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foxhounds john emms 1896

Here’s a little poem by one of the great British houndsmen, Ikey Bell.  (He was actually born in America and became one of the doyens of the modern foxhound in the UK).  It’s good advice for all dog breeders, who call themselves “presevationists” or “breed improvers.”

 

Cherish us for our courage

Instead of for our looks;

Look on us more as comrades,

And less as picture books.

Breed to the strains that serve you

The best throughout the chase;

Remember that your stewardship

Spells trustee to our race.

 

The duty now before you

Is not to mess us up,

And not go running riot

To gain some silver cup.

Condition us and feed us

as care’ly as you know,

So that no fox, however stout,

Can ever make us blow.

 

And don’t distract us Master,

When treading out of line!

Mistake no foxhound’s challenge

For silly puppy’s whine!

Your steaming horse keep from us,

Or we can’t feel the scent;

If to a holloa should you lift,

Show us which way he went.

 

Should roads be rough, or stony,

We’ll pick and choose out tracks;

Don’t let your eager servants

Drive us by their whip-cracks.

Lets lap a drop of water

When we have caught your fox;

And, when grown old in serving you,

Don’t leave us on the rocks.

 

You need but treat us kindly

And we’ll work hard for you.

Much more can we do for you,

Than you could ever do.

We’ll fairly catch your foxes

If you’ll but trust us;

And should we for an instant check,

Don’t fly into a fuss.

 

 

For, if you will but watch us

Until we’re beat at last,

When handle us you have to,

You’ll make a brilliant cast!

Your fame will spread as huntsman,

Your praise will go the rounds;

The reason being that we are

A clinking pack of hounds.

 

 

So don’t think Man’s a hunter!

It’s strictly a hounds game.

Hunters we are by birthright;

You are but one in name.

So if you never cheat us,

And always treat us well,

We’ll hunt your fox from Hanover,

into the depths of H–alifax!

 

 

We’ll fly straight to your halloo!

Or notes upon your horn.

The field will say, By jingo,

The finest huntsman born!

We’ll tell you now our secret

In whispers (not above):

It’s but our way of thanking you,

And shouting you our love.

 

 

 

 

 

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Photo from Robert Milner's Retriever Training Site. The golden is a Holway.

Photo from Robert Milner’s Retriever Training Site. The golden is a Holway.

The Westminster Kennel Club Dog Show has come and gone, and like most years, I thought we’d have no meaningful discussion about how dogs might be encouraging people to breed and select for unhealthy attributes in dogs.

However, this year, there is a bit of a viral story going out about how preferred phenotype in the show ring might be deterimental to a dog. But unfortunately, it’s very low hanging fruit.

The story started with this pretty good post from My Slim Doggy  about how fat the Westminster Labradors actually are. And I should note that yes, these dogs are fat, and the behavior of the dog show apologist set on that page is abominable. 

That’s a story in itself, but it’s not the absolute worst case I can think of.

The thing about Labradors is that they are the most popular breed in the United States, Canada, and Great Britain, and they are probably the most common “breed dog” in the world today. They are also arguably among the most useful dogs, for they not only are used for retrieving game, they are now the most common guide dog breed. They also great sniffer dogs, and they use to assist people in wheelchairs. There are many, many things this breed can do, and because the typical member of this breed is also among the most docile of dogs, they are very, very popular as family pets.

As a result, they exist in many, many different lines and what might be called “sub-breeds.” There so many different types of Labrador that it would take me too long to describe them all to you, and then I’d probably miss a bunch.

Labradors that are bred for the show ring are an extreme minority of the breed. And as a result, what happens in the ring really does not affect the survival of the breed as a whole.

And not only that, even if a Labrador has a tendency toward portliness, this problem can be easily remedied through a regime of diet and exercise.

So if the biggest problem that Labradors have from being shown is that the show specimens are a often quite fat, this is not such a big deal.

And the simple reality is that the Labrador breed is not a prisoner to the show culture. You can easily get a Labrador that is not a “labrabeef.” And it’s not that hard.

