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Dog Breeds. What are they good for? Part 2.

Craig Koshyk

Félix wearing a camo neoprene vest in the Libau Marsh
If, as we've seen in part 1, dog breeds are nothing more than wobbly man-made creations, the question is: should we even have breeds?

For me, the answer is yes. But it is not because I think closed stud books and "pure" breeds are in and of themselves, good ideas, but because they are, for all their faults and frailties, all we have to work with.

We've learned to live with the quirky system that created our breeds in the past and maintains them now. For better or worse, breeds have become a part of our sporting heritage and represent personal, regional and national identities within the overall community of hunters and well beyond.

Breeds are not very practical entities, they are forever fighting against their very being and would disappear within a couple generations if we let them go. But they do provide a certain level of predictability (Labs produce litters of Lab puppies) and can be easy to understand (Pointers point, Springers spring etc.).

In fact, having breeds is actually a good idea...on paper. They are like having different brands of a consumer item, different flavors of ice cream as it were. But the way they are created, developed and maintained is inherently flawed. It is based on a bizarre mix of "blue blood" myth, magical thinking and misunderstood Darwinism. Instead of improving breeds, our systems actually sacrifices real progress on the alter of breed purity.

The sled dog concept on the other hand is a far less dogmatic and more pragmatic approach to breeding the better canine mousetrap (for whatever purpose). It removes the burden of the closed stub book and allows breeders to focus on one goal only: create a better dog. Period. I wonder what would happen in pointing dog field trials and tests if the organizers opened up a category for "mixed" breeds. If breeders were allowed to breed to whatever they want and run their dogs against all others. My guess is that give enough resources, really smart, driven, dedicated breeders would come up with some fantastic dogs.

We tend to view the creators of our current breeds as brilliant men from a bygone era...and they were. But they were not supermen and most of them had the equivalent of about a 6th grade education and were completely in the dark regarding the science of genetics. Give the brilliant men and women of today the same freedom and resources as Korthals had in his day (imagine a genius level breeder working for Bill Gates) and what do you think we would get?

I think we would end up with a situation similar to what we already have, minus all the hand wringing about keeping breeds pure and all the fuss about DNA testing etc. There would be a type of dog that looks remarkably like the Pointer kicking ass in all age field trials, a dog that looks remarkably like the Lab dominating retriever trials and a bunch of wiry beasts with beards and moustaches along with GSP looking dogs at the top of the NAVHDA heap.

Because at the end of the day, the top performing breeds in the world today are those that have allowed a certain amount of wiggle room when it comes to being a pure breed. Their creators from the past and the people who breed them now focus (mainly) on one goal: creating a better dog....meanwhile all the others are still running around in circles, chasing their Victorian age shadows.