Sunday, 5 December 2010

Pugs. Let's face it.

My dog's got no nose...
There's an interesting report  in Dog World this week on the health seminar the Pug Dog Club recently organised.

Breed notes writer Alison Mount writes:

"Opinions were sought on which areas of health that most frequently affect Pugs should be covered and it was agreed that orthopaedic issues, DNA testing and research techniques and eye problems should be the topics."

Now it's great that the Pug Club is discussing these issues - and particularly what sounds like a new impetus to tackle the hemivertebrae (abnormal spine) problem in the breed.

But... didn't they forget something?  What about the fact that Pugs can't breathe properly because you've bred the poor things with such ridiculously flat faces? The Pug, along with other bracycephalic breeds such as the Peke, is plagued by bracychephalic obstructed airway syndrome (which often requires a surgical procedure to correct). According to the breeders, however, the cause is nothing to do with the flat face and no doubt the Comments section below will rapidly fill with Pug breeders telling me just that.

"It has been proven in Pekes that a longer muzzle does not help the breathing, it is the nostrils that count," says Adele Nicholson, Secretary of the Pug Dog Club.

Proven? Show me the proof!

There is none, of course - just anecdotal evidence from breeders of bracycephalic dogs suffering the collective delusion that they've done nothing wrong in distorting a dog into such a freakish shape. And so they maintain that the length of the dog's muzzle has nothing to do with the breed's inclination to respiratory distress. The breeders say it's all about the size of the dog's nostrils so all they need to do is breed for bigger/more open ones. Sure, that has something to do with it. But it's only part of the story.

Don't take my word for it. Here's what the Animal Health Trust had to say about it to one pug owner who asked:

"Pugs are an example of a breed that has been selected to an extreme of conformation (very flat face), with all the problems that accompany it. You are right, a longer muzzle would help with the airflow; but this is a breeding issue, that can only be resolved with inverting the selection process and breeding pugs towards a longer nose. Nostrils can be "opened" with a surgery (the surgery for brachycephalic airway obstruction syndrome will include opening the nostrils and shortening the soft palate) but the muzzle cannot be prolonged surgically in one individual animal obviously."

Meanwhile in Germany, a few breeders have got together and said enough is enough. They're breeding a pug with a longer muzzle.  The tagline on the MPRV website says: "Qualzucht? Nein Danke!"

It translates as "Torture breeding? No thank you!"

MPRV pugs with longer muzzles

Following Pedigree Dogs Exposed,  the Kennel Club here in the UK amended the Pug breed standard. It no longer demands a "short" muzzle; just a "relatively short" one.  Will this be enough to encourage the UK breeders to breed a dog with a less abnormal anatomy?

Debatable. Breeders want the very flat faces. And the breed standard still points out that a double-curl in the tail is "highly desirable", despite an obvious link to hemivertebrae.

Hemivertebrae in a pug
The tail is part of the spine. But Pug breeders insist there is no connection between one of the breed's biggest health problems (vertebrae which are wedge-shaped rather than rectangular therefore causing a curve) and the desire for a double-twist in the tail which is achieved through, er, vertebrae which are wedge-shaped rather than rectangular therefore causing a curve. Vets of course, know otherwise. More info here.

So... what are the chances of the Pug Clubs deciding that they should drop the double-twist as it comes with a health risk? About the same as breeding for a longer muzzle, I expect.


  1. Good post! I find it so slow trying to educate the public because most of them only read about dogs when they are thinking about buying a puppy; that is where Pedigree Dogs Exposed was so helpful, it was on the telly.

    I have only had one dog breeder tell me that she was not going to change how she bred dogs because she was making money going along with the system, but I fear that this is often the case.

    That is why it is so helpful when the dog clubs change their show standards, but like in your beautiful example from Germany, individual breeders can bring change, at least for those people educated enough to look for a healthier built puppy.

    The German Pugs, in the photo above, are so much more beautuful and so much healthier looking, that the English Pug, in the photo, looks like a toad by comparison. Change is needed, either by the club or by the breeders, or hopefully, by both.

