639 Showing the Form

by   David Hancock

  In his valuable two-volume The Dog Book of 1906, the under-rated Scottish writer, James Watson, describes quite scathingly those in the world of purebred dogs who fail to realise that a pedigree is only a piece of paper. He records a conversation with the great Irish Terrier breeder of one hundred years ago, William Graham, who cast his eye over a show entry of his time and declared: 'Some men show pedigrees; I show dogs and take the prizes.' Vero Shaw, the distinguished canine authority of that time, gave the view in a show report that, all too often, the pedigree was worth more than the dog. And to this day, you still hear an indifferent animal excused on the grounds that it 'has a good pedigree'. As James Watson observed: 'No one with any knowledge of the subject will breed to a dog merely on pedigree...a good dog makes a pedigree good, and not the other way.'

 There used to be a saying in dog breeding circles: No animal is well-bred unless it is good in itself. I haven't heard it spoken of as a received wisdom for some years. Much more important than the names on the written pedigree is the ability to 'read' it, translate the names into physical content. As the great Scottish Terrier breeder, WL McCandlish wrote in his book on the breed: 'The names in a pedigree form are merely cyphers, designating certain groupings of features and certain sources of blood, and pedigree is of no value unless the breeder can translate what these cyphers mean.' Yet even some quite experienced dog breeders get dazzled by names on forms, rather than by dogs, supported by blood from distinct ancestors. The eminent canine geneticist Malcolm Willis has written: 'Never does pedigree information become more important than information on the dog itself.'  We must always value dogs that are good in themselves; it is the manifestation of the genes which have the value, not the breed, and never the pedigree.

  I have never seen a better Airedale than those I viewed as a teen-aged 'vet's assistant' in Molly Harbut's (Bengal) kennel over half a century ago. The memory of them however will stay forever in my mind. Top quality dogs are truly memorable. I don't recall written pedigrees. When I was making a commercial video on the Labrador Retriever some years ago, I had the pleasure and privilege of seeing the dogs in the kennels of the late Gwen Broadley and Carole Coode. It was abundantly clear that both these breeders had a very clear idea of what an outstanding dog in their breed should look like. I think of them when I see overweight faulty Labs at shows and in the park. The late Natalka Czartoryska produced some outstanding Anatolian Shepherd Dogs and had a clear concept of what constituted a quality dog in her breed. I have seen some top quality Akitas, Vizslas, Dobermanns, Amstaffs and Great Danes in recent years. I can recall too the top quality 'of Ware' Cockers and the Whitwell Pointers. It is a joy to see a fine Leonberger like Fran Williams's Tariq, bred by Madeline Lusby. I admire too the American Bulldog 'Reba' bred by Stephen Bacon and the Bulldogs bred by Lolly and John Wilkinson in Canada. Top quality dogs can be truly inspiring.

 Some dog breeders get lucky and find a blend that more by luck than judgement gives them an outstanding specimen. The really gifted breeders can produce generations of top quality dogs. At several World Dog Shows I have seen classes of Amstaffs which all look as though they have come from the same dam. Foxhound packs too can produce a 'pack-signature' in which just about every hound can closely resemble its fellows. In contrast, in a Bullmastiff ring you can see almost a collection of 'any variety Bullmastiff', the variations are so wide. This is not good for breed-type, is no help to a judge and not a good omen for the breed's future. But the breed-fanciers seem content with this situation. Ignorant judges too sometimes reward dogs which breach their own breed standard, especially with regard to the length of the jaw. There is a huge difference between a Bullmastiff and a Pugmastiff!

 There is a huge difference too between one Bulldog by name and another. I am impressed by the number of artisan Bulldog breeders who are not content to see what might be called the KC Bulldog being considered the real thing. The Sussex Bulldog fanciers will probably receive nothing but scorn from KC Bulldog devotees, but there is no doubt in my mind who has the sounder, more historically-correct dogs. For some, the biggest negative they can find for these well-bred quality dogs, is that they don't have 'papers'. Such a comment tells you more about the person than the situation! Breeding records are important, but not as important as the dog.A skilled Irish Greyhound breeder once said to me: 'A really good look at the dog tells me what he might do on the track, his papers might tell me what he'll breed'. 

  Perhaps highly significant statements such as 'No animal is well-bred unless it is good in itself', 'Never does pedigree information become more important than information on the dog itself', 'Some men show pedigrees; I show dogs' and 'a good dog makes the pedigree good, and not the other way' need to be given greater impact. The phrase 'become purely a fancier's dog' need not become immediately associated with deterioration, but be an acknowledgement that that breed is best-bred - and has wide-ranging thoroughly-comprehensive KC-certification to indicate that. Quality assurance surely has to be the name of this purebred dog game. Show me the form - of the dog!