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Fit for function?

FIT FOR FUNCTION, fit for life or fit for purpose are very much the buzz words at the moment. It is certainly admirable that exhibitors, breeders and judges are all being encouraged to seek healthy, unexaggerated examples of breeds. Hopefully this will continue to concentrate all minds in the right direction. I definitely do not have a problem with this premise and wholeheartedly support the thinking behind it.

However - there is always going to be a however or a but, isn’t there? - while we are all emphatically expounding these phrases, how exactly are we defining ‘fit for function/purpose’?

The vast majority of dogs are expected to fulfil the role of companions or to use another term ‘pets’.

Naturally, no matter what category of ownership a dog is to ultimately be destined for, there is a fundamental requirement that the dog should be healthy so for the moment I will take that as given.

But what else does the public require from a companion dog?

Basically the need is for an amiable companion that will fit in well with the owners lifestyle and look like a good example of the breed the family have chosen.

Often this simply means they want a dog that can be walked in the morning for whatever time fits comfortably into their routine. The dog is then more than likely to be expected to remain quietly while the owner is either out at work or getting on with other chores or activities.

Another brief spurt of attention around lunchtime could mean another walk before once more quietly passing away more hours during the afternoon.

Evenings could include another walk but realistically it may very well be the case that the dog is required to lie quietly in the lounge with the family while they watch television or some other entertainment.

Obviously each family requirement will have variation on this but basically this is likely to be the general routine in most households.

So to fulfil these criteria and be ‘fit for purpose’ an amiable companion is required. It really doesn’t matter whether you are considered a show breeder, a hobby breeder or someone who breeds to provide working dogs in whatever discipline. Unless you keep every puppy in a litter, the remainder are sold to the general public as companions.

Believe it or not, I had already started drafting this Friday Essay a couple of weeks ago before the recent front page story in DOG WORLD highlighting some of the thinking within the Adisory Council on Dog Breeding. I thoroughly endorse its key objective should be the breeding of fit, healthy and well-socialised pets. The words ‘suitable for the environment in which it will live’ particularly drew my attention as it is basically what I intended to convey in this Friday Essay.

I’m sure owners of boarding kennels, grooming salons etc that are dealing with people’s pets on a daily basis will confirm dogs from show lines are often of a more laid back temperament than their counterparts from working lines. Sometimes people will acquire a dog as a companion whose function has been to work most of the day believing it will be easily trained. That may well be the case if the new owners want their companion to fulfil the function the breed was originally bred for but as outlined already, most want a companion!

Educating would-be owners is again a laudable ambition. However, it’s also likely to be an uphill struggle. I would not be able to count how many times we have families turning up unannounced at our door, especially on a Sunday afternoon, asking if we have puppies for sale. The assumption seems to be that as we have boarding kennels we are bound to have puppies for sale. The breed is of no importance to them, they simply want a puppy and they want it now. Despite explaining about the best ways to obtain a puppy I know they will simply drive off to try and get an instantaneous new family member somewhere else.

Show breeders seem to get a lot of blame laid at their door. Once again, other avenues puppies come from appear to remain ignored. As a rule, it has been show breeders who have instigated the setting up of health tests. And who have been at the forefront of having their dogs tested while others have dragged their feet? The answer of course is show breeders. Puppies coming from other sources are not exempt from the need to be assessed through the health schemes.

Yes, there are bad apples in every discipline or indeed every walk of life but the blame for everything wrong in the pedigree dog should not always be laid at show breeders. If anything, in many instances it is the show breeders who supply dogs who are fit for the fundamental temperament requirements of a companion dog and look like the photos people have seen of their chosen breed.