipulated and shifted in the public conscience.

As the dog fancy continues to crumble in North America, it is possible that we might be able to set a new course. Maybe we’ll reject the Meynellian science for some real science, and do what is right for the dogs. Conserve the populations, not preserve them as closed off entities.

This is not a call to end all purebred dogs. To say so is nothing but engaging in igniting a strawman. It is simply a call for better breed mangement strategies that look beyond closed registries and contests that reward breeding only from elite dogs.

We must have a concept of a breed that is better than the eighteenth and nineteenth century one.

Because that concept is not serving the dogs well.

It’s serving the egos well.

Just not the dogs.

Read Full Post »

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.

 

 

Read Full Post »

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.

 

 

 

 

 

Read Full Post »

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.

 

Read Full Post »

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!

 

 

Read Full Post »

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.

 

Read Full Post »

Now there’s a fine dog!

AKC champion! Must be quality!

Source.

Read Full Post »

Older Posts »

Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 1,076 other followers

%d bloggers like this: