Thursday, 15 March 2012

"Typhoid Mary" and the "anti-purebred anti-Christ"

That's me, apparently, as described on the Exhibitors' Voice + Choice Facebook site which meets tonight in Birmingham to discuss "where to go from here".

I see it's also noted that I would be on the new group if I was a good journalist.

So that's that cleared up then.  ;-)

It's a new group with no coherence of thought yet, and I can only guess which way it will go, but in the mix is:

  • bullying the KC into dropping vet checks like they did with coat-testing last year (what Dog World's Kevin Colwill memorably called The Ellnet Revolution)
  • setting up an alternative showing scene in the UK under FCI rules
  • working with the KC to find a fairer way of encouraging better health

I've been putting some thought into the last point (which is clearly the most sensible), and here - for what it's worth - is what I think.
  • the principle of independent/impartial health checks is a good one and should not be abandoned
  • it is impractical to vet-check every dog that is entered at UK dog shows given the sheer number of them, especially at Crufts.
  • as I've already blogged, it is very dispiriting to those breeds that have made some progress, to be DQ'd after they've won BOB.
About a year ago in response to criticism (quite often justified, I'll admit) that I pick fault but never come up with practical suggestions,  I wrote Ten Steps to Help Save the Pedigree Dog.  This was my suggestion re dog shows:

Ways must be found to reward health in the show-ring, rather than just the appearance of it.  I would like to see a change to a points system where dogs arrive in the show-ring with a certain number of points already earned for meeting specific health criteria – such as long-lived parents/grand-parents, working qualifcations,  taken/passed health tests and so on.  This is easy enough to do in the electronic age in which we live. 
There needs to be new functional tests introduced for non-working breeds, too – eg evidence that a bulldog is capable of covering a certain distance at a certain pace. None of the tests need to be mandatory and it doesn’t have to be that a dog that arrives in the ring with no points couldn’t win.  But show breeders will often go to considerable lengths to give their dog the best possible chance of winning and if being provably healthier is a way, it should become a strong incentive.
 I also made this suggestion:
The KC has introduced breed health plans since Pedigree Dogs Exposed, but they’re nothing like enough. What we need are comprehensive Breed Conservation Plans (BCPs) for every breed. They need to include baseline measurements of genetic diversity for every breed,  tailored guidance regarding popular sires and a coherent plan of action drawn up with the help of geneticists, epidemiologists and breeders.  
The BCPs also need to set targets and incorporate ways of measuring progress.
A matter of some urgency is the genetic management of newly-registered breeds. This is currently often done in a very ad hoc way by breeders without sufficient knowledge – with a lot of inbreeding and the rapid spread of new diseases an inevitable result.  There is then often a mad rush to try and get a DNA test.  But the real answer lies in breeding the right way in the first place.
Above, I'm referring mainly to genetic diversity rather than exaggerations. But there is no reason why targets/pledges cannot be put put in place regarding eyelid conformation, skin folds, leg-length in relation to body length, muzzle length, and so on.

It is unrealistic to expect instant change and this needs to be acknowledged. At the same time, the fact that change cannot happen overnight is no excuse to just let things go on as they are in some breeds.

So the solution, surely, is to set proper targets - agreed in advance with the KC, breed club and vets - that by a certain date, certain health critera need to have been tackled and rectified? This should ensure progress without knocking the stuffing out of breeders who are doing the best.

Until such time, I think it is reasonable that some leeway is given -  that if in addition to a general bill of health say five breed-specific criteria were part of a vet-check that the dog must have met, for instance, four out of the five. I also think the vet's findings should be released. The secrecy surrounding the ones done at Crufts 2012 has not been helpful.

Constructive comments/discussion/suggestions really welcome on this one.


  1. I think a more basic change is also needed: stop registering litters as puppies, and instead only register ADULT dogs (after age 13 months) after a vet check (signed), with photos of the dog from both sides and the front.

    Each breed would have a specific vet check "watch list" and so really BAD examples of a breed would never get registered on the front end at all.

    What this would also do is STOP the rushing of very young dogs into the show ring (and the breeding box) before faults can be seen -- a common enough phenomenon.

    Finally, the top recognition for working breeds at every show should be awarded to dogs that actually work. This does not have to be a show prize, but it should be the top recognition mentioned in the program, in the announcements, etc. You will get more work if you measure work -- and you will get more health too!