The real scandal is the countless breeds that are.

Within that Sporting group, there is actually very good example of a dog that has essentially been doomed to extinction through selection for a very exaggerated phenotype.

Unlike the Lab, it’s not a very common dog at all. In fact, unless you’re a dog nerd like me, you may have never heard of it.

The breed I’m talking about is the Sussex spaniel.

The Sussex spaniel is doomed. It cannot be saved. You can write it on a rock. It’s done.

The Sussex spaniel is the last survivor of a stupid fad that swept the early British dog fancy– the desire to breed extreme dwarfism in spaniels.

Sussex spaniel

The Sussex spaniel has an illustrious history as a land spaniel in the South of England, but then dog shows got their mitts on them and things haven’t been the same since.

The two most common fancy spaniels in the early British fancy were field spaniels (which were usually black or black roan) and the Sussex, which was liver. Both of these dogs are ancestral to the two breeds of cocker spaniel that exist today, both of which descend from a Sussex/field cross named Obo. Before that, all small sporting land spaniels were call “cockers” as a generic term.

The fad was to breed them as short-legged as possible, and in some situations while doing beating on relatively flat ground and in heavy cover, a dwarf spaniel would have have been of some use.

But the twentieth century has largely supplanted both the field and Sussex as gun dogs. English working cockers and springers are the sporting spaniels of the UK, and in the US, main sporting spaniel is the working English springer. Welsh springers are still worked, and they have a lot going for them, too. And if the right celebrity were to own one, they could suddenly experience a popularity rise that they might not be able to handle.

And there are even working strains Clumber spaniel, which have bred out most of the exaggerated mass and loose eyelids that you see in the ring.

Field spaniels have been saved through the addition of English springer blood, and they are no longer dwarfs.

But the Sussex remains.

Col. David Hancock writes about the fate of the Sussex:

The history of the breed standard of the Sussex Spaniel tells you a great deal about show gundog fanciers. The standard in use in 1879 didn’t include words like massive, brows and haw or mention a rolling gait. In 1890, in came ‘fairly heavy brows’, a ‘rather massive’ appearance and ‘not showing the haw overmuch’. In the 1920s, in came ‘brows frowning’, a ‘massive’ appearance and ‘no sign of waistiness’ in the body. These words were approved by the KC, the ratifiers of all breed standards. In 1890 the breed’s neck had to be ‘rather short’; from the 1920s it had to have a long neck – in the same breed! The need for this breed to walk with a rolling gait is, relative to the long history of this admirable little gundog breed, relatively recent. Here is a breed of sporting spaniel, developed by real gundog men,subsequently, with the connivance of the KC, altered to suit show dog people, most of whom never work their dogs. It is a sorry tale, with echoes in other breeds.

The so-called ‘Chocolate Drop’ spaniels of Richard Mace have their admirers in the field. Originating in a cross between a working Cocker and a Sussex Spaniel, they are seriously effective working spaniels, strong, biddable and determined. In the last ten years, pedigree Sussex Spaniels have only been registered in these numbers: 89, 98, 70, 82, 68, 79, 77, 74, 61 and most recently 56. What would you want? A dying breed prized for its unique rolling gait, characteristic frown and waistline-free torso? Or a proven worker benefiting from a blend of blood? Gundog breeds which lose their working role soon lose their working ability and then the patronage of the shooting fraternity. I see much to admire in the Sussex Spaniel and long for a wider employment for them in the field.

I would love it if those “Chocolate Drop” spaniels became part of the Sussex breed and reinvigorated it.

But that is not going to happen.

Having written about Sussex spaniels before, I have rarely met with more obtuse dog fanciers than those associated with Sussex spaniels.

Too many of them are part of the blood purity cult, and the breed is also caught up in the double speak of “dual purpose” breeding that I so often encounter in gun dogs.

You will often hear people who have a rare gun dog breed brag about how their breed hasn’t split in type like golden and Labrador retrievers have.