  2. Those German Pugs are beautiful! There are so many breeders out there who are doing exactly the right thing and are leading the way with pedigree dog breeding. Those dogs are still pugs, but they are so much healthier.

  3. Hogarth's "Trump" had a normal muzzle:

    Brachycephalic dogs also have a risk toward certain cancers:

  4. Those German pugs are certainly far more attractive than ours. Who wouldn't prefer one of those?
    What I'd like to know is how they got the muzzle longer.
    This is where the Kennel Club should step in, because it really is not right to continue to breed a dog as deformed as the UK pug. They should refuse to register or recognise any pugs until the breeders produce a better dog, ie one with a German-style muzzle, no silly knot in its tail and a healthy spine.
    The Kennel Club has such power but they never wield it. I cannot understand why they do not want to set a good example.
    Julia Lewis

    1. I think part of the issue is people want "purebreeds", while these "retro pugs" aren't "pure" - they weren't created by pugs breeding with other pugs. No, these dogs were created by outbreeding pugs with another similar, but healthier breed of dog, and then breeding those offspring with other pugs/together to remove any "crossbreed" appearance.

      Unfortunately, "purebred" often means "inbred" now, and it would be very difficult to selectively find "purebred" pugs with the desired healthy build. Outbreeding is the quicker and more logical approach to dealing with such issues, but again, seems to be frowned upon with breeders.

  5. Retrieverman wrote: "Brachycephalic dogs also have a risk toward certain cancers:"

    Possibly a little unfair to pull this out when this paper also says:

    "...while meningiomas are most frequently seen in dolicocephalic (dogs with long narrow skull) breeds."

  6. This German group set up in the year 2000. They imported females from Hungary and males from east Germany, Hungaria, Slovakia and France. They found dogs that were descended from the old German pug that was originally a cross between pug and affenpinscher, around in the 1920’s but virtually gone by the 60’s as seen as too lively!
    These people found some and have bred them with their pugs. There are loads of these breeders. They actively strive to produce healthier dogs with regards to breathing and eyes. They are critisised by “normal” pug breeders as having un pure pugs even by their own KC.

  7. There's also a pug by Gainsborough: again much longer in the leg, slimmer and with a more "normal" looking muzzle. Interestingly the curly tail evidently isn't a recent innovation.

  8. the double twist in the tail is itself a hemivertebrae. And now they want to find a genetic test for the condition?
    Surely any pugs with a twist to the tail with have the genes responsible for hemivertebra?

  9. I'm glad to see that about the German pugs...Pugs are very dear to my heart as I grew up with them. Hopefully ppl here in the states will follow the German's example and save the pug before it's too late.

  10. Extreme in dolicocephalic dogs isn't that great either.

    No argument here.

  11. 1879 Pug by Charles Burton Barber:

    Looks awfully similar to those MPRV dogs!

  12. not sound stupid, but lots of dogs have twists in their all of these suffer from hemivertibrae? basenjis, malamutes, pomeranians...?

  13. Who knows, as many cases in pugs and frenchies are found incidentally on radiograph, and some dogs carrying the defect never show clinical signs, or show them later in life.
    I have seen one documented case in a basenji puppy. As for malamutes, I wouldn't say their tails were particularly curled tightly over the back plus they have much longer legs and a longer body. Poms also do not have a required tightly curled tail, and their tails are longer?
    The clear difference to me is that the breeds that suffer with the problem in high numbers all have brachy faces, short spines, stocky bodies, and highly deformed tail vertebra if any at all.

  14. I thought this post brilliant, at last a picture of what a good pug can look like. With the added advantage of much better eyes too. They can still be recognised as a pug and no other breed. Yet again it's the independants who are blazing the way and show what can actually be done if there is enough genuine desire to do so.
    As for the previous comment - comparing the tail curl of such dogs a basenji and spitz types, with the pug, proposterous!
    Great Blog!

