Dilution and Reproduction

Dilution drives culture.” by Ted Byrne

The semantic implication of breeding being a “dilution” of some sort is not limited to the Russian language. “Reproduction” in English is also carries some of the same connotations. Of course it means the sexual act of conceiving and bearing offspring, but when used as a noun it can also mean a knock-off: “a copy–not an original,” “a reasonable facsimile in appearance and construction,” “made to appear as an older form,” or “made to look like an original.”

Some definitions lean away from the pejorative sense of the word, emphasizing “with no intention to deceive” or “especially when it is significantly faithful in its resemblance to the form and elements of the original,” but we all know that reproduction means you can’t have or can’t afford the genuine article.

I’m sure the breed-dogs-for-working-ability-only people would make the argument that if you only know the reproduction, you’ll never appreciate the true beauty of the original (working) model, and that if enough people purchase the reproductions instead of the real deal, the real deal just might not exist any more and then it won’t be a matter of not being able to afford the original, it will be a matter of the original going extinct.

It’s a good argument. It is probably the truth. But it is not the role of the consumers to pause history and preserve everything the way it was. If working dogs are to endure, it is up to the working community to do so without monopoly status based upon creating their own demand and supply of dogs.

I’m sure the collies that existed before the Border Collie were fine animals and beautiful and amazing to watch in their own way, but they have not endured because the demand for someone to pause history and preserve them in that state did not exist. I have yet to hear a single wolf conservationist proclaim that every home that is filled with a dog instead of a wolf is going to lead to the ruination of the wolf because to preserve them in their current (historical) state requires more resources than the wolf appreciating community can provide.

That argument is ridiculous. And so is the argument that a monopoly over pet homes is required to sustain the working Border Collie. WORKING homes are required to sustain the working Border Collie.

There are many beautiful things from history that existed once, but do not exist now, or which we can only visit in museums. My favorite genres of architecture have long since past their primes and I have little appreciation for Post-Modernism. But I am free to build my own buildings in any past style I choose, and beautiful classical structures are built every day around the world. I appreciate many past movements in art, especially the Dutch masters who captured perspective with amazing truth. But I also think that the rise of the most bastard child of all bastard children in art, digital photography, has brought many beautiful images to my eyes for enjoyment.

The Castrati were famed to have the voices of angles, but they no longer exist. The demand for angelic male singers did not induce a supply of a single boy who was willing to forgo puberty and his testicles during this century or the last. Despite the famed beauty and majesty of their voices, the practice died out and lead to more women and children being given the opportunity to sing choice parts. I feel no less fulfilled in life because I can not hear a Castrati sing my favorite aria. Women and children might be reproductions of the supposedly superior Castrati, but I won’t shed a tear for an industry that couldn’t support itself and was allowed to die out.

In many ways, the herding Border Collie community is like the Native American community. They both have a rare culture that produces things of beauty, things worth preservation. But that preservation must come from within. They must either hold their ground or successfully assimilate into the dominant culture around them, but they will never thrive if they simply rely on handouts. It might surprise you to know that several tribes now live on lands that were not “granted” by the government, but rather purchased by the tribes themselves. Governments have a funny way of changing the rules for handouts, but they have yet to overturn private property rights completely. A new found self-sufficiency and tenacity to excel under the new rules of capitalism has lead to many tribes clawing their way back from extinction to positions of prosperity and relevance.

The real fear of dilution in the working community is identified in Donald McCaig’s book, The Dog Wars. It’s not the dilution of the stock dog’s working ability, but of stock dog culture that is the threat. He speaks passionately about the history from the UK, but adds that the culture of the American West mixed with the tweed-jacket culture of the UK trialists and formed a new diluted and yet reproduced culture. As the book goes on, he documents more changes in stock dog culture than in stock dogs. Women becoming trialers. Professionals from the city taking up rural sheep herding on weekends. More and more dog sport people bringing their dog toys and foul language into the trail scene.

Many of the trialers are themselves manifestations of a “reproduction” mentality. Big city folk moving to the country to recreate a romantic farm life that perhaps never existed, for the lifestyle of it all, not because they were born into it or could not escape it. A big city advertising guru named McCaig… a Scottish name… moving to a county that resembles the rugged hills of his home country… that his ancestors likely left because of the Enclosure Movement and Industrial Revolution, when peasant farmers were driven off the land, into the cities, and overseas because labor saving devices (and the Border Collie is certainly one of those labor saving devices) made most farm workers redundant, to recapture a little bit of his cultural heritage (this is what my people did!) and raise sheep. Not because sheep were a wise career move, but because he wanted the lifestyle.

Did American ranchers dilute elements of the British dogs? You bet they did. In many lines they preferred a short coated dog to the rough coated dog favored in Scotland. Not all sheep behave like Scottish sheep, nor are the sheep across the US uniform. The trialers speak often to the fact that Western sheep trials are more difficult than Eastern trials and the sheep are more wild and wiley. You can bet that ranchers and trialers happy in their own enclaves around the country bred dogs tailored to their sheep.

When the local Border Collie pool was found lacking for the task, ranchers had no problem crossbreeding with other dog breeds that exhibited the traits needed for their particular tasks. The McNab dog is a study in such.

So, just as individuals act in their own best interests, the sport breeders will act like the ranchers and trialing breeders before them. They will take their raw material inherited from the last generation and dilute it and recombine it in ways that they see fit to meet their needs. And that is exactly the way it should be. I’m not writing this essay on the original computer, let alone the original type writer, or a fixed type press, or even with a pen or a pencil or a piece of charcoal.

History is wonderful and all, but I shall fill my plate to my tastes and you are free to do so with your plate. To each his own, don’t tread on me, and buyer beware.

I find it creepy and fitting (ducle et decorum est) that when I finished this post and was searching the net for some picture to post with it, just to set it off from the other posts and break up the big block of text, that the first image that I find when searching for “dilution reproduction” is a digital photograph that features the profile of a Native American juxtaposed against the wild and unsettling image of an angry plaster bird.

The post that goes along with it is also intensely thought provoking. Is the Third Estate the barbarians at the gate, or are we the Romans to the Herders who are the Greeks? Are we a brave new religion that just might topple a fading empire or are we cultural connoisseurs who will bring mass appeal to an otherwise historical and limited art? Here are the artists thoughts on dilution and culture:

But how’ze about culture? I wonder if it isn’t driven by dilution as it mixes with new paradigms? Huh? Huh? Or izzat so obvious (even without pulling Hegel off the shelf) that it’s too shallow to dignify?

Anywayzzzzz…. There’s a big gap between tumbling mixtures of cultures and the concept of civilization, no? Barbarism is just as likely, right? Or … or… a gallup with the Four Horsemen Of The Apocalypse. I wonder how many cultural mixes it takes to finally get a civilization? And how many cultural dilutions it takes until people realize that no one recalls how to fix the potholes in the Appian Way?

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About Christopher

Christopher Landauer is a fifth generation Colorado native and second generation Border Collie enthusiast. Border Collies have been the Landauer family dogs since the 1960s and Christopher got his first one as a toddler. He began his own modest breeding program with the purchase of Dublin and Celeste in 2006 and currently shares his home with their children Mercury and Gemma as well. His interest in genetics began in AP Chemistry and AP Biology and was honed at Stanford University.