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14 Performance vs. Conformation




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This article is from the American Pit Bull Terriers Breed FAQ, by Michael Bur with numerous contributions by others.

14 Performance vs. Conformation

Well, no USENET APBT FAQ would be complete without touching on this
subject, as it has been debated to death on rpd*. Below is a post made
by one of the authors during the "Performance vs. Conformation" thread
that appeared on rpd* in late 1994.


Post From: "scott david bradwell" <sdbradwe@midway.uchicago.edu>


Cindy Tittle Moore wrote:
>Conformation is essential for performance. The original
>labrador standard was written strictly by field folks
>as the exact type of dog that did best in the field trials
>of the time. In a different country with different field trials, the
>dogs that do well at this have changed to follow that performance,
>while the show breeders mostly breed toward the original conformation
>for the old field trials. That they do very well in the new hunting
>tests bears me out.
>A dog that has been bred strictly for performance can fall into the
>same sort of pitfalls as a dog bred strictly for conformation. Any
>sort of extreme *will* give you problems.

This argument, historically speaking, puts the cart before the horse.
Performance breeding--the long-term, multi-generational practice of
selective breeding according to the principle of survival of the
fittest-- predates conformation breeding by many thousands of years.
Breeding for conformation, i.e. for show purposes, is a relatively
recent phenomenon, dating back to the nineteenth century. But
performance breeding surely goes back to the earliest domestication
of canines during the stone age for purposes of hunting and guarding.
The former is a luxury of a comfortable middle class whose dogs were
no longer essential to their livelihood; the latter was often a matter
of basic subsistence for hunter-gatherers.

The rule of performance breeding hasn't changed in all that time: you
test the individual dogs to find the ones who best perform their
assigned task and breed only these superior dogs. It is important to
remember that performance-breeding is not the work of a single breeder.
It is the collective work of centuries of conscientious breeders who
strove to add tiny incremental improvements to the achievements of
their predecessors. Very gradually, the dogs grow into their task
genetically, doing their thing more and more by pure instinct and
requiring less and less training to do it well.

If even one generation of breeders is careless and violates this rule
of selective breeding, the achievements of all the previous breeders
will be wiped out or diminished, perhaps irrecoverably. It makes no
difference whether the task be tracking, racing, or pit fighting; the
same criterion applies. To the members of the bull breeds list, all
this is going to sound familiar. But I'll say it again: the proof is
in the pudding. For centuries, those who bred dogs for bull-baiting
or pit fighting didn't give a damn what their dogs LOOKED LIKE. All
they cared about was whether or not the dogs were successful at what
they did. That was the sole criterion for selecting dogs for breeding.
For this reason, performance-bred APBT's show a very wide range of
variation in phenotype, since they were never, at least until
very recently, bred for conformation. But, no matter what it
looked like, there's no way you would ever mistake a real APBT
for anything else if you saw the way it fought. The quality
that enables an APBT to defeat any other breed of dog, even a dog four
or five times heavier, is not evident in the dog's phenotype. Neither
the APBT's impressive jaw strength nor the explosive muscular power
of its torso are enough to explain why a game 50-lb. APBT can always
overcome a 120-lb. Rottweiler or a 200-lb. Mastiff or Tosa. It is
gameness, the quality of never quitting in spite of exhaustion, blood
loss and broken bones, that enables a performance-bred APBT to
prevail against such odds. No other breed has even a quarter of the
APBT's gameness. And this extraordinary quality could only have been
built up gradually over countless generations by a strict application
of the basic rule of performance breeding described above.

Breeding dogs for the looks that you think will enable them to perform
a given task is a wrong-headed approach to performance breeding, yet
this is precisely the approach advocated by many AKC breed clubs.
These clubs try to make the ex post facto conformation standard seem as
though it preceded the actual performance-based evolution of working
breeds. Conformation breeding for the sake of performance only makes
sense if motivated by nostalgia for a performance breed that no longer
exists, having been bred out of existence in the production of a show
dog with a only superficial resemblance to it. As I understand it,
such was the motivation of the various recent efforts to create a better
facsimile of the original bulldog of yore. Yet it makes no sense at
all to try to improve performance by breeding according to a conformation
standard when there is already a stock of performance-bred dogs that
have an unbroken continuity to the performance breeding of the past--
as in the case of APBT's.

A lot of people who don't know APBT's wrongly assume that the things
that make a dog APPEAR tough--a massive head, a barrel chest, and a
thick, short neck--are what make a champion fighting dog. In fact,
these things are usually a detriment to performance. In any case, you
cannot tell by looking at an APBT whether it will be a champion fighter
or not. The extent of its gameness, the single most important component
of an APBT's fighting prowess, is not a visible quality.

Please, no flames. This is not meant to be an apology for dog fighting.
My only point is that performance breeding is historically prior to,
and not at all enhanced by, conformation breeding. Conformation breeding
can very well complicate the challenge of performance breeding since it
adds an extraneous criterion: the breeder must not only breed the dogs
up to snuff performance-wise, but must also please the show judge who
is enforcing an ideal that changes with the winds of fashion. Performance
breeding and conformation breeding are both selective methods of breeding
but they should not be confused with one another.



 

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