Yes. That’s a Scottish terrier winning Best in Show at the 2010 Westminster Kennel Club dog show last night.
And the Scottish terrier has won this show more than once. From this list, I am counting that this breed has won BIS 8 different times. It is instructive to look closely at all of the winners through the history of this event. How many BIS dogs were terriers and possessing a coat that can be clipped or stripped? Just look at the list. It really is quite amazing.
This tells us that dog shows (or at least this particular one) are really good for a certain type of dog. If a dog has a feisty and extroverted temperament and a coat that can be sculpted in some way, this dog will tend to do well in the ring.
Yes, I’m very aware that the judges are judging dogs to their breed standards. The dogs are competing only against the ideal description of their breed.
However, it does seem to me more than a little interesting that terriers with coats seem to do very well.
In fact, go back to that list and count the number of smooth-haired sight hounds that have won BIS at Westminster. Then check the number of mastiff-type dogs that have won (and yes, you can count Newfoundlands. You’re going to have to!)
So if I really want to do well at dog shows, I need to get me a feisty wire-haired terrier, and because you really don’t want to compete against a big field, it is probably a good idea to get a relatively rare wire-haired terrier.
But a Scottish terrier will do.
Now, the Scottish terrier that won last night is going to be touted as the greatest dog in the nation. This dog is the epitome of the virtues of intense selective breeding through the generations.
But you see the Scottish terrier has some rather detailed health surveys that have compared the breed’s performance over a decade . It turns out that the Scottish terrier’s life expectancy has dropped from 1995 to 2005. It turns out that Scottish terriers that have been extensively bred for the show ring for many generations simply aren’t that healthy, even when compared to the generic Scottish terrier bred for the pet market.
Now, I should point out here that the dog called a Scottish terrier is actually a merger of two distinct types of terrier native to Scotland. One of these was the Highland terrier, which looked more like a cairn terrier. The cairns probably are a Highland terrier that have at least some ancestry in the Hebrides, where they were closely associated with the Skye terrier. The other type of terrier merged into this dog was the Aberdeen terrier. Aberdeen terriers looked a lot like Scottish terriers, but they were not nearly as short in the leg. From this taxidermied specimen at the Rothschild Museum at Tring, England, it appears that at least some Aberdeen terriers were smooths or at least lightly broken-coated.
It turns out that the show version of the Scottish terrier is an American invention. The AKC recognized this breed before it was recognized in its native country. That was 1885. The KC didn’t recognize it until 1888. Scottish terrier, however, was a far less specific term than it is today. If it came from Caledonia and was something like a terrier, it was a Scottish terrier.
Cairns, scotties, Skyes, and westies could all interbreed until 1917, which is one year after the KC stopped registering litters of golden and flat-coat crosses. For my purposes, I don’t consider a breed a “true” breed until the registry closes. When the registry closes, one can idea of when the Tristan da Cunha phenomenon starts.
To be honest with you, I have not looked closely at the Scottish terrier’s particular history. it appears that even though it didn’t exist in a closed registry system until 1917, it has a far longer history as being exclusively a show dog than the golden retriever, which was put in its closed registry at roughly the same time. If the health studies are to be believed, the golden retriever has a longer average lifespan than the Scottish terrier. The golden retriever was not a popular show and pet dog in the early part of the twentieth century, but the Scottish terrier certainly was. And that factor is key to why the Scottish terrier’s health issues are worse than the golden retriever, which is a breed that definitely suffers from reduced genetic diversity and similar health problems.
I don’t know if anyone has used one as a working terrier for a very long time. Perhaps the last time they were used was when they were Aberdeen and highland terriers.
What has happened to the breed since it was recognized is a pursuit for physical perfection that has resulted in very real health problems for the breed.
I guarantee you that if I start playing around with pedigrees, I will find that just a few studs have sired most of the puppies in each generation.
This dog is meant to be a show dog and a fashionable pet.
It has been bred for its appearance for many, many generations. And most of that breeding happened with a certain degree of ignorance about health issues and a certain amount of a quasi-religious belief that selective breeding of this type “improved” organisms.
And the result has been a Scottish terrier with very real problems with autoimmune diseases, cancer, very short lifespans, and reduced litter size.
This breed has been created by whim and caprice, the vagaries of fashion, and the efforts of some starry-eyed romantics with a penchant for eugenics. It was not created to be healthy and game as one would expect in a JRTCA Jack Russell.
“No problem can be solved from the same level of consciousness that created it,” said Albert Einstein, and I just don’t see how extolling the virtues of this Westminster winner helps this breed.
Talking honestly about the health of this breed and the real history of its population would be a much better discussion.
Too bad you won’t hear that on the news.
But I don’t think the Scottish terrier can take nae more.