660 Way we were

by   David Hancock

 Can any genuine dog lover truly want to produce a Bulldog that cannot breathe, an Old English sheepdog that cannot see and a Bloodhound which not only drools saliva over every item within range but has discomfort from sunken eyes and an over-abundance of loose skin? Can any breeder producing a Basset Hound which steps on its own ears, suffers from slipped discs and has chronic eye problems claim to love the breed? Yet all over Britain pedigree dog breeders are at work, striving to produce winning dogs to please a Kennel Club-approved judge. In breeds like the Neapolitan Mastiff, the Mastiff, the Yorkshire Terrier and the Great Dane there is a desire for exaggeration: excessive wrinkle, excessive bulk, excessive tininess and excessive height respectively, even if it harms the dog.

  Being true to any breed involves respect for the standard, the approved word-picture, and respect for the dogs of that breed. Exaggerating the physical features of a subject creature, to its subsequent discomfort, to me indicates disrespect both for the breed design and, more importantly, the dogs themselves. Less well-informed members of the public have come to think of exaggerations in some pedigree breeds of dog as being typical, traditional and not affecting the animal's quality of life. Not so. None of these is true. Contemporary breeds like the German Shepherd Dog, Sealyham Terrier, Dachshund, Old English Sheepdog, Pomeranian, Bull Terrier, Basset Hound, Bloodhound, Bulldog and Clumber Spaniel are now quite unlike their own ancestors; they defy their own breed heritage and mock their distinguished lineage. Each of these breeds has been deformed by man. 

 The Mastiff of England was much more like a heavy hound before the advent of pedigree dog shows. The Bulldogs of the baiting contests were much more like Staffordshire Bull Terriers than the modern pedigree show Bulldog. And if you look at portrayals of the prototypal Bullmastiffs and consult the official Kennel Club breed standard, you are struck at once by the incorrect skull conformation in so many specimens in the breed today. The breed MUST have a muzzle! Unless contemporary Bullmastiff fanciers become responsible, realistic and reverse these tendencies, we are going to end up with giant drooling pugs -- a complete travesty of the breed ideal and an insult to those distinguished pioneers who handed on the custody of this superb breed of dog for us to protect in our lifetime.

 The slobbering, loose-lipped, muzzleless sample of the modern Bullmastiff is, in reality, a huge Bulldog, not a Bullmastiff at all. If you dispute this, look at examples of the American Bulldogs now being imported from the United States in increasing numbers at the present time. Coat colour apart, they would pass muster as Bullmastiffs in the show ring. The shared ancestry with the Bulldog is acknowledged by Bullmastiff fanciers but the essential type so precious in the breed is being put at risk. Without the correct muzzle length, the true Bullmastiff breed type cannot be achieved. The evidence is before us: if you allow small exaggerations into a breed then those small exaggerations soon exaggerate themselves. And with a closed gene pool the exaggerations get more pronounced with each generation.

 The hunting Basset Hound fraternity has outcrossed to the Harrier to remedy the problem of exaggerations exaggerating themselves in that breed. Edwin Brough, the greatly-respected pioneer-breeder of pedigree Bloodhounds, recommended an outcross every fifth generation to retain virility and type. An outcross to the big black and tan Dumfriesshire Foxhound was used some fifty years ago. Now an outcross to one of the packs of hunting Bloodhounds is being mooted, to the horror of the show breeders.  The St Bernard in today's show rings is revealing far too much of the Mastiff blood utilised by breeders a century ago and is not only quite unlike its own hospice ancestors but markedly different from its native companion breeds, also bred to operate in the high pastures: the Bernese Mountain Dog, the Great Swiss Mountain Dog, the Appenzeller and the Entlebucher. The pursuit of 'great bone' and great size in the breed to the detriment of soundness, strength and virility, has not been wise.

