As early as January this year, I was becoming particularly perplexed by how the world viewed the Clumber breed, and that is the reason for writing this article. Of course, March has been since then, and all the clamour of the withholding of the Best of Breed award from Clumbers at Crufts. With one exception, I won’t actually touch upon the Crufts protocol, the vet’s report, or the reaction of the owner or hundreds of outraged supporters of this famous bitch in this article. The exception is, whatever anyone does over a situation like Crufts 2012 is that reaction (or how the press report it) is what will go into the history of the breed. The printed/recorded world will never show all sides of an incident, and the media (or anyone writing on the subject) will record the sensational aspects – it is the sensational aspects that readers will handover money to read, they don’t buy news stories if they are just about everyday occurrences. As owners or supporters of the breed, we must bear this salient fact in mind or bring the breed into ridicule and make it an easy target for evangelists. The fact that Best of Breed at Crufts has been granted to Clumbers for over 100 years in each of those years that it was offered, won’t be recorded, the outrage and clamour will be.
I am writing this article, not so much because we should all suddenly take ourselves to task, but because the breed is evermore becoming the subject of inquiry and being held up as unhealthy or unsatisfactory. The bulk of the breed is not, but there are many, many breed representatives that are, and as I said in the preceding paragraph, it is the extreme or abnormal that is held up in the press, and because of that documentation it tends to fix as the ‘norm’ in the eye of the beholder. I know most breeders can look upon their homebred dogs with absolute pride, and of course, from time to time the bad or unhealthy dog will come into our litter boxes – because that is genetics; but I am also horribly aware and rather frightened by the calibre of many of the dogs featured in social networks like Facebook. Yes, these dogs are their owners pride and joy, Clumbers are great, but are good enough to be bred? However poor a dog, it should be exhibited if there are published details of parentage, however, don’t ever believe because a dog has won anything it is a good dog.
I know it is radical to encourage folk to exhibit even the poor specimens, and yes, that will lend those poor breed representatives to be targeted by the media as typical, but they can only be typical if they are in such numbers as to swamp from view (of the press and judges) the good and really good dogs. If we hide away the poor or bad breed specimens then no one can truly assess the potential of the parents of those dogs, or in the field, the suitability of character. And, fair go here, Clumbers in the main just love being out and about with their owners, so why banish them from sight. And by the bye, if banished from sight, where will these dogs go, I bet to pet owners who are not savvy about basic care, so these dogs then end up at the vet or trainer so these professionals get to see lots of Clumbers, yes they do, and yes all the Clumbers they see are dreadful for poor health or conformation or so dim witted or stubborn as to be astounding! Yet encourage the owners of the poorer specimens to compete at showing, obedience or whatever and new folk then get a taste for these sports, begin to realize where their pride and joy is deficient, if it is below the standard quality and can even tap into the wealth of knowledge of experienced owners. The only fault I see in this, is the non-learner who has stuck with the breed for more than 5 years and still believes that the dog they own is the best thing ever bred, despite temperament – hating shows, leg length – hind set, coat – dry, or whatever. But this should be ironed out by the people who know, the regular exhibitor, even at the risk of being accused of trying to sell these folk a dog or drive them away as they are really competitive.
So I would applaud seeing under standard Clumbers competing – the breed should have nothing to hide.
If the under standard Clumbers are not in the general public domain where is the incentive for a breeder or newcomer to breeding to actually breed above the norm for better and healthier dogs. If the under standard dogs are kept out of sight and out of the public domain of competition how can another breeder assess the calibre of fellow breeders and fellow bloodlines?
And, by the way, never be surprised by the awards, not even if sub-standard dogs win on the day – there are plenty of sub-standard judges in all fields of endeavour out there, also the standard/criteria for anything (except perhaps a race) like conformation/type assessment/obedience/field work can be interpreted in many ways.
So what particular incidents prompted this article?
Report one, now we have Clumbers listed as one of the top ten breeds in the UK to require Caesarean sections*! Heaven help the breed if it is going to have to rely on vets to deliver each generation. Caesarean sections are an emergency stop gap, they should never become the norm in any breed – let the vets fund their lifestyles from something other than the pockets of Clumber owners!
