Why Is a Breed?
Why is a breed?
No, that’s not a typo. Why is the real question.
Before I go any further, this post assumes responsible breeding practices and dogs bred by responsible, knowledgeable people. I am not talking about accidental mixes or anything developed with a “hold my beer and watch this” attitude.
While no single definition of a breed exists, it’s pretty easy to come up with a general definition that holds in most cases. For the most part, a breed is defined as members of a species of animals bred by humans to have a specific purpose and with homogenous looks and other characteristics. Breeds, then, can be recognized as such by breed organizations, such as the American Kennel Club. But some dogs can be of a breed and not be a specific individual that is registered with one of those breed organizations(“papered”). Or, like Goldendoodles, dogs can fit the definition of a breed, but not be a breed that is recognized by a specific organization. Goldendoodles are not recognized as a breed by AKC, but can compete in many AKC trials, such as Agility and Tracking. Goldendoodles are recognized by other breed organizations, such as the Continental Kennel Club (CKC).
But, again, what is a breed is not my question. My question is why. Why do we—humans—make breeds, and why is that important?
For tens of thousands of years, we have bred dogs as companions and helpers. Dogs have helped us hunt, tend flocks, pull loads, rescue, guard resources, root out and kill varmints, and in more modern times, detect cancer, alert us for health issues, ease us emotionally, see, hear, walk, and so, so much more. I daresay we wouldn’t be human without dogs.
Most dog breeds recognized by the AKC have been breeds since well before the 19th and early 20th century, when they were formally registered with a kennel club. But our lives have changed very much since 100, 200, or even 10,000 years ago, and by extension so have the needs we have for dogs. So it only makes sense to keep developing dogs that best fit our lives. Regardless of breed, dogs need a purpose in life. Whether that’s pulling a sled or hunting or helping someone hear the doorbell or being a family companion, they need a purpose. Breeds help us find dogs whose drives—purpose—specifically fit our lives.
Our lives have changed much over these tens of thousands of years. Most of us go to the grocery store and no longer hunt for our food. So our family dogs don’t need to track or retrieve. Retrieving, though, is nice for a family dog to play ball and Frisbee. So we might want a dog that retrieves a little, but that doesn’t necessarily eastsleepdreamlive retrieving, like some of the wonderfully bred, but high drive retrieving breeds. (I'm just using retrieving as an example, not singling it out as anything bad or wrong—because it’s not!) We want a healthy dog with a good temperament. We want a dog that will play catch, then go snooze on the couch and watch baseball with us, not a dog that will play catch, then retrieve your shoes, then retrieve your laundry, then eat the corner off the coffee table because it’s frustrated.
Now, dog breeds can be adapted and changed over time, but what’s the real difference between making a change within the limited gene pool of a single breed, or making a change using two gene pools, thereby expanding the genetic diversity and genetic health of the offspring, and also having two sets of breed characteristics to select from?
I don't’ know about you, I don’t need a dog that will point at a pheasant and then, when I whistle, go pick it up for me without damaging its feathers, or a dog that can take down a bear or a lion, or a dog that will dig in a tunnel and kill half a dozen varmints a day. I need a dog that will play a little with me, go for walks, care for my family, bark a couple of times when someone knocks on the door, snuggle with me when I have a cold, and basically be a good companion. And Goldendoodles do that for me. I don’t care if they are recognized by any particular organization, or if some ignorant snob tells me they are mutts because they are not recognized by the archaic standards of the AKC. If it smells like a breed, walks like a breed, and barks like a breed, and it fits the need of a breed, then it has a purpose as a breed, and as such, does not need to justify its existence any further than that.