VICTIMS OF FASHION
"Fashion is something barbarous, for it produces innovation without reason and imitation without benefit."
Those words of the Spanish philosopher George Santayana in 1905 could well apply to breeds of dog, for the 20th century saw irrational swings in the popularity of so many breeds, and not always either on merit or with benefit. Human whim can so often decide whether a breed of dog becomes popular or just fades away. In October 1888 the Kennel Club registered a Kangaroo Hound, a Russian Retriever and an Asiatic Sheepdog, which soon disappeared without trace. A year later a Korthals Griffon and a Virginia Foxhound were registered; both survive elsewhere but are not favoured here. That year a Leonberg dog was exhibited, but it took another 100 years for the Leonberger to make its mark here. The Spanish Podengo, in both coats, was exhibited at Crystal Palace in 1889 too, but the Ibizan Hound didn't catch on here for another century.
In 1891 the Soudanese Hairless Dog appeared here and, a year later, the 'Barking Bird Dog of Finland' was exhibited, yet the admirable Finnish Spitz didn't come back on to our lists for the best part of another century. 1892 also saw a Dingo exhibited (and 'very highly commended'), one called 'Brisbane'; that is more than unlikely nowadays. Around that time, exotic breeds like the African Sand Dog, the White Finnish Terrier, the Norwegian Collie and the Icelandic Dog appeared here but never captured the public imagination at that time. Perhaps this was innovation without reason, as Santayana put it.
Fashion, in the dog world, in the latter half of the last century could be summarised by two dominant features: the extraordinary increase in foreign breeds becoming recognised and favoured here and the remarkable popularity of German breeds in the United Kingdom. One sad aspect of these changes however has been the threat to some of our native breeds, some of which could be lost to us in this century and all of them victims of fashion. In the ten years from 1993 to 2003, over 180,000 German Shepherd Dogs, 50,000 Rottweilers and 30,000 Dobermanns were registered with the KC. In contrast in that same period fewer than 1,000 Manchester Terriers, a charming native companion breed, were registered.
In 1908 Toy breeds like the Affenpinscher, Australian Silky Terrier, Bichon frise, Bolognese, Cavalier King Charles Spaniel, Chihuahua, Chinese Crested, Havanese, Lowchen and Miniature Pinscher were not even listed by the KC; twice as many King Charles Spaniels and Pomeranians were however registered in 1908 than in 1999. Royal patronage has played a part in these changing fortunes, the Pembroke Welsh Corgi not being registered as a breed until 1925, going from 20 then to over 4,000 in 1969. The most popular breed in 1908 was the Fox Terrier, with 1,800 smooths and 1,400 wire-haired dogs being registered. In 2004, only 188 smooths and 748 wire-haired Fox Terriers were registered. Fashion, as Santayana put it, is something barbarous. It can clearly be destructive.
Thirty years ago, breeds like the Afghan Hound, (2,800 registered in 1970, 235 in 2004), the Beagle (3,900 registered in 1969, 1,451 in 2004) and the Pekingese (4,243 registered in 1970, 613 in 2004) were much more popular. The rise of the German breeds though, even in thirty years has been astonishing; 16,000 German shepherd dogs were registered in 1970, 25,690 in 1996 but not one was listed in 1910. 164 Rottweilers were registered in 1970, 10,341 in 1989. 187 Weimaraners were registered in 1969, 2,841 in 2004. These are fine breeds but I suspect that a copycat mentality was at work too; many were fancied on merit, some through the pursuit of fashion. Gundogs from Germany have a strong working instinct which needs to be exercised; far too many are kept as household pets and lack spiritual outlet.
In 2004, the Kennel Club newly registered well over 1,400 German Short-haired Pointers against 686 of our own; over 500 American Cocker Spaniels against 79 Sussex Spaniels and more Brittanys than either Field or Irish Water Spaniels. Shakespeare may have written that our mastiffs 'are of unmatchable courage' but the public prefer a German mastiff, the Great Dane, with nearly 2,000 of the latter registered each year, against under 500 of our native breed. In the light of this, you could be forgiven for thinking that we are doing a great deal to perpetuate foreign breeds and very little to conserve our own native breeds. There is a serious threat to a number of our renowned British breeds which could lead in time to their disappearance. Fashion is indeed barbarous.
Even fifty years ago, the shooting men went for British gundogs; not any more. Each year an additional three and a half thousand pointers from Germany increase the German representation, to outnumber the combined annual registrations of all the setter breeds and the pointer of these islands. More Italian Spinones and Hungarian Vizslas are registered annually than four of our spaniel breeds. The preference for 'hunt, point and retrieve' breeds has largely caused this, but if our ancestors had needed an all-rounder, they would have bred one themselves -- and it would have become world famous. Have our sportsmen lost their breeding skills as well as their patriotism? Forgetting the demise of the English Water Spaniel and the English White Terrier, the Kennel Club once claimed that they had never lost a native breed from their lists, but surviving native breeds owe more to the devotion of committed fanciers.
The success story of the 20th century is undoubtedly that of the Labrador Retriever, with the Golden Retriever and the English Springer not far behind. In his 'Dogs since 1900', Arthur Croxton Smith wrote: "The year 1903 was memorable in the history of Labradors, which had hitherto been little known except among a few select sporting families...I must admit that before 1903 I had never seen one...Then in that year a class was provided for them at the Kennel Club show at the Crystal Palace." In 1908, 123 were registered, in 1912 - 281, in 1922 - 916, by the 1950s 4,000 were being registered each year, in the 1980s - 15,000 a year, rising to nearly 36,000 in 1998, and 45,000 in 2004. No other breed in the history of pure-bred dogs can match that rise in popularity.