    1. The registration system though does allow a huge amount of data to be processed and with increasing technology, allows various 'issues' to be documented and tracked.

      This has always been the KC's stance on registering dogs and I have to agree with them on this point.

      If bad examples of a breed are not registered, there would be no means of tracking where they are coming from, nor information useful to tackle problems within breeds. If dogs are unregistered, then it would be virtually impossible to record health test results and inbreeding levels in any useful form - a microchip number does not present an easily recognisable method for identifying a dog from a glance down a page.

      I'm unsure what age you regard as 'very young' - puppies under the age of 6 months cannot be shown at licensed shows in the UK. I suppose that some dogs have short show careers for whatever reason, but the majority are shown until they are fully mature and beyond - many will improve with age rather than deteriorate as you seem to suggest.

      Just because a dog works does not automatically imply it is healthier than another which doesn't - although I do agree in principal with this concept and think that exhibitors should be encouraged to participate in activities in addition to conformation showing, for example achieving Good Citizen Awards which any breed is capable of doing.

    2. that's whelping box.. not breeding box.. all hell would break lose if you suggested dogs be put in a box to thing you know they would be calling is a "rape box"

    3. As less than 2% of any breed registered with the Kennel Club, what purpose would this serve?

  2. Jemima for once I agree with a lot you have to say here, but lower down you are so critical of Mastino. You have to remember that if 'alleged' issues are to be bred out it takes time, and i mean serious time.

    I bought a mastino two years ago, now whilst hes health tested I would much rather wait and see how he continues to develop before using him in abreeding programme. This should be the case for a lot of dogs not just mastino. So if you take 10 years thats two generations which do you think will really get us where you want us to be. I have always been outspoken on the issue of mastino health, and I am working very hard to promote health testing and what I think are moves in the right direction, but do you really think your negative comments and criticism helps to move things forward? A much larger number of mastino at crufts were health tested one way or anoter, and now by not allowing the winner into the group, those apposed to testing have an argument whats the point. Surely if the winner had been health tested and wasn't over exaggerated and therefore a step in the right direction it would have promoted health screening and moving the breed forward as many of us want.

    There has been a massive shift towards health testing and improving the breed but this time i think your comments and criticism have been misplaced and will not help the issue


  3. "Setting up an alternative showing scene in the UK under FCI rules"

    This one makes no sense. Sweden is a FCI country, yet they have requirements to reduce exaggerations in the breed. Germany, Austria and Switzerland have qualzucht laws which will be coming into effect in the next few years. Showing under FCI rules will not change a thing.

    PBurns: "I think a more basic change is also needed: stop registering litters as puppies, and instead only register ADULT dogs (after age 13 months) after a vet check (signed), with photos of the dog from both sides and the front."

    I would like to comment on this since the other side of the issue is probably not thought of. SKK had major problems with highly-inbred dogs during the 1970s because breeders were registering only breeding dogs. Upon recommendations from geneticists, they mandated entire litters when they are puppies. Amazingly, the COI(5) dropped like a rock after this change in the rules. So while what you proposed would amend the issue of breeding for puppies which look matured, when they are not, there are unintended consequences.

    A better alternative would be limit dog-showing to matured individuals that are two, three or four years old.

    "Finally, the top recognition for working breeds at every show should be awarded to dogs that actually work. This does not have to be a show prize, but it should be the top recognition mentioned in the program, in the announcements, etc. You will get more work if you measure work -- and you will get more health too!"

    Many FCI countries have this already. Working champions and show champions are marked in their pedigrees. Trial results are marked in their pedigrees as well. Dogs who are successful in both the hunt-test and show are called "dual champions".

    1. They need to check into how FCI works before they think they've hit on a solution. FCI recognizes one kennel club per member country, and those clubs must use the FCI standards. The UK, the US and Canada have special reciprocity deals that allow them to use their own standards. They are not member countries, but FCI still will not recognize another KC in those countries.

    2. The KC own the standards for many of the breeds from the UK and are the Coutry of Estblishment for many others, on which the FCI base their own version, to have a thrid version of a stanadard would just be plain daft, Mr Brace and Co might find their swankey judging appointments here and overseas will soon dry up ............which may not be a bad thing for the exhibitors.

