Saturday, 8 October 2011

The Bark... bites

Breeding Paradox
Can dog-breeding practices be changed?

As a cynical outsider might snobbishly see it, Americans have the attention span of an Irish Setter, the intellectual curiosity of an Afghan Hound, the turf-guarding ferocity of a German Shepherd and the hungry greed of a Labrador Retriever. Count up all the beings besmirched by those insults — the dogs, the Americans and perhaps most of all, the Americans who breed those dogs — and you’d have the makings of an army, and an angry one at that. But consider the possibility that, while grossly stereotyping, it contains some underlying kernels of truth, at least when it comes to human foibles. That might give you a better understanding of why the issue of genetic health problems in purebreds caused by inbreeding has never led to more than ripples on the pond of public consciousness in the U.S.

In 2008, the documentary “Pedigree Dogs Exposed” aired on BBC, showcasing the devastating health problems that have resulted from breeding closely related purebred dogs in the United Kingdom. Along with an accompanying push by animal welfare organizations, it prompted a wave of changes and led to re-examination of the appearance-above-all value system many dog fanciers, breeders and kennel clubs have long held dear.

Meanwhile, in the U.S., hundreds of genetic disorders afflict an estimated five million purebred dogs, resulting in close to $1 billion a year in veterinary expenses and incalculable amounts of pain to dogs and their owners. Here, outside of kennel club and breed club circles, the issue has rated little more than a blip on the dog lover’s radar screen, sometimes rising to the forefront, but rarely staying there.
In an attempt to import the debate to U.S. shores — or, in the view of some suspicious breeders, to fire “the first salvo” in an attack on the purebred dog-breeding industry — the Humane Society of the United States (HSUS) convened “The Purebred Paradox” earlier this year. The April conference featured many of the same players who brought the issue out of the shadows and onto center stage in Great Britain. It wasn’t hugely attended, or hugely reported on. Nonetheless, the two-day conference at Gallaudet University in Washington, D.C., led to some serious and, despite the sensitivities involved, even civil discussions of purebred health issues. From the hazards of limiting and closing gene pools to the folly of turning breeds into caricatures of themselves, with exaggerated features that often make their lives miserable and their births difficult: many of the hard topics were on the table.

“It’s extraordinary that we should have bred animals that the only way they can be born is through C-section,” Sir Patrick Bateson said in the conference’s keynote address. Bateson served as chairman of the independent review of dog-breeding practices in the UK that came about in the wake of “Pedigree Dogs Exposed.”

Bateson, emeritus professor of ethology at Cambridge University and president of the Zoological Society of London, was referring to the “brachycephalic” breeds — English Bulldogs and others with wide heads and shortened snouts, many of whom can’t be born naturally and go through life with breathing problems. In the UK, he said, nine of 10 Boston Terrier births require Cesareans.

In his talk, Bateson suggested the inauguration of a public education campaign and better policing of unscrupulous breeders in America. He took pains to point out — as did several other speakers — that he wasn’t proposing people should no longer breed dogs, only that the industry, and dogs, could benefit from increased regulation.

“We have to realize that human breeders are as different from each other as dogs are from each other,” he noted. “Many breeders care enormously about the science and care about their animals. Some don’t know about the science but do care about the animals. And some neither know nor care. There are all types.”

Read the rest of John's excellent article here.


  1. What the heck is a "human breeder"?

  2. I should think that "human breeder" refers to the fact that breeders who breed dogs are humans. The choice of words "human breeder" rather than "dog breeder" or just "breeder" in this case is meant to emphasise that breeders are humans with different traits, good and bad.

    I cannot help but to think that Anon 5.19 is nitpicking when this was clear to me and I am not a native English speaker (or in this case reader).

  3. As a pet owner, it's not just widespread health problems that makes buying a puppy such a minefield. It is also temperament: whilst early socialisation is essential for a well-adjusted adult dog, the temperament of the parents will determine, to a great extent, the puppy's temperament as an adult.

