by   David Hancock

(see Serial 669 too)

 The recognition of a breed of dog by the world's kennel clubs has long been a hit and miss affair. Here we failed to recognise important native breeds like the Welsh Hillman, the Old Welsh Grey and Black and Tan Sheepdogs in Wales, the Glenwherry Collie and the Galway Sheepdog in Ireland, the Cowley, Devon, Trumpington and Cheshire Terriers in England and the gundog breeds of Devon Cocker, Black Setter, Norfolk Retriever and Tweed Water Spaniel, each at one time having a distinct identity. With far less justification we see the Cesky Terrier and the Kromfohrlander being registered as breeds despite the artificial nature of their creation. By that I mean being based on human whim rather than to a perceived function. Settlers in Australia developed their cattle dog from imported stock for a perceived function there, as did those in New Zealand with their huntaway. But the English Sheepdog by name, has been registered as an American-created breed, if developed from our collie-type imported there. The Welsh have long favoured their Corgis; we recognised our similarly-functioned Lancashire Heeler just before it was too late. It takes a small but determined group of enthusiasts to remain loyal and then take action to save a breed from oblivion.

Whereas both in Australia and America our Staghound, performing as a sight-hound, used on kangaroo and coyote, lives on, we relegated our English equivalent to the bull lurcher ranks, when par force hunting became the preferred hunting style amongst English landowners, mainly from Norman influence. In Scotland, the Scottish Deerhound lived on, as ground and custom dictated style. In this way, Staghounds, in England, developed as scent-hounds in packs. But the peasant, with his rough-haired lurcher, risked imprisonment and worse, when hunting the stag with a sight-hound. As I have previously pointed out both in these columns and in my book The World of the Lurcher (Quiller, 2010) we English lost our Deerhound in this change of hunting style; functional identity pre-dated the creation of breeds, as did location/ground hunted over. Breed titles result from formal recognition; show ring influences can alter any breed, function being relegated, whatever the Breed Standard ordains. Pure-breeding can stabilise breeds, leading to their KC-recognition, but over time can destroy breeds too as a closed gene pool takes its toll. If recognised breeds deteriorate through loss of vigour, virility and exaggeration, condoned in the show ring, restored breeds have much to offer.

A worthy and quite admirable group of enthusiasts are now working to obtain recognition for The English Deerhound, based on the 10 generation breeding stock of sporting dog enthusiast Dave Platts, who started with Anastasia Noble's famous Ardkinglas Scottish Deerhounds and renowned racing Greyhounds in 1986, to develop his own line of rough-coated lurchers, selected on field performance, not any show-based cosmetic qualities. His foundation stock is rooted in Ardkinglas Sam, Xotic and Mick and track Greyhound winners Pannini, Casiope, Price Cut and Shooting News. For a quarter of a century his dogs have been prized by discerning sportsmen and rated as outstanding hunting dogs. Now, working with Dave Sleight, well known for his lurcher demonstrations at country fairs, backed by a DVD made by Phil Smalley of One Life Productions, and with the seeking of breed status being coordinated by Jackie Sykes, Dave Platts's outstanding dogs, producing uniform litters and much-admired hunting dogs, could be heading for well-justified formal recognition.

This will be a long, tricky path to undertake; our Kennel Club is not pro-active in saving or restoring our ancient breed-types, established Scottish Deerhound clubs will almost certainly gang up against such an approach for another native deerhound breed and some lurcher-men, rightly suspicious of KC-recognition may not enthuse about it. Yet each have so much to gain from such a recognition. A case could be made for retitling all 'bull-lurchers' as English Deerhounds. Dave Platts's dogs provide a superb out-cross for pedigree Deerhounds losing virility and field instincts, offer a new field of operation for sporting men and show the way ahead for re-instilling vigour into closed gene pools. Enlightened Dutch and Belgian Irish Wolfhound breeders have already imported 'Greydogges', that is Mastiff X Racing Greyhound hybrids from inspired, quite visionary breeding at the Gammonwood kennel in Australia, a breeding venture that could also dramatically improve, even save, our native Mastiff breed. When breeds lack vigour, virility and functional competence, through the acknowledged penalty of being confined to a closed gene pool that allows bad genes to be re-circulated down generation after generation, a new, enlightened approach is called for.

The superb hunting dogs bred by Dave Platts to produce a uniform and hugely-successful sight-hound, combining high prey-drive backed by equable temperament, remarkable physical soundness and a consistently re-created litter-profile, deserve wider recognition, with much to offer other breeds of this type, as well as sportsmen in overseas grounds. Dave Sleight is aiming to seek out and then offer steeplechase events at racing greyhound venues, so that such dogs can be thoroughly tested for function and not depend just on sheer handsomeness for appeal, the fate of so many sight-hound breeds in the 21st century. All true sportsmen should now support this admirable quest, with ideally the backing of a sponsor of stature eventually rewarded by the fame of backing a restored English canine asset. It would be so heartening to have support across the board for such an admirable venture, from the KC at the top, down through other established Breed Clubs, and, especially, the sporting press.