Wednesday, November 13, 2013

Form is Not Function

Someone on a breeder's discussion group posted a link to this bit of nonsense about border terriers.

The article starts off:

The Border Terrier experts emphasized time and again that this breed is a working terrier, and that the important characteristics were those that support that activity.

"The border terriers experts..."

What does that even mean? 

Experts by dint of what? 

Experts on the dog's history? 

Well then, they will know the dog was cocked up for the show ring and has never seen much work since. 

Experts because they have collected a lot of ribbons?  I have never known a dog to chase a ribbon, not even if it's waved on a line at the end of a stick.  That's a job for a cat, not a dog!

Certainly, these border terrier experts were not experts by dint of digging!

Don't believe me?  Read the article!  My God, it should come with a laugh track. 

Experts?  Experts! 

No doubt they consulted Mr. Fuchs himself.  Now there's an expert on working terriers!

And what did Mr. Fuchs say? 

Well, it seems he told them that the most important feature of a border terriers is... wait for it... wait for it...

"Feet small, compact, toes moderately arched with thick pads” and “Ears small, V-shaped, moderate thickness.”

Pissing myself laughing.

Oh yes, Mr. Fuchs the fox wants the border terrier to be judged on the shape of its feet and the daintiness of its compact toes. 

What else?

Why head shape and tail.  A border terrier should look just like a swimming otter!

Why?  Well, because a book said so, of course!

And what is the third most important part of a border terrier?

Why the tail, of course. 

The tail!

Tears forming now, I am laughing so hard.

Chest size is fourth on the list, so it does finally show up, but what we get here is the vague word "spannable." 


What does that even mean?

Are we measuring our houses in cubits?  Spannable by whom?  A woman?  Wilt Chamberlain?

It is a ridiculous term of course -- a British dog dealer's term. 

Red fox are found all over the world, and there is not a taxidermy manikin anywhere that shows a red fox chest larger than 14". 

But be precise about a working terrier's maximum acceptable chest size, as the Germans do with their working dachshunds, and what are you going to do with all those over-larges dogs with all those magnificent larger otter heads that are incapable of going to ground because they have chests that are too damn big to do het job!?

So the word "spannable" is trotted out. 

It's a vague word that covers a lot of mischief. 

Paper over the holes, and full speed ahead. 

And what does it matter?  It's not like any of these Kennel Club matrons are actually going to work their terriers, are they?  Of course not!  Don't be ridiculous!

Form is not function. 

Function is function. 

Form is form.

Look at bird dogs -- every color and shape, and lots of sizes, but it hardly matters as the form is nonsense. The function is what matters, and the true judge is not in the ring, but in the field and it has feathers, with perhaps a secondary judge behind the gun (he or she has shooting glasses and earplugs).

The same is true for guarding breed dogs -- lots of types, colors, sizes, etc. and it's all just form, which does not speak to function. Function speaks to function, and the true judge is not in the ring, but in the field and it has large canines and tends to move at night, with perhaps a secondary judge behind the visor in the truck counting the tally of woolies left in the field in the morning. 

The same is true for working terriers -- lots of types, colors, sizes, etc. and it's all just form, which does not speak to function. Function speaks to function, and the true judge is not in the ring, but in the den pipe underground, and it has large teeth and a slashing bite and an ability to get into very tight spaces, with perhaps a secondary judge with a shovel in hand and a locator box in his hip pocket.

I could go down the line for running dogs, sled dogs, herding dogs, and the like, but it's the same. Form is form, and function is function.

Show me what a dog DOES, and under what circumstances, and I will tell you what it is. Color of coat, color of nose, the shape of the ear, the name of the breed, and the "lay" of the shoulders (whatever that is!) does not have much to do with it.

If I was looking for a working bird dog, I would be looking for a man who has been shooting for 20 years and has guns and trucks and crates for that -- he will know form is form, and function is function. No confuson.

If I was looking for a working terrier, I would be looking for a someone with locator collars and shovels and an album of pictures taken in the field, not the ring. He or she would know form is form and function is function. No confusion.

And if I was looking for a guard dog, I would look for someone with more than 300 sheep who is grazing those sheep on unfenced pasture where big predators are thick on the ground. No confusion there.

The average show ring pretender has driven 10 thousand miles to bounce a dog around a ring on a string lead, but has not driven fifty miles into the countryside to learn a little about work. 

Blue blazer rosette-chasers give points to nose color, to coat color, to ear shape, and to "expression." They give points for eye color, head size, top line, and toes.  But you know what they give ZERO points for?  Work.

A bird dog dog gets zero points for finding birds and holding a whoa. 

A pulling dog gets zero points for twenty miles on powder, same as it gets zero points for 30 on ice.

A terrier gets zero points for locating, and zero points for working four to ground in a single day. 

A hound gets zero points for finding a scent and holding a noisy line for 10 miles.

And, of course, every show dog gets zero points for health and genetic diversity.  Inbreeding, after all, is what show dogs are all about. Conformity is the game, not health or work.

Does that mean that a pup cannot be acquired from show stock and taken into the field to work? No. Chose carefully, train well, and give the dog a lot of experience, and you might yet get a working dog out of show ring stock.  It could happen.  It's just not the way to bet. 

The folks who do things like that tend to be armchair theorists of the "one and done" school.  They have a "dual purpose" dogs, they will tell you, because their dogs retrieve rubber bumpers or have run a few go to ground tunnels.  They have working border collies because their dogs once chased sheep in a closed pen of less than an acre. They have a pulling dog that once shifted 200 pounds of concrete block stacked on top of a rubber-tired cart in an air-conditioned barn.

These people know less about work than Sarah Palin knows about geography.  Just talking to them about working dogs will leave you stupider for the effort. 

They want so badly to have working dogs, same as Sarah Palin wants to be smart, but instead what we get back is a bubble of talk, twisted words, and insane leaps of logic.  Is it laziness, true incapacity, or self-delusion that is the cause?  Does it matter?   Not a bit.  Either way, one thing is for certain:  these are people you are never going to meet out in the field.

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