‘A Life With Purpose’
Living with the Purpose-Bred Dog
From Showsight Magazine – August 2017
Article and Photos by Dan Sayers
The breed standards are the foundation upon which conformation shows are built. Decisions made in the ring at all-breed, limited-breed and specialty shows are predicated upon how closely each dog compares to the ideal described by its standard of perfection. The very best dogs are said to bring the words of the standard to life, and judges often describe exhibits of superior quality as looking as though they are capable of doing the job for which they were bred. This sense of purpose is breed-specific and essential to maintaining breed type. But what’s it like to actually live with a breed that’s intended to hunt or herd or simply have a good time? What’s it really like to live with a purpose-bred dog? Let’s take a look at some examples that highlight the historic functions of three distinctly different breeds.
Icon in Action
Recognized internationally for its remarkable appearance, distinctive gait and commendable character, the German Shepherd Dog has achieved icon status, in part, owing to its ability to multi-task. For each job accomplished by any one of the specialist breeds, the “Shepherd” can easily manage two or three and still make time to watch over the kids. This breed can do just about anything it puts its mind to, and here lies the challenge for many dog owners today. When it comes to intelligence, discrimination and plain old power, the German Shepherd can prove more than a match for the average dog owner.
In a pamphlet published by the German Shepherd Dog Club of America, Inc. titled, “The German Shepherd Dog…,” the breed is described as having no equal in its service to mankind.
As stated in the brochure, “It is a choice as a guide dog for the blind — for intelligence, loyalty, and dependability; of the Armed Services — for alertness, trainability, keen scent, and endurance; of civil authorities — for adaptability and courage; of trainers — for sensitivity and response (because a German Shepherd Dog loves to work); of artists — for its dramatic beauty; and of families everywhere — for devotion, trustworthiness, beauty and protection.”
The pamphlet goes on to state that as a drug detector, the breed serves the Custom service and airport security systems, and has been trained as a hearing dog and as an aid in the psychiatric treatment of young people. Clearly this is not a breed suited for the average couch potato or weekend warrior.
The German Shepherd’s suitability for a seemingly endless list of duties has evolved over time. The original shepherd dogs drove sheep and cattle across large swaths of Europe before finding work as police dogs under the name German Sheepdog by the early 20th century. Later, as the German Shepherd Dog, the breed was recruited for Dogs for Defense, Inc. which supplied approximately 20,000 animals to the U.S. Army during World War II. The role of guide dog for the blind followed, as did the breed’s role as a police dog.
The first K-9 partners went to work in American cities in the 1970’s, and Search and Rescue teams soon followed as the need for drug and bomb detection dogs became critical to public safety. Perhaps it’s this feeling of safety that results from living with a German Shepherd Dog that has allowed its considerable appeal to endure. At its core, the breed remains a devoted partner that’s at its best when it has a job to get to.
Game and Hardy
The name Terrier comes from the Middle French terre, which derives from terra, the Latin word for “earth.” To many fanciers devoted to the scrappy British and Irish breeds that bear the name, it may come as a surprise to learn that the word terrier means “burrow” in modern French. Oh, well! To paraphrase the Bard from his play Romeo and Juliet, “A Terrier by any other name would dig as deep.” Whatever their provenance, each of the recognized Terrier breeds is a rough and ready character, hardwired to rid the planet of all and sundry vermin. With a Terrier on the job, no rat or rabbit is out of bounds. And even the sly fox is no match for the Group’s smallest member, the game and hardy little Norfolk.
In her book The Norfolk Terrier, author Joan R. Read introduces readers to the breed’s inherent appeal with a quote from Marjorie Bunting whose world-famous Ragus Kennels has enjoyed tremendous success as a family enterprise for generations. “What was it that so attracted us to these little red dogs,” Mrs. Bunting ponders? “Well basically I suppose it was their character, their tough, sturdy independence, their ability to work out a sticky situation and find the answer for themselves; their great love of people, they more than any other breed I have ever had to do with, can make you feel important and loved. They are great flatterers.” If flattery can get a dog anywhere, it’s little wonder the Norfolk has found its way into the hearts and homes of dog lovers in need of a compliment on both sides of the pond.
Though small in size, the breed’s exceeding charm can mask a demanding little tyrant. The Norfolk isn’t called the “perfect demon” without reason. To ensure these drop-eared Terriers are as obedient as they are ebullent, Mrs. Read encourages owners to give their charges a bit of formal training. “Not only is a well-trained Norfolk a happy Norfolk, he is more likely to be a welcome addition to any social situation in which he’s involved,” she writes. “And most importantly, a Norfolk who heeds the command “Come!” or who will “Sit!” and “Stay!” rather than chasing the neighbor’s cat, will have a greater chance of living to a ripe old age than his untrained peers.” Trained or untrained, few cats — and fewer humans — stand a chance when a game little Norfolk is on duty.
Though the appeal of a small dog is undeniable, some people just have to have a big dog. And though bigger isn’t always better, only one breed towers above the rest. The Irish Wolfhound owns this distinction and can measure three feet at the withers. When standing on its hind legs, the breed can easily stare down a grown man. With a frame so large, it’s a good thing the breed’s heart is just as big. Though commanding in appearance, Wolfhounds are really just gentle giants with a disposition that is both patient and prudent. To many big dog lovers, this amiable breed is perfectly suited for life in the 21st century. However, the modern man or woman needs to be fully prepared to open heart and home to such an immense Irishman.
The August 1988 issue of the AKC Gazette features an article by Irish Wolfhound breeder and author Gretchen Bernardi titled, “Ireland’s Wolfdog.” In a sidebar with the heading, “A Hound from Antiquity,” the author honors the dedication with which modern-day breeders have undertaken the task of breed preservation.
As Bernardi notes, “Conscientious breeders of Irish Wolfhounds strive to bring this ancient hound to perfection and towards that end are fortunate to have at their disposal a standard virtually unchanged since Captain Graham himself faced the same challenge. [Captain G. A. Graham, a Scotsman in the British army, is credited with reviving the breed in the 19th century.] The author goes on to write that even though modern hounds are seldom called upon to prove their dogs’ hunting skills, the breed’s “courage, devotion and gentle nature, which were equally as esteemed in ancient song and lore, are celebrated as much today as when Spencer wrote of the Wolfhound in 1801, ‘So true, so brave — a lamb at home, a lion in the chase.’”
The Irish Wolfhound is known too by the more familiar motto, “Go mín le bánaí, ach briogtha le bánaí” or “Gentle when stroked, fierce when provoked.” Since 390 AD at least, when a gift of seven Irish dogs was given to a Roman consul by his brother, the breed’s tender heart and courage in battle have been admired and revered beyond the Emerald Isle. However, despite the breed’s venerable past, today’s hounds are not immortal. In fact, the average lifespan for an Irish Wolfhound is six or seven years on average, although many do live longer. Though a big dog can seem larger than life, its shorter life span often leads to heartache, if not a broken heart.
Living with a purpose-bred dog does not make for a perfect life, but it is predictable. And that’s the whole point. Whether you’re looking for a dependable partner, a little charmer, or commanding colossus, there’s an AKC-recognized breed — or two — that fits the bill.