All about the Purebred Dog

by Linda J Shaw
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Imagine that this bitch is gaiting past you at a conformation show. How would you expect her to be evaluated? I have eliminated her coat so that her structure and proportions are easier to see.
I would suppose that the average judge, from just about any country, would have this to say: This female is a medium large, medium strong bitch, square in proportion. Although she is balanced, showing equal length and strength of stride both front and rear, she is lacking angulation of both the shoulder and the hindquarter. Her back shows a lack of strength behind the withers, and her croup is short and level.  She lacks forechest, substance and depth of chest. In motion, her stride is shortened, lacking both reach and follow through, although she does show a good period of suspension, more than most of the dogs in the ring. Compared to the others however, she appears to be running downhill. In short, this female lacks the structure that conformation judges think is required of a working dog, and would be unable to sustain an enduring, working trot.
Except that this is not a German shepherd dog. It is a wild, northern Gray Wolf. This animal, with this structure, can easily travel fifty miles in a day, and regularly covers a massive territory. She has the strength and endurance to pursue buffalo and caribou for hours, over rough country and through deep snow, and when a prey animal has been worn down or cornered, she has the stamina and strength to kill it, sometimes taking many more hours. What this bitch is showing us is structure and gait that is the ultimate in long distance endurance, at any speed. She has no more angulation than she needs, with enough reach to give a big, roomy stride but not so much that she will exhaust herself. Her back is as strong as iron. Her withers are moderately high and her spine is straight and level. Her chest is sufficiently capacious and no more, and her croup is the length and slope it needs to be for a big, powerful, perpetual stride. Her longer legs give her the agility to navigate the roughest territory. She is the model of vigour and efficiency.
So why is it that the structure and gait of our modern show dogs, American or German, bear no resemblance whatsoever to the wolf? There are plenty of working bred dogs that are not dissimilar. But no conformation judge, German or American, would put up a GSD that is structured like this wolf or moves like her. They seem to prefer the results of a few decades of inbreeding over that of millions of years of natural selection. And maybe that is not such a smart thing to do.

by Linda J Shaw
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In my last post, I included several pictures of dogs taken more or less at random. They show the weak, over-angulated hindquarters that are so common. These dogs were not simply posed badly.  They were standing on their own, and I waited for them to walk themselves into a decent stance. They didn’t. They couldn’t. Many of these dogs went Select.

I was beginning to think I was wasting my time, when I spotted a very nice female who turned out to be the Winners Female. Whatever position she took, she looked good. I’ve always thought that it is hard to take a bad picture of a good dog, and this bitch proved it. She was clean from every direction. She didn’t sag to the ground while standing informally. She moved beautifully with a strong, clean, suspended gait. Remember suspension? That feature of the breed that the over-angulated dog is incapable of achieving? She didn’t overextend, or pop her head in the effort to throw her forehand a mile beyond her nose. She didn’t drag her feet, or flat foot her way around the ring. She was absolutely the most correct dog in the ring. I think she was last place Select. She should have been Grand Victrix.

Unfortunately, a really good dog will always look underdone when in the ring with extreme dogs. They don’t have the exaggerated stride length, so they appear short-strided by comparison. They don’t have the extremely sloping topline or steep croup, so they look higher in the rear. Judges hate that, at least some do. Plus so many specialty dogs are over-sized; the bigger the dog, the longer the legs and the longer the stride. And because the over-done dogs cannot suspend, they resort to speed. The result is all the flash that so many judges reward, and audiences love. It takes a really brave judge to put up a correct dog. It’s too bad judges don’t have the six to eight hours of gaiting that would leave the extreme dogs struggling and the correct dogs still working.

Fortunately I was able to spend time in the ring with this female, getting reference photos of her standing and gaiting. Informal or posed, she always looked good.

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by Linda J Shaw
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This year I decided to see the German Shepherd Dog Club of Canada’s National Specialty, or at least part of it. I hadn’t been in years, and the first thing I saw was a large, mostly empty parking lot. I remember there being a lot more cars last time. Wretched weather could account for some of that, but this was the day the specials were judged. Walking into the arena, I could see the stands were mostly empty. Scanning the intrepid souls who had turned out, it occurred to me that in ten years or so this show will be hosted on the grounds of Shady Acres Retirement Home. The entry wasn’t impressive either: 27 males and 18 females I believe. I didn’t see the males, but the females were mostly a reiteration of the extreme theme of the last thirty years. See pictures below.

