An imaginary conversation (dog wars, terriers, border collies, etc.)

You may have realized by now that I’m on a major kick of exploring the deeper philosophical and ethical aspects of dog breeding. The research I’ve been doing on health issues, behavior, pack dynamics, and so on are all part of the big swirling topic of producing dogs in a way that is the most “right” and the least “wrong.” To make sure I’m considering the voices from some of the other realms of dogdom, working dogs in particular, I’ve been spending quite a bit of time reading articles and sites and parts of books and blogs and so on that are focused just about exclusively on how evil the AKC is. 

I find this really fascinating, because talking about how evil the AKC is is a little bit like talking about how evil NATO is or something. There is very little that is “the AKC.” Everything is the parent clubs and the way the delegate boards work and so on. The AKC makes no real decisions and encourages (or discourages) almost nothing apart from where the money ends up (in research, in shows, etc.); there is no monolith. The AKC is basically a big fat file cabinet, and is no more good or evil than any file cabinet. What you are really trying to hit, when you criticise “the AKC,” is the decision-making of the parent club you like least. In that way it is fundamentally different from the UK’s Kennel Club, which does have a sense of itself as a group that is “in charge” of the parent clubs. 

So the whole notion of the AKC as some big evil being is a misunderstanding of a whole bunch of things. But even if we put that aside, and we accept that when anti-AKC voices are using “the AKC” when they actually mean “show breeders,” the amount of totally unnecessary vitriol is honestly quite funny. I’m working on a big long post about why it is that most dog breeders use the AKC as their registry and do not go elsewhere, but on a less serious note, the below is a pretty accurate representation of the BIG FAT CONTROVERSY that this “argument” is supposedly based on.

The two parties are the AKC Is Ruining Dogs Group (also known as AIRDoG) and the Show Breeding Community (SBC).

AIRDog: Breeding solely based on conformation is completely stupid!

SBC: True!

AIRDog: Didn’t you hear me? I said that breeding a dog just because it has a championship is a terrible idea!

SBC: Couldn’t agree more!

AIRDog: All you breeders who don’t care about working ability are forgetting the whole reason dogs exist!

SBC: I know! Right on!

AIRDog: Dogs have to be sound and healthy to complete in sport!

SBC: You are SO RIGHT!

AIRDog: People coming up through the obedience and agility and flyball and disc ranks are going to demand a sound dog who can move!

SBC: Yes, which is thrilling! Can’t tell you how happy we are that owners are really starting to understand structure!

AIRDog: How closely the dog meets a standard is ruining these breeds!

SBC: Really? But almost all standards are almost entirely based on making sure the dog doesn’t become too exaggerated and stays sound. Are you sure you’ve read these standards?

AIRDog: Conformation should mean nothing! Working ability is everything! Look at my Working Brozzlesnort!

SBC: Cute dog! But her front legs are really twisted–are you sure she’s actually pain-free when she digs? And her elbows stick way off her body, which seems like it might make her have to work harder to trot long distances. 

AIRDog: None of that matters! Your obsession with looks alone nauseates me! And how dare you breed those Show Brozzlesnorts with the long slim heads! They look like snakes!

SBC: Wait, I thought you said that conformation didn’t matter. 

AIRDog: Dogs have to be shaped correctly to do their jobs!

SBC: Yes, that’s exactly what we said earlier. How are we disagreeing again?

AIRDog: Your Show Brozzlesnorts have way too much hair! Ridiculous!

SBC: No, they have the same hair yours does, and the same hair the Brozzlesnorts in the 1920s had–we just use a lot of creme rinse and we keep them from getting tangled. But thanks for the compliment! 

AIRDog: The Show Brozzlesnorts that came over from England have stupid-looking faces!

SBC: Hold on, what happened to “Conformation doesn’t matter?” Do dogs hunt on their faces?

AIRDog: Breeding a dog solely based on conformation is completely stupid!

SBC: True!

