The Demise of Typological Thinking Picture

DNA research has radically changed zoological concepts of species, subspecies and varieties. In the nineteenth century and the first half of this century it was thought that a species could be represented by a type specimen, that the vast majority of individuals of a species were virtual photocopies of the type specimen, genetically speaking, and that the genetic norm for most species was homozygous at most loci. In the mid-1960s the credibility of that idea was shattered as electrophoresis protein studies revealed extensive protein polymorphism that had not been previously suspected (Carson, 1983). Today the concept of a species in a satisfactory state of genetic health invokes a state of "dynamic balance" in which the species genome contains an array of genotypes with a high degree of heterozygosity, with multiple alleles at many gene loci. Natural selection is now thought to favour heterozygotes in a way which tends toward a high state of natural variability, preserving the greatest variety of possibilities with which a species can meet new environmental challenges. Conversely, species which have lost most of their genetic diversity, often through accidental population "bottlenecks" similar to those which regularly occur in purebred dogs, are held to be in high risk of extinction through the loss of adaptive capability. (The most notorious example is the cheetah, which is almost totally homozygous and is thought to have undergone at some time a bottleneck reducing its population to a tiny handful of specimens.)

There is no reason why dog breeds also cannot be maintained in a balanced state of heterozygosity, analogous to that of healthy wild animal species, if typological thinking in the dog fancy could somehow be replaced (or at least tempered) with population thinking. Fanciers will generally admit that no dog conforms perfectly to its breed standard. Thus the concept of the perfect type specimen, to which an entire breed ought to conform as closely as possible, is really as foreign to dog breeds as it is to animal species in the wild.

The fanatical pursuit of breed type to the exclusion of other more important factors (more important to the dog, to his owner, and to his veterinarian) has led to a distinctly unhealthy situation in most breeds. Since the majority of breeders within CKC seem to direct their efforts toward the production of a winning exhibition specimen, and since many breeders therefore breed their females to the males that do the most winning at dog shows, a situation has arisen in which continued effort to produce show winners leads consistently to greater and greater exaggerations of "type," that being the factor most susceptible to the off-the-cuff three-minute analysis of the breed ring. It is an accepted fact that strong incest breeding is the fastest route to this kind of "success"; here is one successful show breeder's recipe for "excellence" (de Boer and de Boer, DOGS in Canada, April 1994):

"My approach would be to identify an outstanding, dominant stud dog. Let's call him 'Shadrack.' To improve the odds, I'd buy or lease three bitches whose grandsire on the dam's side was the same as Shadrack's sire. Let's call the grandsire 'Fashion Hint.' I would breed the Fashion Hint bitches to Shadrack.

"Assume, in this first generation, that I get three nice bitches. For the second generation, I'd breed them to a half-brother of these three bitches (Shadrack's son, also a dominant sire). For the third generation, several 'mix and match' options include going back to Fashion Hint or Shadrack. I could also do brother-to-sister or father-to-daughter breeding."

Thus the quest for more and more refined breed type leads directly to a state of advanced homozygosity, rising inbreeding coefficient, low effective breeding population and consequent impoverishment of the gene pool in most CKC breeds, through rampant uncontrolled incest breeding.

The show ring has also been largely responsible for the decline of breed purpose, working ability and temperament in a great many breeds, notably sporting breeds, herding breeds and sleddog breeds. The quick and easy gratification of blue ribbons and gilt trophies all too readily supplants the hard work necessary to preserve and advance canine working abilities. If our dog breeds are to conform to the ideal of "a sound mind in a sound body" (as advocated by the proponents of the Advanced Registry), the fancy must find some way of ensuring that less dog-breeding takes place along the lines of least resistance and cheap gratification, so that greater attention is paid to working characteristics, temperament and trainability. A balanced outlook on breed identity must be restored by integrating canine function with the ideals of conformation, beauty and "type." All kinds of dogs, toy breeds not excepted, can perform useful functions and respond to training. Those aspects of the fancy should be accorded an importance at least fully equal to that of type and conformation instead of being regarded as merely optional. For example, breeding and exhibition of utility breeds such as gundogs and sleddogs merely for sale as pets and for dog shows, with no effort made to maintain and advance their working capabilities, is an obvious abuse which must lead inevitably to mental and physical degeneracy in those breeds.

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