Gaining from the Past
by   David Hancock

Is pure-breeding the best way to perpetuate the English dog? In the controversial hard-hitting BBC programme 'Pedigree Dogs Exposed' (Aug 2008) reference was made to eugenics, a term coined by Francis Galton in 1883. The word meant the practice of altering a population by controlled breeding for desirable inherited characteristics. Other scientists such as Darwin, Galton's cousin, were influenced by his views, as sadly were the Nazis, who mis-applied it for human social engineering. It was entirely rational for the programme makers to use such a reference; it showed the dangers of the misguided pursuit of breeding purity. Their reference was relevant to their argument: that the blind pursuit of breeding purity could lead to quite appalling consequences, both in the concept of a 'master race' in human society and of elite but unscreened gene pools in dog-breeding. It was honest and arguably even morally brave for the programme makers to include such a reference, since Slavs, Jews, Roma-Gypsies and other ethnic groups were cruelly punished by such mis-applied pseudo-science. But it did, quite dramatically, focus attention on the quite awful dangers of elite breeding concepts being unthinkingly pursued by some unskilled dog breeders.

The relevance of eugenics to dog-breeding has been made by a leading authority on canine matters, biology professor Raymond Coppinger, in his acclaimed book Dogs (Scribner, 2001). He writes: "The service dogs are perhaps the most exaggerated case of eugenic manipulation of an organism. There is little question that the service dogs represent a great benefit for a very few humans, but are also a biological disaster for any dog that gets trapped in the system". He went to state: "...as a scientist, I don't think a great companion dog can be produced with eugenics". Against these words from such an eminent scientist, how could it be wrong for the maker of a programme  on unwise dog-breeding to omit reference to eugenics? On grounds of human sensitivity alone, do those peoples so badly affected by the Nazi mis-use of eugenics truly not want such an unwise practice exposed?    

To ignore the influence of Galton's views on dog-breeders would be to ignore his impact on such exalted dog breeders as Sir Everett Millais (Basset Hounds), Earl Bathurst (Foxhounds), EC Ash (Greyhounds) and CJ Davies (Scottish Terriers). The most influential book on dog-breeding in the 1930s: The Principles of Dog-Breeding by 'Great Dane' (RE Nicholas), published by Toogood in 1934, relied on Galton's work, and was supported by Edwin Brough, the eminent Bloodhound breeder and Dr J Sidney Turner, the distinguished Mastiff breeder. To ignore the influence of the Galton school of genetic theory on dog-breeding would be to produce an incomplete record, a dishonest, less valuable one. The inclusion of references to eugenics in this programme was entirely justified. Its association with extremists made very graphically the comparable danger for dog-breeders. Even exaggeration achieved over half a century's breeding can produce extremes, extremes which are harmful to the dog. A sound dog will always be more important than five generations of unsullied but flawed gene-flow. It's the dog before you which is important, much more than its grand-dad! 

In their classic 'Genetics and the Social Behavior of the Dog' (Univ of Chicago Press, 1965), Scott and Fuller report: "...breed intercrosses might be used to produce superior working animals...it should be realised that a breed is a population of individuals showing a limited but still important degree of genetic variability. If selection is confined to one narrowly defined type, the result will almost inevitably be the accidental selection of various undesirable characteristics." They went on to state that breed standards should also cover health, behaviour, vigour, and fertility, as well as stipulating body form. They suggested that obedience and field trials were a valuable step in influencing the selection of breeding stock. My reservation about that would be based on a worry that the dogs which excel at responding to human instructions are not always those able to think for themselves.

