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The Chinese Crested

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178 – September,2015

by Amy Fernandez

Pack a room full of Chinese Crested and you can expect a giant heap of sleeping dogs. Pack a room full of Crested fanciers and wait for the fireworks. It’s ironic that a breed famed for its sociable, placid nature inevitably sparks such contentious battles. Quite possibly, their single point of agreement is the fact that Crested type is all over the map. Of course, this situation is not unique to the Crested world. But the drastic nature of this case provides a sterling example of the extreme polarities that evolve under the heading of purebred continuity.

I have a couple of theories about this; starting with how and why Crested type unraveled into the big, snarly mess we have today.

Even though dogs designated as Chinese Crested floated around shows in England and America since the 1870s, records reveal quite an eclectic crowd parading around under that banner. Registry protocols were a bit looser back then. Hairless dogs of every size, shape, and ancestry were labeled as Chinese Cresteds. In large part, this creative branding was intended to create an appealing mystique and thereby enhance the public appeal.

That sort of thing was standard practice during that frenzied era of breed creation in the late nineteenth century. The mundane facts of many breed histories were embellished with tales of ancient exotic and largely unverifiable heritage. But in this case, it happened about 50 years later and qualifies as pure fiction. Until quite recently, the Chinese Crested was a breed in name only which explains the paucity of factual details regarding this aspect of its evolution. Documented references are sparse, but these snippets provide a glimpse of the truth.

“Mrs. Ida Garrett of New York City has been hard at work on her volume on the Chihuahua which will contain much new and interesting material on the breed. Intensive study and research have disclosed proof, she says, there never was a Chinese Crested … it was never a true native of China.” Popular Dogs October 17, 1931.

Cresteds were also mentioned in Garrett’s feature for the April 1935 AKC Gazette, “another hairless dog whose origin is nebulous is the so-called Chinese Crested dog.”

AKC judge, author, and Popular Dogs editor Will Judy stated his views on the Crested for his Dog Encyclopedia a year later, “Hairless dogs may be entirely hairless or crested mostly on the top of the skull and at the end of the tail. The Mexican hairless may or may not have a crest….The short haired variety is the only true Chihuahua…the Mexican Hairless, the Papillon, and the Chinese Crested all belong to the same general family of Mexican hairless.”

Numerous sources linked the Crested to crossbreeding, especially to Chihuahua development. This remark comes from Mona Huxham’s 1976 book All About The Chihuahua. “There is some suggestion that the mating of the Chihuahua with the Mexican Hairless might have produced the Chinese Crested.”

In reality, the Crested’s foundation bloodlines were fashioned from a hodgepodge of hairless dogs. During the 1950s and ‘60s Lee, Mordor, Crest Haven, and seven other less substantial breeding programs forged the working concept of the modern Chinese Crested. Their work also became the first officially documented breed records. The American Hairless Dog Club, a private studbook established in the late 1950s, operated until its founder’s death in 1969.

It was during this era, in 1965, that the Chinese Crested was ejected from Miscellaneous. In 1979, a new club began petitioning AKC for re-admission based on partially reconstructed records gleaned from the defunct AHDC registry. AKC readmitted the Crested to Miscellaneous in January, 1986 after the club agreed to turn over its studbook. That led to a protracted, unsuccessful court battle between warring factions in the club during which that studbook disappeared. Lineage records eventually submitted to AKC were reconstructed piecemeal during its tenure in Miscellaneous. Years later the studbook was reopened to correct undisclosed errors in those records.

Admittedly, the saga of Crested recognition presents a rather drastic example of “whatever can go wrong will go wrong”. But every breed’s trek to purebred status includes a share of dramas and detours. Most occur off the record, but those skeletons in the closet explain the many baffling surprises that appear in the whelping box. More importantly, they provide an ongoing reminder that the purebred label is a relative term– not a guarantee of consistency. No breed evolves on autopilot. Its direction depends on who is in the driver’s seat.

From a practical standpoint, the Chinese Crested was developed in England during the 1970s and ‘80s. A tiny population of American imports from those founding kennels became the basis of those legendary, instantly identifiable bloodlines like Staround, Moonswift, and Kojak. More than a half-century later, dogs like Staround Quanto are still considered definitive examples of correct type. Unfortunately, the reasons for their iconic status seem to be fading off the grid. So here’s a refresher.

They exemplified those unmistakable features responsible for the Crested’s gestalt. Every breed’s unique type is built on the bedrock of a few hallmark traits. Invariably, they result from very tricky, almost impossible genetic combinations. In this case, dogs like Quanto would not have achieved superstar status without their lush crests, plumes and socks. That length and density was all natural – nothing more or less than correct texture. Nor would they have been held in such regard if they were not truly hairless. Back in the day, artificial hair removal was tantamount to sacrilege. Cheating wasn’t worth it because those breeder/judges could spot it a mile away. Quanto and his fellow icons possessed perfect patterning – a trait now regarded as a myth in this breed.

