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by Johan and Edith Gallant
KwaZulu Natal Province, South Africa
What is a breed?
The Oxford dictionary definition of the word "breed" is:
A stock of animals or plants within a species, having a similar appearance, and developed by deliberate selection.
Our more specific description of a dog breed is:
A specific sort of the Canis familiaris entity, which has been obtained through strictly selective breeding for particular morphological or mental features and which has had such particularities laid down in a prescriptive breed standard since the institution of modern dogdom in 1873.
Breeds are products of breed clubs, not of nature. They are not a species. They do not represent the genetic diversity of the landrace population from which they were adopted. Breeds are sexually isolated descendants of a very small and select sample of individuals adopted from regionally located landrace populations. The larger point! The breed standard for any breed is always what they look like or what they should look like.
What is a landrace?
Landrace or geographical race:
An aboriginal population of domestic dogs that emerged as an ecotype within a specific ecological niche. They are largely the result of environmental adaptation, mostly under conditions of natural selection, but nevertheless influenced by human preferences and interference. In fact, they fit the requirement of a specific human society in a particular ecosystem. A landrace is heterogeneous but with enough characteristics in common to permit its recognition as a group.
Landraces are often mistaken by people as being mongrels. The word "pariahs" is often used in particular for the dogs indigenous to Africa and India.
Is an aboriginal dog the same as a landrace dog?
The names "aboriginal”, "native” and "indigenous" dogs have the same meaning as landrace. The difference is that the names "aboriginal", "native" or "indigenous" are used for people and landrace only for animals.
Can the two terms, breed and landrace, ever be used interchangeably?
No, because once dogs have become a breed, they have been artificially selected for certain particularities, such as color, size and even other behaviors. Traditional people in most cases select after birth.
In terms of a landrace, how does one define "purity"?
The word "purebred" is an invention of the modern dog world. Due to environmental isolation and survival of the fittest, landraces are pure. Here is a simple example. Let’s say a German Shepherd Dog pup has been taken into an Inuit village. His chance to survive the demanding environment is very poor. Let’s assume he or she survives, will he/she have a chance to reproduce? If so, it will be breeding with the local aboriginal dog. If a litter is born, how many pups will survive? Maybe one or two. If they again reproduce, their impact to the Inuit Dog population is minimal and after a few more generations is nil.
It is fair to say that the Inuit Dog is a landrace. Can other "northern breeds" such as the Siberian Husky, the Samoyed and the Alaskan Malamute be considered landraces?
The moment the aboriginal dog is selected for uniformity and particular traits (phenotype) it becomes an extract of a landrace. The Siberian Husky, Samoyed and Alaskan Malamute are man-made breeds for the show ring or for whatever other reason. These dogs no longer have anything in common with the aboriginal dogs of the traditional people. They are the fantasy of certain people. Even their names are invented. The breed standard of the Samoyed says they must only be white. In the region from where they originally come, they expressed all sorts of colors, but the people who went to this region only collected white dogs as foundation stock and if other colors appeared in future litters, they were considered wrong - 'impure’ - and eliminated.
All Siberian Huskies in the show ring are coming out of a handful of dogs. And to fix certain features they are then inbred. We must not forget that most breeds only became breeds when kennel clubs were formed and that happened just before the 1900's.
We have been breeding Giant Schnauzers for more than 35 years. Johan wrote a book The World of Schnauzers: Standard, Giant, Miniature (1996, Alpine Publication, ISBN-13: 978-0931866937). When doing research for the book, we went into the archives from the German Schnauzer Club and we could not believe that only three Giant Schnauzers were used as foundation stock. I went back 40 years into our own dogs’ pedigrees and all our Giants went back to a few dogs, which were milestones in the ‘60s, which in turn were descendants of that foundation stock. No wonder we have so many hereditary diseases in all our purebred dogs.
At what point does a landrace become a breed?
A landrace becomes a breed the moment it is taken out of his natural environment or niche and is then selectively bred towards a certain breed standard and/or purpose which differs from its ancestral background. A breed could eventually stay a landrace, if the breeders would go back regularly and get some dogs from where they originated. The Azawakh, the Canaan Dog, the Saluki are some of the breeds that perhaps we could say are still landraces, because the FCI and all its member countries, allows the breeders to use aboriginal dogs. The AKC does not allow this. There are only a very few breeders in the entire world that go and use dogs from their country of origin because most of them think that the indigenous dogs in their country of origin are not "PURE".
So you cannot call a kennel club registered Canadian Eskimo Dog or Greenland Dog that has been bred for show and as "pets" a landrace anymore because they only represent a part (extract) of the original native dogs. The moment we take any landrace out of its natural environment or niche we are changing it.
Most of the purebred dogs were landraces to start off with. It is the modern cynology that selectively and artificially made ancient landraces into breeds with a breed standard to which each breeder has to adhere. The Alaskan Malamutes from the breed ring, would not survive let alone be able to work back in their habitat of origin. The same applies to the Samoyed and the Siberian Husky.
