Technology can affect our lives in positive and negative ways. It’s all about how we choose to use it. vasabii/iStock/Thinkstock
The technology revolution was embraced by members of the dog fancy as quickly, or perhaps more quickly, than by many other segments of society. Consider just the changes in show-related activities. I can’t remember the last time I sat down with pen or typewriter and an entry form, filled it out, put it in a stamped envelope, and put it in the mail, hoping it got there in time because I was always “just this close” to the closing date. Then we waited for the judging program to arrive to see the entry numbers, and they never arrived quickly. It always seemed that someone called me up with the entry before I knew. And the phone bills!
Unless you were at the show or a friend was there, it seemed like forever before we knew who won what, where and under what judge, and against what competition. More phone bills! Remember that rapidly expanding publication listing events and results from the AKC that used to clog our mailboxes? If we wanted to know what dog was winning where, we had to pore over page after page of what seemed like six-point type to find out.
Now it’s hard to even remember when we couldn’t enter the shows online in a process that gets fundamentally easier and more user-friendly all the time. More and more clubs are opting out of sending premium lists by mail at all, finding that it makes no difference in the entries.
I rarely receive a premium list in the mail, and, frankly, I miss them, especially the beautifully designed and printed ones, which seem fewer and fewer because they all seem to look the same online. I’m grateful that the shows with the most beautiful publications, such as Santa Barbara, still send them by mail, and I hope they continue to do so.
Foy Trent, the Superintendent of our all-breed show, tells me that 65 to 75 percent of entries to his shows are made electronically, slightly fewer for specialties. Now we can go online two or three days after entries close and see the breed numbers first, followed shortly thereafter by the complete judging program. And results of those shows at the Group and breed level are available usually by the end of the day of that show. Breed results take slightly longer, but they, too, are online soon. Because this has become such an integral part of our dog-showing life, we forget what monumental changes these are to the way we used to operate.
The Ugly Side
What’s not to like about these innovations? This same technology has brought us an ugly side as well. One unfortunate result is the easy, relatively anonymous conduit for gossip, lies and innuendo that, in the past, required the telephone. Today it’s possible to spread gossip about our fellow exhibitors, judges whose opinions are not our own and breeders whose breeding practices we want to find fault with.
Gossip can be truthful, benign and engaged in for no other reason than entertainment by people who have too much time on their hands. But it very quickly can turn poisonous and harmful in ways not even understood until it is out of hand. Now we have websites devoted to praising or condemning judges by name. The critics can be anonymous, but those being criticized are not afforded that courtesy. And, unlike a piece of paper than can be destroyed or a phone call that generally can be denied, postings on the Internet stay there forever. Truth is seldom a consideration.
I don’t “do” Facebook, so criticizing it is much like deriding a movie I haven’t seen or a book I haven’t read. Although many of my friends are active participants, I still wonder how one can have 500 “friends.” But for those who like to share information, sometimes very personal information, about their lives and activities, and to converse with people they seldom get to see, it appears to be an enjoyable activity. However, and this is a big however, it has come to be used far more frequently than is wise in the purebred breeding community.
Breeding by Facebook
Some are calling the new approach to selecting breeding stock “Breeding by Facebook.” Dominic Carota and Dr. Stephen Sipperly, successful Pharaoh Hound breeders under the Hallam prefix, call it “Armchair Breeding.” However it’s labeled, it refers to the practice of choosing breeding stock by looking at pictures and talking to dog owners and breeders on Facebook.
In an interview in Sighthound Review, Dominic and Stephen describe it this way: “If there are lots of ‘likes,’ and the dog has done lots of winning, then people assume that dog must be the best one to breed to. Some people are taking a ‘Depth of Fame’ versus a ‘Depth of Quality’ approach to learning about the breed, even planning breedings on that philosophy. The assumption is that if a litter had a great dog in it, then it must be a great dog to breed to. This is a radical departure from how quality breeding in America has been taking place for many decades.”
I agree with them. Buying breeding stock and choosing a sire based on Facebook photos, without getting your hands on the dog and without any knowledge of the dogs in the pedigree, absolutely will make a difference in the quality of our dogs in the future. Of course, it’s easier, less expensive and less time-consuming, but if looking at photos, even unretouched photos, is a valid method of evaluating a dog, then why don’t we forget about entering our dogs in shows, driving long distances and letting people actually put their hands on the dogs? Let’s just pay an entry fee and mail the photos to the judges for their decision. Isn’t there more to a dog than what can be seen in a photo? What about conditioning, coat texture and movement?
There is no substitute for evaluating dogs in person. Viewing photos online won’t convey everything you need to know about a dog, including conditioning, coat and movement.
Developments in Breeding
The past was not perfect, and we are foolish to believe it was, but what was considered the best way to learn — about breeding, the role of genetics, dangerous and beneficial practices — was by real, in-depth conversation with those who were successful. Does anyone believe that a correspondence college course gives the same opportunity for in-depth learning as a series of lectures given by a knowledgeable human being?
Who, besides the science fiction fans among us, could have foreseen the latest developments in the actual breeding side of what we do? In this brave new world of ours, it’s almost routine in some breeds, by some breeders, to use progesterone testing to pinpoint the date of ovulation, artificially inseminate the bitch and, at the same time, make the appointment for the C-section. Sometimes semen is shipped across the country or from another country, but sometimes the sire is in the same kennel at the time but not allowed to breed. Again, this way is easier than the old-fashioned way: an actual breeding. It is ironic that so many people sing the high praises of natural rearing and feeding but don’t consider these practices to be unnatural. Sometimes frozen semen is used from a long-dead dog.
When it first became possible to store canine semen, it seemed a miraculous way to multiply the influence of a famous or important stud dog. Only the best dogs or those carrying the most sought-after pedigree were stored. Now, however, it seems that every owner wants every dog stored for posterity. A reproductive veterinarian told me recently that, even though it’s her livelihood, she often looks at the dog being collected and stored for the future and asks herself, “Really?”
What interests me most about those using frozen semen from long-gone dogs are the breeders who insist on comprehensive health testing on any dog used for breeding. Yet many of the stored dogs being used died long before health testing was widely used. Although DNA testing is possible in those breeds that have such tests available, I am told that it’s not utilized very often on frozen semen. In thinking of my own long-dead males, I wonder if I emphasize the good points or the faults of those dogs that are now longer with me, and just how good is my memory?
It’s hard to be critical of these practices, especially when they allow previously only dreamed-of genetic combinations to take place or when traveling across the country, sometimes across the state, is impossible. In the past, breeding to dogs in other countries was all but impossible.
But when dogs are not permitted to breed their bitches, and when bitches are not allowed to naturally whelp their litters or sometimes even to raise them, aren’t we missing the basic tenet of animal breeding — animal husbandry? Is it important that we, as breeders, know that our stud dogs have the virility and the stamina to breed? Is it important that our brood bitches are capable of giving birth, nursing and rearing their offspring? I somehow think all of this is important, without being able to say exactly why, except to say that without our dogs’ active participation in the whole process, we might as well be breeding hybrid corn.
We often refer to “unforeseen consequences” and “the slippery slope.” It takes a skilled breeder to utilize all of our technological advances wisely, without sacrificing the future of our breeds and the hobby that we joyfully pursue. I hope we have enough of these breeders to carry us through and to use all of the technology available to us without causing harm to the whole endeavor.