A pastor once said “text without context is pretext”; that is, people who read scripture without the proper context can make it mean anything they want: an excuse, a con job, a cause. The same can be applied to confirmation although it doesn’t sound as good: “confirmation without context is pretext”. There’s no question that in the proper context, breeding standards are a great benefit to dogs and breeds in general. Breeding standards without the proper context can be highly detrimental.
Breed standards were developed in order to describe the different breeds in terms that allowed them to perform their jobs to the fullest. In that respect, conformation standards should be maintained in the context of the breed’s purpose. Over the centuries, breeders have developed some remarkable dog breeds that today are both companions and assistants in our daily in our daily lives: hunting, ranching, guarding, therapy, guiding, even giving advanced warning of cancer or oncoming seizures.
However standards are a double-edged sword. According to onekind.org, ‘Breed standards’ often include exaggerated and unnatural physical characteristics that are detrimental to the dogs’ health and quality of life. And concludes with: This report has shown that current practices of pedigree dog breeding have created serious problems for the welfare of many dogs and for their owners. The problems have arisen because breeding goals have been, and too often still are, based on the dog’s appearance rather than on its health.
Problems arise when conformation takes on a life of its own and dogs are not bred within the context of their original purpose. In these situations you have the “splitting of the breed” such as with “field” and “show” Labrador Retrievers. This may be starting to show up in Spinone with the “field coat”/”flat coat”/”hunters coat” as opposed to the longer “show coat” as it were. There has been a long-standing argument over whether or not breeding dogs specifically for the show ring will breed OUT the abilities for which the breed was designed; with sporting dogs that would mean replacing their hunting abilities with “show” abilities. As Geoffrey English stated in the Gun Dogs Online article Field vs. Show – What’s the Difference, Field breeders are producing the athletes and show breeders are producing the models. However there is some hope in that many breeders produce both athletes and models in the same package.
So am I saying that altering Spinone standards are destined to cause health problems? Who knows, but Italians have been perfecting the breed for arguably 1,000 years or more and if anyone is an expert on Spinone, it is they. As I pointed out in my article on tail docking, the number of injuries to dogs increased significantly when tail docking was banned in Sweden. Other attributes such as head, muzzle, skin, coat, height and weight may not cause genetic problems, but could certainly affect their hunting abilities and introduce or perpetuate future health problems – none of which are recognized in conformation shows.