The working vs. show dichotomy in the Labrador Retriever, Bedlington Terrier, Border Collie, Cocker Spaniel, and Bull Terrier.
To be fair, a lot of working collies are neurotic too because they’re over bred with the intention of winning certain trials. They’re more sound in body but not always better pets because of their drive.
I’ve had this experience with field Labs too. Definitely remember that working doesn’t = problem-free. People shouldn’t get complacent in breeder searching just because it’s a working line!
As always, pure-bred does not mean well-bred.
No. Let me explain.
When people breed for working trials to the exclusion of anything else, all it does is produce a dog that is extreme in a different direction than show dogs are. Take that working cocker spaniel for example. First off, the working cocker is barely recognizable as a cocker at all. Cockers were originally bred to be small and compact with sturdy bone, not stick-legged and racy like that dog. This build wasn’t just for looks. Cockers were working in close quarters with hunters, retrieving small fowl in the thick underbrush and wooded countryside of England. They needed to be small and sturdy to fit under and push through this terrain. They were used in everyday hunting to put food on the table and needed to have a level head on their shoulders and not be too overly intense or fixated. In contrast, the working cocker spaniel is most likely used in huge open fields, in field trials which emphasize speed and the ability to range far from the hunter. The dog must have intense drive to carry out commands this far from instruction, as well as longer legs and slender build to be as fast as possible, even though hunting was never intended to be a race. His build is so tall and slender that he would have a hard time knocking through or fitting under thick underbrush. This is the exact opposite of what the Cocker was originally intended for and that’s why the working dog is now a completely different dog. It’s much more along the lines of an upland bird dog bred to work in open fields, which are typically more slender and leggy, such as setters and pointers. All this photoset does is show how different conditions will cause people to breed for different extremes.
Working people often mistake hyperactive and neurotic for “drive” and also will disregard important features of soundness. Yes, some show animals are too extreme, but the point is that MODERATION is key in any venue, not just that working animals are inherently superior.
I’m also wondering why people believe that the animals on the right are faulty? Because they are groomed or have hair? It doesn’t mean they can’t do the work. That show border collie looks quite sturdy to me and there is nothing telling us that it doesn’t have the instinct and ability to work sheep. Believe it or not hair doesn’t prevent work.
Is it because the show animals often have a little more bone (the actual bones are thicker and sturdier) or because they carry a little more weight? I agree that many show labs are obese, but truth be told, nowadays very lean field labs would not have enough bulk to insulate themselves from the frigid waters of Newfoundland where the original Labrador Retriever was developed. This is because, like the working cocker, most field labs are bred for field trials in huge open fields, and thus are slender, taller, and with less bone to emphasize speed, when in fact this breed was never intended to be fast, but rather a sturdy swimmer in cold seas.
Another note about hair. The controversy over hair occurs in working sled dogs. People who breed working Siberian and Alaskan huskies tend to equate too much hair with a hindrance on working ability. I assume this is because they often work their dogs in areas where people live and in conditions that are not nearly as extreme as those faced by sled dogs in the past. In 2007, a team of Samoyeds proved that thick coats for sled dogs have real value. With their thick, plush coats, Don Duncan’s Seaview Samoyeds were the only team to finish the Iditarod without needing jackets to keep them warm. The Samoyeds covered almost 800 miles of Alaskan wilderness in temperatures that got down to -50 degrees Fahrenheit. Sometimes coat has a purpose and it’s not just to look pretty.
Certainly the Bedlington Terrier on the right is a very sound animal underneath the hair, moving with ease. I have personal experience with show Bedlingtons who regularly kill and course vermin—they are fast and very athletic, despite the hair. They are by no means hindered in their work. Their coat is for protection and is functionally no different than other coarse terrier coats or coats of wirehaired sighthounds.
The Bull Terrier was a fighting dog and is no longer used for that purpose, so I’m not sure what the point is since they are really only companions. I agree, perhaps, that the skull shape of the show dog should be monitored for over-accentuation, but there is nothing about its head that inherently hinders its ability to function. In fact, I would say that the marked Roman nose is not much different than a Borzoi, a very athletic hunter.
In addition, there are many breeds that have changed very little since their inception and have no split among working and show dogs. If you put a working dog and a show dog’s photo next to each other you would not be able to tell the difference and in many cases it would be a photo of the same dog. These breeds prove that they have not been “ruined” by shows and can still work. My own breed, the Field Spaniel, is one such breed—others I can think of include many livestock guardian breeds such as the Great Pyrenees and Kuvasz, as well as many spitz breeds such as the Icelandic sheepdog or Finnish Lapphund, working farm terriers such as Sealyhams and Border Terriers, sighthounds such as Ibizan Hounds and Saluki, Coonhounds and other working scenthounds, and the list goes on.
Please consider that there are two sides to every story when vilifying certain types of dogs. There are working dogs that are extreme as well as show dogs that are extreme. I think moderation is key in the preservation of any breed. We can get too carried away in show animals with accentuating type and losing athletic ability and function, but there are also many, many show dogs more than capable of performing the jobs expected of them.
Art of Dogs’ response is very worth reading, a good argument. I know many people in my group of dog friends both on and offline who will always choose a working line over show line but it’s so important to know there are extremes on both sides. If you’re not going to adopt, finding a great breeder for ANY breed or type is so vitally important. Research, research, research!!