Thursday, March 12, 2009

Terrierman Goes Prime Time

Our pithy Patrick Burns, the irascible Terrierman and dogged policy wonk, appeared this week on the prime-time ABC news magazine Nightline. The story by Nick Watt titled, "Best of Breed? Pedigree Dogs Face Disease" picks up on the saga of Kennel Club and Cruft's dog shows recently put on the defensive by a BBC expose of the dog fancy and registry industries.

I say the industry was "recently" put on defensive, but readers of Terrierman's Daily Dose know he's been waging an almost one-man war against the fancy for years. Burns is on camera in the ABC story and on message, as ever:

"Take your own nose and pinch it, then try to breathe," Patrick Burns said of the feeling for a Boston Terrier or Bulldog with breathing problems.

Burns, who hunts in Maryland's fields with terriers of fuzzier pedigree and longer snouts, and blogs voraciously as "Terrierman," is scathingly critical of the dog-show world. "Most of the breeds don't have a function," he said. "They're not running dogs, they're not catching rabbits. That's fine. There's nothing wrong with that. But if their only function is to be a pet, then they have to put health first."



Mike Spies said...

Patrick has generally focused on breeders of "Purebred" dogs are the target of his sharp criticisms.

I take exception to the idea that a purebred dog is a genetic liability. I have argued this with Patrick on his blog.

The most important single issue in breeding dogs is stringent selection criteria for breeding stock. Pursuing a goal based on appearance or the latest fancy is certainly detrimental. But breeding outstanding field dogs selects breeding stock based on performance and ability, as well as lineage of producing dogs in the pedigree.

I would go further to say that line-breeding (NOT inbreeding) is a tool that can be used to accentuate positive attributes (nose, hips, gait, etc.) and well as eliminate negative characteristics (CHD and other genetic defects) in dogs. This has been proven over and over in performance dogs. Line breeders do outcross to similarly line bred, but unrelated stock that is true to type. Consistent outcrossing when breeding greatly reduces predictability of outcome, and will not eliminate genetic faults.

There are many examples of breed development and breed restoration that have successsfully outcrossed to fix desireable characteristics in the line of dogs being bred. These characteristics are then 'fixed' by line breeding. The problem is that no one will do this in their backyard. The breeding population must be large enough to support a viable and diverse gene pool to select good breeding stock. Otherwise, genetic defects and drift will overtake the breed and it will go downhill.

That said, I am certainly not a breed Nazi, and greatly distrust 'breed clubs', which encourage the creation of dogs based on their appearance and encourage the sort of breeding mentality that Patrick rails against.

Matt Mullenix said...

Hi Mike,

I'm not enough of a dog person to take a side on this. But I'm sure there are lineages of good dogs just as, in the last couple decades, certain lines of good hawks have been bred. Good parents tend to breed good and similar young; that much I've seen myself. I'd recommend one of my dog Rina's siblings for sure, and with good confidence it would be more or less like her. Likewise my good hawk is very similar to his siblings, which comes as no surprise to his breeder!

I don't think Patrick would disagree about the importance of good breeding and regular TESTING of dogs; and then breeding according to the results of those tests. I don't think that approach is very controversial.

My take on Patrick's complaint is that the show ring standards are simply arbitrary reflections of whimsy and aesthetic opinions. No testing, no work. The results just spin off according to the current fashion.

Good breeding (meaning breeding with testing) is altogether different.

Aren't these separate issues?

Mike Spies said...


Of course you are right. My whine is that 'purebred' has become nonPC, when the problem is bench breeders, and not a dog that has a pedigree.

I have already fenced with Patrick on this subject, but he has singularly trenchant views, and I doubt that I managed to move him much.

It's about objectives and selection, and performance testing should be at the core of selection, in my opinion.

Teddy said...

Dog shows are a sport in themselves and the dogs are bred to win based on looks. Period.
If a person wants to work a particular breed they can usually find a few examples and go from there. With a purebred dog you can know, and better predict, what the offspring will do and look like, in my experience and opinion.

Anonymous said...

"Argued with Patrick on his blog"--welcome to the club, Mike Spies! Any discussion with Patrick where you attempt to "correct" him, no matter what evidence to the contrary you might present him with, is very similar to trying to gently reason with a raging Jack Russel that has already latched onto one of your appendages! The best thing to do is pry him off as quickly as possible, and run like heck! :) But I agree with you that the term "purebred" IS wrongly becoming politically incorrect--it's not PUREBRED that's messing dogs up, but HOW and WHY they are being bred. And although I have no love for most of what the AKC supports, SOMETIMES(if only extremely rarely) they DO do something sensible--like with the Basenji breed(an excellent subject for this or Patrick's blog, which I have tried without success to get someone with more computer skills to present....hint-hint),where the breed club DID approach the AKC to let them open their horribly inbred studbook, and went back to Africa, got indigenous stock, and bred it back into their lines(and CONTINUE to do this periodically)IMMEDIATELY improving the health of their dogs(which are still quite functional little woods-dogs, in my opinion). So IF a parent club has the means and desire to open the studbooks, there is a chance they can do it. But alas, too many conformation show people are more interested in an exagerrated cartoonish look to their dogs, rather than dogs that are healthier and more functional.......L.B.

Anonymous said...

And is it just me, or do people that actually get out and do things with their dogs(other than dog shows) have some kind of different aesthetic brain development from strictly conformation show people? I personally virtually ALWAYS find working-stock breeds to be BETTER LOOKING than their show counterparts! Nice, leggy, athletic, tight-coated working Siberians as opposed to the short-backed, stubby-legged show Sibes; American Bulldogs versus the AKC registered English Bulldogs, athletic UKC Black-And-Tans(and other "coonhound" breeds) versus the klunky, with ears nearly dragging the ground AKC variety, lithe, practically sized Irish and English setters from working stock, as opposed to the mastiffy buffoons with exagerrated coats that pass for "bird dogs" in the show ring---I can go on-and-on! I REALLY think the working types from other registries(or no registry at all) are superior in appearance as well as performance!...L.B.