We are Belgians. Let me tell you the history of the Bouvier des Flandres. He was a farm dog. He helped with all sort of chores in and around the farms, bringing in the cattle etc. Most farm buildings were built around a courtyard. At night the gates were closed and the Bouvier was left to guard. These dogs were found in the Flemish part and also in the French speaking part of Belgium. These regions are only maximum 100 km (62 mi.) apart. The dogs in the Flemish north were mainly black and had a short wirehaired coat. In the south they had a rough but longer coat and had many colors from blond, brindle to black. Around 1910 some people took fancy to them and wanted to make a breed. They had so many arguments how the dog should look that it took years before they made a breed standard and they eventually decided that black was a less preferable color. The longer coat took preference and today the Bouvier has no likeness anymore to his ancestors and would not be able to do his ancestral job either. I cannot see a farmer having time to groom his Bouvier.
And it is like that for the Belgian Shepherd, too. Out of the traditional Belgian Shepherds, four distinct varieties were created which had been interbreeding before they became four separated varieties. None of the four varieties can do their ancestral work any more.
The German Shepherd Dog (GSD) was made by one person. With this difference from the Belgian dogs, Mr. Von Stephantz made one German Shepherd out of many regional shepherds.
We cannot say that these breeds are still landraces today.
Another explanation of what a landrace is and how it becomes a breed was send to us from our good friend, Ray Coppinger:
Picture a huge bowl of marbles. (You might want to imagine a large bowl of dogs.) All the marbles are blue, but every one is a different color blue and some are multicolor blue, with swirls or spots. They are all slightly different size. None of them is perfectly round. No two of them are the same. But if you looked into the bowl you'd say it was a bowl of blue marbles. You would say it was a bowl of blue marbles even though as you sort through them you find a rare black or white or even green marble.
These blue marbles can breed with any other marble in the bowl or outside the bowl in other bowls, but just because it is hard to move around if you are a marble in a bowl you are most likely to breed to the marble next to you. You can produce any number of offspring but for every marble born there is a marble that has to die (or I suppose it could migrate somewhere else if there was a space available in some other bowl). The population in the bowl can never get larger, simply because there is no more room in the bowl. The bowl can only be so full.
That isn't strictly true because if, over the generational time, with all other things being equal there would be selection for smaller marbles. Then there could be more marbles in the same bowl. That is because the basic rule in behavioral ecology is benefit/cost. If you reduce the design cost by being small then you are likely to survive in many environments.
And along side the blue bowl is another bowl of green marbles. Same scenario, no two marbles alike. But if a green marble gets into the blue bowl you would hardy notice. If you took a hundred marbles at random out of the blue bowl you'd never notice. It would fill right back up and look about the same.
But if lots of people went to the blue bowl and took out the "preferred" blue, and took out the biggest marbles that where almost perfectly round and had the same color pattern, then what was left in the bowl would take on a different character. Those new characteristics would persist for generations. If that new size, color and shape of the landrace (sorry, I mean marbles) in the bowl bothered me I might go to those people who took out the preferred marbles and asked them send a few back. And if they did, it wouldn't make any difference to that population.
We once ran into this situation in the town of Mucuchias high in the Venezuelan Andes. For historical reasons they liked their village dog population. But over time they thought it had degenerated. Thus they brought in some Pyrenean mountain dogs and let them go. In the next generation some village dogs looked like hybrids, but in the next generation less so and finally they had "degenerated" into little village dogs again.
They did the same with some Saint Bernards to see if they could get some size in their dogs. It is basically called fighting natural selection and they lose every time. The reason is simply because the characteristics they are focused on are not important in a selective sense. They are capricious. The traits of size and color get swamped by the genetics of the animals selected to survive in those regional conditions.
The "city" population is being artificially supported. The chosen dogs were not being selected for working behavior or culled for those unwanted characteristics which are independent of size and color. In the meantime those "city" people (now forming a blue marble club) argue with each other as to who has the best blue, the real blue, the most round, the biggest, the original blue. And we now have two blue marble clubs. And I bet the same scenario is taking place over at the green marble bowl.
Johan and Edith Gallant have been actively involved in national and international canine matters since 1975. Their participation with the dog as a species actually defined their path of life together. Their entire life with dogs was a joint and harmonizing effort. The first twenty years of this participation essentially dealt with the discovery and exploration of the purebred dog and the complex ramifications of organizations by which the fancy of the purebred dog is practiced. Their participation ranged from exhibiting at shows, participating in obedience and working trials, dedicated breeding and eventually judging in various aspects of the hobby.
These experiences, together with their responsibilities as members of different task committees of national and international canine organizations, exposed them to the world of the purebred dog. They came to the conclusion that the hobby was not always aimed at the welfare of the dog, but instead served the feelings of self-importance by certain fanciers.
From 1994, during travels through southern Africa in their quest for the essence of the dog, they discovered the native African dogs. They realized that all those years, as ill-informed bystanders, they had looked at these dogs with contempt. The western worship for the 'pure' breeds of dogs had veiled their vision. They soon were faced with the fact that these rural dogs represented an ancient landrace, certainly not 'improved' or streamlined into fashionable homogeneity. But their behavior is so intense and uniform, their physical prowess and health condition so remarkable that they inspired the Gallants to engage begin in-depth research. They named this African dog AfriCanis. Johan is co-founder and current chairman of the AfriCanis Society. The Gallants current perspective and respect for canine landraces emerged from their apprehension that Canis familiaris or the domestic dog as a whole has been badly misunderstood. Their book, SOS Dog: The Purebred Dog Hobby Re-examined (ISBN 978-1-57779-099-0, Alpine Publications, 2008) was written to be the dog's mouthpiece.