In the last installment, I looked at how a growing middle class started looking at purebreds as one of the luxuries their income and leisure could now well afford. Mid-century modern society wanted the mid-century modern dog to keep up with the Joneses. Supply followed the demand… to excess.
The Star That Tarnished
Gradually, the star of the purebred started to dim, with more and more reports of unhealthy, inbred animals. The changes in some breeds and a growing awareness of the problems with breeding for extremity also didn’t do the purebred fancy much good. Resistance to allowing new blood into the stud books was also a contentious issue. As the years rolled on towards the end of the 20th century, the purebred’s image was getting worse, not better.
Whether or not one agrees with any or all of the claims in the links above does not change the fact that these sentiments are widely circulated and widely believed. Also, they are rooted in truth, as most kinda-sorta-well-a-little-bit-but-not-really things are. There are some lines of purebred dogs that are flawed genetically – with recessive genes that cause debilitating problems or bred for a look that does not lend itself to a healthy, long life with minimal structural problems. There are people who breed dogs they are well aware are passing on recessives that will ruin the lives of future puppies. Not all of these people exist on remote farms with dogs permanently installed in cages, either. Some of these dogs are trotting around show rings even now.
With every report of a defective dog or puppy, with every news article on unhealthy purebred dogs, with every expose on the dog show world that highlights English Bulldogs who can’t whelp on their own or German Shepherd Dogs running on their hocks, the image of the purebred dog in general got a bit more grime on it.
Author’s Note: If your dedication to breed purity/your bloodlines/your reputation as a breeder/producing puppies is greater than your desire to produce healthy, temperamentally-sound, long-lived dogs, you have failed as a breeder. FAILED. If you are part of a group that ignores or promotes breeding practices that do not result in said healthy, temperamentally-sound, long-lived dogs, you have also failed. Grade F. I don’t care if you breed purebreds, mixed breeds, your own new, special breed or whatever. You don’t produce the best possible dogs with the best possible future within your power, you are contributing nothing to the dog world. Zip. Zilch. Thank you for calling, please don’t try again.
The animal rights groups had the perfect ground for promoting adoption and casting an evil light on breeding. Purebreds, they argued, were not one whit better than mixed breeds and no one should be breeding
Meanwhile many dedicated breeders were breeding dogs that were hardy, healthy, suitable for the work they were bred for, and reasonably long-lived. Of course, few people heard about them, because a purebred Labrador who is purchased from a breeder, lives a healthy, happy life and dies at the ripe old age of 15 does not make the news.
Purebreds were still popular, but their image was damaged by a virulent combination of puppy mill dogs and growing unrest about the proliferation of genetic problems that seemed to plague purebred dogs. After all, despite the dawning realization that breeders were going to have to challenge the image of the purebred dog as a weak, unhealthy, unsound animal, their voice in the general population wasn’t that loud. Also, when you try to make a point about inbreeding vs. linebreeding vs. outcrossing coefficients, the only thing the average person sees is ‘inbreeding’ which equals ‘bad’.
A lot of breeders who woke to this realization tried to repair the damage, but in every case, it was overshadowed with the purebred vs. mutt/mixed breed/crossbreed controversy. Yeah, sure, we could talk about hip tests when they started to be in vogue and eye tests when they started being a thing, blood tests when they came out, and DNA testing when it appeared… but all we managed to teach people was that it was a case of purebred vs. crossbred, not a case of serious breeder vs. look-I-stuck-two-dogs-together-and-they-have-PAPERS.
On to Part 4: Enter the Doodle.