Wednesday, 21 September 2016

Thanks a (five) million!

The PDE blog has this week just tipped over five million views.

I started it in November 2010 with the following message:

I should have got this blog up and running when Pedigree Dogs Exposed was first broadcast in August 2008. Guess I hoped there wouldn't be a need... And anyway, I fully expected to have moved on to pastures new by now...  
It is now more than two years since PDE. I could never have guessed that the film's subject would have turned into such an ongoing passion. But passion it is, along with running Black Retriever X Rescue and living with my own dogs - trying not to count but there appears to be at least seven of 'em at the moment, plus two fosters. 
Inherited disorders and welfare issues related to conformation affect millions of dogs all over the world and much of the problem is due to an antiquated breeding paradigm promoted by a kennel club system founded in England and exported to more than 100 countries. The price is paid by the dogs who suffer unnecessarily and by their owners seduced by a certain look unaware of the welfare cost that often comes with it.
Almost six years and 600 posts on, the blog is more popular than ever - with well over a million hits this year already (due in no small part to the fuss over the German Shepherd at Crufts this year. The post showing the footage that the KC had edited out of the Channel 4 broadcast is now the most popular post of all time, including garnering 250,000 page views in a single day. (Links to all the most popular posts are in the sidebar on the right).

The blog is still most popular in the UK, followed by the US, Canada, Germany and Finland.

As I hope most people realise, the blog is a labour of love. I am not paid to write it and continue to refuse any offers to "monetise" it. 

I write it because I hope and believe it is effective in drawing attention to specific issues and in galvanising those who are in a position to effect change.

Thanks to PDE (the films and this blog) there is a great deal more awareness of the problems and a large community of researchers, welfare bodies and vets focusing on them - absolutely key to drive through reforms.

Today, we have a Kennel Club that acknowledges that inbreeding is an issue and has given breeders tools to tackle it - something that was unthinkable before Pedigree Dogs Exposed when first-degree relative matings were considered acceptable and there was zero awareness that breeding profligately from one top-winning sire might be a bad thing to do.

Today, we have a Kennel Club that is much more aware of phenotypic excess and has taken steps to address them (and quite big steps recently in respect of the German Shepherd).

But we still don't have a Kennel Club that acts without outside pressure. Oh how I long for the day when the KC issues a release saying it is taking action on a particular breed because an internal review has revealed a specific problem. I know there are people at the Kennel Club who would like to be more proactive, but sadly they are often thwarted by those at the top, where the batten-down-the-hatches mode prevails.  

I had a good laugh this morning at a BBC report highlighting vets' concerns about flat-faced (brachycephalic breeds).  It contained this gem:

Sean Wensley, President of the British Veterinary Association (BVA) said: "Prospective owners need to consider that these dogs can suffer from a range of health problems, from eye ulcers to severe breathing difficulties." 
"We strongly encourage people to choose a healthier breed or a crossbreed instead." 
The BVA’s warning has been backed by the PDSA, Royal Veterinary College, RSPCA and the Kennel Club.

Almost blogged it with the title: "KC urges puppy buyers to avoid Pugs, Frenchies and Bulldogs; choose a healthier breed or a crossbreed instead".

Of course it's just bad wording by the journalist who doesn't realise that the Kennel Club would never tell people to avoid a breed - or buy a crossbreed - on health grounds.

I hope the KC will find it too embarrassing to demand a change.

In fact, the BBC piece does go on to include this frustratingly-predictable (and somewhat garbled) deflection from Caroline Kisko:

Caroline Kisko, the Kennel Club secretary, said: "The breed standards were set many years ago. If you look back through history there are some dire things that went on, and undoubtedly we would accept all responsibility for that." 
"But I would say that in the here-and-now, after all of the changes to the standards that were made in 2009, we would expect dogs to be far healthier if they are winning prizes at dogs shows."

Mrs Kisko said the problems with brachycephalic dogs were being perpetuated in the main by disreputable puppy farms. 
She said: "If we continue to allow dogs to be brought in from central and eastern Europe where there is no concern for how these dogs are bred, it is inevitable that pet owners will end up with dogs they can't deal with." 
"These are breeds which aren't hugely suited to pet homes. If you want a pet that will run around and chase a ball and so on, don't go out and buy any short-faced breed based on what celebrities are walking around with under their arm."
And this is why I continue to give up time I don't really have to write the PDE blog. General journalists simply don't have the time or the interest to dig beyond the deflection and easy reassurances uttered by the Kennel Club.

