A tale of 3 Purebred Dog Breeds—and How They Are Now: Miniature Schnauzers, Cavalier King Charles Spaniels, Portuguese Water Dogs


Miniature Schnauzer before grooming

Miniature Schnauzer before grooming

Recently I read an article in a dog magazine about what happens when a dog wins Best in Show at Westminster, in New York.  First of all, for those who  don’t know, Westminster (“The Garden”)  has been considered an important show for decades because space is limited, so your dog has to qualify to enter.  The Tournament of Champions, sponsored by Eukanuba, has a similar  system.  In any case,  this is one of the few dogs shows  where the Best in Show winner makes national news, and people who are interested in getting a dog, but have no idea what they want,  say to themselves, “I never heard of a (Scottish Deerhound or Kerry Blue Terrier, or  Papillon),  why don’t I check into that.”

Very often, people looking for THAT BREED contact the owner of the Best in Show winning dog.  So, that owner/fancier has to feel prospects out, and, in many if not most cases, try to discourage them.  Why would a breeder discourage someone from wanting one of her puppies?  Good question!  It’s because hobby breeders are not breeding dogs as livestock, but for the betterment of their breed.  They know that not everyone who thinks they want one  actually understands what they are getting into.  A good breeder will tell them.  A Newfoundland breeder  addresses how most Newfies drool, how much they eat, poop, and shed, and that they must be obedience trained.

There is a culture among fanciers in every breed.  Some, like the Whippet  people, are generally very friendly towards each other.   In some breeds, however, there is a lot of gossip and slander, and you wonder how they get anything accomplished.  In some breeds,  when they recognize a problem, they band together to solve the problem.  In other breeds, denial is the rule of the day—like with deafness in Dalmatians (and Bernese Mountain Dogs, Gorden Setters—the  ‘piebald/harlequin’, merles, and black and tan pattern dogs).

Miniature Schnauzers have always been popular.   They are a small breed, but not a ‘toy’ breed. They  generally don’t shed. They are easily trained, and are known to be good with kids.  They started becoming popular in the late 1950s and early 1960s.  My mother said that if we got a dog, it would have to be a non-shed dog.  Her personal list was narrowed down to either a Poodle or a Schnauzer.

Back then, with so few dogs being bred, if Juvenile Cataracts (JC) were a problem, it was not recognized as genetic. According  to a well known  Miniature Schnauzer breeder, Dale Miller:
“Regarding  the JC, the big push was about 35 years ago (circa 1975), and most all AMSC members tested their dogs.  There were a couple important studs that turned out to be carriers, so that meant that the problem really spread before and during that time.  Although almost all of us still have each and every puppy checked, that particular problem has been for all intents and purposes, wiped out.  But we remain ever vigilant, as all dogs weren’t tested, and who knows when it could slip back into someone’s line.  There are other eye problems that have cropped up in the breed, PRA, Retinal dysplasia, but I have never dealt with it, and I’d say it is not very common because everyone is making every attempt to avoid it.  JC is easy, PRA is not, because it doesn’t appear until 3-5 years of age.  It’s very hard to get some people to admit to problems when they have them, which I’m sure you know.”

You might be wondering how initial testing was done.  Cooperating veterinarians (and even many breeders) found enough  blind  Min. Schnauzer bitches  to test stud dogs who were not known to be carriers.  If puppies  turned out  to be blind or going blind (they were  examined by veterinary ophthalmologists  at about 8 weeks of age), the stud was no longer used—often being sold as a pet, and the pups were  sold without AKC papers…the breeders explaining to the buyers why they were being sold without papers.  Unfortunately, not everyone cares about breeding good dogs…and many of those puppy buyers really didn’t care if their dog was blind  due to genetics, or a carrier of genetic blindness. Many of these owners  started finding each other, or contacting  American Min Schnauzer Club members to  BREED THESE DOGS!

