Why Dog Breeding Confuses Me

Posted on July 27, 2010


Recently I began thinking about what it might be like to own a dog. I haven’t been thinking about it too seriously, given that I already have two cats, a live-in boyfriend and a 580 sq. ft house. But in my fantasy I imagine a really big dog. Like something massive. A mastiff? It even SOUNDS big. Or maybe a Great Dane? I hear they are very mellow, and because of their size have a slower metabolism, don’t require so much exercise and maybe would be just about the speed I require. It would be such a nice change of pace from my hyper and insane cats.

 Now, I was raised around dogs, and am no stranger to their ways. They certainly aren’t all lollipops and sugar snaps. They make big poops and can’t use a litter box. They need to be walked every day, rain or shine. They can ruin a pair of shoes in minutes flat. They can tear up a hardwood floor. I get that. But in my fantasy world, my dog is really more like a buddy, you know. He (yeah, it would be a boy) would sit at my feet when I watched TV and keep the cats out of the office for me while I’m trying to work. I think his name would be something like “Gargantathor” and he would be my best friend. I want a dog who is as tall and oversized to his species as I am to my own. He would make all 6 feet of me look good, walking next to me in the park. People would see us together and think “Now there’s a PAIR!”

 So, I decided the other day to indulge this fantasy and look up a little information about mastiffs and great danes on Wikipedia. You know, to confirm what I already knew about them. I wanted to see pictures of these gentle giants doing funny things, their front paws resting easily on the shoulders of a human, their gangly awkward legs flailing about as they chased after frisbees.

 As I was reading through the Wikipedia article about mastiffs I came across this little gem about the Mastiff breed:

 The head should be wide, heavy and rectangular in shape with high-set rounded ears. A medium-sized muzzle should be well-proportioned to the rest of the head. The neck should be powerful with a slight arch, leading to a straight and muscular back. The chest should be deep, broad and well-rounded. Forelegs should be strong, straight and set well apart, while the hind legs should be wide and parallel. The dog should be 32 to 36 inches at the shoulder with females standing at 28 to 34.

 As far as breed descriptions go, that wasn’t so bad (as I would find out), but for some reason, it did make me think of this:  

Phrenology = weird science.

 Then I went on to read a little bit about great danes. That’s when I read this. Notice the text in blue:

 There are six show-acceptable coat colors for Great Danes:

Fawn: The color is yellow gold with a black mask. Black should appear on the eye rims and eyebrows, and may appear on the ears.
Brindle: The color is fawn and black in a chevron stripe pattern. Often also they are referred to as having a tiger-stripe pattern.
Blue: The color is a pure steel blue.
White markings at the chest and toes are not desirable and considered faults.
Black: The color is a glossy black.
White markings at the chest and toes are not desirable and considered faults.
Harlequin: The base color is pure white with black torn patches irregularly and well distributed over the entire body; a pure white neck is preferred. The black patches should never be large enough to give the appearance of a blanket, nor so small as to give a stippled or dappled effect. Eligible, but less desirable, are a few small grey patches (this grey is consistent with a Merle marking) or a white base with single black hairs showing through, which tend to give a salt and pepper or dirty effect. (Have the same link to deafness and blindness as Merle and white danes.)

This really confused me because I really couldn’t understand why on earth such a thing as a white patch on the chest could possibly matter. So I decided to turn to an expert source for explanation. This is an excerpt from the Westminster Kennel Club website:  

Judging And Standards  

Each breed’s parent club creates a STANDARD, a written description of the ideal specimen of that breed. Generally relating form to function, i.e., the original function that the dog was bred to perform,  most standards describe general appearance, movement, temperament, and specific physical traits such as height and weight, coat, colors, eye color and shape, ear shape and placement, feet, tail, and more.  

So, that didn’t really answer my question, because, while I could understand why maybe a mastiff should have a wide, heavy, and rectangular head, and a powerful neck (because it’s a hunting/guard dog maybe?), I really still couldn’t wrap my mind around how having or not having a patch of white fur on the chest could possibly in any way be related back to the original function of any dog.   

I don’t know. Maybe I’m wrong. Maybe way back when humans actually relied on dogs to perform essential functions, this is what actually happened: 

The Origin of Selective Dog Breeding

Anyway, so, you know what breeders do to make sure their dogs meet these silly pointless standards? I don’t think I need to explain it to you. I’ll just say that it goes against the whole principle of nature, the principle that variety is the whole flipping POINT of life. And not in the philosophical way. I mean, in the scientific way. Like, most living things are designed to thrive by SPREADING their genes, not limiting them to a small little group of relatives.  

So, I just don’t get it. What if human beings had the same kind of breeding standards for ourselves? Well I’ve met people who act that way. They include the women who complain about never having a date, but see no problem with dumping a guy because his little toe was too big. But when species are allowed to self-determine their evolution, this problems solves itself because those overly picky individuals either wise up, or get eliminated from the gene pool. That’s how it’s supposed to work. But some species’ evolution isn’t self-determined. It is determined by the random whims of a more (?) intelligent species. Here’s what happens when we take that too far:  


He's kind of cute, but I doubt this could have happened naturally.

So, anyway, back to Wikipedia. I started to get really mad. Not because such pointless standards might be considered discriminatory or perhaps even harmful, leading to puppy killing and the like, but because I felt like someone had just passed judgement on Gargantathor. My imaginary dog Gargantathor, who probably has a white patch on his chest because he was a reject and no one wanted him except for me because I’m not that shallow. How dare anyone judge my imaginary baby boy!  

If I were to breed dogs, I think I’d have standards more like these:  

Dog should be able to fetch my beer, mail, and slippers.
Dog should be able to flush the toilet (I don’t know, it might come in handy).
Dog should be able find my keys, cell phone, and glasses within 2 minutes (this is important because usually I don’t notice these things are missing till I’m already late)
Dog should be able to pick me up the from the bar, and be big enough for me to ride home.
Dog should share similar taste in TV and movies as me and not make fun of me for liking vampire shows.
Dog should have farts that smell the same as mine so I can blame him for my flatulence.  

 I could go on. But I think you get the point. The long and short of it is that a dog should BE awesome. Who cares whether the dog LOOKS awesome. As long as he can accomplish all the things listed above, I don’t give a rip what my dog looks like.  

– Girl  Normal 


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