It isn’t easy to be a conscientious dog breeder these days. If you are a breeder and you try do some of the right things within the confines of the AKC you might find yourself and your dogs shunned, criticized or expelled.
And even with that threat hanging over them, there are some brave breeders trying to do just that.
Some breeders do the best they can by not publicly criticizing their organizational Masters, but by trying to change things in small steps from within. From what I hear from breeders I know, and how they talk about the AKC, this is a large group. Many can see the disastrous path they are on, and want to change it. They speak up in breed club meetings, and breed their dogs with a different criteria than what may be winning in the ring. Still, they often can’t see beyond the purebred label.
Then there are those who have pushed back with far more fervor. Some have formed independent organizations outside the AKC monopoly, or have stayed totally independent of the whole kennel and breed club organizations.
One breeder stands out as having committed heresy against the Laws Of The Dog Fancy, Robert Schaible.
Schaible, is a medical geneticist and Dalmatian breeder. Back in the 1970’s a large percentage of Dalmatians had a gene that predisposed them to developing urate stone disease, a painful condition that often needed surgery to remove the blockages being created. The treatment is painful and expensive. It wasn’t uncommon for dogs to be euthanized rather than deal with the issue.
Schaible decided to change that.
In 1974, he did a single mating of a Pointer with a Dalmatian. Then Schaible bred a bitch from that litter to Dalmatians with low uric acid. Five generations later the dogs looked like Dalmatians within the breed type. And they no longer carried the gene that led to the urate stone disease. They were called LUA (Low Uric Acid) Dalmatians.
At first, in 1981, the AKC agreed to register two of the fifth-generation pups, a male and a female. However, The Dalmatian club objected, the AKC backed off, and a long drawn out battle ensued. All because there was that DAMN POINTER in the breeding. And since purity rules over all other considerations, there was a battle over this.
Schaible wound up registering his dogs with the United Kennel Club after losing the initial fight with AKC and his breed club. It took another 30 years for the AKC to finally recognize the dogs as Dalmatians, which it does now. From the LUA (Low Uric Acid) Dalmatians World website: “In the end, a combination of a 19th century practice of crossbreeding to bring in a trait that was missing in the breed and a 21st century DNA test has the Dalmatian breeders on the road to eliminating a serious health problem in the breed.”(1).
You can imagine what Schaible went through in those 30 years. All for the crime of crossbreeding to rid a breed of a painful inherited disease. And I don’t know of any other situation like this one that has been acceptable to the AKC (Let me know if you do).
Far more common than the heresy of crossbreeding, there are many breeders who refuse to breed to the standard, but breed variations that are healthier. While their dogs are “pure” and thus still recognized by the registry, they don’t fit the type enough to win at conformation shows. Think of a German Shepherd with a hind end that works, a pug with a longer muzzle so it can breathe, a or an Australian Shepherd with tails left on rather than be maimed to fit the breed standard. These breeders collect their AKC pedigree certificate and never darken the doors of a dog show.
A particularly interesting group of these kind of breeders are the ones breeding non-conformation dogs of the Field or Working variety. It seems ridiculous to even HAVE that kind of division (shouldn’t a show dog be put together well enough to do the job it was bred to do?). Field Labs are fit dogs- they look very different then their fat, short-legged show cousins. Field labs are energetic, muscular dogs who can work. Field Goldens are the same way. Working Cockers, also know as Wockers, are built for the field not the show. And the list goes on. None of these dogs will win a show, and will be bred with other working dogs to continue to make dogs that align with its purpose. At some point, even the purity of these dogs will mean their genetic breakdown. But you have to admire these breeders who will be shunned by their Breed Clubs and keep on making dogs fit to do the work of hunting, retrieving, Search and Rescue, police dog work, herding, etc.
If you even mention Doodles in most dog circles, you will get eye rolls, expressions of disgust, and comments about “they are just mutts” and shouldn’t be worth what their breeders charge. Some of the discussion will be about temperament, or about how tough the coats can be to care for, or about disreputable breeders. Of course, you can argue you will find those issues with AKC registered purebred dogs as well. But the idea of careful crossbreeding is one that some breeders have embraced. You will find Doodle breeders, Sports-bred mix breeders, and other kinds of breeders that are crossing dogs, and doing all the best health checks on the parents, and breeding really great dogs with good temperaments. You can find these dogs being bred in service dog programs as well. All outside the control of the AKC. Sweet.
And the last thing I will mention are the breed organizations with or without affiliation to the AKC such as the American Border Collie Association. This is from their webpage: “The ABCA is a working stockdog registry and believes that breeding for conformation standards rather than working ability is detrimental to the health and working ability of the Border Collie. The ABCA does not recognize any registry that promotes conformation showing of Border Collies.” (2) There is a very disturbing history of how the AKC even got the Border Collie into its registry, and the fight to preserve the breed as a working dog. I hope to write about that in an upcoming blog.
There is pressure to change the way the dog breeding monopoly works, both from inside and outside. Change often happens when there is pressure from both directions. It remains a question if the AKC will eventually allow crossbreeding to cure some of the health concerns of many breeds, and whether the breeders will themselves police their own tendencies to breed for extremes. Good work is being done to keep the working lines functional in many breeds. But I feel more hopeful that those outside the oppressive grasp of the AKC will be breeding our dogs of the future.
A Short History of the Border Collie and the AKC https://www.bordercollie.org/culture/culture.html