Horrified, the breeders started  doing early neutering,  We now know that some of these dogs would  never be physically mature without the hormones, and many would turn out to be incontinent (due to  botched operations).  The hobby breeders felt they had to  address the problem.  How are things now (2014)?  We  occasionally see  dogs as young as  three or four with a cataract.  We know this is genetic.  We also see this in other breeds (Poodles) and designer dogs.  But  we also see that there are  two types of Miniature Schnauzers:  those  ‘salt & pepper, about 13″ dogs’  that  are not quite show dogs…maybe too tall or too small, or  with bad fronts…and we see the  ones bred by  either backyard breeders or puppy mills—often parti-colored, with odd coat textures.  It’s actually 2 breeds.

I had  a friend who, in the early 1970’s,  started showing Cavalier King Charles spaniels when they were in the Miscellaneous Class.  There was a big disagreement among fanciers.  A good many did NOT want them to become an AKC breed, as they knew their popularity would explode.  Back then,  popularity was the issue, not luxated patellas, Juvenile Cataracts, heart, or brain problems.  Virtually all the  dogs were imported from England.  Because the breeders  just assumed buyers had integrity—and because these early fanciers  chose to ignore what happened in other popular breeds, puppies were sold outright with no contracts.

This is how it happens:  you buy a puppy, and you lose your job, or your  mother dies, or you get divorced.  Your life goes into upheaval, you have to move, and you can not keep the dog.  You might have tried to contact the breeder, and she didn’t return your phone call, or she moved.  You put an ad in the paper (there was no Craigslist back then…no internet), and some very nice person who had done a little research, buy your dog.  Either that person then breeds  and sells  puppies directly to pet shops, or she breeds her dog (stud owner just sees stud fee, doesn’t ask any questions)  and sells the puppies to Hunte Corps—or any other puppy mill.  & this is how puppy mills get dogs of good bloodlines.

Andrew Hunte, CEO of Hunte Corp…”the leading distributor of high quality purebred puppies to retail outlets in the US, Canada, Mexico, South America, Europe, and Asia…” Recently wrote (Pet Business, July 2014) that the real ramifications of the ban on live animal sales (in pet shops) will have the unintended consequences of —“well, basically, in so many words, the backyard breeders &  less scrupulous puppy mills ripping people off.  Really.  That’s what he said.  What these commercial breeders who defend the practice of breeding dogs as livestock ignore is that anyone can walk into a retail pet store (or any of these no-kill’ shelter, I might add) & if they have cash or a credit card—they get a puppy.  The other people they live with  might  not have wanted a puppy. They might be renters ignoring a lease. They might not have time for a puppy.  None of this matters.  But it does matter to the hobby breeder.  I bought a dog last year that the breeder insisted on co-owning with me…in case something should happen to ME—she wanted to be sure she had a legal claim to the dog  I bought from HER.  Do you think any pet  retailer cares this much?

This is what happened to Shih Tzu, Bichons,  virtually all the toy breeds, Bernese Mountain Dogs, and  most recently, Neopolitan mastiffs, Dogue de Bordeaux, Cane Corso, French and English Bulldogs and Boston Terriers.

The Portuguese Water Dog Fanciers mostly came from other breeds, and they saw this.  Even with a very small gene pool (their original breeding stock came from fewer than 30 dogs, rounded up off the streets in Portugal), they didn’t want to take any chances of  people getting breedable dogs who didn’t have the welfare of the breed at heart.  You can read their code of ethics on their  website.  If you breed a Portie and sell it, and the owner no longer wants it, YOU are responsible for that dog.  If you don’t take responsibility, the club rescue committee will, and YOU will be fined. Y0u don’t comply, and nobody breeds to your dogs.  With such a small gene pool, this matters a lot.

With other rare breeds, it is more informal.  You do  sometimes hear  of sighthounds bred to dogs not of their breed (lurchers), but it is rare.  Also, you rarely find  Gordon Setter or Briard mixes.  I fear with a bad  economy in the USA, it will take just  one move or TV show featuring a rare breed, and it will be all over for that breed.
This is what happened to French Bulldogs.

So, this is how it happens that a breed you never heard of  is sudden;y available in pet stores.  If the dog does have any crippling defects, maybe the pet store will reimburse you. Maybe not.  A hobby breeder may offer another dog…it depends on your contract./ Let the buyer beware.

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