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Whether judging dogs or selecting a breed, the most important thing is what the dog was bred to do and this is what you must know before deciding...


September 16, 2019

Graham Mabbutt, Cynologist and author of "A Passion For Dogs"


The Old English Game Cock is a strain of fowl that has been bred pure since medieval time for extreme stamina, soundness and indomitability. In Britain The Oxford Club, although almost a secret society (I as a member of The Police Force was always black-balled) exists to this day and as it has always done, it provides an open show once a year for exhibition. Colour is everything in Game-fowl (unlike the dog) if you wish to breed a reliable strain.


“A dunghill cock” is only fit for a pie, and one that will flee the pit at the first touch of silver or steel, is proof of decadence and an example of breeding for show only. In this modern age there are so many canine examples e.g. The German Shepherd Dog, the four types of Belgian Shepherds, the Australian Shepherd, and the Border Collie. To that list I would add amongst others, Hounds, Pointers, Setters, Retrievers, and The Jack Russell terrier.


The Track and Coursing greyhound, the thoroughbred horse, and the Racing pigeon are the finest examples of ‘bred for purpose’. A greyhound without speed and stamina to ‘turn puss’, will soon find a home in the country six feet under. The ‘blood’ horse without speed will go to the knacker’s yard. The racing pigeon that cannot home like a bullet even over water will get ‘The bucket’ as the saying goes. Thereby they are never bred from. There is a saying ‘If you cannot cull don’t breed.’ Once a standard for beauty becomes the only criterion, it takes only several generations before a breed is split into two, ‘show’ and ‘work’, the show strain decadent and weak.


It is a sad fact that show standards have little to do with optimum working efficiency and everything to do with fashion in the pursuit of so-called beauty. All too often this results in a change of make and shape to the extent the animal is prey to physical defects and disorders, longevity no longer theirs. Longevity (living into a healthy old age) is a very important factor in proving a strain.


The problem is in this modern society so many dogs live in a concrete jungle (an alien environment). Many are mere baby substitutes rather than companions.


There is no acid test combining a reliable character assessment to prove they have innate breed instincts and the ability to work. What is meant by work: In the Hound Group it is stamina to range freely and to hunt singly or as a pack giving tongue when hot on the trail. It is ‘Gun dogs’ to work to the gun, facing the thickest of cover. Retrievers to retrieve with verve from water or on land. Pointers to point. Setters to set. All of these breeds silent and biddable with an exquisite nose.


Terriers have characters of their own, some are jokers of the canine race, most are bundles of energy and fun. In days of yore a Yorkshire Terrier by the name of Billy killed twenty rats in a barrel in 1 minute 40 seconds. His greatest performance of killing a hundred rats in 5 minutes 30 seconds, is a record hardly likely to be surpassed to-day. It is not recorded whether Billy’s fine coat swept the ground or if on his days off he wore a ribbon in his top-knot.


The Pastoral/Herding Group should still delight in the ‘Cast’ and ‘Out run’ at speed under whistle control to be ‘Dropped’ at the furthest point and recalled after several minutes. Whilst they have tremendous verve to perform tasks at all times they should be intelligent, confident and composed. Excitability foreign to their nature, ‘hand shyness’ unknown. The Border Collie must still have the instinct to ‘Show eye’ (pretty well lost in all the other herding breeds) which is in effect to hunt.


Now to The German Shepherd Dog, once unquestionably ‘The working dog and companion without peer’. The Bundes Seiger Prufung is proof positive as is qualification in Kennel Club Working Trials and the open competition of Ring Sport. Whether Working Trials proves innate good character and working ability rather than proof of good teaching and training is a moot point. In today’s German Shepherd where do we find calm confidence as a family companion with drive a plenty when required to perform tasks to assist man, especially as a guide dog and companion for the blind? The breed that began it all, and once the breed of choice for work above all others.


Is there an answer? The greatest service (the registries) could give to dogs, the Working Breeds in particular, is to institute a basic qualification for nose work which to a certain extent would ease instinct deprivation. A qualification on a harness and line excluding ‘control’ and ‘agility’ of a simple pattern track from a given point over 500 meters or so laid half an hour previously over open arable countryside. The judge observing the dog’s demeanor walking calm and composed without hesitation across a wide reflective plastic tarpaulin spread over the ground. Also a calm attitude to two dummy-launcher shots from a hidden source, as well as accepting the tracking harness from the assessor at the beginning of the track.


Loss of olfactory instinct and nasal fatigue are stress related. Happy, fairly regular play in following footsteps in a local park or a friendly farmer’s fields is all that is required to demonstrate a dog’s olfactory instinct and is a way of ensuring full play of that prime instinct. Moreover, it develops empathy and in a test as l describe a simple character assessment free from gimmicks.


Surely that is the holy grail we all should seek as dog enthusiasts. Such a qualification would not require dedication to a teaching/training regime, so often used as an excuse by handlers.

Sterner competition/qualification nose work tests could be devised. (All training should be incremental). For the older dog passed agility, a new lease of life. What joy for the dog to share such play with an adored owner.


Check out Mr. Mabbutt's Book "A Passion For Dogs" Book Review in Sadly, Graham Mabbutt passed away January 2022, he will be missed. EST 2002 © Sept 2019





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