Sexual reproduction is a union that results in increasing genetic diversity of the offspring. It is characterized by two processes: meiosis, involving the halving of the number of chromosomes; and fertilization, involving the fusion of two gametes and the restoration of the original number of chromosomes.
Sexual reproduction (as opposed to asexual reproduction) is necessarily a dilution and a combination because mammalian genetics are a zero sum game (baring rare and disastrous defects): two haploid cells containing half the required genes (a dilution) come together in the offspring to form a single organism that contains the same number of genes as the parents do (a combination).
Despite numerous jokes to the contrary, sexual reproduction is not by its nature a degenerative process. Some of the oldest texts from Egypt (as long as we’ve been keeping records of civilization) decry “kids these days” as sufficient evidence that the end is neigh and all is lost. But we’ve managed well enough and even made some improvements along the way. We build our skyscrapers with machines instead of slaves, for one.1
But old fogies crying about the disrespectful youth tearing it all apart (think Donald McCaig complaining about the dog toys and foul language of the third estate) is nothing new. And now, like then, it should be ignored.
Genetics is a very conservative process. Genes may be swapped, but new ones are rarely formed or lost. There are plenty of ignorant (and on this topic we are all still ignorant) theories on the Border Collie Boards about what role genetics plays in herding ability and how that ability might be lost. Losing working ability in 3 generations and How Working Breeds Are Lost for starters.
Not knowing the biological mechanism of herding heritability myself (not a single study has been published which claims to document the quantity and characteristics of the genetic aspect of herding), I’ll refrain from calling these theories impossible, but there are still some aspects that don’t pass the sniff test.
For one, the idea that genes are lost. Genes are not lost any more than they are found. The sheeple will tell you that the only thing that defines the Border Collie is its ability to work sheep. That is the one and only breed standard. So we must assume that the quality that is present with the greatest concentration and ubiquity in the Border Collie is the ability to herd.
Random and capricious breeding of Border Collies should logically result in a population of dogs that has a mean representation of alleles mirroring the population as a whole. Given that the genes determining herding ability were specifically the ones selected for in the hundreds of years of selective breeding of Border Collies for work, then it must be true that the density of these genes is unlikely to be dismantled by not selecting for those traits in further breedings.
Herding must be the most inbred and most homozygous genetic quality in the Border Collie.
Sheeple claim that they do not and have not bred for color, yet not one of them is crying “if we don’t breed for color at every generation, black and white border collies will be lost in three generations!” Why? Because the genetics of color are fixed and stable in the population.
Are Border Collies a breed? Do pure-bred Border Collies exist? If so, what constitutes that breed. Sheeple will answer Yes, Yes, and Herding Ability to the above questions. But if their concerns are valid, then we must answer: No, No, One day perhaps Herding Ability. Since the definition of a true breeding organism is:
A true breeding organism, sometimes also called a pure-bred, is an organism having certain biological traits which are passed on to all subsequent generations when bred with another true breeding organism for the same traits. In other words, to “breed true” means that two organisms with a particular, heritable phenotype produce only offspring with that (same) phenotype.
To wit, if a Border Collie can’t pass along its herding ability unadulterated to the next generation in every puppy, then it is not a pure breed in so far as herding ability is concerned. If this is the reality we face, then the only people to blame are the sheeple for their failure to fix the (in their books) most important quality of the Border Collie into the breed.
And if it is true that this ability is not fixed, they why should people who don’t need to use that ability continue to be a slave to it? If the definitive ability, herding, is not fixed, then we do not have a breed, and people who value the Border Collie for all of the traits that are fixed or abundant (athleticism, intelligence, bidability) can take our proto-breed and refine it in any way that we see fit. After all, it’s still a proto-breed — in development — and our needs and wants have changed.
Is this a semantic exercise? Yes, in part. But so is defining a “Border Collie,” and “work,” and “sport,” and “ruination of the breed.” Why do you think that an author and a lawyer are the two predominant figures representing the ABCA in the border war? Words matter.
The sheeple love to say that the complexity of the herding genes must be very complicated and thus at great risk for being lost even in a single generation. But this doesn’t pass the sniff test either. The complexity of the herding gene or genes can’t be so complicated as to have precluded their successful assembly in the first place. The Border Collie’s herding ability didn’t just appear out of thin air in a single dog, nor will it disappear back into the air. Nor did it take thousands of generations of useless dogs to finally create a useful dog.
