|A Century of Nineteenth-Century Dog Breeding
How, then, may we set about correcting the accumulated errors of over a century of what we might call nineteenth-century dog breeding? First of all it might be wise to attempt a short-list cataloguing the errors and abuses of which we are aware, the areas known to be deficient in one way or another.
- Dog shows must come high on the list. They began as an arena for the evaluation of breeding stock, they continued in the form of the "bench show" as a public showcase for purebred dogs. Both functions are now ill-served if not virtually abandoned. Championship shows are now just that, mills for the production of Champions, Best in Show and Group winners, little more. They contribute almost nothing to the true welfare of dog breeds; they have few lasting positive values to offer breeders, only ephemeral fads and fashions.
- Breed purpose and the cultivation of canine utility have a low status in the fancy, compared to what one author called "the glitz and hype of the show world." Those who concern themselves with the working ability of their dogs exist mostly in ghettos where little communication takes place with other branches of the fancy.
- Obedience work, begun as a way of initiating dog owners into the fascination and technique of training one's pet to be a pleasant, well-behaved companion, has become largely ritualised and sterile. The pursuit of "Club 200" (the perfect point score) has become an obsession. Intelligent and useful training on the owner's part, intelligent obedience on the dog's part, are now beside the point. What matters all too frequently now is the minutely-perfect performance of a set ritual. Here again we find a canine ghetto.
- The worship and exaggeration of type, as already noted, is responsible for a multitude of ills.
- Modern registries based on a rigidly-closed studbook are throttling the genetic health of all registered dog breeds. Genetic impoverishent is now a real and present threat. Many breeds now bear a genetic load of defects which has grown totally unmanageable as their respective gene pools have become more and more narrow through imprudent breeding and selection practices.
- Incest breeding, once a convenient tool for the rapid fixation of type in newly-registered breeds, has become virtually standard practice for those who seek success in dog breeding. The net effect has been the decimation of gene pools, widespread homozygosity and the unintended fixation of unknown scores, hundreds or thousands of alleles, many of which are proving to be harmful or lethal to the animals that bear them.
- The CKC, born in the height of the Victorian era, seems to cling to cumbersome structures, making it difficult for the Club to respond in a timely fashion to external challenges or internal needs. The entire By-Law and Amendment structure could do with modernisation. Many members feel there is little justification for such practices (for example) as the three-year member apprenticeship proviso, under which new members (or old ones who for whatever reason have let their membership lapse for a year or more) are completely disenfranchised for anywhere from three to five-plus years (inasmuch as elections and referenda are triennial), costing the Club dearly in lost members and wasted talent. Many members also feel that Board of Directors initiatives are frequently arbitrary and undertaken hastily with insufficient grass-roots consultation, while initiatives from the general membership must go through a slow and cumbersome multi-stage routine before they can be acted upon. One feels a general atmosphere within the Club of elitism and ultra-conservatism, as if those in power felt that only they themselves, the "old hands," knew what is good for purebred dogs and the fancy, and that newer members should not be entrusted with the franchise.
- Breed clubs seem to possess little real power to represent breeders or their breeds effectively. Special measures which they may feel essential for the health, development, and protection of the breeds whose breeders they represent must be put through the centralist CKC system and approved by the Board before they become effective; often such measures have little chance of approval because they are felt to conflict with the rigid all-breed norms of the Club. Since breed clubs have relatively little real power, they often tend to be less than fully representative of all breeders of a particular breed. Frequently they are more or less run by cliques; they waste much time and effort in wrangling and personalities, being perhaps inadequately supervised and not taken terribly seriously.
- Breeders, as well, are sometimes far from free to make their own responsible decisions for the best interests of their own dogs and bloodlines, being closely constrained by CKC By-laws and by the Animal Pedigree Act. Little discretion is given them regarding matters such as the withholding of registration papers, delaying registration of stock until it reaches physical maturity, the introduction of new genetic material when in their judgment it is needed for genetic health, etc.
Many of the abuses and deficiencies not rooted in outmoded attitudes such as racism and elitism arise from misunderstandings of genetic realities. Let us now examine briefly a few points of up-to-date genetic theory as they relate to purebred dog populations.
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