  15. To see just how the pug has changed over the years and the potential problems that these changes can cause, watch this

    It's quite long so grab a cup of tea!

  16. As someone who breeds Frenchies, I've spent almost twenty years intentionally breeding for a dog which has a longer face, open nares and normal palates. It CAN be done -- it can actually be done, and still produce a conformationally competitive dog.

    Step one, for breeders, is to simply say "NO". No to breeding from *or* to dogs who have had palate surgery, nares corrections or obviously laboured breathing.

    One of the things I remain most proud of is that, in 21 years of Frenchies, I have NEVER produced a dog which required a palate correction.

    Do my dogs have the countersunk face some breeders seem to find desirable? No, and thankfully, I have found that the majority of people within our breed (and ALL of the pet owners) will happily accept a longer face in exchange for a longer life span.

    Ditto tails - give me a Frenchie with a normal, waggy tail any day. Tails are part of our dogs spinal cords - they should not be twisted, inverted or non existant. Again, we can achieve this by being selective in what we breed from or to, and by not being afraid to do what's right for our dogs, even if it means less ribbons.

    1. I'm glad that there are breeders like you out there who actually care about their dogs. I want to breed cavalier king charles spaniels without the brain and heart problems. I don't care if they aren't "show material" I just want to have happy healthy dogs and they are such lovely, cuddly and friendly dogs that it's a shame the breeders are being so careless for what they are doing to them. I have 2 rescue Cavaliers both with heart problems and they were bred from before j rescued them and i think it's awful

  17. Great to hear this, FrogDogz. Would love to see some pix of your dogs.

  18. Does anyone know if there is anyone in the UK breeding pugs with the longer muzzle? Or planning to do so?

  19. @frogdog, thank you! My first thought when I saw this, and saw those KYOOOOOOT Pugs with muzzles, is "Now why cant there be frenchies like that!". I am going to check out your dogs and your blog. I see no reason why I cant have my cake and eat it too (healthy sound Frenchies with muzzles not from a BYB)

  20. I wrote to the Pug Dog Club, and they told me that the Pug is not at risk from selective breeding! :S

  21. Yeah, a little bit less deformed and slightly healthier :)

  22. im so happy i found this i have had comments from so many people saying my pug is not pure breed because his nose is not flat but knowing that he is able to breathe so much better makes me a lot more happier and i dont really care if it makes him show worthy or not as long as he is healthy is all i care about plus he looks so much better than alot of other pugs extremely handsome if i do say so myself

  23. As a long time pug owner and the issues that come with the flat face, I applaud any breeder taking a stand and breeding pugs with a longer snout. Health is most important. Right now, I have one that a longer snout and longer legs. He doesn't have breathing issues and has unusually straight teeth for a pug. Not to mention he is drop dead gorgeous (silver boy). There is nothing to match the amazing personality of these little guys. Please, please continue in this direction for those of us who love them.

  24. I have 2 flat faced Pugs, and neither of them have ever had problems breathing. I looked for puppies with nice wide nostrils, and who's parents had never had any corrective surgery. The result is 2 perfectly healthy dogs that have never cost me a cent at the vet except for vaccinations.

  25. I just don't understand why breeders would breed traits that worsen the dogs health, why are those traits so desirable for shows and things?

  26. My family own a pedigree long nosed pug and I can quite confidently say that her breathing is a whole lot easier due to the longer muzzle/ nose than it is if she had the classic I just ran into a brick wall looking muzzle which gives the decades old pugs their severe breathing problems.

  27. I have a long nose pug like the ones in the above pic, I get asked frequently, what breed is he, when I tell them he is a pug they are shocked because he has a longer snout , also on a group site where u can post pics of your pugs and puglets, he has been called a mongrel because his nose isn't lflat enough, which made me question the fact is he or isn't he , even though he is a pedigree. So I started to reaserch and just found my answer thanks to the article above. ��

  28. So, what is your ultimate solution? They should not exist because they have health problems, is that what you're saying? Try to apply the same logic to people, and be ashamed of yourself, you fascist pig.