For the herding ability to disappear, two things must be true. One, breeders must specifically select against the herding ability. And two, there must be abundant alternative alleles for all of the herding genes that when selected for will render the herding ability impotent. Adding to this issue is the question of whether it is even desirable or essential to maintain this quality in its most robust state in ALL Border Collies.
The third point which I find fault in is the “it takes a village to raise a border collie” notion. You’ll see this is a common thread in the sheeple’s argument against non-trial dogs breeding. It has nothing to do with the network of breeders and trainers and dog trading and clinics and all that that is necessary to maintain the trial culture. It is specifically about the need for a monopoly in border collie breeding.
It usually has two parts: (1) Non elite dogs need to remain part of the gene pool, but still under sheeple control because breeding the best to the best is still insufficient to produce enough top dogs. All Border Collies need to be bred to top herding potential to maintain the quality of the inner sanctum few that are trained and trialed.
(2) Pet homes need to be reserved for herding cast offs lest they face competition from sport dogs and their cast offs. Every puppy bought from a sport breeder is one that is not bought from a herding breeder and this will bring ruination to the herding breeders. Never mind that the most active and productive herding breeders seem to be retired trialers who are no longer breeding to find the next great dog but rather pumping out puppies from their also retired dogs.
This logic is the same stupidity as “every purchased puppy steals a home from a shelter dog.” Well, why don’t we let the free market sort that out. If people want a shelter dog, let them have a shelter dog, but buying a well bred puppy is not a sin and is a rather baseless transfer of guilt and responsibility. So too is the notion that people should have to buy working bred Border Collies (who every sheeple insists “do not make good pets”) instead of being given the freedom to purchase a sport bred Border Collie.
The vehemence and popularity of this argument stems from the fear that sport bred Border Collies will make better pets, or at least the consumer will believe so. So the sheeple argument is that they deserve and need a monopoly. And if you’ve ever taken Econ 101, monopolies are inefficient and fail to meet market demands. They create products that maximize the interests of the producer and minimize the interests of the consumer. And that’s essentially what the sheeple want and dictate.
Can you say welfare state and monopoly? A gigantic and inefficient pool of so-so herding bred dogs need to be maintained to support the handful of trialing dogs and herding breeders need monopoly status just to eek by.
You’ll notice that not a single herding or ranching business signed the AKC petition to leave the Border Collie alone. Why is that? Perhaps because the majority of sheep and beef producers in this country and the world are not beholden to the trialing community to find Border Collies that can work. My guess is that it’s not that hard and that they don’t need a sheep trial to tell them what dogs can work and which can’t.
Seeing as the dilution fears is mostly a thought experiment and not a “clear and present danger” to the working world, let’s get back to dilution and concentration.
If the parents are of the same “concentration” in any genetic aspect, the dilution of their individual characteristics is a moot point, as the overall proof of the new mixture remains constant. The pejorative nature of the word ‘dilute’ comes from the element of replacing something with nothing, or perhaps something of high value with something of low value. But value is in the eye of the beholder. That’s why some of us drink “Cafe Americano” (Italian for watered down piss) while others drink “Cafe Ristretto” (Italian for poison).
The dilution notion is a popular one with breeding. Xenophobic and racist attitudes thus demean and fear miscegenation on the basis that purity is superior to an admixture. To mix is to inherently impair the quality or reduce the value of at least one of the components if not both. Such notions might be losing their popularity or at least their mentionability in P.C. human circles, but dog culture readily promotes numerous -isms that are actively discouraged in human culture (i.e. sexism, racism, classism, etc.).
In the dog world, high performing males are bred in abundance to lesser performing (or simply untested) females as a hold over of the notion that the male’s influence is more important than the female’s in the offspring. The view that women are “the weaker vessel” (1 Peter 3:7) or only a vessel to grow the man’s seed lingers in dogdom. Part of it is the practicality of biology, since one male can impregnate almost an unlimited number of females, whereas a single female that is bred as early and as often as possible would be lucky to survive 20 litters.
