The question is, is the Labrador breed so healthy in spite of
or because of
all the bungling hobby breeder
If the latter, there's a bit of a conundrum. It seems so wrong. I was mildly horrified when my sister kind of casually mentioned they'd bred their Lab bitch to one of her then-husband's hunting buddy's dogs, I know they didn't put much of any thought into that because they weren't at all passionate about their dogs in general. Somehow, that sort of thing works for that breed.
When I was seeking a Dobe puppy, I found it frustrating that almost all the breeders either seemed to be show breeders with bloodline myopia (inbreeding popular sires) or trashy, thug Greeders. It took me a little while to find a middle-ground breeder, the sort I refer to as a "farmer type". Just like a large middle class is the foundation for a stable nation, I think a breed becomes very stable when most of the breeders are in that middle ground.
I think that's a rule in most shelters, because Labs are everywhere. They're dirt cheap, they generally don't become big disasters in the hands of novice dog owners, and it's hard to throw a stick in any dog park without having an intact & AKC-registered Lab pick it up.
I'm not disagreeing, and I'd think that even with Labs, people are mostly in that mindset by their 3rd litter, if they get that far.
This is where I think the focus starts getting a bit too elitist, where you wind-up with very few midrange breeders. It's just not healthy to have a handful of elitist show/working breeders up high, a ton of pretty bad breeders who don't care at the bottom, and a lot of angst & resentment between those extremes.
A would-be breeder should be able to become familiarized with what's correct and what's incorrect/unacceptable in a breed, and be able to make a decent breeding decision without the lofty goals that would require making breeding dogs a life's work. It's just fine to have one's goal to be to produce quality animals that live-up to expectations by being perfectly average & mostly correct.
I think it bears repeating-- the next few dogs who earn the Ch or IPO titles to be considered the "best Doberman specimens" aren't going to get the breed out of the weeds. It'll take the overwhelming majority of the next thousand Doberman puppies who go to their new homes meeting expectations as protective snuggle-bugs who don't bring grief to their owners due to poor health, dying young, or having unsuitable temperaments.
I think you pose a very interesting point of view. I don't know much about the history of labs, but I can speak about Border Collies. Let me see if I understand what you're saying.
There are factions in the Border Collie breed, roughly those that breed for work, show, and sport. Though it isn't quite as cut and dry as that. I am more familiar with those that breed for work. At one end there are those that thing only the world champion stock dogs should be bred, at the other end there are those who claim they breed working Border Collies who, in reality, their dogs wouldn't know what a sheep was if it ran them over.
But most working BC breeders are farmers, etc, who had BCs, love them, work them on sheep either part time or full time and need more BCs to continue working them. Is this the mid-range you're talking about?
The Border Collie is a very healthy breed, but it has always been a very healthy breed. I believe that it's the same with labs (though, I'm not 100% sure about that). So I would argue that they remain healthy in spite of the breeding.
As you mentioned, the lab is an easy breed. From what I know, the Doberman isn't most of the time. The Doberman was never bred to be easy, they were bred with a very specific purpose in mind. And, maybe someone who knows the history better than I can answer, have they ever been a particularly hearty and healthy breed?
I know that labs are a rule in shelters because there are so many of them. Do we want that fate for the Doberman? Do we condone over breeding with less then stellar lines in hopes that somewhere down the line it makes the breed healthy and works itself out?
One of my friends breeds her Yorkie much like you mention your friends bred their lab. Her puppies have been healthy (so far), but does that make it ok to breed them? I know she doesn't have in mind the betterment of the Yorkie breed, she's doing it for money. So I don't think she should be doing it, even though she's doesn't think it's a big deal.
I'm a working dog person, I don't think people who don't work there Border Collies on stock should breed their dogs, I don't think people who don't demonstrate hunting ability should breed their labs. I don't think people who don't demonstrate that their Doberman has something to contribute to the breed, according to its intended purpose, should breed their Dobermans. If I ever get lucky enough to welcome a Doberman into my home it will be from working lines.
And I don't think expertise and love of a breed has to take over someone's entire life or be "elitist." You speak of labs, I know a couple who breeds labs. I would consider them experts in the breed. They know their lines expertly, they are out there with their dogs in both the show ring, hunting, and other activities. They also run a successful business and do many other activities. They are stellar breeders and know what they are doing, yet it doesn't run their whole lives.
I still stand by that breeding shouldn't be a starting goal but should come organically out of love of a breed and wanting it to be the best it can be. I think things do need to change to create a Doberman that is healthier, but I don't think that happens by people breeding the first two Dobermans they run across and hoping for the best.