CHAPTER L. BREEDING AND WHELPING

The modern practice of dog-breeding in Great Britain has reached a condition which may be esteemed as an art. At no other time, and in no other country, have the various canine types been kept more rigidly distinct or brought to a higher level of perfection. Formerly dog-owners—apart from the keepers of packs of hounds—paid scant attention to the differentiation of breeds and the conservation of type, and they considered it no serious breach of duty to ignore the principles of scientific selection, and thus contribute to the multiplication of mongrels. Discriminate breeding was rare, and if a Bulldog should mate himself with a Greyhound, or a Spaniel with a Terrier, the alliance was regarded merely as an inconvenience. So careless were owners in preventing the promiscuous mingling of alien breeds that it is little short of surprising so many of our canine types have been preserved in their integrity.

The elimination of the nondescript cur is no doubt largely due to the work of the homes for lost dogs that are instituted in most of our great towns. Every year some 26,000 homeless and ownerless canines are picked up by the police in the streets of London, and during the forty-seven years which have elapsed since the Dogs' Home at Battersea was established, upwards of 800,000 dogs have passed through the books, a few to be reclaimed or bought, the great majority to be put to death. A very large proportion of these have been veritable mongrels, not worth the value of their licences—diseased and maimed curs, or bitches in whelp, turned ruthlessly adrift to be consigned to the oblivion of the lethal chamber, where the thoroughbred seldom finds its way. And if as many as 500 undesirables are destroyed every week at one such institution, 'tis clear that the ill-bred mongrel must soon altogether disappear. But the chief factor in the general improvement of our canine population is due to the steadily growing care and pride which are bestowed upon the dog, and to the scientific skill with which he is being bred.

Admitting that the dogs seen at our best contemporary shows are superlative examples of scientific selection, one has yet to acknowledge that the process of breeding for show points has its disadvantages, and that, in the sporting and pastoral varieties more especially, utility is apt to be sacrificed to ornament and type, and stamina to fancy qualities not always relative to the animal's capacities as a worker. The standards of perfection and scales of points laid down by the specialist clubs are usually admirable guides to the uninitiated, but they are often unreasonably arbitrary in their insistence upon certain details of form—generally in the neighbourhood of the head—while they leave the qualities of type and character to look after themselves or to be totally ignored.

It is necessary to assure the beginner in breeding that points are essentially of far less moment than type and a good constitution. The one thing necessary in the cultivation of the dog is to bear in mind the purpose for which he is supposed to be employed, and to aim at adapting or conserving his physique to the best fulfilment of that purpose, remembering that the Greyhound has tucked-up loins to give elasticity and bend to the body in running, that a Terrier is kept small to enable him the better to enter an earth, that a Bulldog is massive and undershot for encounters in the bullring, that the Collie's ears are erected to assist him in hearing sounds from afar, as those of the Bloodhound are pendant, the more readily to detect sounds coming to him along the ground while his head is bent to the trail. Nature has been discriminate in her adaptations of animal forms; and the most perfect dog yet bred is the one which approaches nearest to Nature's wise intention.

The foregoing chapters have given abundant examples of how the various breeds of the dog have been acquired, manufactured, improved, resuscitated, and retained. Broadly speaking, two methods have been adopted: The method of introducing an outcross to impart new blood, new strength, new character; and the method of inbreeding to retain an approved type. An outcross is introduced when the breed operated upon is declining in stamina or is in danger of extinction, or when some new physical or mental quality is desired. New types and eccentricities are hardly wanted, however, and the extreme requirements of an outcross may nowadays be achieved by the simple process of selecting individuals from differing strains of the same breed, mating a bitch which lacks the required points with a dog in whose family they are prominently and consistently present.