An Old Debate in Dogdom

Border collie photo via Pexels

Form vs. function in dogs has been a topic of discussion since dog shows first gained popularity in the late 19th century. There are extremes at both ends – those who care nothing about the utility of a dog and breed solely for attributes currently being rewarded in the show ring. At the opposite end are breeders who value working ability only and couldn’t care less if a dog was purple with orange polka dots so long as he puts in an honest day’s work. In between, there is array of attitudes which lean one way or the other with an eye toward combining beauty and brains – with mixed results.

Cavalier photo via Pexels

Idealists argue that form follows function and so if a dog has the ability to perform the work he was originally bred for, his appearance must be adequate to obtain ribbons at dog shows and vice versa. This is unfortunately false and can not be considered a serious argument. Form does indeed follow function but that does not translate to results in the field or in the ring.

Today, the overwhelming majority of dog owners keep dogs as pets and have no use for either show prizes or working ability, a fact that has further muddied the waters. Most dog owners want a healthy animal with a stable temperament. And so breeders, regardless of their personal goals, must ask themselves how, or even if, they can produce physically and mentally healthy dogs while adhering to the breed standard and/or accounting for the traits desirable in working animals.

This article from Forest and Stream, April 3, 1890 presents the issue at a time when this divergence was still relatively new. I hope it will be of interest.

Note: “Reynard” is used to mean fox.

4 thoughts on “An Old Debate in Dogdom

  1. The author of that piece would be appalled to see how much further today’s show champions have departed from the original types.

    Not all of those changes are bad; working American foxhounds differ from working English foxhounds because the conditions they hunt in and the expectations are different. Other changes are disastrous, though. And I remain inflexible in my position that the mind requirement for even being allowed into the show ring should be that the dog can walk and breathe at the same time. Unlike, say, today’s champions Pekes.

    1. I saw footage today of refugees fleeing Ukraine and one of them had a pekingese on a leash. I have to tell you, that dog was running! Probably not a show dog though.

  2. Yes, probably wouldn’t be allowed near a show ring. The kind of Pekingese I like! I hope they find a safe, comfortable place.

Leave a Reply