    This is why puppy books (e.g. 'The Perfect Puppy' by Gwen Bailey) tell you to walk away from any litter where the dam shows any sign of aggression. However, it is unusual that you will be able to meet the sire (and as a pet owner, you won't have the benefit of having met him at shows). The sire could have a poor temperament and you will not know about it.

    20-years-ago I knew a top-winning Afghan Hound breeder who bred from her dog, even though he'd bitten two people. Why? Because he was made up to champion and she would have lost her line if she hadn't bred from him.

    The above puppy book still warns about show breeders who breed from dogs with suspect temperaments, because the dog has been made up to champion and they can't resist breeding from such a conformationally 'good' dog.

    It's not just aggression towards people that is a serious problem (although this is the worse), it's also dogs who are aggressive with other dogs. A big reason for dogs ending up in rescue is their inability to get on with other dogs.

    Of course, I know there are good breeders (whether show breeders or not), who do health and temperament test their stock, and wouldn't dream of breeding from suspect stock. They're not the ones I'm talking about. We all know puppies from puppy farms are disasters waiting to happen.

    What I would like, as a pet owner, is a registration entirely independent of the Kennel Club. This registration would ensure that all health tests (including those optional for the breed) had been passed. Plus health tests for those breeds that the KC don't currently have health tests for (the Pug springs to mind). It would also not register dogs that had COIs above (say) 5%. Additionally the temperaments of both parents had been independently assessed by a COAPE-accredited dog behaviourist and passed as being excellent with men, women, children and other dogs. There would also be checks to ensure the puppies were well socialised before leaving the breeder.

    Any KC show breeder who met the above criteria, would be free to register their dogs too.

    The new owner would have to sign a contract to say that they would socialise the puppy and take it to puppy socialisation classes, run by an APDT-accredited trainer.

    Whilst no one can guarantee the health and temperament of any dog, at least puppy buyers would have the security of knowing their new puppy stood the best chance of turning out to be sound in both mind and body.

    At the moment there is no such peace of mind for pet buyers.

  4. I want to add to my above post (17:44), that cross-breeds could also be registered so long as both parents had passed all health and temperament checks.

    As lack of training is also a common reason for a dog ending up in rescue, the new owner would have to sign a contract agreeing to take their puppy to APDT-accredited obedience training classes for its first year.

  5. here is how you can have "peace of mind" .. DO NOT under any circumstances buy a DOG.. oh and don;t have any children either. Animals.. human and otherwise are products of all sorts of things, none of which can be guaranteed to give you "peace of mind". Dog on dog aggression NORMAL for dogs. it is humans that need to sort it out through training and control of their dog. Dogs are no longer allowed to have "dog traits'. They are carnivores.. meant to prey on animals to eat them by killing them. Dominance is evident in every pack. That is the problem. people like Anon 19:23 think they can "test" to remove dog traits.. don;t like dog traits.. get a cat.. oh wait.. they REALLY love to kill things.. best a nice stuffed dolly for you.. no harm done there.

  6. Anon 20:12: I put at the end of my post that there were no guarantees. Where did I say that training and socialisation weren't important? I think you'll find that I mentioned just how important they are.

    However, you can do all the training and socialisation you like, but if the dog has inherited a dodgy temperament, you still run the risk of having problems. As the author of 'Click to Calm: Healing the Aggressive Dog' (Emma Parsons) found out with her Golden Retriever (not really a breed known for its aggressive traits!). She socialised and took her puppy to training classes - but he still ended up with dog-dog aggression.

    Are you trying to imply that there is just no point breeding for excellent temperament? REALLY??!! I can't believe your ignorance, despite your implied superior knowledge of dog-dog relationships. I know plenty of dogs that get along with virtually every dog they meet. Are you saying that they're not 'real' dogs, because they don't feel inclined to fight? Yes, you will likely always get certain dogs that just don't like certain other dogs (in the same way that people have preferences); but there are far too many dogs that can't get along with many (any) other dogs.