The show itself is, and always has been, a lovely show, with a beautiful sod ring and all the trimmings. It has always seemed very well organized. A lot of people spend a lot of time and effort putting on a very professional presentation, but I wonder if they ever step back and look at the big picture that is looming over them.

Recent economic conditions have certainly taken their toll. Things are improving of course, but the price of oil is not coming down. The cost of showing dogs is considerable, and will only increase, especially in a big country like Canada.

The sport of showing dogs followed the fortunes of the Baby Boomers. As the boomers’ affluence expanded they could afford the space, time and expense of raising large dogs. People entering their golden years naturally tend to downsize. Younger people are not so attracted to a hobby that is so consuming of time and cash.

The breed itself is no longer the splendid animal that the Boomers inherited. The breeders, handlers and judges of the last thirty years seem to have become oblivious to how the breed appears to everyone else. It has become a long, low, slinky, in-bred looking creature, not the powerful, upstanding dog that built the breed’s reputation.

So, it is hardly surprising that interest in showing the breed is withering, and it’s not about to turn around any time soon.

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by Linda J Shaw

Purebred dogs, ever since Victorian days and the beginnings of kennel clubs, registries and conformation shows, have been viewed as genetic islands. Every single breed, as soon as it comes under the authority of a Western kennel club,  is treated as a discreet, isolated, unique population which is never permitted to interact with any other population. The idea is that the registry will oversee the improvement of the race, by preventing any polluting influence by any other race. I believe this is called eugenics.

genetic map 1Like the diagram as left, each breed is a different pool of color that never overlaps with any other.

It’s also not very smart. If a breed has a very broad gene pool and several different viable families, it’s doable. But under the current system of rewarding top winning show dogs with increasing shares of breedings, and the relentless insistence on uniformity of type, genetic variability inevitably declines.

In the past, prior to dog shows, farmers or hunters or landowners selected breeding partners, not on their superficial appearance, but on their ability to fulfill a purpose. Bitches were bred to males that had proven their abiltiy as ratters, or herders, or hunters or whatever.  The bulk of the population could be said to be of the same breed or type, more because of geographic isolation than breeders’ intentions, but the edges were fuzzy. If a hunter wanted to improve the scenting ability of his bird dogs, he might cross in a suitable hound. If a farmer wanted to increase the power of his terriers, he might cross in a bit of bulldog blood. All breeds are the result of crossing both accidental and intentional. Stephanitz, the founder of the German shepherd dog, combined several very different types of European herding and farm dog to come up with a type that combined most of the best qualities of all of them.

genetic map 2This produced healthy, useful dogs with open pedigrees and hybrid vigor. Their appearance would be more variable, but isn’t this preferable to animals that look like clones, are prone to breed specific diseases and problems resulting from inbreeding?

The second diagram illustrates an alternative view of purebred dog populations, with boundaries that are permeable and allow for intermittant, selective crossing with qualified individuals that can bring in needed characteristics and hybrid vigor.

This is already being done with good results. A brilliant English breeder of Dalmations crossed in purebred Pointer to successfully correct a common genetic deficiency in the production of uric acid, but the Kennel Club didn’t make it easy for her.  And breeders of police and military dogs have been crossing Malinois and Dutch and German shepherds to come up with effective service dogs without the health issues common to these breeds.

If the kennel clubs don’t accommodate intelligent breeders who are seriously looking to improve their dogs, and wish to cross out to suitable dogs of other, likely related, breeds, then it’s probable that they will go ahead and do it on their own. The current practise of continually in breeding the same families over and over is ultimately a genetic dead end.





by Linda J Shaw

A reader sent me this. Something anyone who professes to love dogs should think about:

When I was a puppy, I entertained you with my antics and made you laugh. You called me your child, and despite a number of chewed shoes and a couple of murdered throw pillows, I became your best friend. Whenever I was “bad,” you’d shake your finger at me and ask “How could you?” — but then you’d relent and roll me over for a bellyrub.

My housebreaking took a little longer than expected, because you were terribly busy, but we worked on that together. I remember those nights of nuzzling you in bed and listening to your confidences and secret dreams, and I believed that life could not be any more perfect.

We went for long walks and runs in the park, car rides, stops for ice cream (I only got the cone because “ice cream is bad for dogs” you said), and I took long naps in the sun waiting for you to come home at the end of the day.

Gradually, you began spending more time at work and on your career, and more time searching for a human mate. I waited for you patiently, comforted you through heartbreaks and disappointments, never chided you about bad decisions, and romped with glee at your homecomings, and when you fell in love.