The Kennel Club recognises over 50 breeds in their Working and Pastoral Groups; 44 of them originated overseas. Most of these breeds were not even in Britain at the beginning of the 20th century. Of the 23 breeds in the Toy Group, 19 of them came from abroad. 19 of the 20 breeds in the Utility Group came to us from overseas. 21 of the 28 breeds in the Hound Group came from outside the United Kingdom. Every year more breeds come on to the register, some of them from strange backgrounds. The illogically-named Pharoah hound is actually a rabbit dog from the islands of Malta; but fewer than 100 have been registered in the last five years. Foreign breeders rarely let their best stock go; without long breeding records, who knows what 'genetic junk' we are introducing? Meanwhile, our Harrier breeds, the English Basset and the Welsh Hound, superbly bred by skilled devotees, face an uncertain future.
Against that background it is disturbing to check the registrations of those of our native breeds, with extremely long breeding records, with fewer than 200 being bred each year: the Curly-coated Retriever; Clumber, Field, Irish water and Sussex Spaniels; Dandie Dinmont, Manchester, Norwich, Sealyham, Skye, English Toy (black and Tan) and miniature Bull Terriers; Smooth Collie, Otterhound, Bloodhound and Welsh Corgi (Cardigan). Their names alone usually show how British they are. I am all in favour of freedom of choice and welcome good dogs from any country. It could be argued too that some old breeds get genetically stale, reminding me of Lloyd George's cutting comment, on a member of the aristocracy, as being 'the tenth possessor of a foolish face.'
As the Sealyham Terrier fades (182 registered in 1989, only 51 in 2004) and the Dandie Dinmont Terrier declines (256 in 1988, only 81 in 2004), we are importing the Cesky terrier, developed overseas from the Sealyham. As the Field Spaniel struggles to gain new owners (122 in 1989, against 86 in 2004), the Hungarian Vizsla goes from 223 in 1990 to over 1000 in 2004. We lost our English Water Spaniel but now import Portuguese, Italian and Spanish Water Dogs. As the Smooth Collie goes from 148 registrations in 1989 to 72 in 2004, we favour four times that number of Belgian Shepherd Dogs, over 370 being registered in 2004. Eight times as many Siberian huskies were registered here in 1999 than Skye terriers. In such a way did we lose the English White Terrier, an elegant charming dog and a long established breed-type. I welcome good dogs from overseas provided we safeguard our long-established native breeds; we should treasure and take pride in our canine heritage.
Glamorous breeds like the sighthound breeds: the Afghan hound, the Borzoi and the Saluki, and a handsome gundog breed like the Irish Setter, often accompany beautifully dressed models on photo shoots nowadays. Earlier in the 20th century Toy dogs or Cocker Spaniels would have been a more likely choice. The Duke and Duchess of Windsor did much to popularise the Pug, as did Queen Victoria, who also had Fox Terriers. Queen Victoria's heir, Edward VII, had a Fox Terrier, Caesar, which led his funeral procession. Without royal patronage, breeds like the Borzoi, favoured by Queen Alexandra, the Pomeranian, favoured by Queen Victoria, and the royal Corgis of today, may never have achieved the profile they enjoy today. Imitation plays a part in popular fashion.
Is there a need to restrict the entirely capricious and wholly unjustified fashion for importing fresh foreign breeds into this country? In gundogs, coming along behind the German Short-haired Pointers are the Stichelhaars and the Langhaars, behind the Large Munsterlander is the small variety (now recognised by the KC) and then there are the French pointers: the Braque D'Auvergne, the Braque St.Germain and the two sizes of Braque Francais, and the Epagneuls: Picard, de Pont-Audemer and Francais, as well as the Dutch dogs: the Frisian Pointing Dog, the Frisian Water Dog and the Drentsche Partridge Dog--we could be overwhelmed! I am not questioning the merit of such admirable foreign breeds, merely pondering the effect of their casual importation.
The Federation Cynologique Internationale (FCI) or world kennel club, recognises 340 breeds, twice the number recognised by our KC and the American KC. But the FCI has at last acknowledged the need to restrict the number of new breeds it accepts. It now demands a minimum of eight distinct bloodlines, at least a thousand dogs registered and evidence of control of hereditary problems. Against those criteria, breeds like the Chinese Shar Pei would never be allowed in here. There is now a real need for more awareness of old British breeds, as the new focus on our vulnerable native breeds acknowledges. It would be good to see our much-loved terrier breeds and the under-valued Curly-coated Retriever becoming more popular as companion dogs. The huge popularity of the Labrador has not been all good, both unwise and over-breeding leading to health problems.
But fashion is fickle and breeds can suffer cruelly from it. Human taste can be prey to clever marketing campaigns pursued in the name of profit. Many worthy breed fanciers dread a burst of over-popularity in their breed; rescue agencies expect to be the recipients of unwanted stock for years after. Guiseppe di Lampedusa, writing in 1957, coined the phrase 'If we want things to stay as they are, things will have to change.' A campaign to guard against the sudden craving for a certain breed needs to be mounted, especially in these days of potent TV advertising and children expecting to get what they want. A few years ago my vet told me of an aged but perfectly sound Golden Retriever being brought in to his surgery for destruction because his owner wanted one of those Beardies she'd seen in television advertisements, publicising a product she couldn't recall. Watch out Beardies, your time will come too!