One of the great shibboleths in the dog world is that there is a creature known as the “responsible breeder.”
Each person has a definition about what one is, but for many years, the biggest defining point was the adherence to blood purity cult. Usually this would be mixed in with all the delusions of preservation, as well as the delusion of improvement.*
The unfortunate thing is none of these things have much to do with the real world.
In the real world, crossbreeding isn’t evil. It’s innovation.
Take this nice post by Suzanne Phillips over at the Hoof &Paw blog.
In her part of Oregon, it’s not unusual for someone to breed this:
Photo from Suzanne Phillips.
This dog is a German short-haired pointer/Labrador retriever cross. It’s basically a purposely-bred cross that mixes the ruggedly versatile German HPR wit the always popular, hard driving Labrador. Suzanne mentions that when a friend of hers bred such a cross people drove from hundreds of miles to pick up one.
Such is the reputation of this cross.
She mentions another variant of the cross in the post as well. This time the retriever in question is a Chesapeake, but she has been bred to a German shorthair.
Photo from Suzanne Phillips.
It’s hard for anyone in that old way of thinking to say that these were not well-bred animals.
Chesapeakes, Labs, and German shorthairs are all very useful animals. Not a single one of them was created through maintaining closed registries until very recently.
And even now, many people who want a useful dog don’t pay much attention to the old blood purity rules.
That’s because these blood purity rules are way outside of the average person’s experience with dogs. Almost no one owns a dog that is very tightly bred, and virtually everyone in the public would be repulsed by the idea.
Many people talk about the reason why the American Kennel Club is in such terrible financial straight. Animal rights activist get the blame. The puppy mill paper mills get their share, too.
But I think the real problem is that the American Kennel Club, though it is headquartered in the United States and always has been, is really a foreign institution.
Its values were imported from Great Britain at the height of its imperialist glory. As strange as it sounds today, most Americans were very anti-British during most the nineteenth century. Britain had burned down our capital. It allowed the Confederacy to have the delusion that it was on the side of their rebellion. It was also a major competitor in the Northwest. Plus, tons of Americans were Irish famine refugees.
As America grew wealthier, wealthy and upper middle class Americans began to emulate the British Empire. Some of the first retriever trials in America were held on Long Island. Labradors were the breed of choice, and they were run almost exactly as they were in the mother country.
Meanwhile, American market duck hunters were blasting away with punt guns and heavy shotguns at vast flocks waterfowl. Their hardy “Chesapeake duck dogs,” water spaniels, and retrieving setters were earning their money. The backwoods market hunters were treeing grouse and turkeys with curs and feists. And very few of these people gave a rat’s behind about the pedigree of the dog.
In fact, most Americans didn’t care for this nonsense at all. The most common dog in much of the country was the generalist farm collie, usually called “a shepherd,” which did some light herding work and hunted everything it was asked to.
None of these dog were maintained within a concept of a “fancy.” There might be shows for foxhounds, coonhounds, and beagles, but every single dog in those shows was also a performance hound. And none of these dogs was kept in a true closed registry, and even now, pack hounds are still crossed on a routine basis.
But they are outside the AKC, and they are also outside the UKC.
Americans bred dogs to perform. In the early days of settlement, vast numbers of dogs couldn’t be imported from Europe. Our dog culture became based upon what can survive and what could do multiple tasks well.
The British dog culture was about specialization and arbitrarily classifying things based upon color and coat and size.
It became well-established among “learned circles” that American dogs, like our livestock, were in desperate need of improvement. From the 1870′s onward, there has been attempt to bring America the glories of canine improvement through closed registry breeding.
And it’s been a colossal failure.
It came closest to success in the middle to late part of the twentieth century, when the burgeoning middle class that had grown up out of the Second World War began to own purebred dogs as status symbol. It’s at this time that my own family got their first AKC dog, a registered rough collie named “Cam.” Cam produced more than a few litters of collie-foxhounds, which were then quite in demand in West Virginia as varmint dogs.
I’ve noticed that when most laypeople watch dog shows, they only want their favorite breeds to win. They want to see the golden retriever go BIS at Westminster. They don’t care about the rare breeds. They are curiosities, novelties to be looked as if one were looking artifacts in a museum.
And that may be too charitable for some breeds.
I’m sure the untrained eye sees many of the really exaggerated dogs as creatures best belong in a freak show.
And of course, one really can’t argue with them.
Many progressive people rightly complain about how Americans have never adopted certain European ideals, but the notion of a national kennel registry to tell us how to breed dogs is one I’m glad we’ve never fully accepted.
So long as a dog fancy remains this insular, very foreign, and reactionary clique, the American people are going to ignore what these people say.
And buy gun dogs like these.
And Texas heelers.
After all, this culture produces good dogs.
And the dog fancy continues to produce freaks– many of which are unhealthy and very hard to care for.
This is how market economies work. There is failure, and there is success. The dog fancy has been a failure in the United States– and our dogs stand a much better chance because of it.
*There will be a post on this at some point,
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