She, now your wife, is not a “dog person” — still I welcomed her into our home, tried to show her affection, and obeyed her. I was happy because you were happy. Then the human babies came along and I shared your excitement. I was fascinated by their pinkness, how they smelled, and I wanted to mother them, too. Only she and you worried that I might hurt them, and I spent most of my time banished to another room, or to a dog crate.

Oh, how I wanted to love them, but I became a “prisoner of love.” As they began to grow, I became their friend. They clung to my fur and pulled themselves up on wobbly legs, poked fingers in my eyes, investigated my ears, and gave me kisses on my nose. I loved everything about them and their touch — because your touch was now so infrequent — and I would’ve defended them with my life if need be. I would sneak into their beds and listen to their worries and secret dreams, and together we waited for the sound of your car in the driveway. There had been a time, when others asked you if you had a dog, that you produced a photo of me from your wallet and told them stories about me.

These past few years, you just answered “yes” and changed the subject. I had gone from being “your dog” to “just a dog,” and you resented every expenditure on my behalf. Now, you have a new career opportunity in another city, and you and they will be moving to an apartment that does not allow pets. You’ve made the right decision for your “family,” but there was a time when I was your only family.

I was excited about the car ride until we arrived at the animal shelter. It smelled of dogs and cats, of fear, of hopelessness. You filled out the paperwork and said “I know you will find a good home for her.” They shrugged and gave you a pained look. They understand the realities facing a middle-aged dog, even one with “papers.” You had to pry your son’s fingers loose from my collar as he screamed “No, Daddy! Please don’t let them take my dog!” And I worried for him, and what lessons you had just taught him about friendship and loyalty, about love and responsibility, and about respect for all life.

You gave me a good-bye pat on the head, avoided my eyes, and politely refused to take my collar and leash with you. You had a deadline to meet and now I have one, too. After you left, the two nice ladies said you probably knew about your upcoming move months ago and made no attempt to find me another good home. They shook their heads and asked “How could you?”

They are as attentive to us here in the shelter as their busy schedules allow. They feed us, of course, but I lost my appetite days ago. At first, whenever anyone passed my pen, I rushed to the front, hoping it was you that you had changed your mind — that this was all a bad dream… or I hoped it would at least be someone who cared, anyone who might save me.

When I realized I could not compete with the frolicking for attention of happy puppies, oblivious to their own fate, I retreated to a far corner and waited. I heard her footsteps as she came for me at the end of the day, and I padded along the aisle after her to a separate room. A blissfully quiet room. She placed me on the table and rubbed my ears, and told me not to worry. My heart pounded in anticipation of what was to come, but there was also a sense of relief. The prisoner of love had run out of days.

As is my nature, I was more concerned about her. The burden which she bears weighs heavily on her, and I know that, the same way I knew your every mood. She gently placed a tourniquet around my foreleg as a tear ran down her cheek. I licked her hand in the same way I used to comfort you so many years ago. She expertly slid the hypodermic needle into my vein. As I felt the sting and the cool liquid coursing through my body, I lay down sleepily, looked into her kind eyes and murmured “How could you?”

Perhaps because she understood my dogspeak, she said “I’m so sorry.” She hugged me, and hurriedly explained it was her job to make sure I went to a better place, where I wouldn’t be ignored or abused or abandoned, or have to fend for myself — a place of love and light so very different from this earthly place. And with my last bit of energy, I tried to convey to her with a thump of my tail that my “How could you?” was not directed at her.

It was directed at you, My Beloved Master, I was thinking of you. I will think of you and wait for you forever. May everyone in your life continue to show you so much loyalty.

~ © Copyright 2001 Jim Willis ~

A Note from the Author: If “How Could You?” brought tears to your eyes as you read it, as it did to mine as I wrote it, it is because it is the composite story of the millions of formerly “owned” pets who die each year in American and Canadian animal shelters. Please use this to help educate, on your websites, in newsletters, on animal shelter and vet office bulletin boards. Tell the public that the decision to add a pet to the family is an important one for life, that animals deserve our love and sensible care, that finding another appropriate home for your animal is your responsibility and any local humane society or animal welfare league can offer you good advice, and that all life is precious. Please do your part to stop the killing, and encourage all spay & neuter campaigns in order to prevent unwanted animals.

All content copy-righted Linda J Shaw 2000 - 2014.

Use of any material strictly prohibited without written permission of the author, Linda J Shaw.


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