    Dog-dog aggression is a very real problem for owners and happens DESPITE training and early socialisation. These dogs frequently end up in rescue because their owners can't cope. Just saying 'well that's how dogs are' and then spout some utter nonsense about pack dominance, is simply burying your head in the sand.

    Please, don't get a dog.

    Below is a quote from a recent study by Bristol University about the outdated notion of pack dominance in dogs:

    "...individual relationships between dogs are learnt through experience rather than motivated by a desire to assert “dominance”."

  7. @ Anon 17:44

    Your post was written tongue in cheek, wasn't it.

    If not, you must be living on another planet.


  8. So, Bateson thinks we need a bit more regulation here in the US, does he? What rock is he living under? We have a great deal more regulation here in the US than most other countries. Limit laws, mandatory spay-neuter laws, kennel regulations aplying to small home breeders, reams of regulations for USDA commercial breeders, breed-specific laws that actually OUTLAW certain breeds in some areas. In fact, we have so much regulation that we do not have enough breeders to fill the market niche for dogs. Dogs are imported into the US by the hundreds of thousands to meet the demand...where do they come from? The Caribbean, Taiwan, Romania, Mexico, Brazil.
    Note that these strays are not bred under any health and welfare standards. How is that better for the future of dogs in general than a system that might support and encourage more people living here to breed dogs? But heck yeah, pile even MORE regulations on breeders, that will certainly encourage the best and the brightest among us to choose to breed dogs. NOT.
    I'm sure we'll have politicians lining up to write said regulations who don't have any clue about the nature of health and genetic problems.
    BTW, there was no evidence presented in PDE that the health problems highlighted were the result of inbreeding. There were no inbreeding coefficients presented of dogs affected with health problems, and indeed, in the case of the epileptic boxer, no evidence whatsoever that the seizures were indeed the result of genetics.
    Yes, Mr. Bateson, there are all types of breeders. But, if your plan for more regulation is implemented, I fear we'll be left with only the clueless individuals who have to be led by the nose; those who are incapable or not allowed the freedom to "think outside the box". That would certainly be a shame.

  9. "What I would like, as a pet owner, is a registration entirely independent of the Kennel Club. This registration would ensure that all health tests (including those optional for the breed) had been passed. Plus health tests for those breeds that the KC don't currently have health tests for (the Pug springs to mind). It would also not register dogs that had COIs above (say) 5%. Additionally the temperaments of both parents had been independently assessed by a COAPE-accredited dog behaviourist and passed as being excellent with men, women, children and other dogs. There would also be checks to ensure the puppies were well socialised before leaving the breeder. "
    .... oops there goes another airborne Gloucester Old Spot !! ...

  10. Yes, it's so easy to ridicule bijou and labpack - but where are your constructive ideas on improving the current system?

  11. ..and where is your joined up thinking ? - lets juts look at the realities here - by the time you've eliminated from breeding programmes ALL dogs that have not passed the myriad of tests out there and your super duper behaviourists test just HOW are you going to have a COI of less than 5% ? - you cannot busily decimate breeding populations on one hand and at the same time demand genetic diversity ! .....

  12. Bijou, I'm not against out-crossing to increase genetic diversity. If outcrossing is the only way left available to us to improve the health and temperament of breeds, then so be it. The low uric acid Dalmation, is just one example of how out-crossing doesn't mean we have to lose breeds.

    Again, I want to hear your constructive ideas for improving the system.

  13. "Again, I want to hear your constructive ideas for improving the system."

    EDUCATION aimed at breeders, vets and puppy buyers alike is the only key to improve the lack of up-to-date knowledge on all canine related issues.

    PDE on TV - world wide - once a week would be a good start... ;)


  14. What I'd like from a puppy buyer is a sense of responsibility, a willingness to listen to my experience, to appreciate the efforts I've taken to produce the best puppies nature will permit.