This topic deserves a book, but I will confine my observations to one more crucial aspect of Crested type. They could move. That alone made them exceptional among Toys–regrettably. However, from the perspective of true type, sound structure isn’t in itself a mark of distinction, nor is it generic. These dogs were built according to the Crested blueprint, in other words they combined those ostensibly incompatible traits responsible for its unmistakable silhouette. They were well up on leg thanks to long, oval bone that imparted the Crested’s singular combination of elegance and athleticism. Refinement did NOT come at the expense of sturdiness. The ribcage was long, deep and very narrow– a difficult package to achieve. Even so, it is the key to those long, beautiful sloping shoulders that come part and parcel with that breathtaking neckline and return of forearm. That combination centers the forelegs perfectly under the body mass to produce that easy grace that cannot be mistaken for any other breed. It does not move like an Afghan, Poodle, hackney pony, or any of the other frequently cited comparisons. A great Crested doesn’t stir up the dust. It moves with the beautiful, effortless confidence of a beauty queen striding onstage. Once you have seen it, you never forget.

Within two decades, those English breeders had successfully forged a stable, definitive type largely because they were forced to breed very, very close. Tight linebreeding yielded amazing consistency and magnificent type, which belied the genetic chaos lurking 3-5 generations in the background. During the ‘80s those classic British bloodlines were exported to establish the breed globally. And that’s when things got complicated.

Some breeds are rather self-correcting. Countless generations of purposeful breeding instill them with a degree of genetic resilience. They are not impervious to inept breeding, but it requires some determined ongoing effort to produce truly offbeat tangential strains. Chinese Cresteds aren’t equipped with this built-in GPS for the reasons I’ve explained. Those beautiful bloodlines were fragile and easily destabilized. In other words, top quality breeding stock wouldn’t go far without the guidance of a clear, unwavering concept of correct type.

That can mean a lot of things– thanks to the mysterious machinations of the human brain. The objective parameters outlined in every breed standard are always filtered through the lens of personal perception. It’s unavoidable, but mostly a good thing. It adds those nuances of type that become the signature of a breeder’s artistry. Of course, it’s essential to know the rules in order to successfully bend them.

Every dedicated fancier strives to cultivate an unerring eye for type. That eye is the holy grail of this sport, an ability that is revered, coveted, and very poorly understood. Science is providing a few insights into the mechanics of this elusive talent.

Like brain surgery, rocket science, and every other daunting skill, accurately assessing a dog requires some impressive mental acrobatics. Technically known as perceptual learning, in this case it involves accurately appraising those subtle details that are overlooked by the untrained eye, calculating their relative significance, and melding that information into an insightful opinion.

These spot-on judgment calls are distilled from a mountain of practical experience, personal observations, and hard facts. Over time, this massive collection of pertinent data is assimilated and refined into a confident grasp of the subject. But here’s the thing, at that point perceptual learning operates as an internal, self-regulated process. It morphs from thoughtful deliberation into a spontaneous, intuitive reaction often described as a sixth sense.

If it was easy to master this coveted skill, we would all be experts.

It usually begins with basic research. For most of this breed’s history, information was a scarce commodity. Unearthing those priceless gems and resources required some determined effort. Frequently the entire learning experience was based on a single source, obviously not an ideal educational situation.

The internet completely revised this challenge. Casual curiosity seekers are inundated with information overload. Every question is answered, refuted, rehashed, and revised to the point of total confusion. The new challenge has become sifting useful wheat from this mountain of chaff.

It requires patience but it’s possible to pinpoint credible sources and follow a genuine information trail… if you come to the table with a few decades of experience in this game. That’s the exception these days. Most Crested fanciers enter the breed with enthusiasm and energy but scant background in dogs, a phenomenon that has become typical in most breeds. Most opinions about breed type are primarily derived from internet sources. In reality, they are more akin to reflexive reactions founded on external reinforcement– those loud, persuasive personalities that dominate chat lists and forums.

The nature of that crucial, intensely personal concept of type really depends on where a fancier happened to jump onboard this crazy train of Crested evolution. That explains the epidemic of wildly erratic judging, extreme trends, and disjointed, adamantly defended viewpoints that perpetually overtake this breed.

Yes, formal educational resources have become widely available to fill in the gaps, but those influences generally supplement rather than supplant our original perceptions, regardless of their validity. Of course, no one sets out to get it wrong. But let’s face it, the internet is not the place to cultivate focused attention or open-minded views. It’s more akin to being pushed into a perceptual comfort zone– an unconscious resistance to ideas that challenge entrenched concepts. In the old days, we called it kennel blindness.

The good news is that perceptual learning is NOT written in stone. There’s always plenty to learn in this game, it’s just a matter of paying attention.

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Posted by on Sep 21 2015. Filed under Current Articles, Editorial, Featured. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0. Both comments and pings are currently closed.

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