• It is, of course, in the show-ring that you will find the very flattest of faces. In fact, show dogs' faces are flatter now than they ever have been as a direct result of show-ring selection and the pursuit of prize-winning rosettes.  It is important to not be in any doubt about that.

• The KC continues to resist the introduction of minimum muzzle lengths into their standards.

• The standards still include demands that are counter to good health.

And then there's the small matter that all the recent surveys looking in detail at the health cost of having a flat face have been of of KC-registered dogs.  These studies agree that at least half of all Pugs, Frenchies and Bulldogs struggle to breathe (and some have put it a great deal higher than that). Remember, too, that this is looking at just one consequence of being brachycephalic. There are many others, including eye, oral, dental, mating and whelping issues.

Bottom line... Kennel Club-registered dogs are still being bred and shown under the auspices of the Kennel Club in a way that perpetuates suffering for many breeds - and which, unless things change, will lead to their extinction.

At the end of the day, that's what this blog is about.

Monday, 12 September 2016

Ivan the terrible

***UPDATE 15/9/16***

If you cannot see the photos of Ivan below it's because they were embedded from Ivan's owner's Flickr album. M. Faucheron has now exercised his right to remove them at his end so they will no longer show. 

If you missed them, they showed a "hyper-type" harlequin Great Dane with severe ectropion.

Just in case there is any doubt about how bad this dog's eyes are/were, here is the opinion of one of the UK's most senior veterinary ophthalmologists.

"There is marked lower eyelid ectropion and the dog would benefit from surgery (most  simply as shortening of the lower lids). This dog will not be able to blink effectively and all kinds of rubbish collects in the ventral fornix, so chronic conjunctivitis is also a feature. 
"Great Danes generally have rather poor eyelid anatomy and just look at all the loose skin elsewhere which gives a clue as to why they are so likely to have conformational eyelid abnormalities."
Et pour nos amis français (this dog's breeder is threatening to sue me for defamation - see comments section below):
"Il est marqué ectropion de la paupière inférieure et le chien bénéficieraient de la chirurgie (plus simplement comme le raccourcissement des paupières inférieures). Ce chien ne sera pas en mesure de clignoter efficacement et toutes sortes de collectes d'ordures dans le fornix ventral, la conjonctivite donc chronique est également une caractéristique. 
"Les déformations des paupières graves sont celles associées avec soi-disant 'Diamond Eye', car cela provoque à la fois ectropion et entropion. 
"Dogue Allemands ont en général assez pauvre anatomie de la paupière et il suffit de regarder toute la peau lâche ailleurs ce qui donne un indice quant à la raison pour laquelle ils sont si susceptibles d'avoir des anomalies de la paupière conformationnels."
(PS if the pix still show it is because you have visited before and your browser has cached them.)

Ivan de la Grisonniere 2mois

The above picture is one of the first in a series of photographs by French Great Dane owner Arnaud Faucheron. The dog's name is Ivan de la Grisonniere (from a famous French show kennel) and the pictures below follow him from two months to about three years old.

That this dog is loved and has an amazing life in a beautiful part of the world shines through in these pictures - as does Ivan's spirit.   But of course, it is overshadowed by how head-shakingly awful it is that anyone could think it was a good idea to breed a dog that looks like this.

The tragedy is that there are thousands of dogs like Ivan (and some even worse) being bred, shown and sold in Europe, where the "hyper-type" predominates.

Scroll down to the bottom of the page to see how you can help stop this.

Ivan de la Grisonniere 2mois

Ivan de la Grisonniere 2mois












There is a petition calling for urgent action on the Great Dane.  You can find it here.

Please, please sign it - and share this post as widely as possible. 

Sunday, 11 September 2016

UC Davis challenge: prove your Bulldog is healthy and we'll diversity-test for free

The Bulldog world has gone tonto following the publication last month of a study from a team at UC Davis which found that there was so little diversity in Bulldogs (or English Bulldogs as they're usually called outside of the UK) that there was little hope of being able to improve the breed.

