638 Breeding Value

by   David Hancock

In the pedigree dog world, much is made of the stud dog of the year competition, which is entirely based on the show success of the progeny of often over-used sires. The progeny of such successful sires could have bitten children, savaged other dogs or died young of some inheritable disease. Is this truly the best we can do? Does this, as the raison d'etre of the KC puts it, improve dogs? When I was working in Germany nearly half a century ago, I learned of the work, in the German Democratic Republic, from a book by Dr FK Dorn, entitled Hund und Umwelt or Dog and the World Around Him i.e. his Environment. Dorn devised a system of four categories: A=Type, B~Appearance, C=Conformation and D=Temperament. Within each category, Dorn devised a numerical scoring system, in which, for example, Al=shelly, A8=too heavy and clumsy; BO=lack of pigmentation, B5=excellent appearance, outline and symmetry; DO= nervous or timid, D3=cautious, not self-assured and D8= unafraid but not aggressive. Such details could then be written on a dog's pedigree for use when breeding plans were being formulated.

 This became known as the Merseberg scoring system, after the GSD breed club there. Dorn was seeking to establish a clear picture of the hereditary qualities of the whole bloodline of a dog. But now, half a century later, our pedigrees merely list the ancestors for five generations, without any checks on their accuracy or the slightest whiff of real information about the dog. Is this progress? Is this in the best interests of good breeding? Prizes for phenotype and beauty are given sole weight and to hell with such basic information as health, intelligence and working ability. In livestock breeding, a stud has no value until the performance of its progeny has been established. But in the pedigree dog world, a stud is valued not on the performance of its offspring but on their successful stance in the ring. Does that produce the best companion animals? The KC's self-imposed mandate is the improvement of dogs, not the improvement of show dogs. Is their remit being met? Have we truly progressed in the last century or so?

 The Kennel Club does not support the continental system of grading an entry in the ring, according to their qualities. Such a system may take longer but if improvement is desired and the 'best of the very best' truly being sought, is time in the ring really relevant? I would support it as a pursuant of excellence; more importantly, I would support it as a way of assessing judges; some would be exposed by the discrepancies in their gradings against those allocated by their peers. In his informative book, Control of Canine Genetic Diseases (Howell Book House, 1998), George Padgett DVM, argues for registries/kennel clubs to provide genetic information on the written pedigree, not just a list of ancestors. He writes that any registry 'that purports to be effective in the control of diseases must provide the information that breeders need...' The KC has had an in-house geneticist for some years now; but still we have the 19th century pedigree form.

 The most famous terrier breeder of the early twentieth century, Sir Jocelyn Lucas, once wrote: 'The greatest tragedy that can ever befall a breed is to become a fancier's dog.' I recall those words when I see Victorian Bulldogs, Dorset Bulldogs and Sussex Bulldogs, as opposed to KC-registered Bulldogs, and when I see Fell Terriers, Patterdale Terriers and Plummer Terriers, as opposed to KC-registered terrier breeds. These unregistered breeds are produced by men who know the difference between a good pedigree and a good dog. There is a humility about them; they are devoted not slavishly to a breed but to the production of sound healthy companion dogs, whilst respecting the traditional role of their dogs. In so many registered pedigree breeds, the fanciers have lost their way.

 The ever-forthright Sir Jocelyn also wrote: 'The show dog pure and simple is bred from, no matter whether he be clever or a fool. It is the show points or the external appearance alone that count...' If there is truth in that statement today, would not the introduction of a truly 2lst century pedigree form reduce that risk? How valuable to have not just a list of names, but a grading of those dogs, a guide to their genetic well-being, and, some use of Dr Dorn's visionary scheme for assessing the whole dog. When are we going to stop valueing our precious breeds of dog on their appearance alone, when their temperament makes them a successful companion animal and their qualityof life depends on their genetic pedigree? Surely, if we honestly seek better breeds, better dogs and wish to contribute to a breed during our lifetime, we should be campaigning now for truly comprehensive pedigree-form information. If we are going to 'breed on words' can we not at least record the most valuable ones?