Dog World, 16 April 2010

I don’t think that I’ve made any secret of the fact that I support the KC and its initiatives. I often feel that it’s in a no win situation and no matter how hard it tries, the vociferous few will always find fault and are very vocal in their condemnation. In comparison, those that feel it does a good job very seldom put pen to paper or make their feelings publicly known.

Over the last couple of years this has particularly been brought to the forefront and the KC’s somewhat laid back attitude has had to kick into overdrive – and I don’t mean this as a derogatory description as it has always worked very diligently.

Previous ‘Friday Essays’ have recorded my support of the ABS and highlighted my positive perception of many KC resources. When I heard about the launch of Breed Watch I can recall thinking that it sounded like a sensible additional place to obtain extra up to date information. There doesn’t seem to have been much written or comments on it made. I know that show judges are being directed towards it as a source of information.

For those of you not particularly familiar with it, you can access it via the ‘Fit for Function, Fit for Life’ section of the KC website.

It’s part of the KC’s ongoing campaign to ensure that pedigree dogs are free from any exaggerations and we are told the website pages are constantly updated to alert all interested parties, particularly show judges, of any undesirable trends or exaggerations that may be emerging in particular breeds.

We all know that there are some breeds which have gradually changed over quite a number of years and that the progression in these breeds has not been favourable in terms of health; the points to look out for in these breeds are certainly highlighted within the appropriate Breed Watch sections. I do personally feel however that the vast majority of breeds are basically healthy.

If you do a quick flick through the Breed Watch pages, some breeds specifically mention dentition faults others highlight other concerns. Most of the breeds do not have anything listed and just have a simple statement: ‘Currently no points of concern specific to this breed have been identified for special attention by judges, other than those covered routinely by the Kennel Club Breed Standard.’

All judges are expected to judge to the Breed Standard so you might think that it would be better to simply state in the breed standard that something is considered as a ‘fault’?

Unfortunately, changing the Standards can be a protracted process. It isn’t only recently that the KC have made changes to Breed Standards. Look just a little further back, I think it was around 1985/86, when there were fairly wide scale alterations made to every Standard. This was to ensure they all followed a similar, more consistent, format and I believe it was instigated to ease the transition to computerisation. I have a copy of an undated preliminary report of the KC Working Party on Breed Standards which I guess is from around that time and even then, some 25 years ago, changes were being made to those parts of the wording which it was felt could lead to inheritable abnormalities of shape or function.

It’s often worth checking back to much earlier published Standards as many include much greater detail about the breed points and so paint a more definitive word picture. Even in current Standards a brief comparison of those for different breeds can highlight examples where the finer detail gives a firmer, more comprehensive foundation to work from.

Breed Watch is obviously a much faster way of making breed specific concerns readily available to judges.

I notice that of the breeds that do highlight concerns, some refer to ‘excessive coat’ as being a worry. Indeed, this is one of the items listed under my main breed, Gordon Setters. Sickle hocks are also mentioned for this breed which I find very surprising; I cannot remember the last time I saw sickle hocks in the breed, let alone sufficient of them to cause widespread concern. Apparently the information posted is derived from health surveys, judges’ feedback and consultation with individual breeds clubs or councils.

There are a number of Gundogs exhibited that carry a great deal of coat but this is actually nothing new. I can recall many examples going back twenty, even thirty years, that had a profuse coat. These days, many are prepared differently for exhibition and the coats are very diligently looked after to enhance them. I know it is often cited that ‘they couldn’t work with all that coat’ – but think about it for a minute. If they were galloping across heather moors, the coat would be pulled out.

It always reminds me of when American Cocker Spaniels were first introduced here. There was all sorts of mutterings that it shouldn’t be in the Gundog Group as it could never work. This proved to be incorrect as a number of them were successfully worked.

So overall, I do think that Breed Watch is a good service and it can provide a speedy way of highlighting concerns. I do have reservations as to how some of the information it provides may eventually be used, perhaps to amend Breed Standards without full consultation with breed club members though. Hopefully this will be assessed and watched carefully by all interested parties.