Sunday, January 27, 2008

Working Dogs Versus Show Dogs

Ms. X never tires of reading about dogs. Particularly she enjoys reading different interpretations of standards, and (even more) discussions about differences between function bred dogs and show dogs. There are many articles on these topics posted around the internet, some by show breeders, some by working dogs breeders.

This one she is highlighting now is from a sporting dog breeder. Dan Belkin bred Salukis for coursing, which isn't exactly working, but it kept him closer to working dogs than show dogs. Fortunately Mr. Belkin was wise enough to grasp the impact of all worlds on the dogs he loved.

The article is posted here: The functional Saluki - lessons from the coursing field.

Here are Ms. X's favorite quotes:

"...things you cannot see are more important than things you can. There are many things about Salukis that a judge can't see and can't feel, and
functionally, those things are more important than the visible and palpable

"Salukis, like many other breeds, were originally bred for function. The best coursing or hunting dog, for the ground and quarry where it lived, was the one that was bred from. That makes sense. But then a standard was written describing the appearance of the functional breed, and implying that its appearance was the cause of the function. Wrong! The function led to the appearance."

"...visible, palpable aspects of conformation don't mean as much as most people think they do"

"...breeding to the standard will not preserve function. All it can preserve is appearance. That is rather obvious when you stop and think about it, because the qualities that make the dog good at its job are by and large not those described in the standard. Most breed standards were drawn up from dogs that were bred for function. What people did, and this is true for other breeds as well as sighthounds, was to obtain dogs from people who had bred them to do some particular thing. They looked at them and said ‘This is what they should look like if they perform this function,' and drew up a standard accordingly; sometimes very precise, sometimes not. Then they bred dogs to look like those which did that thing, instead of breeding them to do it. That's fine if all they wanted was dogs with that look. But, if they expect those dogs to do what resulted in that look they are going to be disappointed.

"That's the way genetics works: any characteristic which is not actively selected for will degenerate. It will go away"

Mr. Belkins' basic point is that dogs will vary in appearance depending upon the specificity of their inteded function. And, since function is at its narrowest defined as the utilitarian goal of the owner, a single breed can have many variations in looks.

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