Susan Orlean, the New Yorker writer who wrote an unfilmable book about orchids that Charlie Kaufman tried to adapt in Adaptation (Meryl Streep played Orlean), writes:
Take the German shepherd. Originally bred to the exacting standards of a German cavalry officer, it became one of the 20th century’s most popular working breeds. But in recent years that popularity, and the overbreeding that came with it, has driven the German shepherd into eclipse: even the police in the German state of North Rhine-Westphalia, who had relied on the dogs for years, recently announced they were replacing them with Belgian Malinois, because the less-popular Malinois were hardier and more reliable.
I don't know much about dogbreeding, so what exactly does "overbreeding" mean? Incest? Not culling the poorest specimens from the litter?
I've only owned two dogs. First, a cocker spaniel, Topper, back when they were hugely popular and becoming notoriously overbred. He was an aggressive pacifist. He was strongly opposed to children fighting or even arguing loudly, and if you kept it up, he'd bite you. The second was a mutt, Barney. He was more socially adjusted, but he got epilepsy and died young.
When I lived in Chicago in the 1980s and 1990s, Germans shepherds were, by a long reach, the most popular breed among blacks. It seemed like a smart choice: big, loyal, scary, smart, friendly to your friends. I don't know if that's true anymore.
It seems like nowadays in L.A., dog ownership has trifected: the upscale winner class of nice families goes for some kind of retriever, dopey single girls go for yappy purse dog Chihuahuas, and People With Tattoos go for pit bulls. My wife's aunt in Connecticut told me that these days you have to buy a purebred if you have small children because most mutts (or "curs" as she calls them) are part pit bull. I have no idea if that is true.
I've mentioned this before, but it sure doesn't seem like there has been much progress over the last century in developing improved dog breeds relative to the hugely productive previous century. Orlean seems to imply that most of the good breeds are developed by one person or a handful of breeders, and then the breed deteriorates after it becomes fashionable.
For example, Orlean says the German shepherd was developed in Germany by one man a little over a century ago. An American soldier brought Rin Tin Tin back to his home in L.A. from WWI, then got him into the movies. Rin Tin Tin was a great animal actor and that set off a fad for German shepherds. Perhaps, but that seems like a long time for the breed to deteriorate. In contrast, the cocker spaniel fell apart quickly after becoming the most popular breed in the 1950s.
The rise of scientific animal breeding in the 18th and 19th Centuries in turn inspired some of the best scientific minds of the age, such as Darwin and Galton, to come up with their big ideas, such as selection and regression. But all that seems very alien to the 21st Century.
Here's an article about a German shepherd guard dog who sold for $230,000.