The Long Road to New Breed Recognition
Posted on 09/13/2006 in Ringside Conversations.
by Richard G. (Rick) Beauchamp
Historically the United Kennel Club has been a forerunner in assisting the development and recognition of new breeds in the United States. However, bringing a breed to the place where it can be considered by the UKC can seem like a long and arduous process for those involved in it - as much about one step forward and two steps back as it is about anything. At the same time it can be one of the most positive and progressive periods the fanciers of the breed involved might ever experience. Please note, however, that I say this time can be positive and progressive.
What transpires during this period of development depends in a great part upon the individuals who have been placed (or who have placed themselves) in charge of the movement. It’s the “in charge” part that can often create the problems. Unfortunately being there first, or love of the breed are not necessarily qualifications for leading the breed along the right path.
Look at it this way - no doubt there are individuals in your life who have been lifelong friends (they’ve known you since you were both in pigtails or knee pants), and they love you truly, madly and deeply. Admirable qualities without question, but as steadfast as their devotion to you may be, they are not the same people you want to pick up a scalpel and join in on your open heart surgery.
So it is with many important situations that must be dealt with on the way to breed recognition. People who are qualified to make the important decisions, who are willing to seek the advice of experts and are able to approach problems objectively are critical to successful breed development and recognition. There’s a great deal more involved with this transition than simply moving from obscurity to winning championship points. How the breed and the people involved are perceived counts more than one might realize.
Looks Do Count
The “look” of a breed is, in reality, breed type. Establishing breed type by way of a standard can be a tricky one. Usually the people who get the recognition movement under way have a deep love for the dogs of the breed they own, but unfortunately can be prone to allow that sentiment to stand in the way of objectivity. (It’s a “little-‘Foo-Foo’-had-big-round-yellow-eyes-and-if-that-was-good-enough -for-Foo-Foo-it-should-be-good-enough-for-the-world” kind of thing.)
Then too, many people in these new breeds are also new to breeding and showing purebred dogs and the sport of dogs as it’s conducted here in North America. Terms like “moderate”, “slightly”, “gentle rise”, etc. are far less meaningful to them than they might be to an experienced dog person who understands origin and purpose and how they should influence a standard. Nor is it possible for the novice to understand what future breeders and judges need to know and how what they need to know should be expressed in order to be fully understood.
Even the breeds that have a long-standing history elsewhere are not always immune to these problems. Standards rewritten for U.S. consumption have produced some absolutely baffling interpretations. (To this day I have not been able to fully understand the “reinventing” of the Havanese in the past decade.) Admittedly, dog parlance in one part of the world may differ from that in another but that does not excuse making drastic changes in a breed.
Rare breed fanciers who have enlisted the input of individuals having long-standing experience with a wide variety of breeds have been the most successful in getting breed type down correctly and put into words for the breed standard.
Had it not been for the interest and experienced input of the likes of Anne and Tom Stevenson, I sincerely doubt the Bichon Frise could have made the rapid strides it has here in the U.S. Their interest and guidance gave the Bichon breed credibility in the earliest stages of its quest for recognition.
Although few would be aware of the fact, many statements contained in the Bichon Frise Standard are direct quotes made from a speech given by Tom Stevenson in the late 1960s, well before the breed had even begun its attempts toward recognition. He introduced the breed to one of the earliest judges seminars given here in the U.S.
In the course of that speech, and at subsequent times thereafter, Mr. Stevenson made it clear that what the best breeders produced and ultimately exhibited was a translation of the words on a printed page into living, breathing flesh. The more specific and meaningful the words, the better able a breeder was able to translate. There is no doubt that his guidance enabled the framers of the Bichon Frise Standard to produce one of the best written documents of its kind.
Not all breeds have the benefit of such clarity and guidance, but having it is critical if the intent and purpose of those who founded a breed are to be respected. Those who champion the cause of the new breeds cannot depend upon the breeders and judges of other breeds to automatically know what they need to know in respect to breed type.
The result all too often is that the first dog out of the chute that starts winning Groups or Bests In Show sets the standard. The majority in the breed want some of that limelight too and strive to reproduce what they see bringing home the top laurels. One can only hope that what they see winning and what is what the breed should be are one and the same.
This is a cause of great concern among those who really do respect what was intended for the breed. A conversation we had recently with group of dedicated breeder/exhibitors of the Polish Lowland Sheepdog reflects this. Regardless of how emphatically they have preached the low head carriage, moderate extension and oblong silhouette of the breed, their words seem to fall on deaf ears. High head carriage, exaggerated reach and drive and short coupling seem to get the nod more often than not. It’s flashy, it’s glamorous - and it’s wrong! Has the Parent Club done the educating job required to really instruct the judges as to what real breed type is really all about? Is it now too late?
Probably not, but once the horse is out of the barn as the old expression goes - it’s not easy to get it back. Just ask the Border Collie folks who had a devil of a time convincing the American dog fancy that high head carriage was wrong for their breed! Perhaps admirable for other breeds but absolutely contrary to the origin and purpose of the Border Collie.
I know this is something that those attempting to achieve full recognition for their breed won’t be thrilled about hearing, but frankly I feel catapulting a breed from obscurity into championship point and Group/Best In Show competition serves to take the accent off breed type and put it on what our already recognized breeds constantly lie in danger of - the generic landslide.
It is extremely hard for the exhibitors of these new breeds to be given a taste of the glamour and celebrity surrounding Group and Best In Show competition and not to be seduced by it. Once the breed is granted full recognition, there is an immediate scurrying around for the glamorous and showy dog and the race to the top is on - damn the torpedo and full speed ahead!
It’s just one man’s opinion but I wonder if a moratorium on Group and Best In Show participation might not assist a better understanding of these new breeds. Points and Best of Breed - yes. But perhaps a couple of years for breed type to seek its own level - of finding out what needs to be stressed, what needs to be redefined.
Really, if one of those newly recognized breeders were to win a Best In Multi-Breed Show tomorrow, how many of us would know if it was a top class specimen or not? And whose responsibility is it to educate those of us who breed and judge in that respect?
The high level of quality that exists in the Toy Fox Terrier, American Eskimo and American Pit Bull Terrier cannot be disputed. It is important to realize that for decades they were shown almost exclusively within their own breed - before the rise in importance of the all breed events. The respective breeds were allowed to develop and progress with the accent on breed type rather than the charismatic qualities required of the Group or Best In Show dog. This concentration on type developed dogs and breeders of great quality and set standards that exist to this day. Regardless of where or in what registry these breeds are shown today, owners owe unending thanks to the founding fathers in the UKC.
The moratorium on all breed competition might disappoint those who are involved in the breed but slowing down might prove to be what’s best for the breed in the long run.
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.