Good reasons for promoting pedigree dogs

I like predictability because I know what I’m getting into. Actress Katherine Heigl (Grey’s Anatomy)

I am beginning to wonder whether we have not been too defensive and protective in our response to the criticism of pedigree dogs over the last three years.  It seems to me that we may have been almost entirely reactive when perhaps it might have been more effective to be proactive.  It is true that many new, valuable and helpful initiatives in genetic research and pedigree analysis and interpretation have come to fruition (many of which had their gestation well before Pedigree Dogs Exposed was broadcast) but to the outside world these have, inevitably, been seen as having been triggered by that programme.  It was, in my opinion, distasteful and distorted but there was enough hard evidence included for the media and lobby groups come to the conclusion that it was the sole springboard for change.

It may also be that the later reports and pronouncements (many of which have been condescending, inaccurate or twisted) will also be used as evidence that the pedigree canine community remains on the back foot, behind the bow wave or however else you wish to describe trailing behind the leaders rather than making the running.  This is not to diminish, decry or in any way undermine the work that has been done by everyone involved, particularly those in the high profile breeds, and there is no doubt that much has been achieved.  But as I have pointed out many times, the Kennel Club is an institution and institutions are, by their very structure, set in their ways – it is not their fault and they are not to blame for it is the nature of the beast!  Their development continues in a direction of travel defined and powered by their structure and their staff and although it is relatively easy to tinker with the rules, regulations and processes at the edges (which views the illusion of innovation and change) actually focusing on new or different objectives is extraordinarily difficult.

To its credit, the Kennel Club did change direction three years ago and  PDE providing a lever that enable it to focus more clearly on those objectives defined by health and welfare.  But the momentum of institutions is such that once a particular path has been set it is as difficult to prevent progress along it as it is to stop or change it.  I believe this is what has happened as far as the High Profile Breeds are concerned and that the time has come to put a brake on the momentum and change the objective for I think enough has already been done.

May I suggest that the new watchword should be ‘predictability’.  This does not mean that we throw the progress which has been made out of the window or that we cease focusing upon it but that we choose a new, and I hope now more relevant aim which celebrates and concentrate on the achievements and certainty that selective breeding provides.  I think we have allowed ourselves to be sidetracked by the downside of selection when we should be trumpeting its virtues.

Recent research has shown that crossbreeding appears not to necessarily develop hybrid vigour: it can actually increase the likelihood of genetic disease and we know that all those who are concerned with breeding the best working dogs whether they be the armed forces, the police, search and rescue organisations and all those to helping the handicapped through dogs, without exception, use selective breeding and, by and large, pedigree dogs.  There is little doubt that if crossbred dogs or mongrels provided better service or were more successful in achieving their aims they would use them.  But they do not.  And the reason?  Mongrel and crossbred dogs are much less predictable in size, conformation, intelligence and temperament and do not have the specific and measurable skills or the more highly developed senses of pedigree dogs.  

It is true that some pedigree dogs present us with problems (and some narrowly focused breeders and judges still have their heads in the sand)  but overall, even the problems have an advantage which is seldom recognised – those problems are predictable and this means they are, in the long term, likely to be preventable and in the short-term, very often, treatable.

Taking this a step further and bearing in mind that the generalist canine and animal charities are, by and large, happy to be among the ‘anti-pedigree dog brigade’ (primarily because the want to take advantage of any media bandwagon going) the specialist organisations such as Guide Dogs, Hearing dogs, Canine Partners, Search and Rescue and the others ought to be persuaded to step up to the plate and confirm their commitment to pedigree dogs and to selective breeding.  Even if they are not, the evidence which is provided by their websites, public relations and advertising can be used to clearly demonstrate that it is from selectively bred stock that their working dogs are acquired.

Of course, many of these points have been made and are being made at Crufts and Discover Dogs (‘celebrating healthy and happy dogs’) and this is valuable and important but I think what is lacking is a consistent and sustained campaign emphasising the reasonable certainty of  what an owner can expect of a pedigree dog set against the against the unpredictability of the crossbred and mongrel.  It may be that in our haste and commitment to dog ownership (and I must plead guilty here as I was employed by The Dogs Home, Battersea for 11 years so clearly had a obligation to all dogs) we have allowed the concept of a dog, from where ever it came, to override our obligation to society to help them choose a pet which will fulfil owners’ expectations i.e. one with a recognised pedigree which, by definition, implies a recognisable shape, size, expression and temperament.

And we are in an international environment now so bringing on board other Kennel Clubs around the world (and I do not mean the FCI, for it is not an organisation that has as its remit the protection and promotion of pedigree dogs) to carry out the same process in their own country with their national organisations whose objectives require pedigree rather than crossbred or mongrel dogs.

At the same time some countries have been particularly successful in promoting pedigree dog ownership and in countries as far apart as those in Finland and Sweden and Korea and Japan the vast majority of dogs owned are from pedigree stock – we should learn from them.

As an added bonus, all the statistics indicate that those dogs which might and cause harm are almost always crossbreds.  They may be given fancy names but crossbred dogs is what they are and we should be promoting the idea that, by definition, they are much less predictable not just in their looks but in their temperament.

I look forward being told that the agenda of a General Committee Meeting at Clarges Street has dispensed with apologies, minutes, matters arising, the consideration of reports from various subcommittees and all the rest of the institutional rubric that prevents progress and innovation and been replaced by one discussion topic: how do we promote pedigree dogs as being the best option for all dog owners?  And perhaps the Canine Allience could use the concept as a way of broadening its base and extending its reach.

Will the RSPCA, Dogs Trust and the rest be upset?  I am sure they will but they have shown us little consideration or kindness over the last three years so why should we care?

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One Comment on “Good reasons for promoting pedigree dogs”

  1. Lorna Hastings Says:

    David, very interesting article. The word predictability is one that I have used many times to explain to people that Pedigree dogs’ character and temperament is by far more predictable than can be found in mixed or cross breeds. It is much more intelligible to the general public to have an element of predictability when they are buying a dog which is to become a family member. Maybe a positive progression for the KC would be to promote pedigree dogs using the following buzz words “Pedigree Dogs can give so much more than predictability”

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