Lately I’ve been thinking quite a bit about the same issue I posted about last autumn about the form and function aspects of a sighthound breed. I have been lucky to attend to a training in which there was a prominent dog show judge speaking about the form and importance of understanding the original function of the breed in the breeding. In fact he stated something along the following lines:
The breeders and dog owners have gotten maybe a bit too far from the idea of the function the dog breed has had in the beginning and what the original use of the breed has been. The fighting dogs have a clear reason for their form and appearance, as well as the shepherd type dogs and sighthounds. The breeding should take this original use of the breed more into account and put more emphasis on preserving the traits of the original use.
This was a kind of revelation to me, as I have risen up the concern over the breeds separating into the working class and show class types: greyhound and whippet being the prime examples of this in the sighthound family. The show and competition greyhounds differ so much from each other that you could say that they are almost different breeds, and the show dog could never, ever compete at the same level as a competition runner. On the other hand, the same applies the other way around: runner couldn’t expect to receive the recognition in a show like a show dog does.
In the Irish Wolfhound we’re in a situation that the breed has not (yet) been split to the two separate functions. But there are signs of that kind of proceedings in the air. Running dogs are being bred regardless of distinct faults by the breed standard purely because of their speed and other abilities supporting the coursing. Show dogs are being bred to show excessively prominent traits which would make its running impossible. And the two ‘lines’ are not crossing due to the fact that the show dogs used to breeding are selected from the certified show dogs, which most probably have no results from the coursing field.
I have been reading my Alfred de Quoy lately. In his excellent – and still very valuable – book “The Irish Wolfhound Guide” (copy I have loaned from our breeder is from year 1987) he states about the breed standard as follows (emphasis mine):
Every requirement stated in the Standard should have a sound reason for its existence. Preferably this reason should be that possession of the quality noted and absence of the faults enable the particular breed to perform its function better (or did so in the past) such as the pursuit and killing of wolves or that it adds to the beauty of the animal.
This particular view can be read also from Capt. Graham’s texts, though not in as direct and strong as de Quoy has put it.
The strange part of the story in here is the difference between the current Irish Wolfhound breed and the pictures in the book of the Capt. Graham’s winning dog. Where as our current breed – both the show dogs and the lighter coursing dogs – is more a heavy, strongly built creature closer to the Great Dane, the ‘original’ pictures of the breed resemble much more an oversized Deerhound. As it happens, both of the dogs have been used to describe the qualities of the Irish Wolfhound in the Capt. Graham’s original monograph, even though he stated himself that he’d rather see more of the traits of the Deerhound in the breed than the massive Great Dane.
The question is, have we owners and breeders strayed too far from the original use and working traits of the breed in our search for the beauty in the breed? Should we take a step back, look at the breed with the eyes of the celtic high chief whose life depends on the ability of the dog to track, chase and fall the prey, be it a stag or a wolf, and see if we are willing to put our life on those shoulders? Would the dog look like it could perform that feat, or should there be something differently in its outlook?
Would we survive the next winter with the nourishment our great, wonderful companion would help us hunt down?