How Far is Far Enough?

I watched both evenings of the Westminster Dog Show on TV this week.  The coverage was pretty good; certainly better than what a lot of less-prestigious dog shows get.  The TV audience got to see all (or very nearly all) the dogs have their moment with the judge.  Many times during the broadcast, the announcers explained to us that dog shows exist to identify excellence in breeding and encourage good breeding practices.

There is no denying that good breeders work hard to identify and eliminate health and physiological problems from their bloodlines.  Certainly all the dogs at Westminster are gorgeous and well-cared for — and seem happy to be there!  But every year, as I watch and hear the announcer describe the jobs each dog was originally bred to do, I wonder if all the dogs are still being bred with those jobs in mind.

Of course, I’m glad that Bulldogs are no longer used to bait bulls for human entertainment.  It doesn’t bother me a bit that Poodles aren’t used for retrieving birds from cold water anymore. Most terriers probably have better homes now than when they were used as vermin-control on farms!   However, it seems like the dog breeds that still actually DO their traditional jobs in today’s world have an advantage that now-mostly-companion breeds don’t.

Those breeders of the Hunting Group, say, (and the judges awarding the honors in the ring) consider both form and function. The two considerations check and balance each other so that specific traits are not exaggerated.

On the other hand, dogs that “lost” their jobs to changes in society are judges solely on their looks. As an example, English Bulldogs haven’t baited bulls for at least 100 years, and they don’t look much like those English Bulldogs that did. Since their function — bull-baiting — was outlawed, their form has morphed so much that they seem a different breed altogether from their ancestors of the same name. The nasal structures are so pushed back to make the pronouced underbite that the dogs can’t gulp in enough air to keep cool in hot weather. Their legs are so short and bowed that they can only waddle. In any contest between a modern English Bulldog and a real, rip-snorting bull, the dog would be pounded into the ground because he couldn’t run, jump or reach high enough to grab the bull’s nose.

My favorite breed is the German Shepherd Dog, but these days I cringe when the Herding Group comes out. I know the “Best of Breed” GSD will have a top-line that is almost straight from his ears through the withers, the rump and hocks to the ground. Rin-Tin-Tin didn’t look like that! Roy Roger’s Bullet didn’t look like that. Buddy, the first Seeing Eye Dog didn’t look like that! The GSD’s stance in the ring is crouched down on his hind-quarters which is supposed to show how strong and ready-to-leap-into-action he is! It doesn’t look strong to me! It looks like the dog is either cringing or has a weak hind end.

“Wait a minute!” I hear folks saying! “GSDs may not herd animals these days, but they work in the military, police units, search and rescue and…” You’re right, they do! But the pictures I see of those modern working dogs DON’T have that exaggerated “show” top-line. Come to find out, a lot of them aren’t from American bloodlines, but are imported from Germany, the Czech Republic, and other parts of Europe. A dog in the news today, Kody, was just killed in action as a member of the St. Paul K9 police force. I’ve seen that dog on Animal Planet’s K9 COPS, and Kody had sturdy-looking haunches that only sloped very slightly towards the ground! His bloodlines were Italian! None of the working dogs on that show have the “dog-show” topline! I’m willing to bet most of them come from overseas, too.

There are many examples that make me want to cry, “Far enough already!” Please don’t think I’m trying to bad-mouth breeders or berate judges in the show ring. I think these changes have crept in incrementally and imperceptibly through the past 100 years or so because the “function” check was not there to balance the results. All I’m saying is that if I wanted to buy a GSD tomorrow, I would not like what the breeding stimulous of dog shows has produced. As far as I’m concerned, we’ve gone too far!

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2 Comments

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2 responses to “How Far is Far Enough?

  1. Show dog GSDs have always been a pet peeve of mine. It disgusts me to see people breed for the exaggerated top line. They have a breed history of hip dysplasia, and people wonder why? All our GSDs are from German and Austrian working lines – and they are very handsome without that dropped back end, even if I do say so myself. I’m not bad-mouthing breeders either, but I understand what you mean, and I could not agree more with your post!

    • dramadogtraining

      Good to hear from you! I bet your GSDs are gorgeous! I don’t think that breeders 100 years ago set out to get the results we see today. I think it happened almost imperceptably in minute increments. Probably started because of that ready-to-spring show stance and judges gave the ribbons to dogs that held it the best. Then, dogs with a slightly sloped topline held it more easily, etc. It’s my belief that one of the problems with breeding for looks is that we humans have this tendency to go to extremes. Just look at clothing fashions through the centuries; start out with a modest hoop in a petticoat to help cope with the weight of skirts and end up with those huge Civl-war-ear bells that wouldn’t fit through a doorway! That’s why I think the Hunting Group dogs, for example have escaped the worst of this “style selection” — because they still have to go out in the field and be able to function. Not sure why breeders think that slope helps GSDs be better Service, Military or Police dogs. You’d think American breeders would wake up when everybody is sending overseas for dogs!

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