827 CONSERVING THE ENGLISH DOG
The Future of the English Dog
"Welcome to the Canine Zoo, ladies and gentlemen. On the left we have barkless dogs from the Belgian Congo and ridgebacked dogs from Thailand and Rhodesia. On the right we have dogs from the extreme north: Alaska, Siberia, Sweden, Finland, Norway and Arctic Canada. Ahead of you we have the oriental section, with dwarf dogs from Japan, China and Tibet. At the far end we have the EU area, with all the herding breeds of mainland Europe. Just around the corner is the freak show: abnormally hairy dogs from Hungary, hairless dogs from China and Mexico, dogs with virtually no legs, dogs with ears that drag on the ground, the heaviest Mastiff in the world (it may be lying down because it cannot stand for more than a few minutes) and the tallest wolfhound in the world (please don't excite it, it has brittle bones). If you come again next year, you will be able to see our new museum of the extinct English breeds of dog, covering all those native breeds no longer fancied. Have a nice day!"
For those who respect breeds of dog such a visitor attraction's commentary is a frightening prospect, but is it totally unthinkable? Crufts Dog Show could already provide some of the material if not the approach. The 'Discover Dogs' section of Crufts mainly demonstrates breeds from abroad and the Kennel Club, unlike countries such as Japan and Denmark, has no in-house committee solely to promote and conserve our native breeds of dog. In times when we are importing tailless sheepdogs from Poland, huge herd protectors from Eastern Europe and cow-dogs from Norway, we have lost old English breeds like the English Water Spaniel, Red Decoy Dog, English White Terrier, Smithfield Sheepdog and failed to recognize long-established local types. I saw the last Llewellin Setters at Christopher Sorenson's kennel in the late 1980s. We lose our own water dog and then import those of Portugal, Italy and Spain. We neglect to preserve our own decoy dogs and then seem astounded to find them in former colonies, as the Nova Scotia Duck Tolling Retriever illustrates. Our admirable drovers' dog, the Bobtail, is now best known from the television advertisement for paint. Does an island race have to look overseas before it can be satisfied?
I welcome breeds from abroad and have written in praise of them many times. I am however strongly against the importation of extreme forms of the dog, the excessive favouritism shewn to really rather ordinary breeds from overseas and the neglect of our native breeds that this leads to. When a purebred dog of a breed new to this country is imported it contributes nothing to the genetic diversity in our dogs. In all breeds of purebred dogs registered with the Kennel Club the gene pool is closed. This is despite the benefits obtained in the Deerhound from an outcross to the Greyhound, in the Field Spaniel through an outcross to the English Springer, an outcross in miniature Bull Terriers to the bigger variety and in the Bernese Mountain dog from Newfoundland blood. A small gene pool in the hands of unskilled breeders is a recipe for disaster.
There is a worry too about new breeds from abroad with a small genetic base; they can be full of 'genetic junk' and unhealthy dogs can so easily be produced from such stock. This brings good trade to the veterinary profession, but heartbreak for owners and distress to the afflicted dogs. In a free society, people should be able of course to import whichever breed of dog they wish to. But if that breed's imported specimens carry inherited defects and these are transmitted so as to constitute a defective breed, then that does need curtailing.
The creation of breeds or so-called breeds abroad has at times reached quite absurd proportions. The Kromfohrlander, the product of an accidental mating between a Fox Terrier and a small griffon, is now an internationally recognised breed. The Eurasier is a hybrid; the Russian Black Terrier a purpose-bred blend of several breeds, the Cesky Terrier arises from Sealyham stock, whilst our Sealyham fades from view. Coming soon to a pet shop near you could be Kyi-Leos, Munchkins, Mikis, Moscow Toy Terriers, Petersburg Orchids, Moscow Guard Dogs (from St Bernard blood) and the Japanese Shikoku. The Thai Ridgeback Dog is now selling well in the United States. Soon it will feature here, desired because it is exotic, rare and unusual not because of its characteristics. Fancying a dog breed just because it sound exotic doesn't reflect well on the purchaser or help that breed. Breeds like the Portuguese Warren Hound and the Pomeranian Sheepdog have been imported in the more distant past but not to their benefit.
The Maremma Sheepdog is fading fast here; the Jindo from South Korea is not finding favour. The Azawakh and Sloughi from North Africa, the Segugio from Italy, the Cirneco dell'Etna from Sicily, the American Water Spaniel and the Finnish Spitz are not gaining ground. I see plenty to admire in such foreign breeds. Many others have been introduced here for our and their benefit by worthy people. But I see nothing to admire in the fad importation of some exotic breed because it makes the new owner distinctive or feel so. We already have a huge problem in Britain of irresponsible dog ownership. We are hardly easing that problem when we import new breeds whose needs and characteristics are all but unknown to us. It is not our needs which we should be satisfying but those of admirable subject creatures like dogs. Dogs in England, especially the English breeds deserve a newly-cast respect.
