Page 162 - ShowSight - August 2019
P. 162

                Four Periods of the American Purebred
  America has always been a nation of dog lovers. Even before the Found- ing Fathers declared independence from the British Crown, people from all strata of society were putting the domes- tic dog to good use in the New World. Out of necessity, the citizenry found innovative ways to utilize the skillset of its canine collabora- tors. And as the country
evolved from a colonial backwater into a nuclear super power, the role of the purebred dog changed with the times. Formally, Ameri- ca’s purebreds have served as loyal hunting partners, devoted social workers, companionable competitors and even media darlings for 135 years. Unofficially, we have enjoyed their company for even longer. Since the American Kennel Club was founded in 1884, our relationship with the purebred dog has been influenced by sweep- ing social changes and technological advances. Each generation of dog lovers has enjoyed its favorite breeds, influenced by the forces of migration, war, politics, celebrity, commerce and consumerism. As my recent articles in SHOWSIGHT have examined, America’s devotion to the dog can be divided roughly into four separate peri- ods: Sporting & Non-Sporting (1884-1923); Puppies & Veterans (1924-1963); Good Dogs & Bad Owners (1964-2003); and Rescue & Preservation (2004-present). Each period represents a generation of American dog lovers and the unique relationship that each has shared with the purebred dog.
The first purebreds recognized in America were nine breeds of bird dogs that hail from the British Isles and Ireland. In short order, AKC registration was open to a growing number of British and Continental breeds of the Mastiff-type and companion breeds from Britain, Europe, Asia and the Americas. Initially, a breed was classified as Sporting or Non-Sporting. The Sporting designation was reserved exclusively for bird dogs and a few hunting Hounds. Pointers and Setters were among the first breeds to be registered and considered the best suited for the upland conditions found in North America. Several Spaniel breeds found favor in the dense underbrush of America’s woodlands, as did the Chesapeake Bay Retriever and Irish Water Spaniel in the nation’s waterways from coast to coast. The formality of the fox hunt was cultivated in the Mid-Atlantic States just as it was transformed in the South and Southwest into a nocturnal pursuit. The Greyhound found its foot- ing as a courser on the Great Plains and as a racer in California, and the Beagle proved unstoppable here, there and everywhere. As the nation continued to expand, shooting became a national pas- time and the Sporting breeds flourished. Not to be outdone, Non- Sporting breeds proved every bit as appealing to a growing number of Americans who wanted a dog for the home. By the turn of the last century, Poodles and Pomeranians were pushing the gun dogs hard for the public’s attention. Rough and Smooth Collies were particu- larly appealing in those days, as was the Airedale and the Smooth
and Wire Fox Terriers. No less irresistible was the Boston Terrier that found support from its namesake city to the San Fransisco Bay. Interestingly, the Non-Sporting breeds in America differed little in type from their Old World cousins during this period. By contrast, many of the Sporting breeds had already begun to diverge along separate lines. As the 20th century dawned, performance on the bench became every bit as important as performance in the field. Though market hunters and sporting gentlemen managed to keep the instincts alive in these breeds, the American public was clamor- ing for companionship in the purebred dog.
1924-1963 (PUPPIES & VETERANS)
The first half of the 20th century witnessed colossal upheav- als in American society and around the world. Two global wars and the Great Depression threatened Western civilization and the future of many dog breeds in Britain and Europe seemed uncertain. Thanks to the courageous actions of our servicemen and women, peace prevailed and many of the honorably discharged exchanged their military rifles for a shotgun. Hunting upland birds and water- fowl required a competent bird dog and many GIs chose a flush- ing spaniel or retriever as a partner. Others pursued Field Trials with the pointing breeds and setters. Post-war America brought about a period of unprecedented prosperity in the United States. This greatly expanded the middle class, increasing demand for a registered dog as both partner and playmate. Returning soldiers, sailors and marines married quickly and started families in unprec- edented numbers. Purebred dogs were increasingly welcomed into the home as a status symbol of sorts. Many veterans wanted a breed that they encountered overseas, but their Baby Boomer children simply wanted a puppy. As a result, AKC registrations grew and the number of recognized breeds expanded to include many that had been unknown outside of their home countries. German Shepherd Dogs, Dachshunds and Miniature Schnauzers are just a few of the breeds that experienced a surge in popularity during the post-war era. However, it was one of the breeds first recognized in the Unit- ed States that caught on with Americans during this period. The Cocker Spaniel had been a favored hunting companion for decades, but a rapidly changing society transformed this effervescent bird dog into the ultimate show dog and playmate. Millions of Ameri- cans wanted a Cocker and the demand led many to produce puppies bred for aesthetics rather than for performance. In 1946, the AKC officially recognized the (original) English Cocker Spaniel and the (American) Cocker Spaniel as two distinct breeds. The dog-loving public had spoken. For 17 straight years, the American version was the nation’s most registered dog. Other breeds were favored during this period too, of course, and many were given a boost in popular- ity thanks to an ever-expanding media. Beagles, Cairn Terriers and Collies were favorites during this period thanks, in part, to Snoopy’s character in the Charlie Brown comic strip, Toto’s appearance in The Wizard of Oz and Lassie’s long-running film and television career. The media’s influence on popular culture was in its infancy, and the purebred dog was positioned front and center. American prosperity would continue, but its future would become less certain in the years to come.
1964-2003 (GOOD DOGS & BAD OWNERS)
By the sixties, Americans had enthusiastically embraced the reg- istered dog’s predictability and understood the value of having a faithful friend that was also well-behaved. Dog shows flourished in large cities and in rural settings. Attendance among spectators was high, especially at bench shows where dog lovers could get up close
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