Why the Understanding of Superficial Faults
by jonathan jeffrey
As a teenager I first came across the writings of Raymond Oppenheimer
(Ormandy Bull Terrier Kennel, UK) and quickly grasped his perspective
that focusing on superficial faults was an absurd and illogical
practice and yet it is practiced by almost everyone. He explained
what superficial faults were and empirically proved how breeding
programs could make leaps by correctly contextualizing them and how
breeding programs could fail by their over-emphasis. I found it
intuitively obvious and as he was one of the greatest breeders of show
dogs ever, I took his lessons to heart.
Over the years – and I am saying decades here – I have expounded on his
theories and have been able to demonstrate the point by examples from
my own breeding practices. What seemed terribly obvious to a
thirteen year old boy are still not appreciated or understood or valued
by the masses. I have learned through the years the art of
breeding show dogs is both a great natural talent and a skill.
Most breeders are neither born with the former nor seem to care to
develop the latter. I equate this to sports; without training and
dedication you will most likely never become competent at your sport
from the eyes of connoisseur. As a golfer you will always bend
your arm, lack the ability to shift your weight, twist your arm and the
effort will always produce an outcome short of what is possible.
So it is with dog breeding.
In the last few years tremendous advances have been made in genetics
research. In addition, the culture of the world has expressed
itself so that such practices as ear cropping and tail docking have
become unacceptable in most societies. Sadly, the culture of
American dog breeders is much more focused on “the effect” rather than
humanity so we disdain natural tailed dogs of traditionally docked
breeds because, “they just don’t look the same.” The Rottweiler
club strongly criticizes anyone who rewards a natural tailed dog.
And I'm not referring to Nazi-era Germany either, I'm talking about
land-of-the-free America 2008!
These changes in our modern world have only served to underline the
tremendous wisdom on Raymond Oppenheimer’s breeding theories.
Over the last few years I have been amazed at how science has supported
the soundness of this thinking and yet the vast majority of dog
breeders and judges are still absolutely oblivious. Americans
have always prided themselves on their “best of everything”
lives. I think for generations this was true, we were young and
changed with the times and brought forth new ideas and had fertile
resources in order to accomplish our goals. But in recent years,
America has demonstrated it’s middle-age where changes and new ideas
have no longer been embraced, but rather we look toward our past, we
hold the way “we used to do” things or “have always” done things as our
present ideals. Nothing new there, it’s a characteristic of
maturity. It is not a characteristic of growth.
In researching ear cropping – which is a barbaric process to which I
can attest – I was fascinated to learn that today’s Boston Terrier is
largely shown with natural ears but if the ears are too big or don’t
prick well enough then they are cropped. There is no fault for
cropped Boston Terriers but you can well imagine the faulting of badly
shaped or carried ears. And yet, with the effort by a surgeon,
this failing is remedied and dog society completely accepts the
alteration. Is this not illogical?
With Affenpinschers they can be shown with a docked tail or
natural. Although the standard allows for a curved tail, the
terrier outline of the breed lends itself best in the eyes of judges to
a terrier-straight tail. A gay tail can be docked and be
perfectly acceptable. A gay tail of natural length which is
“fixed” to be carried straight is considered illegal. (And a tail
which fits the standard won’t win.) Is this not illogical?
The German Shepherd fancy has always abhorred the white coat in the
belief that white dogs were genetically inferior to those of rich
coloring. The white Samoyed is one of the oldest purebred dogs in
existence who has lived its life in unbearable Siberia. The gene
which causes the white Samoyed is exactly the same gene which causes
the white German Shepherd. Is this not illogical?
The Cardigan Welsh Corgi fancy is horrified by the use of a “coated”
dog in a breeding program. They are considered completely
“unworthy” of being working dogs, although it is the same genetics
which gives the Shetland Sheepdog its “protective” weather resisting
and much admired coat! Meanwhile, in it’s effort to keep “type”
most Cardigan fanciers overlook tremendously unsound fronts which would
be disastrous in a working dog. Is this not illogical?
This all points back to Raymond Oppenheimer’s theory that focusing on
the truly critical breed features – those of construction, soundness,
and proportions which manifest themselves as type – and tolerating the
occasional otherwise outstanding specimen who has superficial failings
is a much wiser methodology then deselecting puppies from consideration
at birth because they manifest obvious - but ultimately unimportant –
deviations from ideal. It’s a concept I’ve always understood and
yet have always had to defend. It continues to glimmer as a key
foundational gemstone that only a very few ever truly grasp.
Pluperfect Kennels & Cattery - 2008