by   David Hancock

What matters more, widening our list of dog breeds so that we become familiar with exotic-sounding foreign breeds or respecting our own native breeds and the canine heritage behind them? Patriotism is often confused with nationalism in the modern world and some would argue that putting our own breeds first is small-minded, 'island-thinking' or just xenophobic! But I believe we can still welcome dog breeds from overseas whilst caring for our own breeds - out of respect for our sporting ancestors and their achievement in handing down to us such a rich haul. Country sportsmen might argue that just as we lost some gundog, hound and terrier breeds and even more working dogs, we have 'in the wings' their replacements in kind. We may have lost our English Water Spaniel, our English White Terrier, our English Deerhound and several county or valley types of terrier, but, certainly in the terrier group have gained new breeds like the Plummer, the Sporting Lucas and the Parson Russell, admittedly from existing stock. Disappointingly, whilst we have been enterprising in bringing in all-round gundogs from the continent, we have been unwilling to develop our own HPR from available stock. Unlike the more distant past, the new blood coming in from overseas has been confined to its own breed gene pool, our native stock has not benefited just been sidelined.

Worryingly we have 25 of our native breeds on the Kennel Club's Vulnerable Breed List and another 7 on their 'at watch' register. In the past however the KC has never seen a role for itself in the conservation of our native breeds, whilst recognising, and setting up a register for, a hundred breeds from abroad. in the last century. In this way, a distinctive terrier breed like the English White was allowed to disappear, a native hound breed like the Harrier was removed from their lists whilst contrived breeds like the Cesky Terrier and the Eurasier added to the 'recognised breed' tally. Soon the Dandie Dinmont and Skye Terriers may be lost to us, along with the Field and Sussex Spaniels from the gundog group. In the end, of course, breeds rely on their clubs for survival but much more could be done to arouse public support for old breeds, so much part of our sporting heritage. Just as the Rare Breeds Survival Trust has worked tirelessly to save old breeds of farm animals, so too could the KC in the pedigree dog world. Where there's a will there's a way!

What really is the value of adding a foreign breed to our register, entirely based on the energy of a few hyper-active enthusiasts, only for that breed to flounder and its gene pool here collapse. Admirable foreign breeds like the Canaan Dog (only 13 registered in 2015), the Korean Jindo (10 registered in 2015), the Miniature Mexican Hairless Dog (9 registered in 2015), the Portuguese Pointer (14 registered in 2015) and the American Water Spaniel and the Small Munsterlander (both with no registrations in 2015) are not gaining from their recognition here. Admirable native breeds like the Otterhound, the Bloodhound, the Lancashire Heeler and the Smooth Collie now each attract less than 100 registrations a year and could be lost to us within a few decades. These native breeds are part of our canine heritage and urgently need protecting, promoting and perpetuating. Our KC may now have acknowledged the problem but needs to be far more pro-active in preventing the likely loss of old native breeds from mainly show ring indifference. By that I mean by show ring fanciers perpetuating dogs in the breeds under threat with coats or a conformation that puts the public off. The Dandie Dinmont and Skye Terriers now have ground-hugging coats and a coat length and texture that demands time and effort from their owners that busy people are simply not prepared to give. The fact that such features are neither historically correct nor perpetuating the desired breed-type seems not to matter to today's breeders. The KC could so easily stamp this out and help these two breeds.       

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 Kuvasz or Maremma Sheepdogs. Another half a dozen pastoral breeds being favoured now were not even recognized by our KC then. Such innovation however does not assist breed stability; in 2015, only 23 Anatolian Shepherd/Kangal Dogs were registered, 27 Maremmas and 0 Hungarian Kuvasz.  

Paradoxically, another serious threat comes from the unwise over-breeding of certain over-popular breeds: German Shepherd Dogs (over 8,000 registered annually), Rough Collie (8,462 in 1979), Shetland Sheepdogs (5,872 in 1969) and Pembroke Welsh Corgis (4,165 in 1969). (The last three breeds had very different figures in 2012: 943, 1,085 and 333 respectively, indicating the sheer fickleness of the show dog world.) I don't recall seeing as many badly bred specimens in these breeds as I did in the 1990s. Too many under-standard bitches are being bred from; too many faulty or weedy pups are being retained. Glamorous pastoral breeds like the Rough Collie, the Shetland Sheepdog and the Bearded Collie have become victims of the show ring – being prized for coat. The Shetland Sheepdog attracted over 5,000 registrations a year throughout the 1970s. The Bearded Collie went from 3 registrations in 1951 to nearly 2,000 in 1989. Fine working breeds like the German Shepherd Dog have suffered from over-popularity, (over 21,500 in 1985), with the faddists altering the breed from its prototypal phenotype. The specimens I used to admire when working in Germany in the 1960s lost their level toplines and effortless movement based on powerful hindquarters. The threat to any breed can come from within!

