Do As I Say, Not As I Do

by Susi on February 25, 2014

in Breeding, Competition, dog, dog fancy, dog show, Olympics, Westminster Kennel Club

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Every four years, the Winter Olympics and Westminster Kennel Club Dog Show occur in the same month as it did just recently, and the juxtaposition of these two events reveals a curious hypocrisy on display by critics of dog shows.

Vociferous in their disgust with competitions that reward beauty and soundness in purebred dogs, these same individuals apparently have no such problem with a sporting event that celebrates many of the same things, albeit in human achievement. For two weeks, they are awed (if not entertained) by the fastest, fittest, most accurate, most daring and most graceful of athletes from over 86 nations on earth. They pick favorites and root for the “home team,” and I don’t fault them.

Selective competition makes as much sense as being  "a little" pregnant

Selective competition makes as much sense as being “a little” pregnant

A lot of us have a competitive nature that reveals itself even in mundane settings, from speeding up just a little when a car tries to pass us, to launching ourselves towards the shortest checkout line at the store.  Few of us, however, have the talent, athleticism and determination to become the best in a given sport, and even critics of the dog fancy admire individuals in whom the gods have instilled the qualities of a champion.

But only if they’re human.

The disconnect in logic is complete when one considers the objections made by these critics.

  • Dogmatic rescue zealots say that without dog shows, there would be greater demand for shelter dogs, and less of one for dogs that conform to breed standards. More to the taste of animal rights activists is if there’d be no market at all. Seeking perfection in dogs is admirable, but rarely achievable, as any dog fancier will tell you, and from the animal rights perspective, it’s to be vilified.  Yet so many of these same critics admire a perfect score in gymnastics, bet on the over/under line in the Super Bowl, or tune in to American Idol;
  • A favorite objection of critics is that breed standards by which show dogs are assessed give the impression that purebred dogs are more desirable than mixed-breed dogs, but as I see it, this is an “apples versus oranges” comparison. Purebred dogs are purpose-bred dogs, mixed breeds are not. Long before the earliest dog shows judged only Pointers and Setters, sportsmen were arguing the attributes of their favorite hunting dog over tankards of ale in the local tavern. Value was placed on the best working dog, and dog shows became organized assessments of breeding stock since sportsmen recognized from their knowledge of horses that breed predictability was inherited.  Certainly, dog shows have morphed into a bit of pageantry since those early days, but each breed must still meet a standard. How is one to assess a dog that has no “blueprint” because it is no particular breed – and why would we? Averageness has never been rewarded in the real world.  A dog’s unremarkable performance in the field was not going to be valued by a hunter, and “ordinary” doesn’t cut it at the Olympics.  If it was, either I misplaced my invitation to compete in the ladies’ singles, or Team USA didn’t welcome my mediocrity in a pair of figure skates.
  • Detractors have said that conformation shows lead to the breeding of dogs based solely upon appearance, but this is patently not true of ethical breeders dedicated to creating the next generation of dogs able to do the job their breed was intended to do. Some of these decriers have gone as far to say that dog shows promote eugenics.

Let’s think about this.

The concept of eugenics seeks to improve the human race by controlling which people become parents, an offensive concept at the very least. When applied to canines, however, the charge is preposterous. Dogs aren’t highly selective when it comes to breeding, whether it’s the wench next door, a wolf, or a dog born with three legs. Of course breeders are going to select breeding stock, it’s what ethical breeders do. They screen for health, select for type, study pedigrees, and weigh the “intangibles” that a dog can offer the next generation.

In a twisted variation of the eugenics concept, some countries select future Olympians when they’re scarcely out of preschool not because the child shows a passion for a sport, but because a child is built for it.  Wait, isn’t that what dog breeders have been accused of?  Rather than castigate the policies of these countries, however, some of our critics gush over the progress made by countries that couldn’t field a team just twenty years ago.  How do our critics think these countries did it?

One multiple gold medalist from the 2012 Summer Olympics revealed that she was identified as a potential champion as a kindergartener. With her impossibly wide shoulders, huge round calves, long limbs and extremely large hands, the selection committee took one look at her and decided her future based on her appearance.  She was a swimmer.

She was taken away from her parents and placed in a tough training camp where she was known by a number instead of her name. She swam for hours in a vacuum contraption, ate not what she wanted but what would build muscle, and skipped over a childhood most of us take for granted.

By comparison, most show dogs have a charmed life, and yet the absence of “a normal life” in pursuit of a show ribbon is another charge made by critics of dog shows.  How many of these critics have traveled with an exhibitor or actually known a show dog? Dogs won’t “sparkle” unless they love what they’re doing, and mediocre dogs don’t win.

The Olympics, Super Bowl, March Madness and even American Idol are popular because I believe we inherently love excellence and determine it through competition. The dog world is no different, and those who vilify the process of how future parents of the next generation of a breed are evaluated would to well to examine their own hypocrisy.

This article first appeared in Dogs in Review February 2014

{ 5 comments… read them below or add one }

DC February 25, 2014 at 6:49 pm

Good point. If you carefully choose dog parents and study the probable outcomes ahead of time you are creating a master race. If you don’t, you are not responsible enough to have dogs. No win is what the abolitionists want.

