Author Topic: Extreme Concerns: Breeds suffer when traits are exagerated...  (Read 12289 times)

Offline Gevaudan_Jo

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Got this in our monthly Dogs In Canada magazine... thought you'd all like to read it...

Extreme concerns: Breeds suffer when traits are exaggerated
By Col. David Hancock, M.B.E., ARTICLE, LIFESTYLE

Small red-tan terrier: ears down it’s a Norfolk, ears up it’s a Norwich; is this the essential criterion for one breed to be identified from another, or just plain pickiness? Here are two admirable breeds separated solely by ear carriage. Is that enough, or one day when numbers are low or inheritable diseases encountered, will they merge? Horrifying for their devotees, perhaps, but does the general public appreciate such niceties? Does the man in the street know a Welsh Terrier from a Lakeland? Does the dog-owning community, all six million of them, really care about breed differences?

Form, function and breed identity
The first time I saw a Langhaar (German Long-haired Pointer) I thought it was an Irish Setter; it wore the same jacket: a solid rich chestnut, with feathering. I can easily confuse a parti-coloured Langhaar with a Large Münsterländer, but fanciers of those two breeds see them as very different. I can tell an Appenzeller from an Entlebucher, but only when they are side by side. If you put an Australian, Norfolk, Norwich and Lucas Terrier in the ring with a Portuguese Podengo Pequeño in the same coat colour, most spectators (as opposed to breed specialists) would have trouble separating them into different breeds, let alone identifying their breeding. It’s probably true, too, that most of the public is not as breed conscious as those who show dogs.

The head construction is often a decider when identifying breeds. The Braque St. Germain looks like our Pointer at first glance, but when you look at the stop and occiput then the ear carriage, it’s easier to separate them.  This is true, too, of the two recognized ridgeback breeds. A Thai Ridgeback has a different ear carriage from the Rhodesian version; most of the latter is stronger in build. Closer to home, the Mastiff is expected to be bigger than the Bullmastiff, but at world dog shows it’s easy to confuse the two. For me, the contemporary Mastiff has lost its classic head and is too heavy headed and loose lipped. But sadly, the Bullmastiff is now changing, with the help of show ring judges, from being 60-per-cent Mastiff 40-per-cent Bulldog to being 75-per-cent Bulldog 25-per-cent Mastiff – not what the pioneer breeders sought at all. A round-headed stub-nosed dog with a wrinkled forehead contradicts the Bullmastiff standard, but dogs bearing such features are richly rewarded in today’s show rings. There should not be such basic differences within a breed if breed-identity and breed-type are truly valued.

But has breed-identity prevailed over soundness in some breeds? The parties to the European Convention for the Protection of Pet Animals evidently think so. Their resolution on the breeding of pet animals, adopted by multilateral consultation 10 years ago, names guilty breeds. They aim to: set maximum and minimum values for height and weight in very large and very small breeds; set maximum values for the proportion between length and height of short-legged dogs (Basset Hounds and Dachshunds) to avoid disorders of the vertebral column; and set limits to exaggerations. The latter include: shortness of the skull that leads to breathing difficulties (citing the Bull-dog, Japanese Chin, King Charles Spaniel, Pug and Pekingese); abnormal positions of legs (straight stifles in Chows, Buhunds, Lapphunds), (bowed legs in Basset Hounds, Shih Tzu, Pekingese); very long ears (Cocker Spaniel, Bloodhound, Basset Hound); and markedly folded skin (Bulldog, Basset Hound, Shar-Pei, Pug and Pekingese).

It also seeks to set limits to abnormal size and form of eyes or eyelids (St. Bernard, Basset Hound, Bloodhound) and small, deep-lying eyes (citing four terrier breeds, Chows, Newfoundlands, etc.); as well as large, protruding eyes (Boston Terrier, Cavalier King Charles Spaniel, Dandie Dinmont Terrier, Brussels Griffon, etc.).

Of any country, Britain supplies the largest number of breeds in this list. Excessive coat could be added to concerns about discomfort resulting from exaggerations; a number of our breeds, never originally heavy-coated, now increasingly and quite needlessly feature too heavy a coat for the dog’s good. But it’s all in the name of the breed, I hear. What that usually means is it’s all in the name of show ring success; if they don’t look like that, they don’t win. This is no comfort to the dog or most owners coping with a discomforted pet.

Originally, function decided form – that is why the flock guardians all look like each other. It’s hard to tell an Estrela from a Caucasian Owtcharka, or a Tatra Mountain Dog from a Kuvasz. In scenthounds, a red Bloodhound resembles a Redbone Coonhound. In sighthounds, a smooth Saluki looks very much like a Sloughi and an Azawakh. In terriers, a leggy Jack Russell is much like a small Fox Terrier. In sporting spaniels, a Field is easily confused with a Sussex. It’s easier to separate the two cocker breeds, the American having the deeper stop and more prominent rounding of the skull, the more profuse coat and the downward slope from withers to croup. But these are exaggerations and in time may exaggerate themselves to an undesired degree.