If pure-bred means of unmixed descent then it can hardly be applied to our recognised breeds of dog, those registered as breeds by the Kennel Club. According to the KC's own Glossary of Terms, the words pure bred are defined as 'A dog whose sire and dam belong to the same breed, and are themselves of unmixed descent.' If the caveat 'for a minimum of five generations' had been added to this definition, it would have had greater validity. I would be interested to know of a recognised breed which is truly of unmixed descent. Such an event is as assailable as the statement that modern dog is descended from modern wolf, as so many lazily claim. But for a breed to come from mixed ancestry is for me a strength not a derogatory sly gibe. It is fair to state, I believe, that only show breeders rate purity of breeding ahead of the worthiness of the individual dog. To value a dog solely because it is a registered pure-bred dog and not mainly because of its mental and physical attributes is, to me, irrational and unwise. It may reward humans; it doesn't reward dogs. This is what both programme makers and dog-lovers should surely be focusing on.

Breeding Across the Board
In just one issue of a country-sports newspaper the following dogs were once on offer: Beagle X Harrier hounds, Beagle Dachshund X Beagle Jack Russell, Saluki X Greyhound pups, Springer X Foxhound pups and what was termed 'the ultimate lurcher' pups: dam - Ridgeback X Greyhound, sire -Best Belgian Malinois in the country. These hybrid products were in addition to the usual lurcher advertisements, normally a mix of Whippet, Bedlington Terrier, Greyhound and collie blood. All these hybrid products are the direct result of sportsmen seeking better hunting dogs, a timeless activity. Purebred dog breeding only came about when the breeding stock merited such a step; it was conducted by informed breeders desiring stability of proven lines not the blind pursuit of purity for purity's sake.

For perhaps twenty thousand years the unique partnership between dog and man has undergone many changes. The introduction of firearms and then "shooting flying" altered the way in which what are now called gundogs were utilised. The preference for "hunting cunning" led to scent-hounds with their noses down being preferred to par force or "fleethounds" which went like steeplechasers. The change to moving sheep and cattle by rail and truck meant a change in role for the old drovers' dogs and some of the sheep herding breeds all over Europe, leading to new employment for breeds like the Bouvier des Flandres, the German Shepherd Dog and the Malinois with the police and army.

But the advent of dog shows, the breeding of dogs principally for their physical appeal and the subsequent reverence for the pedigree has in the last hundred years or so, resulted in pure- breeding in both a highly-selective and a deliberately exclusive manner which is having a marked effect on the health and performance of the domestic breeds of dog. The awe in which the pedigree is held has achieved such a level that when pure- bred dogs are advertised for sale it is more common to find the words "excellent pedigree" than excellent dog.

Yet in historic terms this is a very recent innovation in dog-breeding, mainly coming from show breeders line-breeding for identified show points. Sportsmen, of course, have known for centuries that good dogs come from good ancestors, that prowess runs in families and that field performance is passed on through the blood. It is nevertheless a fact that this century has seen a dramatic change in how dogsare valued,asJohnHolmes, the distinguished dog-trainer once pointed out in his perceptive "The Family Dog " (1957): ..."a dog that could win in the show ring might be of greater value than a good worker. In other words, for the first time in history, a dog that could do nothing, which had hitherto been regarded as useless, could be worth more money than one which would work".

I believe it is fair to say that the British have been the greatest influence in this trend, giving dog-fanciers of the developed world not only the dog show as a public event but also producing the greatest number of pedigree breeds of dog. Each year nowadays over 350 conformation dog shows are held in Britain. Over 200,000 pedigree dogs are newly registered with the Kennel Club each year; one hundred and fifty years ago there were no pedigree dogs by modern definition. Nearly all our present breeds came about in the search for functional animals not out of a desire for handsome ornaments valued because of their racial purity.

Paradoxically, however, it was only by cross-breeding and out-crossing that the different terrier, herding, hound and gundog breeds were produced in the first place. Our ancestors never hesitated to out-cross in pursuit of an enhanced field performance. The celebrated Colonel Thornton in the l8th century experimented with a Foxhound-Pointer cross to improve the scenting powers of his shooting dogs. The French have constantly brought new blood into their scenthound breeds as some of their contemporary breed-names indicate: Anglo-Francais Tricolore, Grand Gascon-Saintongeois and Basset Artesien-Normand, for example. Such cross-breeding was not done lightly.

