Anatomy Of The Dog: What is a Breed

By | December 12, 2009

A few months ago, the United Kennel Club added nine breeds, to its registry, bringing its total to 160. Last month, the American Kennel Club announced the addition of the American Kennel Club announced the addition of the American Eskimo to its miscellaneous group, the first step towards official recognition as an AKC breed. The new UKC breeds are Petit Basset Griffon Vendeen, Canaan Dog, English Toy Spaniel, Finnish Spitz, Greater Swiss Mountain Dog, Manchester Terrier, Polish Owczarek Nizinny, Tibetan Spaniel and Shiba, all but the Nizziny are recognized by the AKC, some of them for many years, and AKC’s newest, the American Eskimo, has been a UKC breed for a long time. Both registries seem to be in race to add new breeds to their lists, a race that some critics say is an effort to increase the treasuries of both organizations. This rush, along with the apparent whimsical assignment of breed status in some cases, an increase in breed-specific laws in the last few years, and the call by animal rights advocates for a ban on breeding pure bred dogs, has caused some to wonder about the definition of breed.

So what is a breed? Webster’s Desk Dictionary of the English Language defines a breed as “a homogeneous grouping of animals within a species, developed by humans,” and the Oxford English Dictionary says a breed is “a line of descendants perpetuating particular hereditary qualities.” Both of these definitions leave room for interpretation. For example, although the only real difference between the four types of Belgian shepherds is coat type and color, the AKC says that three of the four types are separate breeds and does not recognize the fourth type at all. The UKC used to agree, but has recently redesignated all four Belgian shepherds are four varieties of one breed, as the Canadians and Europeans have done for years. Furthermore, AKC divides other breeds with coat difference into varieties; thus we have rough and smooth collies; short, long, and wire-haired Dachshunds; and long and short coated Chihuahuas. Cockers and Bull Terriers are divided into separate breeds or varieties by color, even though breeders say that each color has slightly different structure and temperament than the others. To complcate matters further, many breeds have similar heritage, appearance, and temperatment. Some contributed to the development of others, some seem to have been developed from the same basic stock in geographically isolated areas, and some look alike except for minor differences in size or coat type. The nothern, spitz-type dogs all resemble each other. The Shiba Inu, a relative newcomer to the US, looks like a small version of the Akita, which it may well have been 1000 years ago. Spaniels, a group now seperated into several breeds, once were a single breed divided by size and field ability, not parentage. The tiny spaniels became the toys further divided into English Toy Spaniel, Papillon, and others. Slightly larger dogs become known as cockers (for the woodcocks they flushed in the field) and field apaniels, and the largest of the group became the water spaniels and springers, named for the skills they possessed. Terriers all resemble each other and indeed may have common ancestry, but breed designation in this group may or may not be proof of separate developement. The Wirehair Fox Terrier and the Smooth Fox Terrier derived independently but share the same standard except for coat type. On the other hand, the Norwich and Norfolk terriers were considered the one breed until 1979, when the AKC recognized the drop-eared variety as the Norfolk and the prick-eared variety as the Norwich. The Airedale Terrier, the largest of the group, strongly resembles a dapper, streamlined edition of the Otter Hound, which contributed to its development, as well as an adult version of the Lakeland, Welsh, and Irish terriers. And Cairn and West Highland White Terriers were color variations of one breed and are now considered seperate breeds. Greyhounds, Whippets, and Italian Greyhounds look like large, medium, and small versions of the same dog, but they are different heritage and are different breeds. Poodles also come in three sizes, but they are the same breed. Some purebred dogs look like mixed breeds to the unpracticed eye, and some obsure purebreds resemble crossbreds to even the most astute canine expert. The Pyrenean Shepherd could be a terrier-poodle mix, the Beauceron could be a Rottweiler or Doberman mix, and the Tibetan Mastiff could be a Newfoundland cross. As if we needed further complication, a local shelter lists several fictitious breeds on its license renewal form along with several incorrect designations for some common breeds. For example, there is no such breed as a Ray Charles Retriever or a German Fox Collie, and the small dog that resembles a rough coated Collie, is a Shetland Sheepdog or Sheltie, not a toy collie. There are also no such breeds are terri-poo, shih-poo, and schnoodle, but all are listed with the license renewal form.