In ISDS registered Border Collies, for example, not a single female is listed as having 100 or more offspring, yet 392 male dogs have that honor. The top sires have several hundred litters and more than a thousand offspring. Wiston Cap, born in 1963 and trialed to unmatched success by J.Richardson tops the list and had at least 388 litters resulting in at least 1933 offspring that made it into the studbooks.
Wiston Cap became the most sought-after stud dog in Border Collie history, and soon Jock Richardson was pocketing better than a thousand pounds a year in stud fees (shepherd’s wages at the time being forty pounds a week).
Jock got Mirk and Sweep out of Cap, and when the great dog’s sons started to win trials, Jock Richardson was a rich man–in his kennels he had the three best sheepdogs in Great Britain.
Wiston Cap provoked deep goofiness among breeders. The man who bred Cap repeated the exact mating over and over, hoping to get another Cap. (Geoff Billingham had one of these pups, a bonnie big thing named Wattie Cap, who died of pneumonia.) An English solicitor deliberately bred Wiston Cap’s sons to Cap’s daughters until he created a pup with “86% Wiston Cap Blood.” The pup did look like the old man, but, of course, he never amounted to much, and I shudder to think how many deformed pups were produced by those matings.
– Donald McCaig, Eminent Dogs, Dangerous Men p.54
Wiston Cap produced two champion dogs in the first generation and two in the second generation, just showing you how swiftly the talent falls off compared to the sheer number of dogs we’re talking about. It’s worth mentioning that the two dogs Wiston Cap sired that went on to become champions were also trained, handled, and owned by Jock Richardson. Hrm.
This is clearly a case of a popular sire (and the resulting popular sire effect when his offspring were inbred for generations). It was done not because it should have been done, but because it could be done. The ethics of superior male importance in the next generation arise from confusing the ability to produce quantity with the ability to produce quality.
Thus, the result of fearing dilution is increasing concentration (a word that ironically means ‘great and constant diligence and attention’ as well as ‘strengthening the amount of a solute in a solution by removing units of solvent and/or adding units of solute.’
Patrick’s concern is tangential to the worst problems. Is it really a travesty that people who want big terriers have them, given that they have chosen to forgo working their pets? Is it really a travesty that people who don’t herd buy border collies from breeders that don’t herd, given that they don’t herd?
Dilution isn’t the problem at all. Almost all of the ills in dogs we see today are due to the opposite desire, to concentrate genes in excess. Despite all of our ability to manipulate animals to our whims, the most crucial aspect that we control is genetic health. Without health, all other concerns are moot. The perfect herding dog that doesn’t live past 6 weeks is useless. The perfectly sized terrier that is blind and deaf is equally useless.
Patrick has many posts about how show breeding has disfigured the terrier into a too-large monster that can’t hope to physically be able to work since it can’t fit down into the narrow entrances of fox settes. But are professional terriermen going out of business for lack of small dogs? Do hobbyist terriermen find their selection of dogs lacking? Even worse, are the show dogs that are still small enough to fit down a hole not eager to do so? Being too large isn’t a problem that can’t be safely rectified by breeding smaller. But the desire to go to ground is clearly a more difficult to comprehend and breed for. But even that nut can be cracked if given enough time.
And time requires health. The ruination of breeds does not come when they can no longer perform their historical functions as well, it comes when your breeding pool is so small and diseased that you can’t hope to escape it. When a popular sire broadcast spreads a recessive allele so wide and deep into your pool that when it becomes expressed in a few generations and reaches critical mass in a few more, you have nowhere to turn to get away from the destruction.
The greatest ill is the one we can not cure. Breeding dogs too big is an ill that can be cured by breeding them small again. Recessive disease alleles that infiltrate the entire breed in a handful of generations because the elite breeders knew best is a problem that can’t be bred away from.
My final point, and this can’t be said enough. No one is demanding, suggesting, or hoping that working breeders don’t continue to breed their working dogs. The sentiment is not returned by the working fascists. But in the end, that doesn’t matter. They can do nothing to stop time, free men, and free markets.
1. [The slave labor construction theory of the pyramids is most likely a myth as records exist documenting that the laborers were free men being paid during the times of year when farming was impractical…. think pork barrel public works projects and The New Deal.]
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