Form Follows Function

This is the term conformation people use to describe the differences between breeds of dogs depending upon what they were bred to do. It is also is a principle associated with modern architecture and industrial design in the 20th Century, which states that the shape of a building or object should be predicated by or based upon its intended function or purpose. (Wikipedia).

The reality is that the dogs (and for this post I’m speaking of Border Collies, but the same applies to many different breeds) that you see in the show ring are not structurally suited to do the work they were bred for. If you look at the dog who won Best of Breed this year at Westminster and compare it to photos of the dog who won this year’s USBCHA National Finals it is like they are two different breeds. What is most interesting is the link on Westminster describing the Border Collie features a photo of a working-bred Border Collie, not a puffy black and white thing like the dog who won Best of Breed. While a few of the Border Collies who are being shown in conformation might be able to move sheep around an arena (a/k/a obedience on sheep), most could not herd themselves out of a paper bag, or as was so eloquently put in the Blog, Lassie Get Help, a dog that couldn’t herd lemmings off a cliff.

On the Aussie-Herders list at Yahoo Groups they are discussing whether working-bred Aussies should be showing in the conformation rings. Pretty is as pretty does and if you can breed a pretty Aussie who can work to the same level as one who for the past five or six generations has been bred solely based on the work it does on a farm or ranch, then so be it. Yes, a working dog needs to be sound and in any breeding program, attention should be paid to structure, but the structure of most show dogs is not going to hold up to a hard, daily work on a farm or ranch. The working-bred dogs, especially the Aussies, tend to be plainer in appearance than the show-bred Aussies who are bred for flash. There are some butt-ugly Border Collies out there successfully trialing, but I think any Border Collie, when it is working, is beautiful. There are also some very flashy Border Collies on the trial field. Alasdair Macrae’s National Champion Ben is a perfect example of this. Interestingly, you won’t see a dog colored like Ben in the conformation ring. They prefer the perfectly marked dogs like the one who one Best of Breed in Westminster.

I’m quite anti-conformation showing. Whenever an animal is bred for an appearance that satisfies the general public, it is to the detriment of the breed. When I think of all the years I showed purebred cats I shudder. When I compare my random bred cats to my ex-show cats it upsets me that I ever thought it was a good idea to manipulate an animal that is so perfect as it is to a form that suited humans.