oh my auggie

Ruining My Breed

This post is about DOG POLITICS.

There was a recent BBC piece called Pedigree Dogs Exposed that talks about the ugly side of pedigree breeding, particularly as it relates to showing and breeding to “the standard.” I didn’t see the piece and heard that it wasn’t a very pleasant watch at times, and being pretty weak stomached I decided to not seek it out and watch it later, so I don’t know everything that was showed or talked about. BUT – this is not about that particular piece, but about the issues it raises about showing.

I have heard, in my relatively short amount of time being seriously involved with dogs (about four years), a confirmation dog show referred to as a beauty pageant. I have been told owning a pedigree dog is a “status symbol,” and dog shows are just a way to confirm your “status symbol” by showing that you have the prettiest dog.
I have had people in multiple breeds complain to me about how the AKC/CKC/enter your registry of choice here has “ruined the breed.”

Now, I certainly feel the pain of GSD enthusiasts, who have a serious health problem on their hands with dogs who now suffer back and hip problems thanks to breeding towards a ring trend of a sloping back. THAT is severe damage done to a breed that will take time to recover from, and I would never ever dream of putting the issues surrounding the breed of sheltie anywhere near that level of “ruining” a breed.
HOWEVER. I submit that it is NOT the AKC, CKC, the UKC, or any other pedigree registry that has actually done this damage to any particular breed.

The damage is being done by breeders. Not every single breeder out there – don’t get me wrong, I do eventually desire to breed shelties myself – but it is the individuals who are breeding dogs that are to blame, not the registry itself. If anything, you can blame the judges in events sanctioned by a particular registry who were driving towards those ring trends (the complication comes when you realize that all judges have their biases, their likes, their dislikes…)
The difficulty is that confirmation is, to a point, subjective. I don’t think there is a way to make it a non-subjective “sport.” Judges are supposed to be judging each dog against the standard, but people can certainly come up with their own conclusions and interpretations of the standard.

So now we get to the real point here. Anybody that knows me has likely heard me talk, at least once, about how much I’m a supporter of the all-around dog. I do not want my shelties to just be able to herd. I do not want my shelties to just be able to run fast and jump high on the agility course. I do not want my shelties to just look cute and pretty in the confirmation ring.
I WANT IT ALL. No – I do not just WANT it all. I take it one step further.
I DEMAND it all.

The key word here is JUST.
I will never support the breeding of any breed of dog on one aspect alone, no matter the aspect. Temperament, movement, working ability (for working breeds), health, accurate representation of the standard… it’s all part of a total package, and every single time you breed you should be striving to improve on the representation of the total package. Not just breeding for a dog that jumps a hurdle good; not just breeding for a dog that looks good in the ring.

So what happens when you start to see a split? What happens when you come face to face with ring trends? Imagine the dilemma of a GSD breeder who is starting to find they cannot put confirmation titles on their dogs because they aren’t breeding for the extreme sloping back that is winning. They face a few options: keeping showing and hope to still be able to title your dogs, despite ring trends – or just quit showing and abandon the pursuit of confirmation titled dogs, instead having to rely on your own judgment and the judgment of others, outside the ring, to tell you if a dog is confirmation quality; alternatively, the option is to give in and start breeding along with the ring trend just to maintain the confirmation titles on your dog.
It’s overly simplistic to explain it that way, but in a way, that is what it boils down to. Keep trying, give up, or give in.
We already know, with GSDs, what happens when people give in. The results are not so good.

I also know what happens when people give up. They take their dogs and go home. They change how they breed. “I ONLY breed for working ability,” or “I ONLY breed for temperament,” or what have you. Health testing is a factor for some, but you wouldn’t know it – you might be told “Well, the dog works, so it must be healthy!” To me, that sounds a bit like “Well, this bitch is healthy and HER parents were healthy… so she MUST be healthy!”

So what, then, should be done with the people who keep on? You’re doing what you know is right. You’re producing dogs with the proper temperament, working ability, so on and so on, and just because you’re not breeding towards a ring trend, you’re finding it hard to get confirmation titles on dogs that you KNOW are not only within standard, but a good example of the standard – a dog worthy of being bred, a dog worthy of passing their genes on to produce more quality, healthy, in-standard dogs that can do it ALL.

It’s like running into a brick wall, hoping that it might eventually crack and crumble.

I gotta admit that I somewhat see the argument for those that take their dogs and go home. Showing is not cheap, and when you know that you’re staring down a brick wall, it’s pretty daunting, and can feel like shoveling money away.
But I also have a lot of admiration for people who stick it out. You know, I wonder if dog showing is kinda like the stock market. Yeah, it’ll go down. But if you wait – if you just stick it out – it’ll come back up. Ring trends might go down, and if you can resist the panic and pulling all of your money out… eventually, it WILL come back up. You just gotta stick it out and continue to fight for what YOU know is right… for you, for your dogs, and for your breed.
That is, of course, assuming it’s like the stock market.

I have no real solution to the dilemma. I fear a split for shetland sheepdogs is coming, the way there’s a split with border collies. “Show border collies” versus “working border collies.” I want to have it all… I will be very unhappy if a split occurs and I have to make my choice. Don’t get me wrong, I know in which direction I will choose… but to HAVE to choose one or the other is a terrible shame and certainly no testament to the incredible versatility these little dogs are so capable of.

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