The other breeds listed in the ten were: Boston Terrier, Bulldog, French Bulldog, Mastiff, Scottish Terrier, Miniature Bull Terrier, German Wirehaired Pointer, Clumber Spaniel, Pekingese and Dandie Dinmont Terrier. What do these breeds have in common? Well I haven’t gone into measurements or anything but a quick perusal would have to make you ask if it was head size and body length. The list and breeds should be studied closely to see if this or other points should be reviewed in the Clumber standard or the breeders’ whims in their choice of dogs to breed they may after all be responding to the dogs placed on the winners’ pegs (so judges’ choices) rather than deciding which dogs to mate based on their own interpretation of the standard.
Are Caesarean sections a new problem for the breed? Not really, but then again until the last 50 years the technology wasn’t really there to allow generation after generation to be born that way – and apparently it wasn’t needed, or the breed would not have survived from the mid 1700s into the twentieth century, would it!
Caesarean sections have their place and can aid a breed, but they should not be the norm, nor should the breed become known for needing them – this later must only indite (discredit) the conformation and health of the bitches chosen to be mated – who chose them, their owners.
The study I cite covered records from over a ten year period and covered 151 breeds each of which had had more than 10 litters and 13,141 bitches which had whelped 22,005 litters in total – it is not an insignificant off the cuff report, and is probably the least biased currently available. Information was collected from the 2004 Kennel Club/BSAVA Scientific Committee Purebred Dog Health Survey. Certainly difficult births and needs for Caesarean sections are always prominently high in Clumber club surveys around the world.
* see Proportion of litters of purebred dogs born by caesarean section. Katy M. Evans, Vicki J. Adams Article first published online: 1 FEB 2010 � 2010 British Small Animal Veterinary Association Journal of Small Animal Practice Volume 51, Issue 2, pages 113�118, February 2010 onlinelibrary.wiley.com
Report two, actually it is just a forum chat, but it is also a bit scary, and looks at the Clumber as a field dog, this time in the US. This is of course one dog on one weekend, and while I am an advocate of all dogs that are fit for purpose competing, this weekend proves we still have a long way to go to get the breed the credit it deserves. We need to compete with fit for purpose dogs, and hopefully with training to a level to make those dogs competitive. Master Hunter is not a novice level; the owner has some experience before the dog reaches this level though competing and qualifying in Junior Hunter and Senior Hunter events.
The correspondent actually just advised the breed enquirer to watch the parents of any pup they were looking at working before buying the pup, but this was because they had seen a Clumber working at Master Hunter level on two consecutive days “this dog was like the dead turtle that didn’t even participate in the race” … “Honestly, it was painful watching this dog work. I know they are supposed to be a slow, methodical dog, but this was ridiculous.”*
* from www.uplandjournal.com
Report three, and this one lurks at the back of my mind, it is not new, I recall mentioning it at the time I came across the event in the editorial for this magazine.
I came across an old acquaintance who had had Clumbers, Lee Ford, of Dukerie in Australia, she no longer had Clumbers and had decided her grandchildren needed a dog in their life. I pointed out there would be enough litters in Australia for her chose a Clumber, but she replied to the effect that no way would she have a Clumber for her grandchildren, she could not trust a Clumber – and not so much because of the dogs she had had, but because of her last visit to a very notable kennel in the UK. She just could not trust a Clumber after spending time with those top winning show dogs. Now that was some decades ago, it does not necessarily mean you would have the same bad karma now with any UK show dog (despite the fact I know most of the modern show dogs are bred down from this kennel). So temperament can be an issue, and hopefully it has been overcome, what can’t be overcome is the impact it had a on a Clumber lover, such an impact that she now won’t be re-introducing her family or friends to the breed, and will probably advise even passing acquaintances against the breed.
Another story I have reported on previously, now several years old, was a the report of a young visitor to Westminster who was enthralled with Clumbers – but enthralled by the ugly side of clouds of white hair and white powder and drooling dogs. May be that was typical of the dogs then present, hope not as I don’t believe for a minute that is the Clumber, but that is what the spotlight of that show for that child left as an indelible mark, and which found it’s way into the media. And the media of whatever sort is the source for information for many researching a breed.
So yes, sub-standard dogs should compete, but do yourself, your dog, and the breed two services:
1) train and prepare to a competitive level
2) don’t think because you have collected a few ribbons alone that makes your dog good enough to breed. Even with a great judge, you may simply have the best of a very poor field. There is way more to factor into your choice to breed a dog than ribbons alone.
So I look forward to more less then perfect but very loved Clumbers appearing on Facebook, but please never breed from anything that is not in the top 20% of the breed in every department – you can’t expect to breed good from poor in one generation – using poor dogs as parents will only increase the number of poor dogs in the community.