 Neither has the imposition of a rugger-ball for a head in the Bull Terrier, in pursuit of the invented 'downface', nor the strange desire to make the lovable Basset Hound more like the cartoon character of that name than is good for a living creature. Nearly a century ago, the London Bull terrier fanciers, seizing the moment from those in the West Midlands, where the breed originated, changed the breed standard to suit 'their type' and the first domestic dog with an egg-shaped head was created. This was never a feature of the creator of the breed Hinks's dogs; why change? A straight-legged longer-legged shorter-eared Basset Hound was once an option in the hunting field and through an outcross to the Harrier has been restored to us, much to the benefit of the dogs themselves. To the show fraternity however these sounder hounds are mere mongrels.

 Dog breeders have a huge moral responsibility, magnified by the increasing loss of role for breeds which once worked. Function once decided design; now the whim of man all too often distorts a design originally drawn up by knowledgeable people who worked their dogs. Pastoral breeds were never intended to possess coats which would hamper them at work, as would that of today's Bobtail. Pack Bloodhounds do not display the degree of wrinkle seen in the breed in the show rings of today. Hunting Bassets, or English Bassets as they have become known, do not display the over-long backs and under-length legs found in their show ring counterparts. The Dachshund never was so long-backed or short-legged. The pursuit of undesirable and harmful exaggerations in breeds of dog tells you more about the moral shortcomings of man than about the faults in individual dogs.

 The Kennel Club is looking all the time at the wording of breed standards which result for whatever reason in harmful effects in dogs. As the holders of the copyright of the breed standards, the KC has the ultimate responsibility for undesirable words in them. But in the end less honourable people will misuse any wording presented to them; the promotion of 'their' type and their own tendentious interpretation of the standard will be their preference, whatever the regrettable long-term penalties for their breed. It just needs one influential but misguided breeder or a dissident clique to put at risk over one hundred years of devoted work by generations of worthier breed enthusiasts. The German Shepherd Dog's topline is, for me, a sad example of how a desirable level backline can be destroyed by a fetish for banana-backs, previously unknown in any breed of domestic dog.

 It would not be difficult to restore the historically correct head to the Bull Terrier (as Lyndon Ingles has in Wales), a more athletic anatomy to our beloved Bulldog (as Lolly Wilkinson has in Canada and the breeders of Sussex and Dorset Bulldogges here have managed), a healthier physique to the appealing Basset Hound (as the hunting fraternity have achieved) and charming Dachshund (as the hunting Teckel breeders have done) or to reduce the excess of skin on the admirable breed of Bloodhound (as the hunting packs have). The show ring dogs suffer in silence. The public usually accept a breed as it's presented to them. A handsome but slab-sided Irish Setter or Pointer is not exposed as a pet to the penalties such a feature would bring to a working dog on a grouse moor. But the ratio of depth of chest to breadth has been shown to be a factor in the incidence of 'bloat', life-threatening gastric torsion . The amount of 'haw' (raw membrane in the inside corner of the eye) of a Basset Hound, Clumber Spaniel or Bloodhound might not be life-threatening but the considerable discomfort of constantly having foreign bodies irritating the eye-ball is avoidable and surely must therefore be avoided by the custodians of any breed.

 The critiques of judges sometimes reveal the failures of breeders when they describe poor movement, inadequate structure or lack of type. But I know of no breed council which sits down either to review judges' comments or consider the state of their particular breed. The dentition in Staffordshire Bull Terriers, the movement in Mastiffs, the structure of Bearded Collies, the too-heavy coats in Rough Collies and the inability of breeds like the Clumber Spaniel, the Scottish Terrier and the Bulldog to give birth naturally would all receive attention in any humane breed council, truly devoted to the best interests of its breed.

 As a direct result of breeds being abandoned by their own clubs and councils, enlightened individuals are coming together out of despair and out of a genuine love of their breed. The situation in the breed of Bulldog illustrates this most vividly. Noel Green in Australia, John and Lolly Wilkinson in Canada, Jan Dirk van Ginneke in Holland, David Leavitt in America and the late Ken Mollett in the UK have separately been striving to produce a healthier, more athletic and more historically correct version of the Bulldog. Noel Green has bred an 'Aussie Bulldog' with a smaller head and chest, broader hips and a longer muzzle, good news for any Bulldog anywhere.

