Selective Breeding - a Dying Art?

Borzoi mother and pupsBorzoi mother and pups

Famous UK judge, Andrew Brace wrote: 'the ability to read a pedigree is an art'[1]. In other words by selective breeding, the successful breeder creates a dog typical of the Breed Standard.  Producing a selectively bred litter is like painting a beautiful picture, or composing an excellent piece of music. Then selecting that special puppy requires what the experienced old-timer used to call, 'an eye for a dog'. Today the modern computer programmes that are used to 'recommend' which dog should be mated to which bitch ignores those very characteristics used to make up the breed in the first instance. This is exacerbated by the use of DNA analysis which influences which puppy should be kept!

The Creation of Modern Show Dogs

There are many examples of breeds being selectively bred to create specific characteristics to perform a particular specialized tasks. In most cases, it took more than a century to make the transition from these types of dogs to the modern show dog.

Irish Water SpanielIrish Water Spaniel

The Irish Water Spaniel is an excellent example. In the early 1800's one of its creators wrote:

In these times of extreme hardship, it was a definite asset to keep a type of dog like the Irish Water Spaniel. This dog with his waterproof oily, curly, coat so he could survive the cold, wet conditions also had large feet and a powerful body capable of working in the bogs and marshes. These physical characteristics, as well as the ability to make the unilateral decision to kill and retrieve wounded birds and animals rather than allowing them to escape, would have helped many Irish people survive when their potato crops failed'.

Greyhounds CoursingGreyhounds Coursing

The Greyhound is another example:

...   for three millennia, since early Egyptian times, in Northern Africa, (the Greyhound) played an important role in running hare and gazelle down for food, and coursing for the thrill of the chase.

Dog SleddingDog Sledding

Then there are the Spitz breeds which:

'...  have lived in close proximity with humans and became somewhat domesticated around 3,000 years ago.  Originally called Esquimaux dogs, when domesticated they were used to pull sleds through the snow.

And perhaps most important of all in today's modern society are the Companion Dogs, dating back:

Toy Spaniels from the 'Summer Palace', BeijingToy Spaniels from the 'Summer Palace', Beijing

"...  to around 3,000 BC when humans began to live in somewhat permanent dwellings instead of being nomadic, the role of dogs as companions evolved. This appears to have happened simultaneously throughout the world in several cradles of early civilizations".

The Transition of types of dogs to Dog Shows

Dog Show  Westminster (USA)1877Dog Show Westminster (USA)1877

The 'birth' of the modern show dogs was with the Stud Books of the World, firstly Britain in 1873 and then America in 1874. Other parts of the world followed. Then descriptions formed the basis for Breed Standards giving the necessary guidelines for breeders and judges. Over the next century or so, these dog shows displayed and promoted our pure breed dogs. But has the role of those who first established the Stud Books and Dog Shows kept up-to-date with the demographics of today's society?

For over one hundred years, breed enthusiasts have sat around judging rings analyzing dogs. Frank discussions took place on the overall strengths and shortcomings of the various competing dogs. These discussions were once considered positives for the various breeds. Old-timers and experienced breeders' opinions were sought and usually respected. These old-timers could read and understand the importance of the pedigree as outlined in Andrew Brace's article[1].


But today, the emphasis is all about winning. Criticism by even the most experienced and respected old-timers is all too often not only denounced, but official complaints result! Frustrated by rejection of their constructive criticism, we lose old-timers and all the experience and depth of knowledge that goes with them.


World Dog Show 2000, MilanWorld Dog Show 2000, Milan

Additionally promotional opportunities for our pure breed dogs often gets over-looked. Imagine the prestige in winning Best in Show at the World Dog Show in Amsterdam in 2018 which boasted an all-time record entry of 33,000 dogs! This should be compared with other great sporting events like the Olympic Games, the World Cup and Wimbledon. But this World Dog Show was not given the publicity it deserved from the world's general media. Instead, interested parties we had to resort to Live Streaming or You Tube to watch this record-breaking event. And did winning Best in Show at such a huge Show impact positively on pure breed dogs or even one particular pure breed? Or was winning dog overshadowed by extremes of coat, grooming and/or handling?

Welsh TerrierWelsh Terrier

It appears that the expertise of lifetimes of selective breeding, selection and raising are being wasted because the younger generation of inexperienced people are now relying on complicated computer programs to plan their mating's instead of studying pedigrees like the old-timers used to do.  Additionally genetic testing influences the selection of their puppies. Free of carrying inherited diseases these puppies may be. But with no concept of the esthetic use of Breed Standards, breeds are increasingly becoming untypical, losing their unique breed features. All too often the 'best' puppies with predictable looks and characteristics are not the ones which are being incorporated into breeding programmes!

It is vital that the selective breeding of typical dogs be just as respected as any other art form or expertise. A well-bred pure breed dog should not only be pleasing to look at, it should also have predictable physical and mental characteristics. When carefully chosen, a dog will complete a household, a family, a life. Like a beautiful picture hanging on a wall, that selectively bred pure breed puppy has the best chance of bringing special pleasure into the lives of those who bought it because of its good looks and temperament. And the return of its love for its lifetime is priceless!

References and Further Reading

Published as 2018 - Jane Harvey - 'Selective Breeding - A Dying Art? in Dog News Australia (Top Dog Media Pty Ltd Austral NSW) Issue 7 September 2018 Page 8

[1] 2018 - Andrew Brace "The Importance of the Pedigree" Published in Dog News Australia (Top Dog Media Pty Ltd Austral NSW) Issue 6 June 2018, Page 8