848 RECASTING THE PEDIGREE SYSTEM
RECASTING THE PEDIGREE SYSTEM
Recasting the Pedigree Recording System
In 1883 too, Dean and Son published a further edition of the first dog book to contain photographs of winning dogs, 'Dogs' edited by Henry Webb. Webb records that in 1861, the dog show in Holborn attracted 240 dogs in 48 classes, but in 1871 the Crystal Palace show drew 834 entries to 110 classes. The biggest increases occurred in Pointers, Setters, Mastiffs and Fox Terriers. Terriers were classed as non-sporting dogs. Keepers' Night-dogs, the Bullmastiffs of today, and Harriers were both recognised and shown. Webb wrote of Skye Terrier classes for short and long-coated varieties and drop-eared and prick-eared varieties too. The breed was then required to be 'three times as long as he is high'. It is not difficult to see where the exaggerations started, although today the breed is expected to be only twice as long as it is high. There could so easily have been a 'Norfolk/Norwich' Terrier situation in the breed over ear-carriage, but both sets are tolerated today.
A number of breeds now lost to us featured at the 1883 shows, the English White Terrier and the English Water Spaniel among them. Rather than touring the world looking for exotic breeds to import as kudos-earning novelties, perhaps one day a patriotic breeder will attempt to re-create these lost native breeds; it would be timely and deserved. We have gained some admirable foreign breeds, it is undeniably true. But I would be better pleased to see the admirable Harrier restored to the list of recognised breeds, along with born-again English breeds like our lost Water Spaniel and White Terrier. Is every foreign breed being favoured here truly more meritorious? Do we not care about our canine heritage?
In the last 120 years many aspects of owning and breeding dogs have changed. Some sadly have not and there is often human frailty behind such failings. What is especially disappointing is the failure of the pedigree form itself not to move with the times, respond to increased knowledge and our ability to obtain and store information. If you look at a pedigree form of 2004, it could so easily be one from 1883: five generations of names of sires and dams, nothing else. Is this Kennel Club inertia, an unwillingness of breeders to expose their shortcomings, mere laziness or a fear of progress itself? There are needs not being met here, a significant omission of any indication of quality through grading and no genetic content. Both omissions do not advance the science of dog breeding or the stated desire to improve dogs. Is a healthier breed not worth pursuing?
Grading the Entry
Why should we be afraid of such a scheme? Do we not accept that far too many poor quality pedigree dogs get bred from, partly because nobody is brave enough to tell their owners how poor they are? This system of judging may be slower but is speed-judging the best way to identify future breeding material? But a far more important omission on pedigree forms is any reference to the genetic health of the subject dog. In his most informative book Control of Canine Genetic Diseases (Howell Book house, 1998), George Padgett, himself a vet and professor of pathology, makes a compelling case for the inclusion of genetic information on pedigree forms. Such an inclusion could play a vital role in reducing the incidence of inherited diseases in breeds of dog. Is that not desirable?
Recording Genetic History
Padgett cites the work of a group of American breeders, in the Northwest, who reduced the prevalence of Collie Eye by 38% over a three year period. He mentions the achievement of Portuguese Water Dog breeders there who all but eliminated the breed's storage-disease problem in just a few short years. He concludes that: "It is clearly time for breeders, breed clubs, the AKC and the veterinary profession to come to grips with the problem to preserve the integrity, health and well-being of our canine friends." Again and again he stresses the key role of the registry and the need for such a body to review its role in a new millennium. Whilst we rely on the same piece of paper to certify a dog's birth and the names of its ancestors as we did in 1883, we miss a golden opportunity to advance. Such things must never remain the same, they must change.
Do we truly want to be stuck in 1883 as far as the compilation of written pedigrees is concerned? Robert Louis Stevenson wrote a classic, Treasure Island, in 1883, but he produced a classic phrase two years later, the desire 'to change what we can; to better what we can...' This should be the leitmotiv of every dog breeder and dog-registry; perpetuating the past is just not good enough for dogs. Bettering the past is the real challenge. We have the technology to better the past, all we need is the will and the vision. This is an opportunity for our dog registry, the much-criticised Kennel Club, to delight us all. And what a mission statement that would make: To establish before 2013 the issue of a written pedigree for every dog registered with us, setting out the quality of its phenotype and the health of its genotype.
The time frame should frighten no one; the information should please anyone who cares about the welfare of dogs and the integrity of breeds; the intention should impress everyone who seeks to better the lives of domestic dogs. Livestock breeders sneer at dog breeders sometimes, calling them Luddites. Breeders themselves want to enjoy a degree of freedom in their work, but surely not the freedom to breed crippled dogs. 1883 was an interesting year in dogdom; 2015 could be too.
Protecting the Constitution
A century ago, writers prized constitution in their dogs. The Foxhound Magazine of 1909 referred to inbreeding as a threat to it: 'a great (perhaps the greatest) factor of success in the field, namely, constitution, is lost' .The writer had found from personal experience that 'loss of constitution entails many evil consequences', listing the inability of hounds to hunt when required, increase in mortality from disease, irregularity of conformation and lack of physical development. A century later, are we breeding dogs with an enhanced constitution, what with scientifically designed food, immense advances in veterinary science, thousands of books on rearing and caring and a century and a half of dog-shows exhibiting the 'best of the very best'? Dissenters might argue that modern dog food is weakening our dogs, over-immunisation is harming our dogs and modern lifestyles punishing our dogs! An elderly vet told me recently that it was his view that today's dogs were sicklier than at any time previously. Big dogs need a sound constitution so much more than lighter smaller breeds; height and bulk make greater demands on a dog's physique.
Need and Value of New Blood
No Foxhound breeder would endlessly breed just from his own stock. In seeking, not just a stronger constitution, but enhanced performance, outcrosses would be introduced: to French hounds, Fell hounds, Harriers, American Foxhounds, Welsh Hounds, even Bloodhounds, as well as drafts from other unrelated packs. Breeding for function imposes such a method; but in the show dog world such thinking would instantly reveal the 'only over my dead body' school of opposition. When a BBC programme on dogs mentions the dreaded word 'eugenics' the pedigree dog breeders reach for their shotguns. Perhaps they should reach for their books on genetics. In the wider livestock world, purity of blood is only valued when it's working. Our famous breeds of dog came to us from open-minded pioneer breeders using the best blood they could and to the best purpose. To permit your breed to become paralysed by its genes is not my idea of animal welfare, not sound breeding practice and certainly not the most convincing way to demonstrate affection for a breed.
Perils of Consensus
I applaud the Kennel Club's campaign to breed dogs that are 'fit for function'; if they see it through then every breed, not just the sporting ones, should benefit. In quite a significant way it could be the leading edge in a new canine fundamentalism. For dog breeders this isn't merely a change of approach, it is a moral challenge. The Czech-born writer-philosopher, Milan Kundera, has a message for us all when he writes: 'Mankind's real moral test, a test so radical and so deep that it escapes our gaze, is probably the one of its relations with those that are the most at its mercy: the animals.’