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I Can Believe “It’s Not Butter!”
Posted on 03/27/2007 in Ringside Conversations.

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Richard G. Beauchamp
Seems we have substitutes for just about everything now. And, according to what manufacturers pay Madison Avenue millions to inform us, we will be just as satisfied with the thing that really isn’t as we would be with the thing that really is.

I use the substitutes of course, but when I do it’s for a reason. Sure, you’ll find my cupboards full of nonfat, sugar free, low cholesterol, decaffeinated, low carbohydrate, and hormone and preservative free products. But don’t think for a minute that I believe any of them taste like the real thing. Carob is not chocolate. Decaffeinated coffee is an oxymoron, and dried out preservative free bread does not a tasty sandwich make!

I personally use the alternatives for the obvious reasons - the same reasons that they were developed for in the first place - to keep the calories down, to let me sleep and to keep things fresh rather than having them go stale. At the same time, I do not try and fool myself into believing that chemically created foods do what the natural products do. I eat veggies because I like them, but even more important, they supply the vitamins and minerals required to keep the human machine operating. I drink real coffee because it gives me that added boost I need in the a.m., and I’m absolutely wild about chocolate (addicted?) because of the taste.

Substitutes are good and fine if they are put in their proper place. That is, don’t make the mistake of thinking the substitute or alternate or simulation is the same as the real thing.

So what is all this nutrition lesson got to do with purebred dogs? Let’s take a look and see.

The best of what’s available is not the same as the real thing. The best of a poor lot doesn’t replace the real thing and in dogs; if we lose sight of that fact, we are in danger of losing the breed.

I would venture to say that some breeds, in their cyclical rise and fall, have been at a low ebb for such a long time that those breeding and judging them have never seen a specimen that represents what the breed was really intended to be. How would someone who has seen only the alternative and never the ideal, appreciate what they are actually looking at when and if it does come along?

Letter from a Breeder
This takes us back to a letter I received from a breeder who was lamenting the rise and influence of the “generic” dogs in many of our breeds. This is a situation that warrants constant attention and for this reason I want to repeat a specific portion of that letter.

“‘The unfortunate part is that so many of the wrong kind of examples are in the ring, and winning that judges (and exhibitors) begin to see those as being correct - and begin to look for them and reward them. This has a devastating effect on the breed as a whole (at least to us ‘purists’ - many others probably accept it as ‘progress’). I expect that this is true in many other breeds as well. Popularity in the show ring seems to have that effect.’”

The writer’s comments bring to mind a situation that took place at a Gun Dog seminar I attended a while back. The instructor pointed out one dog in the line up as particularly outstanding in the class that was presented. My eye, and the eye of another student I was speaking to, was drawn to an entirely different dog and I brought this to the attention of the instructor.

The instructor quickly acknowledged the fact that the dog I had selected indeed had quality, “But,” he said, “the dog you selected is of a style that you are more accustomed to seeing while the one I want you to take note of is more correct for the breed.’”

As important as this is, it is not new news. Those who have been around their breeds for a respectable length of time have seen the generic dogs who gain wide fame and recognition set trends that eventually catapult breeds off into directions never intended and entirely unsuitable for the essence of the breed.

Change or Development?
Those who know no better confuse change with development. They are not the same! Breed development is taking the respective breed ever closer to the ideal - eliminating characteristics that detract from an ability to perform or to achieve a particular look.

In dog breeding we strive to modify or improve not to reinvent. As glamorous, exciting and different as a dramatic new dog on the scene might appear to be, it is a part of our responsibility as breeders and judges to honor the integrity - the essence if you will, of our chosen breed.

Fanciers would abhor the thought of a breeder surreptitiously crossbreeding their line with another breed, or falsifying pedigrees, whether this was done to create a greater good or not. Yet these same objectors would think nothing at all of breeding to a dog who, for all intents and purposes, defies the actual essence of its breed.

This veering off course into an entirely different direction can occur subtly, slowly with no real intention to bring about a radical change. One needs only to look at the American Cocker transition in hair alone. In many cases, those involved are not even aware the changes are taking place. I don’t think it occurs maliciously or with an utter disregard for a breed.

Nor do I believe that this might be the first time in history that situations such as this have ever existed. I do believe, however, that the opportunities for this taking place are more prevalent today than ever before because we have more people with no intention of breeding dogs, and who exhibit dogs simply because they enjoy the competitive aspects of the dog game and the thrill and excitement of the win.

Certainly no crime in that, and I can think of a good many competitive activities that do the individual far less good and a great deal more harm. We dog breeding purists need to remind ourselves that people show dogs for all kinds of reasons. While some use dog shows as a means of comparing their achievements to that of their peers, others may have entirely different reasons for being there.

Why Does It Happen?
Why do breeds drift off in the first place? There are a variety of reasons, of course, but quite frankly I believe it has much to do in a preponderance of cases with what a breeder friend of mine from long ago once said. She referred to it as the “breed explosion” that occurs when knowledgeable and influential breed experts pass away or cease breeding.

The influence of the individuals I am inclined to refer to as “master breeders,” is greatest within their own generation - that in which they are actively breeding and exhibiting. They are there to produce proper examples and to access the quality of dogs presented by their peers. Their knowledge and opinion is held in high regard because of they are able to consistently produce superior stock. But just as important, they have the ability to apply their vast storehouse of knowledge across the board, so to speak. They can appreciate a good one regardless of who bred it, who owns it or the bloodline it represents.

The influence of these masters diminishes somewhat upon their retirement from breeding or judging but often they continue to have some influence upon the aware individuals in the following generation. Unfortunately it is at this point, however, that innovations can also began to occur. The masters are no longer present to access and call a halt to inappropriate innovations. Consequently the breed begins blowing off into new, often irreversible directions. As generations succeed, and the fanciers of a breed are further and further removed from “the source” of breed knowledge, the wider the variation spectrum of becomes.

All that is needed is a dominant winner or heavily bred to variation to come along and the breed can become severely altered and totally removed from its origins and purpose. It often takes great courage and often years of thankless crusading before the landslide can be brought to a halt and some semblance of proper type can be restored.

It is not only up to the occasional crusader to employ checks and balances. This responsibility lies with each and every person who breeds a litter or judges a dog show. Agreed, there are breeders and judges who have not had the benefit of seeing what a breed can and should be, but this does not relieve them of the responsibility they have to study, to research and to seek guidance.

In the end, regardless of whether we are breeding, exhibiting or judging, we must stop and ask ourselves if what we are after is the real thing or a cleverly contrived substitute. Can you tell whether or not it really is butter?

The information contained in Mr. Beauchamp’s “Solving the Mystery of Breed Type” series that appeared in BLOODLINES, can be found in his book, Solving the Mystery of Breed Type, published by Doral Publishing, Inc.