    You want to avoid bad animals do your research don't expect us breeders to do it all for you, am sure you'd like us to present you with a fully trained dog that needs no effort on your part to fit in with your family. Ain't gonna happen I only have 8 wks with them you have a lifetime take responsibility for your own failings, accept them then maybe you'll make wiser choices as to where and who you buy from.

    No matter how many hoops you want breeders to go thru the final decision is yours not ours. The bad guys in or outside the show world would be gone in a heartbeat if only the dog buying public bothered to educate themselves and took time to buy the right dog! After all only the good guys bother to jump thru the hoops that are already in place to show their ethical breeding practises!

  15. "The low uric acid Dalmation, is just one example of how out-crossing doesn't mean we have to lose breeds. " know... I'm sick to the back teeth of this ..for the last time the Dalmatian outcross was NOT done to increase genetic diversity but to solve a single genetic problem - the outcross was done once and subsequent generations bred back into the (closed) Dally gene pool in order to get back breed type and this took many generations to achieve - if you're outcrossing with diversity as your goal you would need to repeat the outcross every 2-3 generations- which WOULD result in significant loss of individual breed characteristics . ....but I digress - you're asking for my ideas for 'improving the system ' - well you know what... there is NO WAY of producing the perfect dog just as there's no way of producing the perfect human - as breeders we try and do the best we can with what we've got but inevitably it means compromising somewhere along the line - but hey if you think you can do better go ahead - put you money where your mouth is and breed that perfect dog yourself !.

  16. you cannot legislate, regulate nor force "peace of mind'.. although groups like the HSUS are trying.. Jemima .. how much of the money earned at the HSUS conference was donated by the HSUS to the Canine Health Foundation? This is a quiz
    !. None of it .. we hate pure bred dogs and breeders.
    2. None of it.. we don't care about dogs and want to see them eliminated as pets
    3. None of it.. we kept it for our pension plan
    4. All of the above

  17. Anon 14:18: But that's just the problem, discerning the good breeders from the bad. If you show your dogs, you will eventually get to know which breeders are good and which are bad, simply from being around them all the time.

    However, if you're a pet buyer, it's very difficult to discover who the good breeders are and who are the disreputable. Even a show breeder's idea of 'good' maybe completely different to mine - I don't want a dog that has been bred half-brother to half-sister. I don't want a dog with a high COI. I want a dog that has been bred for vigour, health and temperament. How many breeders test their puppies for vigour when newborn, with an idea to using the most vigorous for stud in the future? I've found one non-show GSD breeder in the USA: Unfortunately, I live in the UK and the GSD doesn't suit me or my lifestyle (although I do admire the breed).

    The Kennel Club's accredited breeder scheme is a joke - I would not trust it for finding a reputable breeder. I want a simple scheme for pet owners to find reputable breeders. It's okay blaming the puppy farmers, but until there's a better way of finding reputable breeders, people will continue to make mistakes.

    I agree that breeders only have the puppies for 8-weeks - but boy is that a critical 8-weeks. A crucial socialisation period starts at 3-weeks and ends at 12-weeks. You therefore have 5 of those 9 weeks to socialise the puppy; the new puppy owner only has 4.

    I agree with you absolutely that new puppy owners need to take full responsibility for the sheer effort and hard work it goes into rearing and training a puppy.

  18. Anon 12:08 So at some point you made a bad choice, welcome to the world of reality love we've all been there done that. However how you move forward from that mistake is upto you, do you play the victim and say I've been scammed or a fool and blame everyone but yourself? OR do you say right I've made a mistake and learned from it now I'll work harder at making a better choice?

    As I breeder I have to Interview YOU to make sure YOU are suitable for my babies, that YOU'RE not spewing a mess of cliches that you think we want to hear? Where's the system for the breeders, to help us avoid mistakes that we have a dogs lifetime to regret? I'd like to be able to get a history off your vet, previous breeders you've had pups from, a police check, proof of enrolement with a good vet and training class, the ability to remove my pup from you if, god forbide, you do turn out to be a scam artist! I'd like the Law and Courts to actually acknowledge my good work and of course my contract which would allow me to safeguard the future of my pups.

