This preservation of favorable individual differences and variations,
and the destruction of those
which are injurious, have been called Natural Selection, or the Survival of the Fittest.
PROTECTING THE BREED
In our quest for breed purity, the superior strain, and classic type, we have made a sad mess of our dogs - with unhappy, neurotic temperaments, epilepsy, blindness, deafness, immune system weakness, skin diseases, blood disorders, endocrine system malfunctions, crippling blood disorders, deliberate deformity, and often even the inability to reproduce their kind without breeder and veterinary intervention. How clever we have been!
The show ring has also been largely responsible for the decline of breed purpose, working ability and temperament in a great many breeds, notably sporting breeds, herding breeds and sled dog breeds. The quick and easy gratification of blue ribbons and gilt trophies all too readily have replaced the hard work necessary to preserve and advance working abilities of our dogs. If our dog breeds are to conform to the ideal of "a sound mind in a sound body" (as advocated by the proponents of the Advanced Registry), the fanciers must find some way of ensuring that dog-breeding takes place along the lines that pays greater attention to working characteristics, temperament and trainability.
A more balanced outlook on what a breed must have in health, in temperament and working abilities must be restored by integrating them with the ideals of conformation, beauty and "type." All kinds of dogs, toy breeds not excepted, can perform useful functions and respond to training. Those aspects should be given importance at least fully equal to that of type and conformation instead of being regarded as merely optional. For example, breeding and exhibition of utility breeds such as gundogs and sled dogs merely for sale as pets and for dog shows, with no effort made to maintain and advance their working capabilities, is an obvious abuse which must lead inevitably to mental and physical breakdown in those breeds.
Dogs have a balance of genes in nature and those who attempt to set this aside must struggle from then on to attain and to maintain fitness in their stock. There is more to this than mouthing tired expression about "soundness." Artificial selection alone, such as that used to produce winning exhibition dogs, involves breeding in a way which flagrantly disregards most of the genes carried in each dog. When selecting for desired traits of superficial appearance it unavoidably affects many other genes which just come along with the package and are often fixed in a state which are not desirable and the breeder is in total ignorance of what is happening. This may be a major factor in the current prevalence of genetic diseases. Natural selection has been hesitantly used and replaced by artificial selection, high-level nutrition, and advanced veterinary care. But natural selection only comes to the foreground once again at a more dominate deeper and more serious level when the new genes that the breeder has as set up proves flawed through genetic unsoundness. This now leads to healthy and hardy animals no longer being produced, however typey and attractive to the eyes of the judges the result may be.
This declining vigor caused by the inadvertently fixing undesirable genes that are at times lethal and also sickly will not be made up for by breed points. Fitness criteria may not be replaced with impulsive aesthetic criteria. The animal's environment is the ultimate judge of its fitness and will not be denied its say. You may vaccinate the dog and dose him with antibiotics, feed him with vitamins and minerals as you like, enclose him in a sterile pathogen-free laboratory environment if it comes to that! Still natural selection may not be avoided; it only emerges at a deeper level.
In a sense the dog's environment includes his own physical body; if the genes which blueprint his composition are flawed, then the dog is doomed regardless of his beauty and classic breed type. The truth is that the "superior strain" cannot be produced by manmade breeding programs and artificial selection; the breeder's decisions are subject to nature's veto at all times.
With what, then, will the breeder replace natural selection? If he replaces it with profit, the corruption of his stock will in the end put him out of business as veterinary costs and death eat up his profit margin. If he replaces it with beauty contests, in the end his beautiful contest winners will create weaklings and deteriorate. If he replaces it with screening programs for the "elimination of genetic defects," in the end his stock will give way to inbreeding misery as the females fail to whelp naturally and puppies die in the nest. If he replaces it with veterinary care, in the end his stock will die prematurely of incurable cancer, or the young will fall prey to viral diseases despite repeated polluting vaccinations. If he replaces it with work and seriousness, his stock may endure awhile longer, but in the end it will turn out to be afflicted with genetic ills that slipped through his demanding program, or its performance will mysteriously decline as the inbreeding coefficient creeps upward.
In the end, natural selection cannot truly be replaced with artificial criteria. The breeder must find a way to work with natural selection, within the framework of what is now known about the biological operation of the natural world. We in the canine fancy must begin to take lessons from wildlife biologists, from evolutionary biologists, from population geneticists.
With a lot of common sense and strict watchfulness within our breeding stock, judicious record keeping and outcrossing to the best of the best, our dogs can continue to breed wonderful, healthy, sound animals for a long time in the future. It is not an easy task but with open honest communication with other breeders of heritage on our dogs along with keeping “kennel blindness” out of the picture we will be on the right road. Always remember that Mother Nature knows what she is doing and it is prudent to listen.
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