  4. If it isnt practical to do veterinary checks on all dogs at Crufts, maybe the show is too big? I've often thought Crufts would be a better show if the entries were much smaller and limited to mature and top quality dogs. Its not a great place to take younger dogs, so why not do away with the puppy , junior and yearling classes, maybe postgrad as well? or make the qualification more difficult for adult dogs?
    Westminster has an entry of only about 2500 dogs, almost all of them are Sh Ch dogs , and entry numbers are limited.
    Other UK Ch shows could also be smaller, and spread out more evenly on a regional basis. Puppy and junior dogs could get their early showing experience at Open shows, no vet checks needed, then move up to the bigger shows when they are older, or have qualified from Open shows

    1. That may suit breeds where entries are not particuarly large but in the Stud Book E breeds, novice exhibitors would stand virtually no chance of ever getting a dog to Crufts. If only a handful of 'top dogs' were to qualify, there would be no incentive for beginners, or indeed anyone other than top breeders under the current system to attend Championship shows and entries would drop off to almost nothing. Rightly or wrongly, getting to Crufts is the aim of many exhibitors, rather than winning a CC or BOB which is often well out of reach. I think the very fact Crufts is such a well known prestigious but inclusive event makes it the 'the World's Largest (and greatest) dog show.

    2. Reducing the number and limited the "quality" of dogs entered would be a great idea, but one I don't see happening. This show has a reputation for being one of the biggest out there - reducing the numbers would not be good for publicity.

    3. Westminster only has champions at that show and the first 5 top dogs of the year in each breed are invited to enter before the entries open up for the others.

    4. "Westminster has an entry of only about 2500 dogs, almost all of them are Sh Ch dogs , and entry numbers are limited." a show champion in the USA can be got by almost anything!!! as for the limited numbers they are only due to the venue they use and not the quality of the dogs allowed to enter.

  5. In breeds where there is routine testing, say of hipscores, is it the case that the KC will refuse to register the puppies of dogs with bad scores (compared to breed average/new health targets)? If not, then it should be. Surely that would concentrate the minds of breeders on the importance of breeding healthy dogs. Is this a lever that they already use, or could use in future?

    Limiting KC reg litters per bitch/sire might have some effect on puppy farms as well as tackling popular sire syndrome. In terms of limiting puppy farms, the KC could limit registrations per year/owner/address too.

    I realise that the KC wants to keep it's revenues healthy and stay on the side of breeders. But it also has to do what it can to keep its KC-reg dogs healthy and pet owners happy with long lived healthy pets.

    Thanks for the work you've done Jemima on the health issues of pedigree dog breeding. Hopefully one day those upset with what you have done will realise that you do it out of a love of dogs not a hatred of those who breed them.

    I think it's sad that there was anything there for you to expose at all.


  6. I would ditch the subjective language from standards completely. It serves only to muddle and confuse.

    In dealing with exaggerated features (the reason these vet checks were introduced) we need to establish what the problems are across all breeds and not just a select few. Eg if haw as opposed to ectropion and vice vesa is permissable or not. Loose skin: where, why and quantify how much. Leg length ground clearance SPECIFIED. That done (no mean task) we need to set some SMART objectives which can be actually measured over time. Forget imprecise language and start setting some SMART objectives for each breed. Mary Starling.

  7. I also think it is sad that more and more genetic tests are necessary.

    However, to comment on some of th points raised in the recent blog, I would like to defend the KC.

    The reason for the failure to pass the vet check of some of the "listed" dogs was that the KC did not want to divulge the information for diplomatic reasons. I could not agree witth thm more....if a breeder or owner want to say why it is his decision. Most of the reasons filtered out in any case.

    I do not agree that the KC can or should wield a big stick. The KC is not the reason why dogs have genetic diseases or exagerateed features: it is the fault of the breeders, and of the judges who pick these dogs and place them before other, more unobbtrusive ones.

    The whole issue continues to boil down to information and education. I think a big step in the right direction is th Mate Select program and also the EBV system which has been started on HD for Labradors,

    The KC did what it could this year by hiring independent vets.Everyone knew about it, and noone is obliged to enter a dog at Crufts if he is not willing to risk a vet's examination. Only fifteen dogs were tested, and that is a manageable number.

    As Jemima says, Rome was not built in a day and IMHO it will take three generations or nine years to see real progress.

  8. If they start their own club, won't the implication be that this is the registry where health doesn't matter?

    Good luck with that!

    1. *LoL* Ye funny foundation to build a club on... ;-)..
      I do not se FCI would recognise them to begin with, so the only serious thing they can do is to cooperate with the KC. I can not see the KC stepping down at this time, i think it would be to big a public disaster.

