I am the happy owner/guardian/whatever of a mutt. A mutt with a seriously mixed genetic bag. Brilliant, terrified, structurally-sound, riddled with allergies. A loud-mouth who does not give strangers the benefit of a doubt. A champion snuggler who would never dream of waking me up early on the weekend.
People seek out pure-bred dogs to even their odds. Breed isn’t a sure-bet, which I wish the general public was more aware of, but you at least know what game you’re playing. As a person who, to push the metaphor a little further, got off the plane in Vegas and walked unknowingly straight to the high-stakes poker table, I am deeply sympathetic to that.
My official stance is that I don’t see any harm in dog shows. I do see the harm in individual breed clubs favoring extreme exaggeration of certain traits, to the detriment of the dog’s overall wellbeing.
But, where it gets tricky is that every dog breed isn’t like that. We can all bemoan the worst examples, and you know what they are, but they aren’t the majority. Any dog, mutt or show, can have certain genetic faults (see: Silas) without that necessarily being a condemnation of an entire breed.
What I think is more common is a gradual softening of the breeds. Terriers, for instance, have slowly drifted upward in size and downward in prey-drive. Many hunting breeds have been split into “show” and “working” lines as an attempt to preserve function and drive. For most would-be dog owners, our modern lives don’t really fit with many of these dog breeds, which were formed when the world was a very different place. Is it our obligation to preserve, above all else, those specific functions? What about the ones that the world doesn’t need anymore? Before you jump to a conclusion about that, remember that there are entire breeds originally intended for nothing other than fighting. Or, on the other hand, is it okay to preserve a kinder, gentler version of any given breed? Is it ethical to dial a dog’s natural inclinations down a little? If so, how far?
Of course, if you pursue that line too far you hit another snag. Working is a natural way to prove health. A Bernese Mountain dogs with bad hips and a heart condition is not going to be the best cart puller. Those German Shepherds with weak rear ends are not taking down bad guys. Function keeps the form in check. Toy breeds, in this respect, are a cautionary tale.
In my mind there are three types of dog breeds out there: 1) genetic nightmares, 2) watered-down (for good or for ill) versions of long-standing breeds, and 3) breeds that preserve something worth preserving. Aside from a few outliers on either end, though, it’s very difficult to put a breed into one category or another, especially since you’ll see a smaller version of that same continuum within a given breed.
It’s frustrating to see the extreme myopia that often comes along with dog shows and breeding (see: Dalmatians, for the most concrete example), but I’m not ready to throw the baby out with the bathwater.