It is vital that those who use dogs for sport possess and display appropriate respect for their dogs. There is a terrible story, for me, of a 19th century fox-hunt, in which a very determined hound, convinced it was on the right line, disobeyed the whipper-in and received such a severe blow to the head that an eye was dislodged. Despite this, the hound nevertheless staunchly kept to the scent he had identified, with the dislodged eye hanging down out of its socket - and was proved right. The whipper-in had seen a fox up ahead but not the one being originally pursued. The severely punished now one-eyed hound had just not been respected, either as a proficient hound or as a sentient creature. Its nose had been more accurate than the human eye but had not been respected by a cruel as well as a foolish handler.
There is an account too of an early 20th century scene in which a terrier was badly bitten by a furious badger, that was fighting for its own life. The account reads: "...a small white bitch bitten through the chin. She sat hunched up and shivering, while the blood dropped steadily from the wound...the bitch was faint from loss of blood and exhausted - a miserable sight...I approached the farmer and said: 'Your bitch is bleeding pretty freely, why not wash out the wound, it looks almost like an artery.' 'Oh! She'll do till I get home' he replied. Not much compassion and no respect at all for the dog from that owner. We quite rightly condemn badger-baiting or digging but are apt to overlook the cruelty to the dogs involved, both badger and dog are victims.
The 21st century will in time I hope lead to not just greater respect for dogs but for a more enlightened more humane concept of their needs. It is surely questionable for us to breed dogs purely to a design that pleases us but handicaps them or to breed them so carelessly that their lives are shortened and their quality of life diminished. Which is crueller, knocking a hound's eye out with the stock of a whip or breeding from faulty stock that produces progeny blind in both eyes? Which is less heartless, failing to staunch the flow of blood from a wounded terrier's jaw or breeding a dog with such a truncated jaw that it cannot breathe properly throughout its life? At what stage do we admit that a dog's well-being is infinitely more important than breed exaggerations, so often euphemistically dubbed 'characteristics'?
If you favour evolution as opposed to revolution in achieving change, then action has to come from within dogdom. Breed Clubs have to change, registries have to change. The European Convention on the ethical treatment of animals could one day be ratified here and a heavier hand demand an end to harmfully-constructed dogs. How much better for a Breed Club, backed by a visionary registry, to say: this is our breed and we respect it, we have lost our way, it is best if we put things right. Judges can of course play a role too; the degree of exaggeration in any breed soon becomes a fault. But coordinated action will always achieve faster progress than a series of unilateral measures. Time perhaps for the kennel clubs of the world to step forward!
But I believe it to be important too to respect the dignity of dog. Dogs know when they are being humiliated. I can still recall feeling uncomfortable when observing a tiny Yorkie being painstakingly groomed for an hour - at our village dog show! Most dogs want to please their owners; this one stood still and just endured the bizarre endless combing and preening - even for such a casual inconsequential low-key event. But the demeanour of the dog told its own story, the little obedient dog just didn't want to be there or to be subjected to this treatment. The owner had absolutely no respect for his dog, was just lost in his craft, his presentational desires. I have that same uneasy feeling when I see Beardies and Bobtails subjected to seemingly endless grooming at Crufts or in their show protective clothing or dogs with bibs. These are not animated warm-blooded display items but dogs with pride and feelings.
Michael Fox, the distinguished animal behaviourist, once wrote: "Only when man learns to see the dog for what it is and himself for what he is can he free his dog from some of the frustrations of the modern world." Dogs suffer considerably from the frustrations of the modern world. We breed into them strong instincts and then deny them outlet. We stop superlative hunting dogs from hunting and discourage gifted herding dogs from herding. We develop the best earth dogs in the world and then deny them any scope for their skills. No wonder dogs feel frustrated. Their spirit is being slowly sapped. Every setter or Pointer owner should ensure their dogs savour air-scent and sniff the wind. Every scent-hound owner should ensure that their dog comes across exciting ground scent. Every sight-hound should be encouraged to really stretch its long legs, just race with sheer release. We really must learn to respect their needs.
B M Levinson, professor of psychology and the director of a child psychiatry unit, wrote thirty years ago: "I would like to state that in the year 2000, man will be able through the medium of pets to regain his sensitivity to events occurring in the animal world and to enhance his empathy with all living creatures. He will rediscover the semantic symbols which he used aeons ago to describe his emotions towards nature and towards pets. He will in a sense be a more complete human being." By respecting our dogs, which is more demanding than loving them, we become more rounded people, I am sure. Down the years, my dogs have taught me a lot about dogs and quite a lot about myself.
