From the time dogs were first standardized into the commercial breeds we seem to think are needed today, they've been shouldering the heavy burden of carrying on elitist traditions. Etched onto their fancy-coated backs, Mr. Brandow says, are archaic beliefs about class and race we're no longer supposed to have about each other, but which are still socially acceptable to have about the species closest to us. Dogs are used to demonstrate their owners' spending power, social standing, refinement, taste, and even racial purity - in other words, to show off our own breeding in a broader sense.
There is a major and avoidable pedigree health crisis
The conclusion of "A Matter of Breeding" is clear: Dog shows, registries, breed clubs, breeders, and social-climbing consumers are largely responsible for what seems to be turning into an all-out pedigree health crisis. But Mr. Brandow says they're not entirely to blame. This habit of making dogs say something grandiose about us, rather than doing something positive for the dogs themselves, is as old and deeply-rooted as anything human. For centuries, prior to neatly-packaged kennel club versions anyone with the right price can buy today, more general but still identifiable types were used by upper classes as symbols of privilege. Finer families kept special strains of hunting hounds and bird dogs. Laws in England and Continental Europe forbade lower classes from being seen with greyhounds, deerhounds, and other types that outclassed them. Poaching concerns aside, says Mr. Brandow, the ultimate aim was to keep the signs of social distinction in the hands of a few. Not just looks were embellished but behaviors like setting, pointing, and retrieving were also isolated and stylized for ritual hunting pageant - "extracted from the wolf and exaggerated to the point of parody" - further demonstrating the differences between highbred animals from highbrow kennels and mere mongrels anyone could have. Under the influence of the status-conscious English who eventually became the world authorities on dogs, versatile, all-rounder types that did it all, many of which would be considered lowly curs by today's standards, came to be frowned-upon.