855 TITLING THE PASTORAL BREEDS
TITLING THE PASTORAL BREEDS
I do wish the kennel clubs of the world would get their act together over the nomenclature used for pastoral breed titles. The flock guarding breeds, like the Anatolian Shepherd Dog, should not be called ‘shepherd dogs’; the herding breeds like the Belgian and Dutch Shepherd Dog breeds are best described by this title. But when is a sheepdog not a shepherd dog? Is there a difference in role here? The Pyrenean pastoral breeds make a point for me: the biggest, the Pyrenean Mountain Dog is the flock guardian, with the size and role of the Hungarian Kuvasz; the next down in size, and on the Spanish side of the range, but more fiercely protective is the Pyrenean Mastiff, a shepherd’s mastiff, with the size and role of the Tibetan Mastiff; then comes the Pyrenean Sheepdog, a much smaller, much more active herding breed, but appreciably smaller and with a different role from our Old English Sheepdog. Breed titles should reflect breed purpose. Their role gave them their phenotype, their temperament and their nature. These are breed points as, if not more, important than show ring breed points, such as skull shape and ear and tail carriage. Breed type originated in function not appearance.
I believe that our breeds of domestic dog are in unprecedented danger, not from one single distinct threat and not next year or the one after, but from a multiplicity of menaces over the next two decades. Some breeds, like the Smooth Collie, the Sealyham Terrier, the Sussex and Field Spaniels, the Cardiganshire Welsh Corgi and the Lancashire Heeler could simply fade away because of lack of numbers. Already there is concern over their immediate future. Their registrations in 2012 reveal the cause of this concern: 88 Smooth Collies, 76 Sealyhams, 74 Sussex Spaniels, 94 Cardigan Corgis and 47 Field Spaniels; each is now an endangered species. Breeds we have imported, like the Maremma Sheepdog, with only 25 registrations in 2012, could also disappear from our breed list. There are quite a number of imported pastoral breeds just not making ground here, after the initial enthusiasm for them faded.
Unlike some countries, Denmark, Portugal and Japan for example, we lack a society devoted to the perpetuation of our threatened native breeds of dog. We have already lost the English White Terrier, the Smithfield Sheepdog, the Glenwherry Collie, the Welsh Hillman and the Llanidloes Setter and only just saved the Irish Wolfhound, the Mastiff, the Field Spaniel and the Lancashire Heeler. Only in the late 20th century did the best working collie breed in the world gain interest from the show fraternity, with the Border Collie going from 700 registrations in 1980 to over 2,000 twenty years later. Many less gifted foreign herding breeds were registered with our KC before this important national breed. But it is worth noting that in 1970, there were no registrations here of Anatolian Shepherd Dogs, Belgian Shepherd Dogs, Bernese Mountain Dogs, Briards, Hungarian Pulis or Maremma Sheepdogs. Another half a dozen pastoral breeds being favoured now were not even recognized by our KC then. Human fickleness does not assist breed stability.
Perils of Over-popularity
The Multi-purpose Farm Dogs
In his Farmers in Prehistoric Britain of 2011, Francis Pryor writes: “Sheep are well-known for being worked with dogs in the open, but it is less generally known that dogs are very useful in the farmyard too. Daily during winter I use my dog to remove animals from an area where I want to replace food; when the fly season starts I use her to move stock towards the dip bath…On my own, I would be hard-pressed to persuade unwilling ewes to take their annual bath, but my border collie, Jess, has powers of persuasion in her raptor-like eyes that I simply do not possess.” In her charming and beautifully illustrated Rural Portraits – Scottish Native Farm Animals, Characters and Landscapes of 2003, Polly Pullar writes: “It can be very hard to find a good all round dog that does everything required of it. Some farmers end up with many collies, each suited to a particular type of sheep work. The best dogs on a mixed farm are those that will not only single out a ewe and never lose sight of her even when she is fleeing across the heather with a huge group of others, but also help to bring in the cows.” Farm dogs have to be versatile and deserve a separate title.
In Ireland, I’ve seen the Kerry Blue and Wheaten Terriers used as multi-purpose farm dogs, able to undertake just about every canine role on the farm. Farmers overseas needed small dogs too; to control pests such as rats, to act as turnspit dogs in the farmhouse kitchen and to go to ground when foxes were hunted. The smallest could do all three tasks but had to be very small to fit into the cage round the spit and work the treadmill without too much discomfort. In Britain, the work was considered too arduous to be done on successive days and so a team of dogs was used, leading to the expression 'every dog has his day'. In Germany the Schnauzer varieties provided the range of canine skills around the farm. In Russia, the Laika breeds offered a similar versatility, the large ones acting as herders and the small ones as yard dogs and ratters. All over the world, dogs, whether employed to drive cattle, sheep, goats or reindeer, to guard farmsteads or flocks, to kill foxes or rats or 'hold' an individual animal were bred with just one object in mind: their function. This criterion, ruthlessly pursued, demanded physical and mental soundness, robustness of health and responsiveness to training. We no longer do so in the developed world and our crowded veterinary surgeries demonstrate the foolishness of this daily.
Employment as Service Dogs
“…such are the dogs used in Persia to guard the flocks of sheep, such the shepherd’s dog of Natolia; but we must not suppose that they perform the duties of our shepherd’s dog, which render it so interesting – on the contrary, they are to be regarded simply as watch-dogs, defending the flocks from wild beasts and strangers, and consequently are more remarkable for other qualities than sagacity and intelligence. In the East, be it remembered, the sheep are not driven – they follow the shepherd – at least in Western Asia, Greece, etc.; but in our country the shepherd’s dog acts as drover and gatherer of the sheep together, and takes no little labour from the shepherd, to whom his dog is of the utmost importance.”