Performance vs. Conformation
Well, no USENET APBT FAQ would be complete without touching on this subject, as it has been debated to death on rpd*. Below is a post made by one of the authors during the "Performance vs. Conformation" thread that appeared on rpd* in late 1994.
Post From: "scott david bradwell"
Cindy Tittle Moore wrote:
Conformation is essential for performance. The original
labrador standard was written strictly by field folks
as the exact type of dog that did best in the field trials
of the time. In a different country with different field trials, the
dogs that do well at this have changed to follow that performance,
>while the show breeders mostly breed toward the original conformation
for the old field trials. That they do very well in the new hunting
>tests bears me out.
>A dog that has been bred strictly for performance can fall into the
same sort of pitfalls as a dog bred strictly for conformation. Any
>sort of extreme *will* give you problems.
This argument, historically speaking, puts the cart before the horse. Performance breeding--the long-term, multi-generational practice of selective breeding according to the principle of survival of the fittest-- predates conformation breeding by many thousands of years. Breeding for conformation, i.e. for show purposes, is a relatively recent phenomenon, dating back to the nineteenth century. But performance breeding surely goes back to the earliest domestication of canines during the stone age for purposes of hunting and guarding. The former is a luxury of a comfortable middle class whose dogs were no longer essential to their livelihood; the latter was often a matter of basic subsistence for hunter-gatherers.
The rule of performance breeding hasn't changed in all that time: you test the individual dogs to find the ones who best perform their assigned task and breed only these superior dogs. It is important to remember that performance-breeding is not the work of a single breeder. It is the collective work of centuries of conscientious breeders who strove to add tiny incremental improvements to the achievements of their predecessors. Very gradually, the dogs grow into their task genetically, doing their thing more and more by pure instinct and requiring less and less training to do it well.
If even one generation of breeders is careless and violates this rule of selective breeding, the achievements of all the previous breeders will be wiped out or diminished, perhaps irrecoverably. It makes no difference whether the task be tracking, racing, or pit fighting; the same criterion applies. To the members of the bull breeds list, all this is going to sound familiar. But I'll say it again: the proof is in the pudding. For centuries, those who bred dogs for bull-baiting or pit fighting didn't give a damn what their dogs LOOKED LIKE. All they cared about was whether or not the dogs were successful at what they did. That was the sole criterion for selecting dogs for breeding. For this reason, performance-bred APBT's show a very wide range of variation in phenotype, since they were never, at least until very recently, bred for conformation. But, no matter what it looked like, there's no way you would ever mistake a real APBT for anything else if you saw the way it fought. The quality that enables an APBT to defeat any other breed of dog, even a dog four or five times heavier, is not evident in the dog's phenotype. Neither the APBT's impressive jaw strength nor the explosive muscular power of its torso are enough to explain why a game 50-lb. APBT can always overcome a 120-lb. Rottweiler or a 200-lb. Mastiff or Tosa. It is gameness, the quality of never quitting in spite of exhaustion, blood loss and broken bones, that enables a performance-bred APBT to prevail against such odds. No other breed has even a quarter of the APBT's gameness. And this extraordinary quality could only have been built up gradually over countless generations by a strict application of the basic rule of performance breeding described above.
Breeding dogs for the looks that you think will enable them to perform a given task is a wrong-headed approach to performance breeding, yet this is precisely the approach advocated by many AKC breed clubs. These clubs try to make the ex post facto conformation standard seem as though it preceded the actual performance-based evolution of working breeds. Conformation breeding for the sake of performance only makes sense if motivated by nostalgia for a performance breed that no longer exists, having been bred out of existence in the production of a show dog with a only superficial resemblance to it. As I understand it, such was the motivation of the various recent efforts to create a better facsimile of the original bulldog of yore. Yet it makes no sense at all to try to improve performance by breeding according to a conformation standard when there is already a stock of performance-bred dogs that have an unbroken continuity to the performance breeding of the past-- as in the case of APBT's.
A lot of people who don't know APBT's wrongly assume that the things that make a dog APPEAR tough--a massive head, a barrel chest, and a thick, short neck--are what make a champion fighting dog. In fact, these things are usually a detriment to performance. In any case, you cannot tell by looking at an APBT whether it will be a champion fighter or not. The extent of its gameness, the single most important component of an APBT's fighting prowess, is not a visible quality.
Please, no flames. This is not meant to be an apology for dog fighting. My only point is that performance breeding is historically prior to, and not at all enhanced by, conformation breeding. Conformation breeding can very well complicate the challenge of performance breeding since it adds an extraneous criterion: the breeder must not only breed the dogs up to snuff performance-wise, but must also please the show judge who is enforcing an ideal that changes with the winds of fashion. Performance breeding and conformation breeding are both selective methods of breeding but they should not be confused with one another.