A difference in size marks out the Leonberger from, say, an Estrela Mountain Dog, but it is forgivable to mix up a Cesky Fousek, a Korthals Griffon, a German Wire-haired Pointer and a Stichelhaar. Soon the difference between the Akita and the Great Japanese Dog will have to be noticed; I have only just managed to spot the difference between them and the Hokkaido. The waterdogs take some sorting out, the Spanish, Italian, Dutch, Irish and French breeds being quite similar, again showing the way function decided form across Europe. It is forgivable, too, to confuse a big, grey, shaggy-coated lurcher with a Deerhound or even an Irish Wolfhound. They are all expected to perform the same basic function. Breed differences, as our native terrier breeds show, often came with locality, with variations in each Lake District valley, for instance. But they were never exaggerations.

Form impeding function
The Bullmastiff’s head is one of its main breed points; it should not, according to its Kennel Club-approved standard, be Pug-nosed. The standard precisely specifies that the distance from the nose-tip to the stop must be approximately one-third of the length from the tip of the nose to the centre of the occiput. A shorter muzzle is a breach of the breed standard and an exaggeration. A well-known Bullmastiff breeder and judge told me that she has both correct and incorrect (i.e., too short) muzzles in her kennel. The dogs with approved muzzle length can run and run; the ones with incorrect muzzles are quickly out of breath and suffer in the heat.

I recently attended a game fair on a warm but not hot day. Several hundred dogs were present: a Foxhound pack, a Beagle pack, a collection of hunting Bassets for a competition on the flags, gun dogs for a scurry, working terriers for a show, racing Whippets and over 100 visitors’ pets. Of all these dogs only one, an American Bulldog with a short nose, became distressed by the warmth of the day.

Just over a decade ago I attended the World Show in Brussels; a Bulldog collapsed in the ring in the heat and had to receive emergency attention. Within half an hour, it was back in the ring, only to end up in the veterinary room, being given oxygen and covered in ice cubes. The wretched Bulldog just could not breathe properly through its muzzle-less mouth. This is direct cruelty and should be prosecuted. Our Kennel Club has amended the Bulldog standard to include: “Dogs showing respiratory distress highly indesirable.” But does every judge know of this?

Progressive exaggeration
Any humane fancier would ignore breed points that inflict disabilities, whilst lobbying for such a harmful requirement to be removed without delay. Competition should never preclude the best interests of the dogs as well as the breed.

But by itself a breed standard is just a start. The standard of the Bloodhound states very clearly “eyes neither sunken nor prominent” but I see show ring Bloodhounds with sunken eyes. Those in the Bloodhound packs, bred for function, do not feature such a liability. But the same could be said of Basset Hounds.

Nearly 20 years ago, the Dutch Ministry of Agriculture produced a booklet entitled Mooi, Mooier, Mooist (Beautiful, more beautiful, most beautiful) denouncing progressive exaggeration in dog breeds. It created little debate at the time. A few years ago, at the world congress of kennel clubs in Ireland, Uwe Fischer, president of the German Kennel Club, exhorted judges not to give awards to dogs with exaggerated, aberrant characteristic s, listing length of coat, eye size, shortness of muzzles and extremes in size in both giant and dwarf breeds. Are they listening?

Breed differences need not be exaggerations, as the terrier breeds demonstrate. Some breed differences are potentially harmful, because genetically they can be progressively exaggerated. But if exaggerated dogs could never win prizes, then real progress could be made. It needs a kennel club edict firmly instructing show ring judges to stop rewarding exhibits bearing exaggerated features that cause the dog distress. Bullmastiffs with jaws shorter than their breed standard stipulates should never become champions. Neapolitan Mastiffs deserve undamaged eyes.

The author of seven acclaimed books on dogs and  more than 600 articles published in a number of national magazines, Col. David Hancock, M.B.E., of Oxfordshire, England, has been studying dogs for 50 years.

(Originally appeared in our March 2009 issue.)
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Offline ZooCrew

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Re: Extreme Concerns: Breeds suffer when traits are exagerated...
« Reply #1 on: March 02, 2009, 12:18:51 pm »
Good article.  I agree with many, if not all of the points.
Some of the breeds are indeed so similar it is difficult to tell them apart.  And it will be even moreso when some of those breeds start making their way into the national breed clubs.

I do think more has to be done to return dogs back to healthy standards, and not excessive/unnatural standards.

But from my understanding, England at least has put into motion the changing of several standards of their dogs w/i the kennel club.