On social media, the comment above is about par for the course. In case it needs to be said, it is also at best untrue and at worst defamatory. Professor Pedersen and the team at the UC Davis VGL Laboratory are leading researchers in the field. The paper was published in Canine Genetics and Epidemiology (a journal in fact financially supported by the Kennel Club ).

In truth, the paper was wincingly blunt about the extent of health issues in the breed:

The health problems of the English bulldog have been well documented and start with conception, fetal development and parturition. Severe conformational changes have necessitated a high rate of artificial insemination and Caesarean sections and litter sizes tend to be small. The breed ranks second in congenital disease and associated puppy mortality, due mainly to birth defects such as flat chests with splayed legs; anasarca (water babies) and cleft palate.  Although some English bulldogs enjoy reasonable health, their longevity is definitely affected by the degree of conformational change and inbreeding, which is reflected by lifespan estimates ranging from 3.2 to 11.3 years with a median of 8.4 years.  Individuals requiring extensive veterinary care at a young age rarely live beyond 56 years of age, leading to a bimodal mortality curve for the breed. 

The brachycephalic syndrome is a leading cause of ill- health and death in the breed. However, the syndrome is not caused by brachycephaly per se, as brachycephalic breeds such as the boxer do not suffer the syndrome to the same degree. The bulldog tongue is excessively large at the base, the palate is large and easily obstructed by the base of the tongue, the lower jaw is pushed forward (prognathous), and the nares are frequently stenotic and the trachea hypoplastic. This leads to loud panting during physical exercise, stridor during rest and slobbering; sleep apnea, hypercapnia and hypochloremia/hypomagnesemia; exercise intolerance, cyanosis and collapse; and choking fits manifested by gagging, retching, vomiting, aerophagia/ flatulence and aspiration pneumonia. The breathing difficulties of English bulldogs also make them very sensitive to overheating and heat stroke.

Chondrodysplasia, a heritable skeletal disorder that has been incorporated into the phenotype of many dog breeds, predisposes English bulldogs to skeletal disorders such as hip dysplasia, elbow dysplasia, luxating patella and shoulders, intervertebral disk disease, cruciate ligament rupture, hemivertebra, torsional pelvic deformity and problems with normal copulation and parturition. Prognathism predisposes to dental disease, while excessive folding of the skin, especially on the face, is associated with skin fold dermatitis, muzzle acne, folliculitis, furunculosis, and eye conditions such as entropion, ectropion, and eversion of the third eyelid. The cork-screw tail can result in tail fold dermatitis. Other heritable conditions that are related to loss of genetic diversity and inbreeding include cataract, various heart valve defects including pulmonic stenosis, hydrocephalus, cysteine urolithiasis, and hiatal hernias; immunologic disorders that include a propensity for severe demodectic mange indicative of immunodeficiency, allergies associated with atopic dermatitis and ear infections, and autoimmune diseases such as hypothyroidism; and cancers including glioblastoma, mast cell sarcoma and lymphoma. Although the bond and affection between English bulldogs and their owners is strong, the cost of treating health problems is often prohibitive and many of them end up in shelters or euthanized. 
Now, in response to the widespread upset from Bulldog lovers, UC Davis has posted a challenge on the university's website:

We believe that this paper accurately portrayed the current genetic and health problems of the breed, but we did mention that there was still phenotypic variability among bulldogs and that there are bulldogs that breathe freely, move freely, reproduce naturally, and that are free from skin and eye problems, allergies and other immunologic disorders. We did state, however, that it might be difficult to find a single dog that met all of these criteria.  
Therefore, we are offering a challenge to bulldog breeders and owners from around the world to provide us with proof that their dog is a purebred (registered) English bulldog and to include a narrative and photographs/videos that supports their health status.  Please email us at: with this information and if we feel that this is indeed a dog that meets the criteria listed above, our Veterinary Genetics Laboratory will provide you free of cost with a DNA collection kit and from this a genetic profile of your dog that can be compared with the information provided in our genetic assessment paper.   
We will also add genetic information from your dog to our genetic profile database for the English bulldog. Hopefully, this information will allow us to identify a genetic profile that is conducive to greater health. We may share your information online, but like the email alone any personal information regarding the owner, the dog and the breeder will be either redacted or changed.  We do not make personal information public. 

