Variations in Breed
At what point do "styles" become so diverged that they should be considered breeds?
By Jon Kimes
Nothing can be more pleasurable than to have a breed that is globally consistent, with all breeders striving for the same ideal. It allows for a broader array of opportunities for breeding programs and the ability to exhibit to judges from around the world. Exhibitors are able to show worldwide and to form friendships globally.
If the purpose of breeding purebred dogs is to advance and promote one's chosen breed, is the goal compromised when the concept of "ideal" for a particular breed varies from country to country? When do type "styles" diverge to such an extent that the styles can only be rationalized into breeds? There have been, for more than a century, diversions between "working type" and "show type" in a number of breeds, but when the "show type" further subdivides into such variation that they may lead to a "new" breed, have breeders failed at their job?
I find this a fascinating circumstance to contemplate when studying various breeds, and I came to understand some of the patterns that seem to result in these differences.
Original Country Development
One of my observations is that early imports into the US can set the "type" for generations, and while the breed's home country may continue to develop, modify or refine its dogs, the American dogs remain reminiscent of the original stock.
The Cardigan Welsh Corgi, for instance, was imported to America in the early 1930s. One of the first imports was a bitch named Cassie, who was also the foundation bitch for the UK bloodstock of the breed. America could not have started off on more equal footing. By the 1970s there were murmurs of "American vs. English" type Cardigans. Had the American breeders taken the breed into a new direction, diverging from the original imports? In fact, quite the opposite occurred. In the 1970s there were many Cardigans whose pedigrees extended to the earliest imports, and they looked very much like the dogs first imported.
Meanwhile, the British breeders continued to refine the breed, to make silhouettes elegant with reachy necks, deeper briskets, prettier heads, rounder bone and altogether a more singular, handsome animal than the original working dogs. Ultimately the problem was resolved as several American kennels imported more dogs and bred to the English look, and today breed type is reasonably consistent worldwide.
The Akita was first brought to America in numbers by servicemen who were stationed in Japan during World War II. The specimens brought to America developed lines here, producing handsome animals that were the initial definition of Akita type for most of the world. However, these original imports were ostensibly not the "original" Akita in type but had been the result of crossing native Akitas with European dogs for fighting around the turn of the century. After WWII, the Japanese fancy was determined to purify the breed and essentially re-create the breed as it had been historically known. The Japanese Akita Inu today closely resembles other Japanese spitz breeds, while the American Akita has now been separated by the FCI into a separate breed. This is an interesting case of type revision by the home country.
The Golden Retriever in America is an example of a type very similar to original imports, whereas the English breeders have continued to embellish the head type, and increase bone and substance. An interesting twist is the prevalent pale gold shade in European bloodlines. It is the opinion of some that the American breed standard could be construed to consider the lighter gold shade as undesirable. The shade of color adds an additional complexity for those breeders who would otherwise choose to take advantage of European breeding efforts.
Adopting Country Modifies
A good example of breed divergence in the adopting country is the case of the Cocker Spaniel, which resulted in the division of the Cocker Spaniel into the English and American breeds. The Cocker Spaniel in America was bred to a type which differentiated it from the original imports by being smaller with a shorter muzzle, deeper stop and rounded backskull with a more compact and exaggerated bodyline. While still considered a single breed, there were advocates of both types, but it was recommended by the parent club in the late 1930s not to mix the types. In 1946, the American and English versions of the Cocker Spaniel were separated into two breeds by the AKC.
It is as yet unclear to me how the Collie in America was conceptualized differently than the British version. As with many other breeds, excellent English specimens were initially brought into the US; in fact, this was a breed de rigueur at the turn of the century, with several of the wealthiest families in the United States participating in the breeding of top Collies. There was agreement on both sides of the Atlantic that head type was a key breed characteristic. The English version is softer and more wedge-shaped and presumably does not require quite the single-minded focus on every aspect of the head that American specialists demand. To English eyes, the American version is foreign, and the differences do not seem reconcilable. I might say something very similar for the Shetland Sheepdog, breeders on both sides of the water formulating the breed using their version of the Collie as the pattern.
When Styles Become Breeds
So the question remains, "At what point do breed 'styles' become so diverged they should be considered separate breeds?" I theorize when key breed characteristics are not in agreement globally, the divergence is irreconcilable. In such examples it is often key differences in perceptions of ideal head type which lead to thoughts of separating styles into breeds. Can the American Collie and the English Collie truly become one when the main disagreement exists on head type, which is considered to be that breed's key characteristic of breed type?
Certainly, part of divergence can be a result of the foundation stock of the early breeders. The Soft Coated Wheaten Terrier right from its early days in America sported a coat that in no way resembled the silky, shiny, flowing coat that is a key breed characteristic in its native Ireland. What becomes the norm to American eyes may be an aberration to breeders in the native country. Soft Coated Wheaten Terrier authority and breeder Maureen Holmes was critical of American stock and stated American breeders were ruining the breed. Without corrective steps taken early on, either led by the breeders themselves or by the judges who judge the breed, it is possible for a breed to go down a path that inevitably leads it to become something else entirely.
The FCI has become the most global kennel club, and it identifies a breed's "country of origin" and uses that country's breed standard as the official breed standard. In essence, this should work to standardize a breed and not allow it to fracture into regional subtypes. FCI shows can then be held around the world and still use the same breed standards. But it should be the breeders who come together to standardize a breed worldwide. This is done most successfully through exchanging stock as well as judges who specialize in the breed. It comes from being committed and honest and admitting that a country's breed fancy may have gotten off track. As we work toward not only breeding better examples of our breeds but healthier dogs, too, we must all be mindful of not closing the available gene pool off from worldwide bloodlines.
The most recent barrier to continued integration of breeding lines is the direction by many countries to no longer permit tail docking. While not a genetic issue, it can result in breed separation if breeders allow it to do so. While some fancies, such as many of the spaniel breeds, appear to be accepting of natural or docked tails in the ring, others are decidedly less willing to accept such deviation from tradition. The Pembroke Welsh Corgi fancy, for instance, has a long history of dependence on imported stock and yet seems to be unwelcoming to undocked dogs into the American ring. Time will tell if the rest of the world's breeders will be willing to export exceptional stock to America if such dogs are guaranteed no chance for exhibition.
Never before have so many North American breeders competed around the world with their homebred dogs or worked in such a global, reciprocal way sharing valuable bloodlines. Yet divergence in the styles of many breeds continues unabated. It will be interesting to see where this decade takes us.
* * * * *
Abstracted from the November 2014 issue of Dogs in Review with the kind permission of the author Jon Kimes, judge of several breeds and breeder of Cardigan Welsh Corgis in the USA.