By Laurie Venter
Written for the SA RR Club Magazine in about the late 1980’s when there was, once again, a push to completely eliminate the white from the RR’s. She is talking about a previous time this topic came up. At that time white was still quite prevalent and most breeders were doing their best to bred it down to the amount stated in the Standard but some were wanting to do away with it altogether.
People are the key factor in breeding plans. Without their egos there wouldn’t be any shows. Long ago Paul said, “Parade all the dogs before a panel of judges and let them rate the dogs as to their individual excellence.”
People LIKE to be important. They like to be shown respect. They have huge egos. This is why it is so dangerous to have our beloved breed subject to fashions. Opinions are formed by a strong individual and in expressing these to judges, other fellow colleagues, who ever, …the group is swayed and complies with the dominant party.
People LIKE to change the emphasis in the breed standard, and this is what leads to what I term, fashions. It makes them powerful and strokes their egos.
Either a new look at the breed will bring about a new direction in trying to produce the `perfect’ animal, or, direct changes will be made to the standard, changing the emphasis of what is needed and what is desirable. Unfortunately they make the changes without having studied the breed, the history of the breed, nor even having done a cursory research into whether this is a good idea or not. Usually they promote what they like and are used to, and this means promoting their dogs. For example the campaign to raise the height of dogs to 30” in the 1970’s.
Again and again people try to change the standard. Sometimes they have succeeded. Take the question of WHITE.
Take my mother in the 40’s, for example. She wanted an all over colour and so used to drown the pups which had white socks. When I spoke to the Bococks, Jack determinedly selected the one with the white foot, preferably both front feet being white, as his pick of litter.
He did this on a number of occasions and so I questioned him as to why this was his preference.
“It’s in the breed,” he said.
“What’s in the breed,” I asked.
“The white,” he replied, looking at me as though I was daft.
“You like the white?” I asked.
“It’s in the breed”, he said again.
“Yes” I said. “But do YOU like the white?”
“It’s eye catching.”
He opened up, smiling at me. Perhaps my stupidity and determined questioning had amused him.
“It’s eye catching when the dog runs into the ring. That lovely red with the flashing white feet looks good.” He reflected, pausing a while. “It’s better for the white to be even. If it’s uneven the dog can look as if it has an uneven gait.”
I remembered that he was a judge and had judged dogs in Rhodesia as well as South Africa, and so had seen a lot across the breadth of the land.
“How even should it be?” I asked, risking that gentle smile at my silly questions.
“Well, two white feet are better than one,” he said. “One white foot can look as if the dog is lame.” He got a far away look in his eyes. “That’s why they decided to stop breeding for white. It was too difficult.”
I thought about what he had said. Something was nagging at the back of my brains.
“You said it is in the breed.” I nudged him back to the beginning.
“What do you mean it is in the breed?”
His clear blue eyes looked sharply at me. Suddenly he was serious. He was in his seventies. He loved these dogs, and had had Ridgebacks for many years. He knew and respected the breed.
“You must never get rid of the white.” He stared at me, anxious, trying to make me understand something important.
“Because the best dogs all had white.”
“Best…in what way?” I asked.
“You watch,” he said. “The one with the white is independent. He’s a thinker. I’ve seen it again and again.”
Ah. So white was linked to character. Good character. Excellent character, in fact.
Tom Hawley tackled me on the same subject. He was staying with us. A symposium was being held in Pretoria. He had not been invited and of all the South African breeders, who had contributed extensively to the breed, he had perhaps advertised Ridgebacks world wide, more than anyone else had had. Not to invite him and his dear wife Blackie to the symposium made a laugh of the whole affair. I contacted them and they were only too happy to come up from Aliwal North to attend.
While walking around the farm and looking at the dogs he also adamantly declared that white were not to be eliminated from the breed.
“It’s a part of the breed.” He echoed the conversation I had had with Jack Bocock. I told him how mother would drown the puppies, which had white feet. His face wrinkled in distaste.
“Pity,” he said. “A lot of good dogs had white on them.”
He pointed half way up his arm. “Kim of Houndscroft had white up his front leg.”
I was startled. This dog appeared on the pedigrees. It showed how little I knew.
“It’s not dominant,” Tom said. “White is not dominant.”
He looked at me and jutted out his chin, as if daring me to contradict him.
“He was a great stud,” he said. “A great stud.”
“Did he have a lot of puppies?”
“He was an excellent dog. Tall. He had a hard character. Well muscled.”
But he was warned that if white was allowed without restriction then the chest blaze would be enlarged and would creep up the neck and leak down the upper arms, and the white on the feet would rise farther and farther up the leg. He warned that in the end the RR would look like a Boxer with a ridge.
I thought about this huge piece of information I had been given.
“The white was on a lot of good dogs. Kim of Houndscroft…..” He rattled off a lot of names. He looked directly at me. “Don’t ever get rid of the white. It goes with sound temperament.”
Here were two great breeders who had implored me not to eliminate white. The third great breeder who helped to change my thinking was Bill Howard of Rockridge kennels. He too stated that white should be kept in the breed.
None of these great breeders, however, ever advocated that we should allow more white than the Standard stipulated, nor keep a white soxed dog for breeding or showing.
And what do we have with the passing of the years? We have fashions, which have come and gone. These depend on the current viewpoints.
The Ridgeback breed is young for this rigid outlook. Think of Salukis and Afghans, where possibly 2000 years have passed and these breeds are still in existence. Right now, in Europe, dogs are being bypassed if the toenails are not all the same colour. What a strange thing to limit one’s breeding stock for so ridiculous a `fault’. This surely is a trend, a fashion, where a deliberate selection for minor issues can only bring in negative qualities over a period of time.
When dogs get eliminated from breeding use, this narrows the pool of genes. We play god and change the breed by our selection and ordaining of the future matings.