What is a landrace dog? The AKC, Basenjis, and me.


I used to be in awe of the AKC and learned its system thoroughly. I loved gathering on a weekend afternoon and showing my dog, traveling around the east coast to go to shows near my home in D.C. I remember the maps for country roads in PA, MA, MD,  (probably now replaced by GPS!) where we stressed about getting lost, until we got there…

My dog, Kimball’s Kocho, was a Basenji, the year was 1963—64. I met the Phemisters,  and visited their home where I got a Basenji education and was referred to the Kimballs who were in my neighborhood and I got a beautiful Basenji, Kocho, whom the Kimball’s helped me learn how to show. There is even a WaPo Sunday article with a spread of me and Kocho at an indoor show, where Kocho made it to BoB.
Anyway, even back then, the Basenji owners were concerned about the small Basenji gene pool, and indeed, they should have been. Some horrific genetic diseases caused by the meeting of previously buried recessives were already affecting the breed and causing a lot of culling, which of, course shrinks the gene pool even more.
What was the worst thing about this was that were literally thousands of Basenjis in Africa who rarely had a bad recessive show up and if it did, the dog was food. These dogs are the quintessential  “landrace” dogs in Africa. They are not, and never were, “purebred”,  yet they retain their size and type from ancient Egypt to the present with only small variations. The poorest tribes who keep Basenjis, have Basenjis who fit the American Breed Standard and look like the top show dogs. The AKC approach, with closed stud books,  has not improved the breed one whit and they realized they were not getting it right, either.
The breed club  asked the AKC to open the stud books, to which the AKC complied, opening them several times. At the moment, they are open to new African stock until 2013. I hope a lot of new stock is being imported, because if ever a landrace dog was as consistent as a purebred dog in temperament and type, it is the Basenji. It could easily be the first landrace dog recognized as such.
My contention is that the AKC breeding from closed stud  books  is not a sacred idea!  Maintaining the same breeding style (lots of shared genes) in breeds with a small number of Founding Fathers leads to disaster in every case. I am thinking of another landrace-derived dog, the Malamute, which had few FF’s in the stud books. The malamutes became close to clones of the founding members! As the inbreeding coefficient to make a whole breed a clone of a particular dog goes up, a number of deeply buried recessives can manifest. The Huskies, still have a landrace equivalent in some of the Inuit dogs, but things like blue eyes indicate buried recessives surfacing. They indicate the inbreeding coefficient  is operating. The Inuit dogs were a true landrace dog from which the Malamute and Husky were derived.


A Friend

Good luck with your blog. It isn't my usual cup of tea at all. Your saying AKC breeding is not the correct way to do it? My respect for you is all that allows me to leave without comment.Love ya anyway!



It's a fact that breeding within strictly-closed studbooks does harm to the longterm health and viability of any breed of animals. When the AKC and KC and those were created, genetics as a science was in it's infancy — and unfortunately, the entire system never adjusted for the increase of understanding of biology as the decades progressed. Livestock (and cat) breeders have had mechanisms in place to allow judicious outcrossing/backcrossing between breeds for a long time now, and they have not destroyed their breeds. Why dog people are so outraged by the common-sense animal husbandry practices which actually were the very source of our modern breeds to begin with is baffling to me, really.



not claiming to be an expert but i have akc amstaffs and mini american Shepards(not ideal working bred dogs) and i still agree. i love land race dogs, but dont belive it is better to let the breed constantly be shaped by natural selection. i would love to learn more about working bred dogs that have been chosen by working potential not confirmation


    Caitlin Williams

    Thanks for your comment. I think landrace dogs are not the same as the ones bred for food in Asia for instance, where no discrimination takes place in the breeding and they have a a very diverse gene pool. Rather, landrace dogs are dogs with a local purpose, herding is the best known example of this in local collie populations before the KC, then AKC got ahold of collies and divided them into long hair, short hair, border, bearded, etc.
    In the ancient dog population in the US, the most ubiquitous dog was the travois dog. that was its purpose. It required a calm temperament and good work ethic to pull travois before horses arrived and that is the temperament of the old style almost wolfy-looking dogs as pictured in Catlin’s, Schell’s and other Euro painters of the 19th century plains. They still looked kind of wolfy in those old paintings and drawings, but no wolf would carry a travois, so we know they were gentle, steady dogs who hang around the campsites with no leashes or ties in those paintings. Unlike the arctic dogs always who always seem to be depicted staked out separately. those arctic dogs, are another landrace type that includes huskies, laikas, Inuits, and malamutes.


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