Wednesday, January 13, 2010

"Progress: Evolution or Excess?"

An unusually plump issue of  Dogs in Review arrived in my mailbox today. This was the 2010 Annual issue, a cornucopia of recent canine social events. The glossy splendor of this latest production was carefully preserved in plastic wrap. The cover photograph revealed the "Dog of the Month", a Scottish Terrier. This stately lady won Best in Show at the Eukanuba National Championship show last month. She stands proudly at attention, with exaggerated  eyebrows spiked out and extending halfway down the muzzle, sharply pointed ears, and an artfully sculpted beard.  
I savor this magazine in the same way that I delight in a dog show. It's a decadent feast of eye candy; a taste of something that overflows with delight and drama; fraught with potential danger, yet, at the same time, so wickedly delicious!

I began to leaf through this latest edition, scanning the usual ads, rankings, and dog show reviews. Page after page of  glossy win photos greeted my eyes. Often, the content of this magazine seems focused more on the handlers and judges than the dogs. Articles are generally centered on politics, judging techniques and interviews of judges and handlers; reviews of various big shows, both here in the US and internationally. Interesting historical articles are usually included.  There are some articles related to health and genetics, but those are eclipsed by show news. Well, after all, it is a dog show magazine....

A series of drawings caught my attention. "The Evolving Cocker"...demonstrating the progress of Cocker Spaniel conformation from 1885 to the present. Other plates featured comparative changes in Labrador and Golden Retrievers, Irish Setters and German Shepherds. The article was entitled: "Progress: Evolution or Excess?"

 The accompanying text was a delightfully thoughtful essay on divergence from ideal and the unfortunate trend of breeding for extremes. The human tendency to select an extreme, stand-out specimen was explained. After all, there can be just one "winner"! Exaggerated examples of the individual components of "type" are selected for, transforming a breed quickly into a caricature of its former self. The natural by-product of the dog show system is an evolution toward much so that, oftentimes, the original purpose and function of the breed takes a back seat to extreme features, or perfect pompadours and topknots.

The shape of a dog is easily molded and swiftly changed through judicious selection. This fact of life transfers to breeders a responsibilty to carefully protect our breeds. This article reminds us of that duty.

The author and artist, Marcia R Schlehr, is to be commended on one of the most striking and thought-provoking articles to come along in quite some time. Dogs in Review hits a home run with this one! There is a brave strength and boldness in presenting a critique of the effects of our sport within a dog show magazine that promotes said sport. Perhaps this is a hopeful sign for the future of dogs!

Thank you, Dogs in Review, for providing another excellent article of substance! I will not hesitate to renew my subscription. 

1 comment:

  1. Glad to hear that such an article was included in the magazine, that is wonderful.
    Thank you for posting this photo, it's quite interesting. I notice however the photo of Pomeranian dogs is actually a photo of Iceland Dogs and is from a woodcut attributed to Brehm (1829-1884). Quite possibly the Pomeranian has some blood from the Iceland dog, they were quite popular in England in Shakespearian times. The Iceland dog however is not a Pomeranian as I have occasionally heard put forth. Just thought I'd mention this.