    2. "CANINE ALLIANCE ... Responsible for Pedigree Dogs"
      I am sorry but I feel they are totally missing the point. The above group seem to be focusing on the show ring and Retrieverman is should be at the core of everything we do regarding our breeds. The KC are responding to exaggerated features that breeders have allowed to creep into their breeds but are detrimental to the dogs themselves. I show my dogs and I am not against showing dogs but let's get it into perspective. The dogs come first FULL STOP. Showing dogs and peoples' obssession with winning has got to come second.

    3. Ohhh Retrieverman, I am constantly wondering about your comprehension of certain topics here and on your own blog or Chris'. Do you not understand that the breeders in question have NO problem with health tests? Email the breeders so you get it first hand and aks for the dogs certificates. Ask the individuals on the FaceBook group. Why would anyone post assumptions? What people do not like is the fact that HEALTHY dogs were looked at briefly and then DQ'd Nothing the vets did at Crufts proved that the 15 HP breeds were un-healthy.
      Now, IMO this is not the vets fault. They did what the KC asked them to do. It seems simple enough to not allow dogs to be entered in championship shows unless they have the health clearences for their breed. This would eliminate the vets at the shows and also ensure healthy dogs were awarded the CC's. Pam

    4. Don't be a moron, Anonymous Mar 16, 2012 11:17 AM. Christopher is a breeder, I am a breeder, and ANY breeder worth their salt will tell you that passing the very few health tests that are available in most breeds DOES NOT MEAN A DOG IS HEALTHY. There are many aspects to 'health,' passing tests is just one.

  9. I'm curious as to why anyone thinks that lowering the COI will do anything towards eliminating genetic disease? If anything, it will increase it as you are leaving a known gene pool and diving into a pool with unknown elements in it. I have studied and personally known most of the dogs in my pedigrees for generations, I know what their health issues were and I know where their strengths are. If I outcross to an unknown quantity I could be bringing in any number of genetic issues that are not there now. You can't create a genetic health problem where none exists but relying on the truth of others about their pedigrees and the health behind their dogs is sketchy at best. It is not just the parents that matter but all the siblings, etc. going back generations.

    1. A lot of disorders are polygenetic. The narrower the gene-pool, the higher the chances those polygenes will be fixed within a breed. Eventually, you will run into an issue with the disorder defines the breed: cancer in Flat-Coated Retrievers, epilepsy in Finnish Spitz, mitral valves in CKCS, Addison`s and SLE in Duck-Tolling Retrievers. These disorders are the byproduct of not maintaining a low COI. In some of them, they have been able to lower the incident rate by breeding for lower COI.

      The only way to defeat disorders that are polygenetic in nature is to makes sure there are enough possible combinations of alleles to ensure that the incidence rate is virtually unheard of. There is no simple recessive or dominant. It is like playing a grotesque lottery. Yes, you can narrow down the possible combinations, but then the undesirable number is more likely to be called up upon.

    2. I agree and, since some breeds started with small numbers of individuals anyway, the only real way out will be to outcrossing to another closely related breed. Of course, that will lead to cries that we are promoting the development of mutts.


      The over-all canine gene pool probably contains as much MHC diversity as it ever did. However, the division of that gene pool into mutually exclusive sub-sets, or breeds, has guaranteed that any one breed cannot have the full range of MHC alleles present in the species. This limiting factor is further exacerbated by standard breeding practices such as inbreeding and the use of popular sires.

    4. You should read some scientific literature on inbreeding and its effects, you'll soon realize that it is something that no geneticist recommend inbreeding to get away from genetic disorders of any species or breed, then you should consider why you think that your particular dog would be an exception.

  10. The FCI have the concept of eliminating faults in their standards. Perhaps the KC should as well - or are vet checks the same thing by another name?

  11. The handling of this at Crufts was done poorly to say the least. The rules shouldnt be changed mid-game are after a win especially with the high cost of showing to breeders already expended and the public humiliation unnecessary and unfair. They threw the breeders/exhibitors under the bus in a half-assed last-minute attempt to try and save face in the public eye after years of resistance to the changes necessary for better health.

    Yet changes NEED to be made, serious changes to the sport to establish basic health criteria for the dogs.