The reason why golden and Labrador retriever have split so much is that they are actually used quite a bit, and the dog shows require parts of the phenotype that are largely antithetical to efficient movement on the land or water. The excessive coat in show goldens makes them easily bogged in the water, and the lack of soundness in many show Labs makes them easily worn out while doing retrieves.

These minority breeds, though, exist within a culture that is obsessed with the Delusion of Preservation.

Part of that delusion isn’t that you must keep the breed pure at all costs.  Within rare kennel club-recognized breeds, there is also a delusion that you have to show in order to breed. The standard make the breed unique, and if you really want to preserve it, you have to test it against the standard.

The problem with standards is they are like scripture:

They are written by fallible people and by devious people, and they are then interpreted by fallible and devious people.

So these very rare breeds become trapped in the show culture.

And though people are using the dogs at tests and working events, they aren’t selecting for those traits alone.

But working springers and cockers are.

And there is absolutely no way that Sussex spaniels can survive this situation.

No redneck hunter is going to go out and buy a Sussex when he can get a springer from working lines for third to half the cos and no waiting list.

But Sussex spaniel people are still trapped in the hope that it might change.

But it can’t.

This is now a show dog that is trying to be preserved within the show system itself.   Fewer and fewer people want this dog, and fewer people know that it even exists.

And whatever the merits the breed might have, it’s just not going to make it.

And then you have its very real problems as a breed:

Not only is it the gun dog with the rolling gait, it is also the only gun dog I know of that has problems with its discs (a common dachshund malady) and a very high incidence of hip dysplasia– 41. 5 % are affected according to the OFA.

Would a serious gun dog person go out of his or her way to get a dog with those sort of structural problems?

They would take their chances trying to slim down a fat Lab!

Obesity in show Labradors is discussion worth having, but it’s not the biggest problem with dog shows.

Labradors are not trapped. They are thriving as no other breed ever has.

But the dog fancy really is destroying breeds

It’s just that it’s not destroying those breeds that have a life outside of the fancy.

With this going on with breeds like the Sussex spaniel, it makes all the attention we’re giving to obese Labradors seem a bit trivial.

Dog shows really aren’t that important to the breed population of Labrador retrievers, but they are the main constraint facing the Sussex spaniel.

And this is where the Sussex will go extinct.

I don’t know when, but it is almost certainly going to happen.

It’s trapped, and no one is saying anything.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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IMG_7244

Dad’s on the left. My uncle’s on the right.

 This was just an informal foxhound show. 

There was no AKC-sanctioning it.

And the next day, there would almost always be a foxhunt.

 

 

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American HPR:

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Gabe. Source for image is this wonderful post.

Gabe. Source for image is this wonderful post.

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This is dubbed in English, so you can understand the method. They don’t believe in closed registries out on taiga. The dogs they use in the crosses don’t even have to be domestic!

Source.

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This is Vesterlyngs Token of Clyde:

This dog is pretty well-known in northern Germany and Denmark. (And one of his sons is available right now!)

This is him in profile:

 

Wow.

Very moderate in bone.

I also notice that in his pedigree there are no North American working goldens within the most recent generations.

I’ve noticed that on many working golden retrievers in Europe, many do have blood from Canada or the United States, where golden retrievers are the second most commonly used “wildfowling” and “rough shooting” retrievers.  In Britain, the Labrador is by far the most common, and the vast majority of golden retrievers in Europe of the “polar bear” type, which are not commonly used at all. (The exception being in Germany, where I saw tons of working goldens walking off-leash. And trust me, I can tell a golden retriever from a Hovawart!)

Europeans always wanted their retrieving dogs to do more than just retrieve feathered game. In America, these dogs were used almost exclusively on waterfowl until people figured out they could also do a springer spaniel’s job.

But almost no one uses them on furred game. Not rabbits. Not hares or jackrabbits*.

And certainly not on foxes, which we consider a fur-bearing species and not a type of vermin. Foxes are taken here in the depth of winter when their coats are quite prime. Most are not shot. They are trapped. But if you shot a fox, you could make use of a good game-finding retriever to bring it back to you. At least in theory. I don’t know of anyone in the US or Canada who would do such thing.

