I often hear or read complaints about certain characteristics of dog breeds, and I’ve made a few myself. Show people are a pretty opinionated lot, and we all seem to have something to say about “the direction of the breed”–the temperaments are getting bad, the shoulders are getting too straight, the faces too flat. There are toy dog people who think their breed is getting too big or too small, Tibetan Mastiff people who don’t like certain coat colors, Bloodhound people who think the breed’s getting way too heavy, etc.
My question is, how do we as fanciers of a given breed, know when we’ve gone too far in breeding certain characteristics? There have been numerous publicized critiques (a documentary in England, a NY Times Magazine article here: http://www.nytimes.com/2011/11/27/magazine/can-the-bulldog-be-saved.html?pagewanted=all&_r=0) of English Bulldogs, whose faces have become so brachycephalic that many suffer from breathing problems and have to have palate surgery. The French Bull Dog Club of America notes that most Frenchies have to be born by C-section due to the typical size of the puppy head and the narrowness of the bitch’s hips (http://frenchbulldogclub.org/about-frenchies/breeding-a-frenchie/what-about-cesarean-sections).
Now I like bulldogs, but surely something’s wrong when we’re breeding dogs that can’t breathe and can’t give birth normally? When does a whole breed go off the rails? And how does it change?
Parent clubs bear responsibility for maintaining a standard that results in healthy dogs. The problem comes, I assume, when those who are taking responsibility can’t agree among themselves whether something is wrong. Individual breeders are going to continue to make decisions based on what wins in the show ring; the more that fashion leans in one direction, the more that lean tends to perpetuate itself. There’s also an inherent hesitation on the part of a club to dictate to everyone what to breed. It’s a free country, right?
Yet the standards exist and are promulgated and taught to judges. It seems like a concerted effort by a club to change those standards to clarify a disapproval of certain trends would be effective in the long run, if not immediately. Within my own breed of Great Danes, there has been a move to change the standard to permit longer legs–a move which has been vigorously opposed by many. (See Paddy Magnusen’s article: http://www.gdca.org/wordsofwisdom/wordsofwisdom16.html.)
I would love to see a committee on the standard for each breed which would meet perhaps every 3-5 years and give a thorough review to what’s being shown and bred, and whether the current crop of dogs in general is adhering to the breed standard. It could also consider whether the standard should be clarified to halt troubling trends. Would this lead to constant upheaval? I don’t think so. But it would certainly provide a forum for those concerned with certain fashions to express their views and have them debated more widely. Maybe this exists for certain breeds? I’d love to hear from parent club representatives to let me know.