    What about the KCs putting forth certain specific health testing criteria to be met for each breed? Annual exams by KC certified Vets as well. Each dog meeting criteria given a "show license" for the year, those that dont are rejected and cannot be shown in conformation. If the dog isnt current on license it is denied entry in the first place. Breeders could avoid being DQ'd after show expenses are out of pocket already, and this exam/licensing could be done at the breeder's leisure prior to showing. This license could cost a small fee every year to provide revenue necessary for the KCs to fund their program and training of specially certified Vets and for oversight of such. These specially certified Vets would have a boost in their business from offering this service. Everybody wins, and it serves the dogs.

    Just one idea...

    1. The rules were announced more than a year ago. How is that last minute?

  12. It's a Closed Group on FB, now at least, so they only thing I can see is their 'manifesto'. A bit frothy - and they misspelled Suwannee River. Nice attention to detail - maybe that's the problem they're having with the pedigrees?
    I like Terrierman's suggestion - that's how the Jack Russell's do it - dogs are admitted after a year, when they are visibly and provably conforming to the breed standard. (I'm an amateur, so that's my understanding of how it works, anyway.)

  13. Human competitiveness got dogs into this mess, so why not use it to solve the problems it has created. If the quest to come up with a breed champion is so strong, let the KC declare that only healthy dogs of good temperament deserve that title? (I'd love to hear someone argue to the contrary).

    Let dog shows continue as they are, but no dog will be entitled to a CC unless it passes certain health tests (which will have to be determined by long and arduous argument, I'm afraid). The results of health tests should be made available on line so problems AND excellence aren't kept a secret.

    Dogs should also be denied CCs unless they pass at least a rudimentary Canine Good Citizen test. Here, I would hope there would be no excuses for breed history ("it's a guarding breed, so can be expected to maul passers-by"). Whatever their history, dogs need to be able to get along in today's world. If an experienced dog owner/breeder can't train them to do so, they shouldn't be called Champions.

    Other than these changes, dog shows and registrations could continue as they are.

    1. Hi Sarah,

      I agree that a temperament test should really be a must.

      As a former CGC tester whose own stranger-aggressive-tendency dog easily passed the test, I don't think that's a very stringent test to use. I also know quite a few dogs with CGCs that have actually bitten people both before and after taking the test...sometimes within a day or two of it. By the way, my same CGC dog also easily earned his Ch., though only my micro-management prevented him from biting any judges. (He was neutered immediately after finishing).

      The American Temperament Test Society is even worse. You can read more about it here from a very reliable source: Basically, it awards aggression and "protection" temperament--which is why Pit Bull owners love to brag that their dogs "do better on the test than Goldens or Cockers."

      In my many years as a dog behaviorist (with M.S. in Animal Behavior), I would vote Sue Sternberg's test as the most reliable for weeding out any hint of aggression and rewarding people-adoring and people-attentive personalities. It also requires no training (for the dog) and the owner isn't around to influence the dog's reaction to the stranger.

  14. I LOVE your idea of revamping shows so dogs start with certain points based on health screens, long-lived relatives, working titles, etc. Why didn't I think of that?

    Regarding the person who said it would take 20+ years to really see changes in a breed... I would argue that we should neuter all the exaggerated and unhealthy dogs right now--winning or not. Then put dogs in the ring that already exist but that were previously considered to not be exaggerated enough.

    This happened to some degree with one of my breeds, the Border Collie, in the USA. I don't breed--just show in conformation and a ton of other sports, and do heaps of genetic testing on my never-bred dogs. My first and only non-rescued BC was a conformation dog with a bulbous, baby-face popular in the early 2000's. He is also squarer than working-lines dogs. My dog was one of the first puppies from a dog that became a MUCH too popular sire--#1 top producer in the USA.

    Anyway, my dog did get 20+ titles in many sports, including advanced herding titles. He finished his Ch. at 14 months, beating many champions. With encouragement from the working portion of the club, including me, we strongly supported wording the breed standard to favor working type rather than the baby-faced dogs like mine.

    Within about 1-2 years, we saw an immediate and very positive change in the dogs in the ring. Many working lines dogs that did real work on farms were winning, and my dog would not have gotten put up. Yay! Great job to the BCSA! I've been out of the USA since 2007, so don't know if this has continued, but it shows that big changes are possible. There are always more "working type" dogs and "less exaggerated" dogs registered. Start showing those and retire/neuter dogs with freakish exaggerations. I was happy to neuter my dog. He was no great gift to the herding world, and my rescued working-lines BCs had superior conformation for running, jumping, etc.