Europeans have always used their HPR’s to fetch foxes, just as Americans always once expected our British-derived setters and pointers to retrieve. The British have always demanded specialist dogs, and the golden retriever is specialist retriever for the grousing moors and the driven shoots.

But its ancestors where the hardy water curs of Newfoundland and the salmon-netting dogs of the River Tweed.

Those water curs(“St. John’s water dogs” or “Cape Shore water dogs”) were used to hunt polar bears and seals, as well as retrieve shot ducks and sea birds.

This is such an intelligent, biddable breed that I think you could teach one to do just about anything.

People have even trained them in bite-work and sheep-herding.

The continental Europeans and North Americans don’t have much use for a truly specialized dog, and this breed– and all the retriever breeds– are not so hyper specialized that they cannot be taught to do other things.

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*European brown hares have been stocked in parts of the US. Jackrabbits are native North American hares.

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Both of these breeds are pretty intelligent dogs, but they respond to this problem in very different ways.

Source.

Some people are commenting that because the border collie is faster in its retrieval, it therefore must be the more intelligent animal.

But look what’s going on here.

The golden retriever is being very judicious and deliberate. It’s that same sort of behavior that would allow a golden retriever to bring in a wounded pheasant or duck without giving it further damage.

Border collies are great Frisbee dogs. Golden retrievers almost always suck at it. They just aren’t as nutty about jumping up and grabbing things.

Border collies have been bred to move things and make things move.  If a border collie needs to use its teeth on stock, it is allowed to– though this is faulted in the border collie NASCAR events. Border collies are a very much a sporting dog that have been bred for almost neurotic behavior.  Everyone knows that border collies are smart, but they have another side to them, which actually makes them almost entirely unsuitable for general family pets.

I think one of the byproducts of breeding for a soft mouth is that you get a dog that is deliberate in how it relates to the world. This is why golden retrievers, even those from working lines that have a lot more energy than most family dogs, still make very good pets as well as working dogs. This is why both Labrador and golden retrievers and the crosses between them have proven to be the ultimate assistance dogs. They are biddable and intelligent, but they are deliberate and gentle as the work.

Border collies are geniuses, but they have not been bred with the same sort of “nous” or “sagacity” as a retriever.

And I should note here that as much as I complain about how breeding for a particular conformation in bulldogs has essentially ruined them, breeding for extreme behavior in border collies has had almost the same effect.

The border collie is just too much dog for the typical dog owner– and it’s also why I don’t think the solution to the dog fancy’s problems is to adopt the solution that working border collie people have embraced.

A trial that rewards extreme behavior and popular sire selection is just going to produce a dog that is just as genetically compromised as the show dogs and is going to have behavioral problems that are just as questionable as the bulldog’s health problems.

Now, if border collies were bred more like English shepherds, things might be very different. English shepherds are a real farm dog landrace– not a sporting dog at all. They vary in temperament, but many of them are sort of golden retrieverish in temperament. Others are are more like Chesapeake Bay dogs that are docile and intelligent, but they are good guards.

But they are not trial dogs. A better term for an English shepherd would be “generalist collie.”  Because they were always used to do a lot of different things on the farm, they were intentionally bred for sagacity.

And border collies might be canine geniuses, but in some ways they are very limited in their utility.

They have almost gone down the bulldog path, but they have gone along a side road.

This is the over-selection for an extreme temperament in order to win a particular kind of sheep dog trial.

American trial Labradors have undergone a very similar selection, which is one reason why some might prefer a golden retriever or British working Labrador for general gun dog work. In the end, the best retrievers are a balance between docility and sagacity and a strong working drive.

Border collies are all drive and biddablity but are often lacking in docility and deliberation.

That’s why they aren’t my kind of dog.

I don’t care how smart they are.

 

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This is near where ping-pong expert Boris Johnson wants to build another airport for London:

Source.

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