Some breeds have been specifically developed for a particular role or function like the Korthals Griffon, the Airedale and the Sealyham Terriers, the Bullmastiff, the Whippet and the Boulet Griffon, but always by the planned intentional use of the contributing breeds. Over the years too, we have overtly introduced outside blood into some breeds like the Irish Wolfhound, Mastiff, St Bernard, English Basset, Field and Sussex Spaniels. Less overtly, Fox Terrier blood has been introduced into Welsh Terriers, Foxhound blood into Labradors, Rough Collie blood into show Border Collies, Greyhound blood into some Pointer lines and Pug blood into Bulldogs. But whether admitted or not, such measures nowadays are exceptional; in all recognised pedigree breeds of dog the gene- pool is closed. This is fine when things are going well.

From the point of view of desiring that all dogs in a breed look like the others, this can be understood. But it has coincided with and almost certainly contributed to there being not only well over 400 different inherited physical abnormalities in dogs, but defective temperament too, such as excessive shyness in a number of breeds, gormlessness or an inability to think for themselves in others, a dangerous instability in some golden Cockers and a wild-eyed unsteadiness in a number of breeds, some of them sporting breeds. And to the better-known inheritable conditions such as hip dysplasia, progressive retinal atrophy, entropion, hereditary cataract, lens luxation and retinal dysplasia can now be added some more recently encountered, such as copper toxicosis, juvenile pyoderma, achondroplasia, canine wobbler syndrome, ischemic mylopathy and osteochondritis dissecans.

I am more than happy to see well-bred soundly-constructed pedigree dogs flying the flag for their breed and I would never advocate cross-breeding ahead of wise informed skilful pedigree line-breeding. But why do The Guide Dogs for the Blind organisation prefer to use cross-bred instead of purebred retrievers? And why blindly adhere to a closed gene-pool in circumstances which no master-breeder of previous centuries would have felt justified, when an infusion of new blood in some breeds would actually restore 'type' and improve performance and when your pedigree dog is ill from genes and not germs? Perpetuating sickly dogs solely because they are purebred is entirely irrational and indirect cruelty.

The Russians, whilst still under a doctrinaire regime, purpose-bred their Black Russian Terrier from carefully selected ingredients to produce a healthy, virile, biddable all-purpose service-dog. We, once revered the world over as livestock breeders, now have a long list of ailing native breeds. Our ancestors must be rotating in their graves over such folly. Is it a coincidence that the inspired breeding of top-class lurchers and working terriers is being conducted almost entirely by working class breeders. A few, just a few, gundog men are emulating them. Long live the Sprockers!

Cross-breeding to aid a pure breed, or out-crossing as it is known, is becoming less unthinkable for the more enlightened pedigree dog breeders. It is easy to overlook the fact that all our recognised breeds came to us from cross-breeding. It is often overlooked that the dog insurance companies charge a lower premium for cross-bred dogs than for pure-bred dogs, based on medical cost research. It is nearly always overlooked that covert cross-breeding gave the Rough Collie the Borzoi head and the show Border Collie its more profuse coat from the Rough Collie. It is conveniently forgotten that outcrosses to the Greyhound revitalized the Deerhound and that to the springer helped the Field Spaniel.

Now further outcrosses are being condoned. Some years ago an outcross from the Boxer to a Spitz breed was tried in order to produce erect ears. More recently Boxers have been crossed with corgis to obtain naturally docked tails. In Finland, Pinschers and Schnauzers are being crossed to widen the gene pool. They share common ancestors anyway. KC-registered Otterhounds however are unlikely to be out-crossed to the Welsh Foxhound as they might have been as pack members. In the USA, purpose-bred Assistance Dogs produce a 40% success rate from crossbred dogs against 33% for pure-breds. In-breeding is coming under greater scientific scrutiny as inheritable defects in pedigree dogs increase. Seeking purity of breeding in humans is regarded universally as unacceptable - but not in dogs!