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The Politics of Dog Shows: Influences on Breeders and Canine Morphology

The Politics of Dog Shows: Influences on and Canine

In the glittering world of dog shows, where pedigrees are paraded and ribbons flutter, a complex interplay of politics, aesthetics, and tradition shapes the destiny of our beloved canine companions. The United States, home to prestigious events like the Westminster Kennel Club Dog Show, has witnessed both celebration and controversy within this realm. In this essay, we delve into the multifaceted dynamics of dog shows, their impact on breeders, and the fascinating evolution of dog morphology.

Origins and Purpose of Dog Shows

Dog trace their lineage to mid-19th century England, where breed enthusiasts gathered to exhibit their prized Setters, Pointers, and other gun dogs4. Initially, these events aimed to celebrate the functional qualities of various breeds—traits that made them adept hunters, herders, or guardians. Judges evaluated dogs based on their working abilities, temperament, and adherence to breed standards.

However, over time, the focus shifted. Aesthetic considerations gained prominence, and the quest for the "perfect" show dog intensified. The American Kennel Club (AKC), founded in 1884, became the custodian of breed standards, wielding considerable influence over the dog show circuit.

The Politics Within the Ring

1. The Quest for Titles and Prestige

Dog breeders and handlers vie for coveted titles—Best in Show, Group Winners, and Breed Champions. These accolades translate into prestige, stud fees, and enhanced marketability for breeding stock. Judges' decisions are subjective, influenced by personal preferences, breed trends, and even political affiliations.

2. Breeder Influence and Lobbying

Behind the scenes, breeders engage in subtle lobbying. They network, attend social events, and curry favor with influential judges. The AKC's Breeder of Merit program recognizes those who adhere to ethical breeding practices, but the allure of ribbons sometimes tempts breeders to compromise health and genetic diversity.

3. The Inbreeding Dilemma

Inbreeding, a common practice in the show-dog world, aims to fix desirable traits. However, intensive inbreeding can lead to a genetic bottleneck, amplifying deleterious mutations. Show dogs often share common ancestors, resulting in a higher risk of hereditary diseases. The pursuit of exaggerated features—such as brachycephalic (short-nosed) breeds—exacerbates health issues2.

Impact on Breed Morphology

1. The Beauty Paradox

Show standards prioritize aesthetics—coat texture, color, ear shape, and tail carriage. While this enhances breed uniformity, it also perpetuates exaggerated features. Bulldogs with pushed-in noses struggle to breathe; Dachshunds' elongated spines invite disc problems. The quest for a "perfect" silhouette sometimes sacrifices well-being.

2. The Vanishing Talents

Historically, each breed served a purpose: Greyhounds chased game, Border Collies herded sheep, and Newfoundlands rescued drowning sailors. Yet, as show dogs diverge from their working roots, talents fade. Retrievers retrieve less, and Pointers point less. The loss of functional abilities is a silent tragedy.

3. The Designer Dog Debate

Designer breeds—Labradoodles, Cockapoos, and Goldendoodles—emerged from crossbreeding. While some aim for healthier, hypoallergenic pets, others exploit trends. Wally Conron, creator of the Labradoodle, regrets opening a Pandora's box. These hybrids, once novel, now face health issues and unpredictable traits.

Conclusion: A Balancing Act

Dog shows remain a double-edged sword. They celebrate breed diversity yet perpetuate health risks. As breeders, judges, and enthusiasts gather under the spotlight, they must recalibrate their priorities. Canine welfare, genetic diversity, and functional abilities should reclaim center stage. Perhaps then, our beloved companions will thrive—not just as showpieces but as vibrant, healthy beings.

In the words of Mark Derr, who penned "The Politics of Dogs" in 1990, we must avoid creating a Frankenstein monster—a breed shaped solely by human desires. Let us honor tradition while embracing evolution, ensuring that every wagging tail tells a tale of resilience, not compromise.

Note: This essay reflects the intricate dance between passion, politics, and paws—a dance that continues to shape the world of dog shows.

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Replies (4)
    • Well thought out and written. Personally I don’t blame AKC but I do believe they share a portion of the responsibility in this. I put most of the blame on the enthusiasts. I believe they have taken the importance off function and made it about aesthetics. That coupled with greed from the potential profiting from creating the impossible perfect canine. I have heard many times from many puppy peddlers and have seen it all over their websites. Their interest is in improving the breed. To imply that you want to improve the breed speaks volumes. It says that there is something wrong with the breed and it needs to be amended. I and I alone is going to create the perfect dog. On the other hand the work dog clubs, etc equally are the problem. This community often will breed anything trying to create the impossible perfect working dog. Their ideal of the perfect dog will change urge the wind. The create excessive size to undersized dogs. The inbreed until the dogs produce small litter or no litters at all. The dog becomes infertile.

      These two groups should realize the dog is perfectly flawed. It doesn’t need to be improved. The only thing they they will do is to exaggerate the problem with puppy peddlers. Every dog has flaws. You can’t breed the flaws out. No line will produce the perfect show or working dog. This has been proven time and time again. The so called working line does not guarantee that a new pup will be a great working dog. Neither does a so called show line won’t guarantee that the new pup will be best in show.

      • These two groups should realize the dog is perfectly flawed. It doesn’t need to be improved. The only thing they will do is to exaggerate the problem with puppy peddlers. Every dog has flaws. You can’t breed the flaws out. No line will produce the perfect show or working dog. This has been proven time and time again. The so-called working line does not guarantee that a new pup will be a great working dog. Neither does a so-called show line guarantee that the new pup will be best in show.

        Well said! I wish many more dog enthusiasts though the way you dog. Another group of people profess to preserve their breed of choice, but this is also incorrect as they make their tweaks through selective breeding to get their version of the perfectly "preserved" dog.

        The best way to preserve a breed is to restore them to their normal functions and encourage the performance of such functions in habitats suitable for their work. Many of the functions of dogs were transferred by modern methods of living, farming, and controlling animals and brigands through fencing and urban sprawl.

        @eliteguardianpresa @Elite Guardian Presa keep up your great work with the   I hope people looking for a Presa Canario will seriously consider your program and if they meet your requirements take home a functional, stable dog.

        • Personally I have been on both sides. I was strictly working dogs. Speaking negative things about showing dogs. I've heard the claim that they were only producing pretty dogs. My dogs can win but I don't have time to show. While I now compete in the show ring I don't call my dogs show dogs. They don't have show careers. I don't enter them in show after show. I get an impartial judge that says my dog meet the standard for my breed. I also compete in a variety of working dogs events. I don't emphasize show dogs over working dogs. My dogs are working dogs. That's the purpose of the breed. The term working dog can mean a variety of things. I believed in my youth that it was bite work. But I've learned that it can be obedience, herding, hunting, racing and much more. Dogs are much happier doing things that they were bred to do and other things that stimulate them.

          • Another great comment by @eliteguardianpresa @Elite Guardian Presa - there is a confluence of show beauty and working conformation. Sometimes the lines are blurred to the point of obscurity and then the "breed" will have problems with morphology and function.

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