   If you look at the Kennel Club's list of terrier breeds in 1908, you will notice that it contains just 16 breeds, unlike the 26 listed today. The 10 more recently listed embrace the Australian, Glen of Imaal, Lakeland, Norfolk, Norwich, Parson Russell, Cesky, Staffordshire Bull Terrier and no doubt will one day be joined by the German Hunt, Brazilian, Patterdale, Plummer and Sporting Lucas Terriers. We could so easily have had Cowley, Roseneath, Clydesdale, Paisley, Cheshire, Shropshire, Devon and Otter Terriers too; recognition of breeds of dog so often relies on determined individuals as much as ancient type. But those determined individuals do not always get replaced. Ten of our native terrier breeds are on the KC's vulnerable list; the German equivalent of our terrier breeds, the Miniature Schnauzer attracts five times more registrations each year than all of our ten vulnerable native terrier breeds put together. Terriers are very much Britain's contribution to the dog breeds of the world, the loss of our old breeds would be an enormous one.

A glance at the registrations of hounds with the KC reveals the fluctuating fortunes of most breeds. In 1908, scenthound breed registrations were: Basset Hounds 15; Beagles 4; Bloodhounds 113; Elkhounds 5, with no KC registrations of Otterhounds, Harriers (recognized then) and Foxhounds. No other scenthound breeds were recognized then. A century later (2010), the scene is very different for these breeds: Basset Hounds 1003 (up from 25 in 1950); Beagles 2877 (up from 64 in 1950); Bloodhounds 55 (up from 39 in 1950); Norwegian Elkhounds 33 (down from 300 in 1950); Otterhounds 57 (up from zero in 1950), with no registrations of Harriers (still unrecognized, or Foxhounds, despite being recognized). But in 2010, 1,243 Rhodesian Ridgebacks, after only 56 in 1954, 318 in 1980 and 643 in 1992, were registered; a remarkable increase. Yet in Hamiltonstovares, after 31 in 1999, only 6 were registered in 2010. Bassets Fauve de Bretagne went from 40 a year in the 1990s to 117 in 2010. Into the lists came Bavarian Mountain Hounds with 73 in 2010; on the 2015 returns both the Ibizan (with 15) and Pharaoh Hound (with 4) are not likely to last here. It is difficult to make rational conclusions from such fluctuations beyond human whim, combined with our often fleeting fondness for novelty.

But why favour a scenthound from Sweden, like the Hamiltonstovare, when we have superlative and very similar hounds here like the Studbook and West Country Harriers? Why import a Grand Griffon Vendeen when we have the highly rated Welsh Hound available, of comparable type? Why, if you fancy the Basset Hound, not go for the delightful little scent hounds developed as the English or Hunting Basset? What are the advantages of the Grand Bleu de Gascogne over our steadfast and long-proven Staghound? And have those now bringing in the Segugio Italiano ever seen a Trail Hound in Cumbria, they really are something special. They race rather than hunt, they run freely rather than as a pack, but their genes are so valuable. They have Pointer blood in them; their breeders sought performance from superb hounds, not pure-blooded fading stock, losing virility, yet still bred in a closed gene-pool. We have the stock here to rejuvenate our breeds from existing types!  

There is a need too to counter the ignorance of old British breeds. Why import a Stumpytail Cattle Dog from Australia when the look-a-like bob-tailed sheepdogs of the Black Mountain on the Herefordshire border are being neglected? Why import the Petit Brabancon (the smooth toy griffon) when our comparable Toy Black and Tan Terrier is losing ground? Why import a Hamiltonstovare from Sweden when our similar stud-book Harrier is so handsome and well bred? We lose our sedge-coloured Norfolk Retriever and then import a sedge-coloured retriever, the Chesapeake Bay, from Norfolk, Virginia. We lose our red decoy-dog and then import a red Nova Scotia Duck-Tolling Retriever with an identical role. Our distinctive Curly-coated Retriever is under threat, with only 34 registered in 2015. A native Toy breed - the English Toy Terrier only attracted 78 registrations in 2015. It's unwise too to assume that some breeds are just indestructible or simply immune from the threat of disappearance, like, say, the Greyhound. Greyhound racing could one day go the same way as coursing, obliterated by statute; in 2015 only 34 Greyhounds were newly registered with our KC. This breed is already vastly outnumbered by Greyhound lurchers, but those who worship the pedigree dog must surely find a worry here.

For a nation accused of living in the past, we are paradoxically fast losing our living heritage. In thirty years time, when Britain is aghast at the incidence of inherited diseases in pedigree dogs, the loss of genetically-healthy  age-old proven breeds of our native dogs will really be felt, and we only have ourselves to blame. Step forward patriotic country sportsmen, give some thought to the next millennium. Will not one of you re-create the English White Terrier, the Shropshire Black and Tan, the Cheshire White or the real Yorkie? If you haven't the resources for that, do what you can for the Sealyham, the Dandie Dinmont, the Skye and the Manchester Terriers, the latter only registering around 100 pups a year these days. Only 43 Sussex Spaniels were registered in 2015, a lovely old breed fading away. Value our native breeds - before it's too late!