The UC Davis team says the impetus for the challenge came from an email from a Bulldog owner who sent them these pictures of their Bulldog 'Spike' (born and registered in India but now living in the UK).

Spike, said his owner, is as an active, healthy dog who loves to play. They admit he doesn't have the widest nostrils and that he snores a bit,  but overall reckon he's fit as a fiddle. He's certainly lovely and lean - always good to see in Bulldogs. And I'd agree that Spike looks good for a Bulldog - although I don't think he'd be considered show material (he is not undershot enough and he doesn't have the correct 'layback').

You can read the whole of the UC Davis statement/challenge here.

Bottom line, I do have some sympathy with the Bulldog folk on this one.  I do think there is a bit of wiggle room in the UC Davis paper.

Here's why:

The study drew its conclusions after studying DNA samples from 139 Bulldogs in total.

• 37 DNA samples were collected from dogs submitted for various diagnostic tests at UC Davis Veterinary Medical Teaching Hospitals (ranging from breathing, eye, skin and joint disorders to cancer)

• 102 DNA samples came from dogs submitted mainly to test for for coat colour or HUU (hyperuricosoria) (i.e. the tests done by breeders before breeding so presumed healthy). 87 were from the USA, six from Finland, three each from Canada and Austria and one each from Czechoslovakia, Hungary and Argentina.

Now that's a reasonable spread and the researchers found almost no discernible difference between them, hence their conclusions. But of course there were no dogs, for instance, from the breed's country of origin (UK). There has also been concern expressed by some Bulldog breeders that the coat-colour samples represent "colour" breeders who they think are more likely to inbreed (ergo less diverse) and thus are not representative of "responsible" breeders.

Of course, there were dogs being tested for HUU too (a sign of a "responsible" breeder) too and I would be surprised if colour-bred dogs are more inbred that your average show-bred Bulldog. But it's fair enough to question it.

So Bulldog owners... please do rise to the challenge!

I also think it would be a great idea for Bulldog owners in general to get together to send in more DNA samples  - and not least because the current price of just $50 a dog (around £37) per dog is a bargain.

If nothing else, wouldn't proving the UC Davis team wrong be worth it? Even if they're right and you're wrong, you'd still get useful diversity info about your dog - a tool that many breeders in other breeds are now using to breed better dogs.

More info here...

Saturday, 10 September 2016

Kennel Club identifies "priority" breeds for new conservations plans

The KC has finally released more information about its new breed health and conservation plans (BHCPs).

The plans will, it claims, take a "holistic" approach, embracing genetic issues, conformation concerns and population genetics.

As revealed in today's Dog World (see here):

"To help determine the impact and importance of the health concerns in each breed, a number of evidence-based criteria will be used. Each health concern identified will be assessed and prioritised, based on welfare implications, proportion of the breed affected and likelihood of the concern getting worse in the future. The bespoke nature of these breed-specific health plans will include monitoring and review, to ensure they are up-to-date and remain relevant."

The KC has identified the following as its "priority" breeds for 2017:

Basset Hound



Cavalier King Charles Spaniel

Chow Chow

Clumber Spaniel

Dogue de Bordeaux

English Setter

French Bulldog

German Shepherd Dog


Neapolitan Mastiff





St Bernard
This comprises all 11 Category 3 breeds (defined as "Breeds where some dogs have visible conditions or exaggerations that can cause pain or discomfort") and six others that regularly feature on this blog. 

I am, of course, delighted that the Kennel Club has seen fit to take my advice regarding the introduction of conservation plans  - as I proposed in this post just over five years ago.

The devil, however, will be in the detail....and also key will be how influential the breed health co-ordinators will be allowed to be. As the KC says:
"Breed Health co-ordinators will continue to be central collaborators in the identification of health concerns and risks."
Unfortunately,  many reading this will know that while there are some decent health reps others are abysmal, essentially seeing their  role as defenders of the status quo. 

