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Are pedigree dogs holding the KC back? by Kevin Colwill

Created: 25/09/2013

I TRY TO find something to enjoy in all the seasons of the year but if I had to choose a favourite it would be autumn. The mists and mellow fruitfulness suit both my temperament and my wardrobe rather better than the heady days of summer.
It also suits my appetite. As the weather gets cooler I can legitimately swap light summer fare for something heartier and more substantial. Simple salads become thick soups and breakfast cornflakes are replaced by steaming bowls of porridge oats.
At the risk of offending Scottish readers I admit that I usually sweeten the porridge with maple syrup, brown sugar or honey. I also (I hope Dog Worldís managing director can forgive me) make it in the microwave!
In fact porridge is about the only thing I use the microwave for. For me itís a breakfast porridge machine, no more. Iím sure there are thousands of people who use their microwave ovens for very specific and very limited tasks. Just as Iím sure there are thousands who only scratch the surface of what their computer or smart phone can do. You might consider it silly not explore all the capabilities of the gadgets we possess. Iíd prefer to say I use the applications that enhance my life and have no interest in the rest.
There are those who see the Kennel Club only as a pedigree register and dog show licensing body. I canít blame them. There are thousands of people who are only interested in the register and the show scene. They have no wish to delve deeper, no desire to look at the bigger picture, and no interest beyond the confines of the ring. Thatís fair enough.
What isnít fair enough is the desire to make the KC exclusively about the show scene. I only cook porridge in my microwave but I donít go around demanding that microwave manufacturers strip away all other functions and concern themselves only with producing the ultimate porridge making machine.
A lot of people are less than happy at the KCís governance of dog showing in this country. I too find some KC actions archaic and, frankly, daft. Some KC actions would look more at home in a Jeeves and Wooster novel than in a book of modern management. Why, for example, itís taking so long to even begin to lift the costly burden of benching off the shoulders of cash strapped championship shows is beyond me.
I accept the KC has questions to answer in regard to its management of the show scene. I just donít see the logic of wanting Clarges Street to abandon all attempts at addressing bigger canine issues. Stripping the KC back to focus exclusively on pedigree breeding and showing will obviously weaken the voice of the KC and I donít believe it will have the desired effect of strengthening the voice of the show world.
I hear those who say that the show scene effectively pays for Clarges Street and he who pays the piper should call the tune. The KC was founded at a time when there appeared to be absolutely no conflict between pedigree breeding and dog showing and Ďthe general improvement of dogsí. Iím not at all sure the same thing can be said these days. Where there is any divergence my rule of thumb is always to be on the side of the dogs.
The KCís overtures to the Labradoodle fraternity reminds me of the dark days of the cold war. We have the hardliners on one side who feel the very existence of Ďdesignerí crosses is a threat to the future of our (pedigree) way of life. Then there are hardliners on the other side who imagine the KC as some insidious imperialist force trying to worm their way in and take them over. The poor KC is caught in the crossfire.

Sincere intentions
Maybe Iím naive but couldnít it be that the KC is acting sincerely in following their remit to work for all dogs? A scheme to promote and acknowledge good breeding of Labradoodles canít hurt any pedigree breed and certainly canít harm the show scene. It could act to demonstrate the KCís commitment to canine welfare and boost the KCís image in the public mind. In turn this could rub off on KC registered pedigree breeds in a very positive way.
We have to accept the reality that what we may sneeringly call mongrels have established themselves as the type of dog people want. Some may demand that the KC attempts to rubbish them. Iíd rather have them standing up for good breeding practices across the piece, not just fighting the corner of pure blood as the be all and end all in dogs.
Some of you know I help to run a not for profit dog training group at the much maligned Ďvillage hallí end of the dog training spectrum. I see a lot of people, a lot of dogs and a lot of ignorance.
Away from the show scene you find the strong conviction that a pedigree dog is likely to be inferior to a crossbreed. The term ĎKC registeredí is little understood and is taken as much as something to avoid as a badge of quality. Perhaps itís no surprise that some breeders of crosses donít want anything to do with the KC.
Why should the KC knock itself out trying to reach out to the Labradoodle breeders when itís attacked from all sides for doing so? I believe if the KC is to retain any creditability and any legitimacy in seeking to improve dogs it must focus on improving breeding. That means pushing the right approaches in pedigree breeding; the necessarily testing, the maintenance of genetic diversity, the avoidance of welfare compromising exaggerations. It also means challenging the perception that any old F1 cross will produce an inherently healthy dog.

Improvement
Would it be so terrible if the KC reinvented itself as the advocates of science led, evidence based, best practice in dog breeding? Would it be so difficult to acknowledge that thereís nothing essentially unethical in producing F1 crosses as long as the dogs were bred to the best welfare standards?
Those who see the KC only as a trade association for pedigree breeders or a public relations company for dog showing seem to me to lack ambition. They also seem to me to miss the point.
The initial development of pedigree breeds was about improving the dogs. In the first instance improving them to better do their specific job of work. Later on it was to improve them to better meet the requirements of the ring. Improvement was the aim and competition in the ring was the means to achieve it.
Itís been demonstrated that some of these Ďimprovementsí were actually working against the welfare of the dogs. That may be indictment of how showing evolved but not an indictment of the aims at the heart of pedigree breeding.
Surely, the KC should focus on the aim of genuinely improve the health and welfare of dogs. The management of the show scene must be a subsidiary, if very important, element in promoting that aim.
Iíll continue to use my microwave just to make porridge. I have no interest in the wider possibilities of microwave cookery. I am, however, more than happy for microwave manufacturers to look at the bigger picture. In producing the best microwave oven they may produce the ultimate porridge making machine. n


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