    We ARE pet owners who happen to show and breed it wasn't always that way same as you! We've made our choices based on our own research and knowledge, even with the best will in the world and work on both sides of the fence sometimes things go wrong. I WANT my buyers to contact me if a problem develops, I could have breed a few litters with non suffering something then have 1 turn up with a problem in your home. If you a don't actually get in touch and say we've got this problem can you help or you need to be aware of it, how are we to know its there? If you get defensive and don't allow our vets to check your puppy and do a full work up how do you expect us to move forward? My vet has more experience of my animals than yours does, ergo he's in a better position to advise us both on a way forward or the ramifications of the problem.

    You want safeguards so do I, I'm trusting you to be kind and loving with my puppy, not to turn her/him into a breeding machince for money coz you can.. You want to know COI's health tests etc, great ask for them if you don't like the response walk away. There are severa; crucial socialisation periods, the same as there is more than one period of teething pain, hormone changes with maturity, puberty has similar affects to humans. As you say I get 5 wks YOU however get a lifetime, make your choices wisely not only for yourself but your puppy too!

  19. Anon 15:38: I was generalising about making mistakes re purchasing a puppy. Knowing about puppy farms, we were careful about who we bought our puppy off: He was raised in a home environment, we met both his sire and dam and they had lovely temperaments, the puppies were well socialised, they were raised with cats (we have a cat). The breeder was local to us, so we were able to meet the pups twice before bringing him home.

    Fortunately, so far our 6-month pup is turning out well. He has a great temperament and has passed his two health checks by our vet. We take him to APDT training classes and he's just starting level 3. We're starting pre-agility with him (no equipment until his joints can handle it). We socialised him with lots of vaccinated dogs and 100s of different people BEFORE his vaccinations were complete. We carried him around many different places.

    Was it a risk? Yes, of course. But he is a far better dog because of it. I keep hearing about Whippets being aggressive with other dogs, so far he adores all other dogs he meets. I'm hoping this won't change as he grows older, because he's been socialised with so many other dogs. He was recently 'attacked' by two muzzled dogs, but because he'd met so many other friendly dogs before this, it hasn't affected him (confirmed by a COAPE dog behaviourist who runs the training classes).

    Since his vaccinations, he's seen at least a thousand different dogs because we've taken him to fun dog shows, agility competitions (to watch), agricultural shows, shopping centres, fields, parks, etc.

    He has been our first puppy. Have we made mistakes? Undoubtedly. Did we try our hardest to socialise him as much as possible with as many different people, dogs, pets, livestock, traffic, situations, noises and environments possible? Yes. Are we still socialising him? Of course - why ruin all our early hard work.

    Have we only used positive training techniques such as clicker training? Yes.

    I'd be happy that you'd want all that information from me. I have nothing to hide. (I even have a CRB check if you wanted it.) If I was going to ask you for advice, I'd want to be sure that your idea of what was acceptable to use in training was in-line with mine. Are you a fan of Caesar Milan? I've watched him kick dogs in the abdomen to get them to behave. Please don't ask me to use that.

    Interesting that you're concerned about us turning him into a breeding machine, as twice we've been approached by show breeders wanting to use him at stud. Despite the fact that they'd not sold all of their last litter. We have done everything possible to put them off; we're even going to start using 'he has a heart complaint'. The number of unwanted dogs in the UK has reached an 11-year high - I would not want to add to that figure. Also, I would be too paranoid about the future welfare of the puppies to be a breeder.

    As a breeder, do you make sure you have homes for the puppies lined-up before you breed?

  20. Oops, meant to say that 'he has a heart complaint' is an excuse to put breeders off. He doesn't have one.