Most of the BHCs for the above breeds would fiercely oppose any meaningful changes to the breed standard or any proposals to outcross (outside of the breed) to inject some much-needed genetic diversity - with one or two exceptions perhaps.  Three of these breeds have seen outcrosses - the Clumber to a Cocker (the descendants of which are now being shown in the UK); the Bloodhound and Otterhound to non-registered working dogs.  All have caused a fuss, though.

The KC, however, maintains that the project will involve collaboration across a broad spectrum of stakeholders including breed clubs and the veterinary and research community so hopefully it won't be possible for an in-denial BHC to have too much influence.

In fact, the Dog World article includes this: 
The KC has asked for any health information you have collected through health surveys or health schemes. This can be e-mailed to
I am pretty sure that's aimed at the Breed Health Co-Ordinators, but I would urge anyone with useful observations/research about genetic, conformation or diversity concerns in any breed (not just the ones listed above) to take this opportunity to contact the Kennel Club, with "BHCP - [breed]" in the subject line. That should ensure they are included when the discussions start in earnest.

It would also be a good idea to forward relevant papers as I am astonished at how often breeders appear to have never heard of key health surveys/published research on their breed.

That address again:

Please feel free to copy/blind-copy in on any emails you send to the Kennel Club.  I am very happy to act as a back-up repository of breed-specific information -  in complete confidence of course unless mutually agreed otherwise. 

Friday, 9 September 2016

Cavalier challenge exposes fundamental flaws

Want me tomorrow? Order by 4pm

Dog World columnist Sheila Atter tackles health-testing in this week's issue (see here), broadly supporting cavalier campaigners' demand for an official heart-testing scheme for the breed.

She writes:
Many of us have been urging the formalisation of heart testing for many years. There is already a panel of recognised cardiologists and several breed clubs make use of their services, so it really can’t be too difficult to regularise this can it?

But Sheila has infuriated the campaigners by her lack of enthusiasm for a mandatory testing for the breed's other big problem: syringomyelia:

The problem with syringomyelia is far more complicated, not least because the geneticists can’t really come up with an accurate explanation of the mode of inheritance of the condition. There are many breeders who have been scanning for years, and still cannot predict with 100 per cent confidence whether their pups will be SM free. 
Instead of haranguing all Cavalier breeders – and in particular those who show their dogs – critics such as Emma Milne would do more good by throwing their support behind those breeders who are health testing, nearly always the same it’s show breeders who get all the flak. If the general public were continually urged to steer clear of unregistered puppies, virtually none of which come from health tested parents, some progress might be made.
It has prompted a sharp response from cavalier owner and campaigner Charlotte Mackaness, who has posted in the Comments section:

I read with alarm the suggestion that testing for Syringomyelia was somehow less pressing because of the condition’s complex inheritance. Just like MVD, SM is polygenic with no simple test that can give a guarantee puppies will be unaffected but studies have shown that their chances are greater if their parents are clear. Surely this makes scanning worthwhile because doing something to improve the odds is better than doing nothing at all and simply hoping for the best? Playing that kind of Russian roulette is morally indefensible. 
In my book, any Cavalier breeder who truly has the breed’s future and well-being at heart is scanning and putting the results through the official scheme so, even if for no other reason, researchers have more information with which to learn about SM and the KC may stand some chance of establishing Estimated Breeding Values. 
Ms Mackaness then goes on to tackle Sheila's assertion that the consumer must take some of the blame for buying puppies from untested parents:

Undoubtedly the consumer wields a great deal of power but finding a puppy from properly health tested parents can be a difficult task for even the best-informed and patient of puppy buyers. While many breeders and breed clubs talk a good game when it comes to health, my experience is that very, very few walk the walk. 
And she issues this challenge:
I wonder whether you could find 10 litters registered within the last 12 months bred following the MVD protocol (heart tested clear at 30 months or older with parents aged at least five and heart clear), eye tested, DNA tested and with BOTH parents complying with the MRI breeding guidelines?
I appreciate this might be quite a task given the absence of an official heart scheme and so few MRI scans going through the official CM/SM scheme but it might also lend an appreciation of the barriers and difficulties facing puppy buyers. Perhaps starting with Cavalier Club committee members might save some time as it would be sensible to assume that such people follow the highest possible standards when breeding.
Well, I'll happily save Ms Atter some time in telling her that it is impossible - Cavalier breeders at the very highest level are simply not complying - in no small part because they don't have to.

