Opinion piece: What do you want your dog to look like?
Jeremy Vine does a series of pieces entitled ‘What makes us human?‘ on Radio 2 and this is a picture that sums up a viewpoint I have realised over the past few days in relation to this question. It is similar to a picture I saw on social media with a man in camouflage trousers and a neon top with the caption “do ye wanna be seen o’ no?” (Scottish) Lol. Here I am, with my camouflage jacket and my bright purple hair.
What’s the point I am making? We want to be the same as everyone else. We are desperate to conform, to fit in, to be seen as ‘normal’, to go unnoticed. AND we are desperate to be different, to stand out, to be memorable. In order to achieve these two opposing and confrontational goals, we will buy the latest fashion, follow the trends, look carefully at what others are doing and copy it. There are many entertaining social experiments about people going along with a crowd, performing in increasingly bizarre ways, just to do the same as everyone else.
Equally, there is a constant battle to be just a little bit different, to be memorable and not the same as everyone else. We give children ridiculous names, or spell their names in ridiculous ways. We get tattoos, with our own versions of patterns or pictures making us look a bit different from other people (while following the fashion for body art). We dye our hair.
How does this relate to dogs?
I watched the Catherine Tate programme Saving the British Bulldog the other night (watch it, if you haven’t already, it’s really good). Catherine presents a really clear, balanced picture of what has happened to the bulldog breed and why this has taken place. In my view, this represents this same dichotomy between conforming and being different.
The Kennel Club have a breed standard for the British Bulldog. It says right at the outset:
“A Breed Standard is the guideline which describes the ideal characteristics, temperament and appearance including the correct colour of a breed and ensures that the breed is fit for function. Absolute soundness is essential.
“Breeders and judges should at all times be careful to avoid obvious conditions or exaggerations which would be detrimental in any way to the health, welfare or soundness of this breed.“
There it is, in black and white. So what’s going on? Breeders are breeding for health and to produce the best examples of the breed, conforming to the ‘standard’ set. BUT people don’t want all dogs to look the same. They want them to look different. People want a dog, but they want it to look like a baby.
As the programme demonstrates, this make the dog unhealthy, because it becomes deformed. This is NOT the fault of the Kennel Club, nor the breeders, but the buying public, who are trying to find a particular ‘look’, no matter what that costs.
Health comes first
Surely we would not deliberately buy something that was unhealthy, would we? We wouldn’t choose to have an unhealthy child, would we? So why would we choose to have a dog with inherent health problems?
If we only cared about dog health, we would all have dogs that are shaped like dogs. A bit like this year’s Crufts Best in Show, Tease the Whippet, (Collooney Tartan Tease). The Kennel Club says that the Whippet was originally bred for rabbit coursing, with gambling on racing in the North of England. It goes on to say:
“Although Whippet racing continues on a very minor scale, the breed is now hugely popular in the show ring where its elegant lines and smooth daisycutting action has won many admirers. As a family companion, the Whippet is gentle and affectionate and enjoys the comforts of domestic life.”
Sounds lovely, doesn’t it? But we don’t all want Whippets, do we? We want something different.
The same, but different
This is all just an excuse to talk about my puppy, Ounce. I LOVE that she is different – pretty unique in fact. She is a lilac and white Border Collie, which is a colour that is found in only around 1% of the breed. In addition, she has blue eyes, which is even rarer. Blue eyes are definitely not part of the breed standard.
At the same time, Ounce conforms to the ‘show type’ of Border Collie, because she is from those lines. So she is more ‘stocky’ than a farm-bred, working sheepdog type Border Collie. She has the pedigree Border Collie broad, short back and head, and she has a thicker, longer coat than a working sheepdog. She has very even markings, with a white blaze, full mane, white socks and white tail tip. Ounce is also a ‘typical collie’ in her temperament and behaviour. Lovely.
The evolutionary compulsion
In my opinion, there is a biological reason why we want to conform and be different. We need to ‘fit in’ so that we can be desirable to others, but we also need a diverse gene pool and we need to attract a mate. To meet these needs, we are prepared to do almost anything and ‘variety is the spice of life’.
Going back to the health issues, we are, unfortunately, prepared to do many things in order to be ‘attractive’ to others. People have always been happy to mutilate themselves and each other in the name of beauty, eg stilettos, makeup, piercings, FGM. This is well documented, so I do not need to detail it here.
This compulsion is transferred to our dogs. We want the same as everyone else, but we want ours to be better. More beautiful, more unusual, more extreme, more fierce and so on.
My mother has passed down a family expression to me, which my sons now say. It was said by my great-grandmother; “It’s a good job we’re not all the same, or we’d all want to marry the same man. And it wouldn’t be you Charlie.” Poor Charlie! My conclusion is that we strive to be different, while fighting to be part of the human race. It’s what makes us human, but also what makes us part of the evolutionary process. Purple hair, purple puppy, something different.
Hopefully, we can recognise the need to promote the healthy ‘normal’ while celebrating the beautiful variety of life. Pedigree dogs should be healthy, but this is only true as long as responsible breeders can produce enough dogs to meet public demand. Once we clamour for more and more ‘designer dogs’, unscrupulous people will see a chance to make big bucks by compromising standards, as Catherine Tait’s programme demonstrated. Please bear in mind what a dog should look like when considering what to get for your best friend?
If you are buying a dog, start by looking at the What Dog? page, then contact me? Or if you want to breed, read this Dog Breeding Blog and then please CONTACT ME to discuss this, as I may be able to mentor you?
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