 

See the problem here? The “AKC is evil” breeders continually bring up issues that, I’m guessing, they think they’ll dramatically reveal and all of us show breeders will reel back, gasping in shock as we are SUDDENLY and horribly CONVICTED of our SINS!

Unfortunately –  or, actually, fortunately, because it says something about the good that most show breeders do – when the dramatic reveal comes, most of us go “Yeah, that’s like the first issue my breed mentor told me about. I’ve been breeding for 20 years with that in mind.”

The other thing that I find supremely ironic is that the AKC-is-evil breeders will tell anyone they can buttonhole how TERRIBLE it is to show your dogs. Meanwhile, the show breeders are telling everyone they can buttonhole how ESSENTIAL it is to work your dogs! When an experienced owner shows up who wants to get serious about herding or agility or flyball or any of the other dogsports, show breeders practically have a cage match to fight over who gets to GIVE that person a puppy. We’re all absolutely serious about the fact that a successful breeding program produces dogs who can take a BOB and then go move sheep around, or get a group placement and go out after ducks that evening. I’ve never heard a single show breeder, even the ones I really, really dislike and think have completely terrible priorities, say “working ability should be ignored.” But I sure hear a lot of the anti-AKC breeders saying “meeting the standard should be ignored.”

Finally, where the AKC-is-evil group is really leaving a major hole in their rhetoric is when it comes to the NON-working breeds. I don’t hear a single person in that group saying how terrible it is that we have a division between show and working Bichons. The fate of the companion breeds is piffle to them; there’s a strong whiff of an idea that those breeds shouldn’t even exist because they don’t kill anything or help humans kill anything or move animals from place to place. The show community, meanwhile, is saying “It’s really important for Bichons to have strong toplines so they can run and jump for a long time.” When a Dane (who happened to be my Lucy’s sister) got an OTCH, which is a VERY difficult thing for a giant dog to do (not because they’re not trainable, but because they’re so huge that they lose the “style” points for fast flashy sits and stright finishes and so on), the show Dane community went NUTS. Most of the community of show breeders can recite from memory the call AND registered names of the top Danes in agility. We want ALL breeds to be able to function and learn and have fun. And that includes, by the way, the more phenotypically extreme–think show-bred Pekes can only waddle around the ring? Balderdash. They’re gaited that way in order to exaggerate the look of the dog–at home they run around like little bullets. And show-bred Pekes can jump and retrieve and look good doing it.

I wish there were an opportunity to have this imaginary conversation, to watch the “reveals.” I wish the anti-AKC breeders would come to a few club meetings and finish a few dogs before they decided that a group they have no contact with is so cursed. And, yes, some show breeders need to do more than just nod their heads when the rhetoric about breeding for working ability is mentioned. But the reality is that both groups are passionately devoted to dogs and they are really not so far apart in any of the areas where it counts.

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5 thoughts on “An imaginary conversation (dog wars, terriers, border collies, etc.)

  1. I have a working-breed dog from show lines. She comes from a huge pedigree of champions, her father’s one of the top in their breed, and she has four siblings (out of nine) that are champions.

    She’s a breathtakingly beautiful dog, probably could have finished if we cared to try, and a great worker. We’re on our way to start competing in rally, she’s joining our demo agility team (we do shows at fairs and local events to raise money for dog charities).

    We decided on a show line dog because we thought that the SBCs in the breed were more focused on good temperament, took more time to temperament test, and in general, had dogs who were beautiful to look at, well built, and capable of working. Whereas a lot of the working line dogs had dodgy temperaments, weren’t particularly good with people, and were so high drive they couldn’t live with a family without driving them crazy.

    So, in a really long way of saying so… I completely agree with your post. 🙂

  2. One other thing — do you have any opinion on the show line German shepherds? I’m firmly behind show lines in a lot of breeds, but every time I see them wobble around a corner, I cringe.

  3. That imaginary conversation is hilarious! I have been reading the anti-AKC dog blogs and while I find some food for thought, also wonder at how quixotic their attitudes are. It’s people who breed dogs, not kennel clubs!

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