Consistency in the selection procedure is the common element linking breeders who produce greatness generation after generation.
"Extinction is forever" is a slogan that has been around for years, but nobody is paying enough attention to it. Perhaps the basic concept of breeding dogs to perform a specific job needs a closer examination as time goes on.
Three Major Stages
In other words, how do we relate the gene pool and pedigree to the actual job we expect the resulting animals to be able to accomplish? The purebred dog as we know it today has gone through three major stages as effected by humankind:
1. In the first stage, early humankind selected certain kinds of dogs because of their usefulness in the continuing quest for survival. Although these primitive people were not much more domesticated than the dogs they depended upon as helpmates, they were the first to practice the selection process as it pertains to dogs, even if they did it unknowingly.
2. As time went on, people began to select dogs with the specific traits to enhance their usefulness so that the dogs put into the gene pool were more and more able to perform the desired function. Because those animals that were made correctly found it easiest to do their particular job, a practical selection process was taking place. Whereas some poorly constructed common dogs with uncommon heart would excel from time to time, they would be the exception rather than the rule.
Thus, breeds began to evolve based on performance selection and the physical and mental characteristics needed to assist that performance. Perhaps this was the purest stage of the development of correct functional type that each breed experienced, because it was based on objective performance rather than subjective appearance. Essentially, the traits most desired in the breed were those that contributed to working type.
3. In the third and current stage of our influence on the purebred dog, most breeds are used as luxury items (pets) and/or as show dogs and for related activities. There is nothing wrong with that as long as everyone involved stays dedicated to protecting the very essence of characteristics that contributed to the creation of each breed. It is when we stray from the original functional type to a preference for some fad or fashion that the preservation of the true breeds becomes threatened. For the farther the dogs get from their original and historical functions, the more vital it is to protect the very characteristics that caused that breed to evolve and develop in the first place. A case could be made that in judging the dog what contributes to the dog doing its job is a virtue; what interferes with the dog doing its job is a fault.
In analyzing pedigrees and breeding programs that produce great performance dogs, examples such as the Foxhound pack of the Duke of Beaufort in England and the marvelous breeding program of the Elhew Pointers in America come immediately to mind.
The Duke's pack is several hundred years old, and the continuity in the pack is achieved by the consistency of selection procedures utilized by the Masters of Foxhounds working with the successive dukes over the generations at the kennels at Badminton. Only hounds with good legs and feet, excellent shoulders and front-end assembly, of correct size, bone and stature and with good quarters and correct sterns are retained for the breeding program. Dogs that are too fast for the rest of the pack or slower than the pack norm are eliminated from the breeding population of the pack. Performance, conformation and pack consistency are priorities in the breeding program, and the resulting pedigrees can be counted upon to produce an exceptional hound of consistent quality identified with this family of dogs.
The Elhew Pointers of master breeder Bob Wehle have dominated the world of pointing field trials for more than 50 years. The ultimate connoisseur of a bird dog that is truly a hunting machine, Wehle highly prizes athletic dogs of great character as well as correct and lovely Pointer type that can do the job the breed was developed to perform. So ingrained in the gene pool of this fabulous line of dogs are all the right instincts that baby puppies right out of the nest exhibit pointing ability. Wehle also emphasizes running gear and feet and legs. His pedigrees produce the highest class of dog that could win in any bench show competition anywhere as well as in the field. Their classic Pointer heads are as much a part of their pedigree profile as their superb running gear.
What are the similarities that allow these two shining examples of greatness to go on and on, generation after generation and decade after decade? Consistency in the selection procedure. The Elhew name on a Pointer pedigree is like the word sterling on silver: It is proof of the real thing. It is an affidavit that the resulting progeny will have been selected utilizing the same criteria. Such consistency in the selection procedure is how to avoid what I call "piecemeal" dogs: those that result from breedings where well-meaning breeders seek to correct a fault by overcompensating.
For a model of functional performing type you can observe at work at current AKC events on a regular basis, consider the American Cocker Spaniels of Trish Jackson (whom you can see, as rendered by illustrator Pam Tanzey, on the opposite page). Not only do these quality dogs represent a pedigree of conformation champions, they are true to the purpose of the original job description of this merry little flushing spaniel and perform both in the field and at trials with great success.
Only those capable of doing the job they were bred to do all day long, day after day well into old age truly represent the functional type that evolved during the purest stage of breed development, and they are the ones who should be returned to the gene pool. No matter how pretty and fancy, dogs lacking the athletic ability and unable to be useful to the future of the breed should be avoided at all costs. When demanding selection procedures are followed, one should be able to study the pedigree and depend on the performance of the animal.
And this, of course, is the validation for the purebred dog. You can depend on such a dog from the truly quality breeding program to live up to your expectations with verve and longevity because the pedigree tells you so! Generation after generation of performance excellence comes together in the resulting animal, eliminating the guesswork involved with animals of lesser credentials. As long as breeder-guardians of their breed stay dedicated to this premise, the true dog of correct functional type will not be an endangered species threatened by the "extinction is forever" peril. —P.T.
Patricia V. Trotter is a longtime breeder of Norwegian Elkhounds and is approved to judge more than 20 breeds, as well as Junior Showmanship. She is the author of Born to Win.
AKC GAZETTE articles are selected for their general interest and entertainment values. Authors' views do not necessarily represent the policies of the American Kennel Club, nor does their publication constitute an endorsement by the AKC.
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