But the challenge raises a really key issue. We need to make it a whole heap easier for consumers to buy better dogs. Currently, we are asking them to do way too much work - ridiculous in an age where we can order a fridge off the internet with the full expectation that it will work and that we can secure redress if it doesn't.

We've got to stop being disappointed with consumers for not doing the research and opting for instant fixes like the one offered by the peddlers of the puppy in the pic above.

 My suggestions:

• a centralised resource,  offered ideally by the Kennel Club,  where puppy buyers can:

- review best practice for that breed
- see the compliance to this best practice for every litter advertised on the KC's website

• every puppy to be sold with a 2-yr warranty (extendible at the buyer's expense) against preventible genetic defects. Plain and simple and an added value something every consumer would understand.

• speed up the puppy-buying process so that people are not being asked to wait for weeks for a new dog.

• customer reviews: we do this for absolutely everything these days: hotels; sellers on eBay; goods on Amazon. 

Thursday, 1 September 2016

Danes: the ugliness inside

Next week, all 216 Kennel Club breeds will be represented on a walk to raise money for several very deserving children's and canine charities. Pedigree Paws Unite is the initiative of Gavin Robertson, who organised a similar walk, Jilly's Jolly Jaunt, in 2013 after he won Crufts with his Petit Basset Griffon Vendeen, Jilly (Ch Soletrader Peek A Boo).

Like Jilly's Jolly Jaunt, the aim is to promote a positive image of pedigree dogs; that Kennel Club dogs are happy and healthy; that every breed is capable of walking one of the 5-mile legs.

Unfortunately, the Great Dane pictured in the beautiful artwork created especially for the event by artist Elizabeth Greenslade, will not be able to attend.

He has just died of osteosarcoma, aged 4.

"Ryder" (Ch Semalda Koochie Ryder) was, I have no doubt, very well-loved by his owner Adam Chappell. You can tell from his Facebook posts and Twitter feed. Ryder was a good-looking Dane, too - a touch on the heavy side for my taste but with particularly good eyes (worthy of note because we see some really awful ones in the Dane show-ring).  I see, also, that Adam has also signed Maria Gkinala's petition calling for the FCI to act again the hyper-type Danes swamping the European show-ring.

But the problem with Danes isn't just on the outside. A diagnosis of osteosarcoma is as depressingly predictable in this breed as soft-tissue sarcomas are in Flatcoats or malignant histiocytosis in Bernese Mountain Dogs or dilated cardiomyopathy is in Dobermans.

The average age of death of Great Danes is just six years old. It's partly due to the Dane's giant size and fast growth - bone cancer is very common in many giant breeds.

But we could breed them a bit smaller. We could grow them a bit slower. We could make much more effort to document the deaths and select for longer-living lines - and we could outcross to another, longer-living breed.

Did you know, there's a breed way bigger and heavier than Danes that is still working at 15 years old and regularly makes it to 20?  It's called the Mongolian Bankhar, similar but distinct from the Tibetan Mastiff.  There is, incidentally, a fantastic initiative breeding and re-introducing these dogs as livestock guardians in their native land - check it out here.

Want some of those genes?

And if, by the way, you read that question, looked at the picture of the dog and concluded that you didn't want those genes because the progeny would't look like a Dane... then I'm afraid you are part of the problem, not the solution.

None of this, I would like to stress, is intended to sour the Pedigree Paws Unite walk. It's in a good cause. But I am not going to pass up the opportunity Ryder's death affords to highlight that there is a problem on the inside of Danes (and too many other breeds) too, and we need to do more to tackle it. It is not enough to hip score or eye-test - or have your Dane prophylactically "tacked" to prevent bloat (another big killer in the breed).

I am sure Adam Chappell would say that he would give anything to have Ryder walking proudly at his side next week.

Every Dane breeder needs to re-think what they are willing for that word to mean.

Fuck closed stud books. Fuck them to hell.

