The Functional Dog


 There was a great article in the National Geographic the other day, about the Functional Dog Collaborative. I've been following the FDC for some time now. I'm in their Facebook group, and have listened to all their podcasts. Some more than once. Personally, I believe this is the future of canine breeding.

The Japanese breeds have a host of issues looming on the horizon: small gene pools, lack of health testing in their country of origin, and extreme selection for aesthetics while traits like working ability and temperament are being left behind. The Nihon Ken are also part of the larger purebred dog world, that has its own issues, and I've been wrestling with serious questions for several years now. How do we move forward with the preservation effort? What do I consider ethical breeding? How can we deal with health and temperamental issues in an ever shrinking population with very little hope for more genetic diversity? What part do I want to play in this world?

In the grand scheme of things, I think we're running into a few problems in the breeding world. One is that 'purebred' dog breeding with no outcrossing is essentially breeding into a wall. All breeds are hurtling toward it, some slower than others, but that wall is ever looming. As a breeder I feel like I'm playing a game of whack-a-mole, where there are more and more moles, and they will get faster and faster.

I think another big issue with purebred dog breeding is what this article points out: the vast majority of dogs today will be pets. They will essentially be lapdogs, with maybe some being a bit more active if they are owned by people who like to hike etc. But almost all our dog breeds are heritage breeds, that were bred for a purpose that they are no longer used for. They were essentially selected to do one thing (like herding for example), but now we want them to sit on a couch. And that has consequences. 


Breeding dogs to be good pets

Apart from toy breeds bred specifically as lap dogs, many breeds have backgrounds as working dogs: herding, guarding, hunting, and so on. But today, the primary purpose of dogs, especially in western countries, is as pets.

Yet few people breed dogs for this purpose, according to Joyce Briggs, treasurer of the Functional Dog Collaborative, a New Hampshire-based nonprofit. “The profile of the successful, really well-balanced family dog is not being looked at as a category,” says Briggs.

We have this issue with the Nihon Ken as well. They are a hunting breed, and preservation based breeding means we keep them that way. We preserve the hunt in these dogs. That's not a problem for me, since I'm a hunter, and that's why I got into these dogs in the first place. But the vast majority of Nihon Ken owners today are pet owners, with second place coming to show breeders. Basically almost no one is actually breeding toward companion dogs. Show breeders are breeding toward a show type and temperament, and hunters toward working ability. You see the disconnect there. I think therein lies a lot of the 'problems' I hear about in Nihon Ken temperament from first time owners. They have their quirks due to what they have been and are still being selected for. 

What do we do about this? I'm not quite sure. It's a difficult question, with a lot of difficult answers that we may not be ready to hear. But I would suggest that if you haven't, give the FDC's podcasts a listen. If nothing else, you will definitely pick up some really cool science on the breeding of dogs. I've learned a lot, and hope you do too.

Comments

  1. Very informative blog post. Thanks for sharing. We offer premium Dog Collars, leads, and accessories. Your dogs are more than pets; they're family.

    ReplyDelete

Post a Comment