The Quest for Knowledge
Posted on 11/24/2008 in Ringside Conversations.
Richard G. (Rick) Beauchamp
(This article originally appeared in the October 2008 issue of BLOODLINES Magazine.)
The term “know-it-all” is usually directed at those who believe they know more about something (or everything!) than everyone else, and have all the information that will ever be necessary to understand the subject at hand. This know-it-all wears thin very quickly and unfortunately is at the end of the road in his pursuit of knowledge rather than moving along the path toward it.
There is another kind of know-it-all, however. He isn’t someone who believes he does, in fact, know it all but rather aspires to have such a degree of knowledge that there is little or nothing else to learn.
This fellow can best be understood by a conversation I had recently with a very knowledgeable dog person who said that there were certain breeds of dogs he judged which he felt fully confident that he made the right decisions, without question. Yet, there were other breeds that he is never absolutely certain the decisions he reaches are the only ones that could be made.
Wanting to know absolutely everything about every breed of dog that we might judge or breed is indeed a lofty ambition, but in my mind one that I would have to classify under the heading of impossible dreams. Now mind you, I’m not trying to indicate that since no one ever knows everything about everything we should simply forget about trying to get as much knowledge as we can - on the contrary.
The reason I think it is impossible to say that any of us might have it all in the knowledge department, particularly in the realm of purebred dogs, is because of the infinite number of variables that exist in this our chosen avocation. First of all, what all of us who have been around the dog game for a while understands is that there is no such thing as perfection. There’s always this missing or that little thing could be improved upon; and what few don’t stop to realize is that changing one characteristic in a dog changes how that part balances with the rest of the dog, and therefore other adjustments would have to be made to order to achieve nirvana. Ours is an unending subject to be studied.
Then, too, I believe there are certain kinds of dogs that each of us has a natural affinity for. “Looks,” if you will, that we find more attractive than others and whose balance and proportion we find more pleasing and easier to relate to and understand. It should come as no surprise that learning about these breeds would come more easily and more quickly than it would in studying other breeds.
For instance, there are some dog fanciers who are attracted to the short-statured, low center of gravity look, like that of the bull or bull and terrier crosses. They admire the look and what it takes to achieve the look. While not impossible, it seems doubtful that the same individual would find the look of the sighthound breeds - long-legged, sleek, with whipcord muscling - as interesting or attractive.
The real dog connoisseur can, of course, appreciate the quality inherent in the sighthound breeds, but given his own personal druthers between high-class examples of each, his preference would always be the lower stationed, more powerful looking breed. The judge, of course, must guard against allowing his preferences to override which of the two would be most correct for its breed. I have often written about making sure that our personal preferences do not stand in the way of what breed standards actually ask for.
This applies to breeders, as well. It is not unusual to find breeders who will develop a fondness for the exaggeration of certain breed characteristics - i.e., long necks, short backs, extremely heavy coats, etc. They will often forgive a multitude of shortcomings when selecting their puppies in favor of those things that may not be actually required or even in some cases not even asked for by the standard.
As to knowing it all about any breed - I’ve yet to find that to be true. There are always some breeds we know and understand better than others, but I seriously doubt any of us will ever know all there is to know about anything - purebred dogs without question.
Rather than aspiring to know it all, I would suggest keeping a mindset to remain a student, open to any and all knowledge that enhances what we have already learned. With this attitude the amount of new and beneficial material that can be acquired is limitless. Knowing it all implies there is an eventual time and place at which the individual will stop learning - that he will be satisfied that no one or no situation will be able to present new knowledge to that which he has already acquired.
Those who have been readers of this column through the years know how important I believe the use of an experienced and successful mentor is. You can’t imagine how much time and money I’ve observed people investing on dog after mediocre dog, breeding one unsuccessful litter after the next. They do so because they’ve had no one to guide them in the right direction or upon whom they could rely for sound advice on how to go about planning breedings.
The most successful young breeders I know are those who in their early years of breeding simply followed the directions of their mentors. Only after they learned how it had all been done in the past did they feel equipped to try some well thought-out experimenting on their own. But even then they have been willing to have their mentors evaluate their efforts.
With all this understood, the mentor also has certain responsibilities to the student. It goes without saying that it is well-nigh impossible to breed dogs without developing some personal preferences - particular “looks” within a breed. The mentor must be fair to the student and explain that the style of dog that he is known for breeding is his own personal take on the breed while remaining within the confines of the breed standard. The mentor must also be clear that the style of dog he breeds is not the only style the student will encounter nor is it the only style that remains correct to the dictates of the standard.
Some erroneously refer to these styles as different types. This can be somewhat confusing to the novice in that it implies that the breed standard means different things to different people and therefore allows for different kinds of dogs. There is only one correct type for a breed: that called for by the breed standard. Preferences or accents on different aspects of the standard are what create styles within a breed.
A mentor telling the novice that the only correct take on a breed is that which he the breeder is noted for creates a great disservice. This robs the student of being able to fully understand where the true essence of the breed lies.
Even the major kennels of the past had a vision, a style that was adhered to, but then there were those who followed who found the bend of a stifle here, the texture of a coat there, could improve upon the original. The important thing, however, was that the major portion of the picture had been completed. It was the refinements that were being dealt with as the breed progressed.
Changing a breed means eliminating or adding physical or temperamental characteristics. When this happens the standard of perfection is altered to suit the whims of the individual. There is no way to view this other than complete disrespect for the genius that was obviously involved in the breed’s creation.
In closing, my advice to the real dog student is to aim for the moon - strive to know as much as you possibly can, but never believe that there is nothing more to learn. Stop to think what a limited world this would be if the great minds of yesterday believed for a single second that everything mankind needed to know had been learned.
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 Kennel Club Books.