I sat down to write a straight forward review of this book, (Strike and Stay, by Bob Plott) I would peck fast at the keyboard for a few minutes then back up and read. "No," I'd tell myself and delete what I had written, and think to myself, "keep your darn opinion out of it!" Then I'd get back to pecking, and read. After a stern reprimand of myself I could stay on point for a little while, then I found myself drifting back into opinion. This went on for a while, so I walked away. After thinking, I figured what the heck! Doesn't a good book make you form opinions? Why should I shy away from them? Isn't that in itself a great review? So bear with my hard nose-id-ness, and if you are a Plott purist buckle in.
The Plott dogs have always held a certain interest to me, probably because of their changing form through the years. I like to root around in old pictures analyzing dogs, thinking of influences on the dogs and the direction that men were pointing the dogs, looking for a base and thinking of ways to wipe away the crap that ruined once great breeds. Plotts have always been a treasure trove for this kind of activity. "Strike and Stay" is chocked full of information on lines, pairings and old pictures, so I had a really good time with the book.
I am by no means a Plott expert. Anyone who knows me understands that I prefer crossed up dogs. I have never owned a full blood Plott, but I have hunted behind more than a few and I have Plott crosses in my kennel. That said, I guess it waters down any notions I might have about Plott dogs. Notice how I never call them Plott hounds?
As a hog hunter, I look back to the old, old Plott dogs, pre-Von Plott, with great interest. It is not that I have animosity for hounds, just that cur type dogs hold my interest better. Most carpenters would prefer a hammer to a ratchet and socket set.
I guess it's time to stop hemming around and get down to meat and potatoes! In the early part of the twentieth century Montraville Plott, the father of John and Von Plott passed the torch to his sons. Mont raised cur type Plotts. He took great insult when his Plotts were referred to as hounds. Monts dogs carried high placed short ears, they were multi-purpose dogs with a lot of grit. No loose skin, no flop ears, and as a pretty good judge of dog character, though I have no proof, I bet they were silent. John carried his Plott dogs forward in the vein of his father. Von on the other hand, took the dogs another, more houndish direction. It is up for debate where the hound qualities inserted into the Plotts came from, and really it matters very little. The influence of whatever hound, is readily noticeable. It might seem like I hold Von in contempt, but that couldn't be further from the truth. Sure, I wish Mont and Jons Plotts were the dogs that drove into the future, but adaption is at the heart of what makes Plotts great dogs.
When the original 5 Plott dogs came to America from Germany, they were mongrel dogs. The old Plott family was not afraid of throwing other breeds into the mix if it made sense and stood to make better dogs, and this crossing is what made the Plott the dog it was. This tradition of crossing into the Plott carried on for what, 180 years or so? Right up until the clubs started recognizing the breed, registering them, and making money off of them. Shew! That might light a fire in some I guess, but it's the truth. Homogenizing the gene pool of course concreted in traits, colors, and form. In todays world a breed can't be a breed without those solid benchmarks. The old timers didn't see it that way though. Mont crossed in Leopard, he still considered the dogs Plotts (though he didn't like them.) Von crossed in (Blood)hound, and he still considered them Plotts. My point is that crossing made the Plott what it is, but any amount of crossing today throws the name out the window and you have a mutt. If there had been a Plott registry in 1840 would the Plott be worthy of a book today? I say it probably wouldn't.
The purist will say that the little bit of crossing into the Plott dog did make the dogs, but now that they are at the level they are now we have to homogenize and maintain the blood. I can understand that, to a point. It is almost a necessity in the mass consumption world we live in, where dogs or breeds of dogs are marketed and mass produced. I don't want to buy a Plott dog from Ohio to find out the dude crossed in a Weiner dog two generations back. In the old days if you were lucky enough to get a Plott dog, you were getting it from either a Plott family member or a select few close friends of the Plotts, and you knew that it was a dog worth having or you wouldn't have had it given to you. Their name was on the dog!
So the registries, of any breed, are a loose guarantee of what you are getting. And the registries are a hindrance to the betterment of all registered dogs. Oh boy! There I go again. Now I don't mean that men are not breeding for the betterment of Plotts, or Wiener dogs, they are. What I am saying is that there must be a ceiling in every breed. If breeding is done perfect for 100 generations there will be great dogs at the fullest of their potential. The FULLEST of their potential.
Recently I was having this discussion with some friends, some who are breed guys. So I posed a question to a friend who I respect, "Would you ever consider making a cross outside of your breed if you were 100% positive it would make a better dog?" My friend said he would not. To be honest, I was surprised. I think making better dogs is our main goal as dogmen, not making better Plotts, or better Blackmouth Curs, or better Weiner dogs. Around 1750 when Johannes Plott brought his dogs to America you can bet your boots he was trying to make better dogs.
I know, I got pretty far off for a book review. To be honest, I already had many of these opinions before I read "Strike and Stay," but I want to think Bob Plott for giving me food for thought. Many will not agree with me, but when we think and ask the hard questions about dogs we all win.