To perform its function better

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?


6 thoughts on “To perform its function better

  1. do we see “everything” in the ring? i don’t think so. how many hounds out of a litter are in the showring later on? the one or two, the breeder kept and some novices in the puppy-class. but when they recognice, how show-biz works, they will not come again …

    a friend of us, non-breeder, was at a tripple-show with her young greyhound. 1st judge told her: too fat, 2nd judge told her: too slim, 3rd judge told her: just perfect. than she stopped showing her grey, you can find her only at the track now …

    show is a small, unimportant part in breeding. it is for those, who don’t know better things to do with their dogs. 😉

    • Yes and no. It’s actually an important part of the breed staying in the standard to have it evaluated by a third party. However, the problem is the same as in the coursing trial: people take it as a competition and they take any, each and every measure to win. Win something in which the winning is not the main thing.

      I’m even bigger proponent for the dogs to have a working trial result to gain a show certificate: much the same way as working class certificate requires a show result. The form and function should go hand in hand, but the ‘easier’ route of getting ‘recognition’ and ‘prestige’ has lead to the unhealthy situation in which the form is put before the function. Example of this could be a Bulldog, which has breathing and birthing problems due to excessive breeding of the form without remembering the reason for the functional aspects.

      It shouldn’t be the other way either: the standard classifies the minimum requirements for the dog to be to be recognized as one being of the breed. If the main emphasis is on the function aspect, the form will eventually lose something, as has happened in Greyhounds: the greyhound we now see in the racing track has very little to do with the one you can see in the old pictures, even the running ones. The breeding only for the speed has caused the breed to become something that the standard doesn’t necessarily picture.

      The other problem is the fact that a dog show is based on a single judge evaluation. Coursing has three judges according to FCI rules. On the other hand, some hunting trials require only one judge, too, but the result of a hunting trial is measurable: did the dog perform or not. In show the judge is the authority and tells his opinion of the specimen of the breed. The evaluation is not absolute, it’s an opinionate view of the judge on how the specimen evaluated conforms with this particular judges view of the perfect specimen of the breed.

      The show results are not the word of God as most of the people, even us breeders, do think. Its an opinion on how the dog being evaluated fills the standard and conforms with the judges thoughts about the perfect specimen of this particular breed.

      Neither dog show nor coursing trial are competitions. Only racing is a competition. That’s something to keep in mind.

      As to knowing any better, putting one aspect above the other is exactly doing the opposite. Doing anything for the performance of the breed in coursing is just as bad as going only by the route of ‘winning’ shows. It forgets the origins in the looks and form, where as the other forgets the original use and useability in function.

      All things in moderation and only for the best of the breed.

      • hi again!

        provoking question: is a typical showwinner in the standard? better in standard than a coursingwinner? 😉

        at greyhounds, whippets, german sheppard, etc. you can see the gap between show and work. at irish wolfhound you can’t see it now because there are so less irish wolfhounds in competitions.

        we all know: you need showresults to get coursingchampiontitles but you don’t need coursingresults to get showchampiontitles … why?

        best solution for me would be a bonitation like we can see it in czech: there is a bonitation-code where you can see, what’s in the standard and what’s a fault. you can see the size and the colour and the pedigree. so you can make a first selection. no hound is perfect and you have to find the perfect dog for your bitch. if boniation is with – let’s say – three judges it would be perfect. bonitation should be a form of registration not a form of competition.

        and than show could be what it is: a funny hobby without any effect for breeding.

        FCI rules tell us that every irish wolfhound with parents with FCI-papers is an irish wolfhound. for me it is better to have “not so perfect irish wolfhounds” than to have too less irish wolfhounds. the genetic pool is very, very small. if we breed only with “the best” we are in a genetic dead end.

        @ “old pictures”: even humans did not look like we can see them at old pics, because artists made their own interpretation and idealisation. and: what has a modern irish wolfhound to do with the pics we have from the time of cpt. graham? even photos from hounds from today don’t show, how the hound looks like. 😉

      • I wrote a lengthy response to this, and it vanished. The condensed version was that there is no coursing competition: its a trial in which the working dog’s ability to perform the original like work is evaluated. The shows were originally the way to breed and enhance the pure bred status in the dog breeds.

        Both are needed and one is not better than the other. There is no competition except the one we dog owners have in our minds, and that is not usually for the best of the breed but for the best for our selfish selves.

        The old pictures I refer because those show the dogs from which Captain Graham derived his view of optimal, perfect IW. Currently it’s pretty far from those specimens. I could see Capt. Graham’s dogs hunting prey for several kilometers in a stretch, but not the breed we have currently. Sorry.

        No dog is perfect. Except the one you own and love. It’s the best of the breed we tend to forget for our personal gain in shows or coursing.

        And in (heated) discussions like this.

        Is it best of the breed to stare blindly in the show results regardless of their ability to do dual suspension gallop? Is it best of the breed to breed only the coursing champions regardless of their lacks or downright faults in their overall outlook?

        My answer is no to both of those questions. Very strict and stern no. However, both shows and coursing have their place in the dog hobby field: we should just keep in mind that neither of them should be the determining and restricting factor in the end, but means to a better result.

        For the best of the breed, that is.

  2. experience shows, that show brought the “cpt.graham-sighthound” to molosserstyle. so the originally spirit (if it ever was, like you wrote) is lost.

    it would be nice, if a sighthound would need at least coursing-licence to get a showtitle.

    my hounds are not perfect, i know their “mistakes” – but they are the best hounds for me. we had two hounds, not good enough for breeding in our mind. now we have one we want to breed with.

    you don’t need to breed with “perfect dog”, because he comes out from two non perfect parents and perfect dog means, you reached the aim of breeding. from “perfect dog” on it can only get worse 😉 but this is a philosophic point of view.

    i agree with you: it is as wrong to breed showstar x showstar as it is to breed coursingstar x coursingstar. both are products of judgements.

    i can tell you my aims in breeding irish wolfhounds. i like wolfhounds able to hunt, without extremes in their body (size, angulation). but i know, that iw’s i like are rarely showwinners. i hope to the best for the breed, of course! but if it is – we will see in a couple of years earliest …

    • Like I stated earlier, we all have our vision of the ‘perfect’ dog which complies with the standard and can perform along the lines of the original purpose. At least that’s what I want to think about everyone willing to be a breeder, but usually it’s either one or the other. Which is a pity, as so much potential is lost by neglecting the ‘not-perfect’ show winners.

      The lecturer I referred to in the post said pretty clearly about IW’s that the sighthound type is somewhat lost in the show dogs. This is pretty much from a show and coursing judge, and it should be taken seriously. Simultaneously, though, the genetic and typical soundness of the breed should be kept in mind: no formal faults or lacking traits should be tolerated in breeding in favour of some other trait. By doing this the result may be a problem which cannot be remedied anymore by breeding itself (like certain breeds’ problems with lacking molars, inability to conceive naturally, breathing problems due to excessive breeding of shorter snouts etc.).

      All things in moderation and for the best of the whole breed. In a sighthound originally used for big game hunting this means the ability to run and perform dual suspension gallop as well as being pleasing to the eye and conforming to the breed standard.

      That’s how I see it.

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