I like the number 100. I have a list of 100 novels that, if read, will allow me to die literate and literally at the same time. I have a list of 100 places to see before I die (I’ve only hit made it to 11), 100 paintings to consider and 100 pieces of classical music to listen to. Like most of my contemporaries I would like to live to be 100, no matter what the odds.
In the dog game, collecting 100 Best in Shows has become the most coveted milestone in the sport. I can’t quibble with that, although there are some breeds for which 10 BIS would be significant accomplishment. Several successful breeding programs in the US have produced 100 or more champions and grand champions.
While I may have read those 100 books and listened to those 100 tunes, I will never accomplish anything like 100 BIS. I simply don’t have enough time. It’s a quandary I share with most in the dog game. As significant as 100 BIS is, changing the face of a breed is even more difficult. Only a handful of breeders has been able to fix breed characteristics so firmly that one can identify one of their dogs in the ring without benefit of catalog or familiarity with the handler. Just how long does that take? Well, if you can find a breeder who has been journeying down the path toward your selected destination for a few decades, then you might make it in your lifetime.
Let’s put this in perspective. AKC is less than 130 years old. Many of AKC’s breeds have been developed in the past three hundred years. Think about what those breeders accomplished in the first 100 years. We have in our registry many examples of different varieties of one breed. The best known is the Poodle. Breed historians believe the Standard was the original. Did you ever wonder how long it took to develop the three sizes? It’s a pretty good bet that it wasn’t accomplished in a single lifetime, especially given the life expectancy half a millennium ago. Could it have been accomplished within 100 years? What would you do in a breeding program if you had 100 years?
When I first started seriously in our hobby, I had one of the oldest breeds, the Maltese. The Maltese was one of the ancestors of the Yorkshire Terrier, a breed which is but a century and a half old. As a Terrier enthusiast, I have often wondered why Yorkie breeders didn’t stay with the original concept, a Terrier with a long silky coat that was large enough to be an effective ratter, but small enough to live comfortably in a modest home. If I had 100 years, I might look to breed back to that original concept: reintroduce a set of teeth that could inflict damage on vermin, coupled with a more substantial structure to back up the bite.
On the other end of the spectrum are my favorite Terriers, the Cairn, Scottish and Sealyham. The Scottie is believed to be the oldest of the three, followed by the Cairn, but still believed to be around 300 years old. The Sealyham Terrier is even younger, only around 125 years old. While the Scottie is around its original size, the Sealyham and the Cairn have increased in size. When you think that all three dogs should be about the same height as a Toy Poodle, you can see what I mean. All three dogs were developed to go to ground. The Cairn, a little over half the weight of the Sealyham, was a specialist, capable of getting into (and out of) tight places while dispatching vermin. If I had 100 years, I would focus on breeding a Sealyham and Cairn capable of getting into an 8-inch tunnel.
When I was first introduced to the Silken Windhound, I thought, “Oh, no! Another designer breed!” I have softened my position since. However, I have often wondered if the goal was to get a smaller Borzoi, why didn’t they just breed it down from the original? Guess they didn’t have 100 years. There are two lessons here. One is to know where you are going before you start breeding and then stick to it for a lifetime. The second is to partner with a like-minded individual who is substantially younger than you, one who can pursue your dream after you’re gone. Some of our breeds are lucky enough to have three generations of breeders doing just that. And that’s today’s Back Story.