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Susi February 25, 2014 at 7:10 pm

Agreed, DC, but it’s up to us to point out the hypocrisy and not let these rabid activists forget it. As they say, you can’t have it both ways and neither should they.

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Pi-Quin Row February 26, 2014 at 6:28 pm

I don’t feel that it’s right to try and make a person who prefers purebred dogs to mixed breed dogs guilty. I love all dogs, but the place at my side and in my heart and home belongs to purebred dogs. It’s not a snobbish or prejudicial thing – it’s a preferential one. I love what I can do with purebred dogs, I love knowing my dog comes from a responsible breeder who has carefully created a breeding program that spans many generations of healthy, happy dogs who adhere as closely as possible to a written standard. I like knowing what to expect in temperament and intelligence with my breed of choice. I’ve had three of them now in the past 20 years and my next dog will also be chosen to have those similar looks, attitudes and intelligence. I am proud to be a responsible owner who supports responsible breeders. Buying a dog from the pound only supports irresponsible, uninformed and/or money hungry people who should never be producing the puppies that end up in the shelters. And yes – I am an owner – not a dog parent.

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Susi March 13, 2014 at 3:05 pm

My apologies for a late response, Pi-Quin. I very much appreciate hearing from you and naturally, agree with your thoughts! Let’s never stop sharing them or we stand to lose our precious purebred dogs for all the wrong reasons.

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Kelli Carpenter DVM May 27, 2014 at 5:23 pm

I agree 100 % with Suzie. There is nothing wrong with wanting/owning a purebred dog. As a veterinarian I recommend to clients who want a purebred dog to take their time and find a breeder who cares about the breed and wants to ensure that their dogs are going to good homes. To me a breeder is someone who cares about the breed–they breed responsibly and thoughtfully, perform the necessary health checks and screen their potential buyers. All because someone took two dogs and let them have a litter does not, in my eyes make them a breeder. If you have done that then you are still no more than a puppy mill, irregardless of whether your dog lives in a cage or in your house! And you are most likely doing it for the money!!! I know people who breed for specific traits(such as a rare coat color) because they can make more money(for example a local breeder who bred for very light to white goldens and charge $1500 for them. And she did sell all of them despite the recession. I know another person whose two dogs of two different breeds accidently bred. Because people told her that the puppies turned out to be great dogs she decided to breed the two dogs several more times before finally neutering/spaying the two dogs). I am still amazed at people who purchase puppies from pet stores and want to breed them because it came with papers and they want to recoup the money that they paid for the dog. Or another “favorite” line: do you know of anyone with the same breed who would want to breed to my puppy? After discussing several reasons why they should not do it, most people usually don’t, but there are those who will still go ahead and mate their dogs.
Breeding responsibly is hard work and a labor of love for your breed. Although I only compete in obedience and rally and have rescued purebred dogs, I know numerous people who breed responsibly or who went to a specific breeder to obtain the dog that they wanted for whatever purpose. I know of a collie breeder who is very selective to whom she sells her dogs; she breeds for performance and herding and her dogs are very active collies that need the right home. Many of her dogs, both owned by her and others, have excelled not only in the breed ring but in many performance events as well. Are these people happy with the outcome? Of course, because they took time to research and find a breeder with the type of dog that they wanted. Even if a client only wants a purebred as a pet, they are still getting a quality animal. As for mixed breeds I am 100 % for them as well. Are they smarter? NO! As a vet and a competitor I have seen smart and dumb in all breeds, including mixed breeds. I have seen good and bad temperaments in both purebred and mixed breeds. I have seen a number of mixed breeds at the AKC shows and I always ask the owners the story behind the dog if I have a chance. I tell them that I glad to see them out competing with their dogs and having a good time and wish them the best of luck. They have just as much chance of doing well with their dog as the people with purebred dogs. I have seen them do well and I have seen them do poorly, just like purebred dogs. These owners just want to have fun with their dogs and create a lasting bond.

One last point: I think we ALL need to remember that this is a hobby and it is not going to solve the world’s problems. We do this because we care for our dogs, whether they are a mix or purebred. Many of us just want to have fun with our dogs and forge that bond. No matter what happens in the ring on that day, our dogs are still coming home with us because we still love them and they are our companions first and foremost. I believe the animal rights groups need to start applying their time and energy towards the real problems(anyone remember PETA telling college students to drink beer instead of milk–if that wasn’t an irresponsible promotion, than I don’t know what is, considering that drinking is a BIG problem on many college campuses). How putting that money and energy into more low cost spay and neuter clinics? How about more public education on spaying and neutering and responsible pet ownership? How about going to the rural areas of the South(where there is much breeding and abuse/neglect of dogs) and educating the people there? Maybe the groups are afraid of farmers with shotguns!!!! These groups are extremist who just want to get the shock value out of something rather than working with people to find an acceptable solution.

By the way, where I am going to get my next dog? I am not sure, but I will guarantee you it will either be a rescue or from a responsible breeder.

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