What is a breed: not an easy question…: Obviously, the answer is not a simple one. In some cases, historic record proves the heritage of a breed for centuries. The Chow Chow, Great Pyreness, Lhaso Apso, Basenji, Basset Hound, Borzoi, and many other breeds have an ancient legacy and are obviously the result of breeding for a particular set of characteristics and qualities. In other cases, geographic isolation led to developement of similar breeds from the same basic stock. For example, the livestock guardian dogs are considered to be descendants of mastiff-type dogs popular in the Roman Empire, Several of these dogs popular in the Roman Empire. Several of these dogs, including Great Pyrenees (France), Kuvasz (Hungary), Maremma (Middle Europe), strongly resemble each other with slight differences in bulk. The Anatolian Shepherd, another Turkish flock guardian, is considered either a short-coated version of the Akbash or a breed on its own, depending on the source of the infomation. In some cases, a breed developed in one country, was imported to another, and, because of breeder preference and the limits of the gene pool, changed in appearance somewhere along the way. The Enlish and American Cocker Spaniels are example of this phenomenon. The Cocker came to the US from England and became a smaller dog with some other physical changes; 50 years later, the original cocker was imported and shown first as a variety of the Cocker and then as the English Cocker while the original English dog became the American Cocker. A similar discussion is now taking place in the Akita breed, for the gene pool and the direction of American breeding programs has produced a larger dog with heavier bone, a wider variety of colors and patterns, and somewhat different physical characteristics. Dogs were originally bred for a purpose. Thus dogs that become livestock guardians wre developed from large, Mastiff-type canines that were independent and dominant in character, while dogs that became hunting helpmates could sniff out gamebirds and be taught to carry their dead bodies back to the hunter without damage. Herding dogs had controlled prey drive that they used to gather or drive livestock, and vermin dogs had a desire to go-to-ground to ferret out foxes, badgers, rats, and other farm and home pests. Toy dogs had an affinity for people, a valuable trait in cold castles, and scenthounds and sighthounds used their noses and eyes to find mammals of various sizes for their masters to kill and bring home to feed the family. Most breeds developed when the world was a bigger place and travel between cities and regions was fraught with danger, people stayed home. Thus the farmers in the valley might develop a sheepdog that met their needs, while the farmers in the foothills might develop a dog with slightly different qualities, and farmers who grazed their livestock in the mountains would need a different type of dog. Sweeping changes would take place when aggresive people conquered their neighbours and expanded their empires, bringing their dogs along to revitalize the local canine populations.

What does all this mean?: First of all, a breed must be carefully developed over many generations to fix the desired characteristics. The of spring must be identifiable as a member of the breed when compared to the standard and to other adults. Breeding a male of one breed with a female of another breed does not produce a purebred puppy of any breed. For example, putting a Poodle with a Shih Tzu does not produce a new breed, for the second generation offspring may look nothing like their parents. The first pairing produces puppies that are 50 percent Poodle and 50 percent Shih Tzu; the second generation may be more or less of either breed-the percentage is unknown unless a genome study is conducted on the chromosomes of each puppy. Second, those who deal with dogs, especially rescue groups and animal shelters, should have some training in breed recognition so they can make wise decisions in placing the dogs in their care. Third, one can surmise but not prove, even with registration papers, that a dog is pure bred. Unscrupulous breeders and careless ones, can sell a crossbred Samoyed-American Eskimo or Pomeranian American Eskimo puppy as a purebred, for the breeds involved are similar. In the same way, crosses between Lhasa Apsos and Shih Tzus, any of the small terriers, Siberian Huskies and Alaskan Malmutes, and many other breeds could be incorrectly indentified to prospective buyers. The debate as to what consititutes a breed will not be settled as long as breeers draw breath If it is a truly “a homogenous grouping of animals withinn a species, developed by humans,” or “a line of descendants perpetuating particular hereditary qualities, ” breeders will continue to discuss whether variations in size, color, coat type are contrary to homogeneity and whether or not particular hereditary qualities leaves room for some variation within the descripion of a breed.

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