But in becoming more respectful towards our dogs and respecting their needs, we need to rattle a few cages. Breeds are important but they are not more important than healthy long-lived pet dogs. A closed gene pool should never instill closed minds. When a closed gene pool is serving a breed and is working, then that is acceptable. But when we breed faulty dogs from faulty genes we need to free our minds and put the interests of dogs, not us, first. We must ask ourselves the key question, do I respect my dog and its breed or just my own need for a dog? Dogs have dignity; we need to respect that. Dogs have basic needs of their own, quite distinct from our need of them. The happiest dogs are not the most pampered or the most indulged but those essentially treated as dogs. It is shameful to accept distressing anatomical features in breeds of dog just because those features allegedly constitute breed-type. The quality of life of each individual dog matters more than any breed point. Accepting that is a major way of showing respect. By making our national dog breeds exemplars of best practice we do all dogs a favour!
Who Guards the Guardian?
Being in office but not in power is surely an unwanted tag; a past chairman of the KC stated that he wanted that club to be the first port of call for all matters canine. The KC secretary wrote a letter to the dog press claiming that the KC is the governing body in dogs; why then do they not govern? Before such a club can make justifiable sustainable claims, it has to be in position of strength, to be able to say 'Look what we have done in the world of the pedigree dog, we could do the same for all dogs'. You would have to look around you before supporting such a statement, if ever made. Breeding dogs must involve the seeking of a better dog not the mere reproduction of last year's model.
Before becoming all things dog the KC hierarchy would be better advised by studying the reports of judges, approved by them, at Crufts in recent years. The KC boasts that here you find the best of the very best; what did their appointed judges report? Here are worrying judgements from Crufts 2014: English Setters - "The breed has changed in both type and conformation since I first began in the breed 40 years ago and I was disappointed to find several incorrect bites and straight shoulders, especially in the younger classes..." Whippets - "I was however very concerned by the heaviness of bone, and size and substance of some of the exhibits. This is not correct for a Whippet." As a recent Sussex Spaniels' Crufts judge put it: "How do some exhibits get past judges?" If Crufts is reckoned to be the place to find excellence, the judges seem to have difficulty in doing so, as these critiques demonstrate: Crufts 2005, Flatcoats - "...bad mouths and poor construction were only too evident..." Crufts 2006, Labrador dogs - "I was appalled at what some people had qualified..." In other words, there were dogs at Crufts without quality. After the 2007 show, judges in five gundog breeds reported poor movement. No doubt such exhibits are to be bred from and their faults passed on. Before expanding their activities, the KC must improve their existing regime.
It is lazy thinking to argue that sportsmen know where to get a good gundog, so what's the problem. Our famous gundog breeds deserve the loyal support of knowledgeable dogmen and should not be abandoned to show ring incompetents. Of course there are really good British gundog breeders, quite capable of producing outstanding dogs. But what about the mainstream system for perpetuating the gundog breeds, our native gundog breeds especially? I saw better Flatcoats in Finland a few years ago than those at the Bath show. But their breeding system and judging method is so superior to ours; it clearly produces better dogs. And so we muddle on, with the KC boasting about 'the best of the very best' being on parade at Crufts, despite what their own judges are saying. Perhaps every gundog breed needs to mirror the work of the Working Clumber people, the satisfaction of seeing a working anatomy restored in so many breeds would surely delight the heart of any true gundog devotee. True type arose from function.
Those show ring judges who write honest informed hard-hitting critiques after their appointment can contribute a great deal to a breed's development. But in doing so, are they becoming, in the KC's eyes 'anti-pedigree dog'; surely not. The harm is done, not by their words but by no action being taken to benefit from them. Who oversees each breed? Is it the Breed Clubs? Is it the Breed Council? Is it the KC? Breed Clubs generally carry out the wishes of their members; that's not always to the benefit of the breed. Breed Councils have no executive power; shouldn't they? There is just no format for the improvement of a breed, no mechanism for taking on board constructive criticism and then acting for the benefit of the dogs. If any body seeks power, it must be prepared to assume responsibility. The critics of the pedigree dog industry may in the end prove to be its best friend.
Quis custodiet ipsos custodes? Who are the breed guardians? Who is reacting to alarming judges' reports for the benefit of the breed? Does every Breed Club truly act in the best interests of the breed? If clubs are the breed guardians, which of them is taking action to force a reduction in the sunken haw-stricken eyes in the Mastiff, Clumber Spaniel and the Basset Hound? And who isn't insisting that they do? The KC produces the words of advice but not the mandatory rules to enforce them. Truly, who is conserving the English dog?
Duty of Care