 Ken Mollett formed the Victorian Bulldog Society, composed of a dedicated group of Bulldog lovers with a difference -- they prefer healthier Bulldogs and breed them to prove it. In Canada, using stock imported by early immigrants, the Wilkinsons produce athletic and authentic Bulldogs, more like the famous prototypal Bulldogs 'Rosa' and 'Crib' (once the 'beaux ideaux' for this breed) than our show ring specimens supposedly inspired by them. Their dogs live a long time and give birth naturally; ours do not. It is to me shaming that an overseas breeder should have to show our breeders the way to breed the best examples of our most famous native breed of dog.

 Pedigree terrier breeds like the Fox, Welsh, Kerry Blue, Irish and West Highland White are favoured with short backs, mainly to ensure the upright tail, guaranteed by a high croup. No earth-dog however is desired to have a short back; they need to be 'eel-like' as one famous terrierman put it. This pursuit of a shorter back inflicts an unnatural movement on the dog, with stilted rear movement from too little extension in the hindquarters. But the Skye Terrier is expected to feature the longer back, for the same earthdog function. This is fancier-imposed whim-led alteration, not any function-related need. All earthdogs should be constructed to enable function not show ring preference.

 The giant size of the modern Great Dane is not historic, their boarhound ancestors were around 26" high. The biggest Deerhounds only came to show breeders because deer-stalkers found them ineffective in the chase. The Mastiff was never as bulky and inactive, its weight now being a liability. The show ring changed the breed not function. The ears of the Cocker Spaniel and the Basset Hound now bring discomfort to their wearers. Exaggerated ear-length is neither historically correct nor functionally desirable. Dachshund devotees seem to prize excessivee chase. The Mastiff was never as bulky and inactive, its weight now being a liability. The show ring changed the breed not function. The ears of the Cocker Spaniel and the Basset Hound now bring discomfort to their wearers. Exaggerated ear-length is neither historically correct nor functionally desirable. Dachshund devotees seem to prize excessively short legs, but know that firstly it is an imposed feature not an ancestral one, and, secondly, that to work underground on badger, the dog needs digging legs not a keel which makes them flounder. Time and time again in dogs, you hear the cry 'but they've always been like that', when in fact they haven't. Dishonesty like this doesn't serve dogs' best interests.

 The Kennel Club has sat back and watched the destruction of more than one breed, giving in to show breeder pressure over many years. The Pomeranian was once a good-sized well-formed little companion dog, probably developed from the Pomeranian Sheepdogs now lost to us. We in England decided to make them tiny, under 5lbs in weight, to suit breeder-whim not the dogs. They are now heavily-coated canine midgets, because man wanted them to be and the KC sanctioned it. Similarly, the Alsatian was introduced into Britain as a strikingly-impressive working animal, with a balanced symmetrical physique, much admired in other breeds. Their level top-line, strength and agility, as well as their biddableness, made them become the working dog here. Then the exaggerators were allowed to succeed and their hindquarters were dismantled by their own breeders. Where was the KC then?

 Pedigree dogs are particularly vulnerable to human whim, sadly especially in Britain, where we have produced some of the most regrettable exaggerations displayed in the domestic dog. Going back to the breeding of a number of breeds 'the way they were' is neither sentimental nor regressive; it is sorely needed. Before we are humiliated by an edict from Brussels, and there's one on the way! we have work to do. Simple compassion should be the main motivator. But wanting a breed of dog to be true to its own heritage is surely not unreasonable. The last one hundred years of pedigree dog breeding demonstrate that the pursuit of a healthy happy long-lived dog is not the over-riding aim. Winning in the show ring is the name of the game, but some breeds of dog are not 'winning' outside the ring. Harmful exaggerations in the pedigree dog should be distressing to us - as well as the afflicted dogs!