The Holistic Breed Picture

Now I would like to evoke a vision of the future -- but not the distant future. I want to describe how dog breeds might be in the twenty-first century. Instead of all breeds being subjected to arbitrary structures not equally well-suited to them all, each breed would get whatever special measures its breeders thought necessary. Instead of a fragmented canine fancy with ghettos of show fanciers, obedience buffs, and working-dog specialists, dog breeds would have the benefit of a holistic outlook, integrating the various aspects of canine activity and producing well-rounded, versatile, mentally stable animals. Let me stress that the suggestions which follow will be fully practical and down-to-earth. They involve no technology we don't already possess. They require no knowledge that isn't already generally available. All that is needed is a proactive attitude and the will to make necessary changes in an obsolescent structure. This vision could become a reality within ten years' time.

At the beginning of this brief I stated that the three distinct axes along which breeds are distinguished -- ancestry, purpose, and typology -- had to relate fully and co-operatively, or the fulness of breed identity would be missing or marred. Let me now describe how such a relationship might be achieved.

To begin with, we absolutely must open CKC studbooks, in every breed, to new genetic inflow. There can be no long-term genetic health in small populations such as our registered breeds without the periodic infusion of new genetic material. The one big "sacrifice" we shall have to make, if it is really a sacrifice, is to abandon racist attitudes and the concept of rigorous breed purity. We must recognise that first of all, a dog is a dog, species Canis familiaris, and that is his true identity. He is a dog first, before he is a Siberian Husky or a Foxhound or a Doberman; breed identity is subordinate to species identity. We must stop treating breeds as if they were species, abandon the rigidity and narrow typological thinking which has heretofore characterised the canine fancy. We must recognise that dogs are unique individuals and that there is no positive value in trying to create groups of dogs which are all clones or photocopies of a type specimen represented by a breed standard. This should not be too hard, since breeders and judges have never been able to arrive at agreed and consistent interpretations of breed standards anyway. Why, then, should we pretend that a standard, which as it now exists evokes a different imagistic interpretation in the mind of each individual breeder and judge, describes a single ideal type?

Canine breeds can and should be differentiated, bred and maintained on a dynamically balanced, heterozygous population basis without restriction to a closed, historic founder group. The closed studbook and the breed purity concept are, from a genetic point of view, simply unnecessary. Indeed, as we have seen, from the standpoint of maintaining a genetically healthy limited population, they are thoroughly counterproductive. Where is the logic in submitting each and every CKC breed to a registry system which guarantees ongoing, progressive genetic degeneration, loss of species vigour and hardiness, and saddles every breeder with the unwanted, unhappy responsibility of producing more and more unhealthy, flawed stock as time goes by? The notion that genetic disease can be controlled, much less eliminated, by screening programmes and selection has not been borne out by general experience. Those who promote such a notion are engaging in a cruel, self-serving deception. It may be that a breeder can sometimes improve his odds against producing defective stock in a given mating by screening the parents, but experience has proved that screening will not solve our genetic problems in any wider sense. Despite generation after generation of "clear" stock, bloodlines can still produce more and more affected animals. That is because our problems are inherent in the closed studbook/incest breeding system. In order to restore genetic health we shall have to adopt a different system.

It will be asked, "Just how will the opening of our studbooks to outcross stock bring about the elimination of genetic defects?" The answer is that it will not eliminate genetic defects. That need not be the end in view. If we could somehow eliminate all the various genes now known to produce harmful anomalies, plus all of those yet to be discovered, we would almost certainly find that the remaining genome was non-viable, that healthy reproduction and growth to maturity could not reliably take place. Genetic defects are not "eliminated" in nature. Instead, random mating and behaviour patterns that discourage inbreeding take care of the problem by ensuring high levels of heterozygosity and the consequent rarity of defective homozygotes. If we take steps to set up similar patterns in purebred dogs, we shall be able to reduce the level of expression of defective genes greatly, which is all that is required. The end in view is healthy stock, not "racial purity." Purged and purified bloodlines would be weak for other reasons, as has been explained. As the mapping of the canine genome progresses and RFLP, allozyme or microsatellite "markers" for common genetic defects are found, we shall probably then be able to use DNA studies to recommend matings that will avoid the production of defective homozygote progeny -- provided that we have made enough genetic diversity available through outcrossing to give us the genetically distinct lines from which to choose! As things stand now, most breeds are so homozygous that it could prove extremely difficult to find matings which would avoid one genetic defect without reinforcing another!

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