The Fallacy of Breed Purity Picture

The present structure of The Canadian Kennel Club's studbook registry (and others like it) embodies a fallacy which is directly responsible for the current genetic crisis in purebred dogs: the fallacy of breed purity. The ideal of the purified lineage is seen as an end in itself; accordingly, the studbook has been structured to reflect and to enforce that ideal rigidly and absolutely. This insistence on absolute breed purity arises from nineteenth-century notions of the "superior strain" which were supposedly exemplified by human aristocracies and thoroughbred horses; this same ideal, pushed to an illogical conclusion on the human plane, resulted in the now discredited "scientific racism" of the Nazis, who tried through selective human matings to breed an Aryan superman. The idea of the superior strain was that by "breeding the best to the best," employing sustained inbreeding and selection for "superior" qualities, one would develop a bloodline superior in every way to the unrefined, base stock which was the best that nature could produce. Naturally the purified line must then be preserved from dilution and debasement by base-born stock. There is no support for this kind of racism in the findings of modern genetics -- in fact, quite the opposite: population groups that are numerically limited and closed to new genetic inflow are now thought practically certain to be genetically inferior. Certainly towards the close of the nineteenth century it became embarrassingly obvious that the human aristocracies of Europe were degenerating rapidly under their own version of the "closed studbook."

The ideal of breed purity as applied to purebred dogs has resulted at the end of the twentieth century in a subculture that holds "purebred," registered animal stock to be qualitatively superior to crossbred or "mongrel" stock. (The word "mongrel" is in fact part of the vocabulary of racism, being applied equally to canine stock of no recognisable breed, to animal crossbreeds, and to persons of mixed race!) In this subculture -- presided over in Canada by the CKC -- it is thought to be of paramount importance that purebred stock be maintained unsullied by any genetic influence external to the supposedly superior strains that are produced by registered breeding in a closed studbook from a small group of foundation stock. New members of the CKC are required to subscribe to "Conditions of Membership" whereby they promise to have nothing to do with "dogs which are not purebred" (with the exception of family pets and boarders), "purebred" being specifically defined as referring only to dogs "registered individually or eligible for registration in records of the CKC." Litters which are made the subject of complaints that they may not be purebred are investigated and in many cases ceremoniously withdrawn from the registry by resolution of the Club's Board of Directors. Whether you like the word or not, this is effectively a special variety of racism in concept and in practice.

Not all dog breeders are in agreement with the proposition that breed purity is more important than anything else, particularly when they are confronted with the problem of breeding dogs to demanding performance standards. Mostly such dissenters are obliged to carry on their breeding without the benefit of centralised pedigree record keeping and official certificates of registration -- for example, those who breed "alaskan huskies," the high-performance racing sleddogs that dominate both short and long-distance dogsled racing, keep pedigree records and maintain sophisticated breeding programmes, but only as individual breeders. Yet sometimes even participants in established purebred registries engage in a subtle kind of rebellion, quietly breeding according to their own judgment in defiance of formal restrictions. Thus the Racing Greyhound Club of Australia, when it recently subjected a broad sample of stock from its registry to DNA testing, is rumoured to have discovered that many pedigrees failed to match DNA ancestry findings and that considerable interbreed crossing had apparently occurred. Similarly most Siberian Husky fanciers are aware that some CKC bloodlines may have received surreptitious infusions of genetic material from non-purebreds or from other breeds. In some circles one even gets the distinct impression that "it's OK to crossbreed occasionally if you have a good reason for doing it and you manage it in such a way that no embarrassingly obvious mongrels are produced" -- i.e., "just don't get caught!" Thus the sanctity of breed purity may sometimes be less than inviolate in actual practice.

Population geneticists insist that limited populations under strong artificial selection, subjected to high levels of incest breeding -- such as our own CKC purebreds -- simply cannot maintain genetic viability and vigour in the long term without the periodic introduction of new and unrelated genetic material. They are referring, moreover, to true outcrossing, the introduction of stock unrelated to the breeding line, not merely the use of a dog which might be from someone else's kennel but is derived from exactly the same foundation stock some generations back.

To this article's index page