Faith aka Faybee

Just over seven years ago, in April 2009, journalist Gina Spadafori was at the VCA Veterinary Referral Centre in Sacramento with her beloved Flatcoat McKenzie who had just delivered seven puppies. The labour had stopped - but the rads showed two puppies still in there. Vet Dr Bill Porte said one was definitely dead, but he thought the other, trapped behind, could still be alive. Gina, however, was convinced both were dead. Dr Porte sent Gina home, promising to do his best. As she left, Dr Porte turned to her and said: "Gina? Have faith."

The last puppy was delivered alive later that night. Gina called her Faith and kept her. For the past seven years, everyone who knows and loves Gina has got to know Faith aka Faybee (short for "Faith Baby") better than some people get to know their own dogs. Gina is a born communicator - smart, witty and capable of transforming the most mundane of Facebook updates into something exhilarating. It shines through, too, that Gina is a good soul. It has earned her hundreds of friends.

I 'met' Gina online in 2012, shortly after Faybee's mother McKenzie was diagnosed with malignant histiocytosis. Gina and I are divided physically by the Atlantic, but connected through our career choice (both journalists) and a shared fear for the future for the Flatcoated Retriever, a breed currently fighting a losing battle with cancer - mostly soft-tissue sarcomas, but a growing number of other cancers, too.

Gina fought tooth and nail to keep McKenzie by her side - until she could do no more. It was profoundly upsetting to witness both the death of such a beautiful dog and to feel Gina's grief so acutely through her writing.

Faybee's sire too died of cancer - osteosarcoma. Neither of Faybee's parents made their 8th birthday.

For the past four years, I think everyone who loves Gina has been holding their collective breath, praying that Faybee wouldn't succumb to the blight; hoping that she had landed on the right side of the Flatcoat's 50/50 odds of dying of cancer by the age of eight.

Last Friday, Gina revealed that Faybee had been under the weather for the past couple of weeks. She took her for a full work-up and a scan revealed an enlarged spleen. They operated and found masses which seemed to be contained to the spleen, which was removed. The vets told her they could be benign. Faybee bounced back from the surgery and came home to Gina on Sunday. She was in good spirits.

But on Tuesday, Gina revealed that Faybee wasn't quite as good as she had been the day before. It was at this point, I am certain, that every Flatcoat-owning friend of Gina's felt sick to the stomach.

Tonight, I logged on to Facebook to discover that Faybee is dead - rushed back to the vets in the middle of the night because she suddenly couldn't stand. The pathology report, which came though a few hours later, revealed what by then was already known: the tumours had not been benign. Hemangiosarcoma. Quick and ruthless.

"Fuck cancer," wrote Gina tonight. "Fuck it to hell."

A couple of weeks ago, UC Davis released an initial report regarding Flatcoat genetic diversity. It concluded that despite having very little, the breed was pretty healthy.

I was actually so disturbed by this that I wrote to Neils Pedersen at UC Davis. I know Gina was shocked too. Can you really claim that a breed with such a high cancer rate is healthy?

Healthy until dead, perhaps - and that is true enough; the flatcoat suffers from relatively few other genetic diseases and it is a fundamentally functional, dog-shaped dog.

Ad hey... we can argue, perhaps, that Fabes only suffered a very short illness and prior to that lived a life full of love and fun and happiness.

But fuck that. Fuck that to hell.

I can't read the outpouring of sympathy on Gina's timeline - the emoji broken hearts; the inevitable mentions of the rainbow bridge; the well-meaning words about Faybee being at peace or in a better place. The only better place for Faybee is with Gina. Alive. Breathing.

I can no longer look into the eyes of a Flatcoat and not see the cancer. A river of poison runs in their veins.  It is why there is no longer a Flatcoat by my side.  I have built a wall round my heart in an effort to protect myself - so much so that reading about the death of yet another young dog on the Flatcoat health pages barely grazes any more. But some... some... get through the defences.

So can we please make something good come out of this? For Gina. For Faybee. For this beautiful breed.

It is not OK to predictably lose dogs at seven or eight years old (and many, many far younger).

It is not OK to accept it as just the price we pay for loving the breed, as if it's some kind of badge of honour.

It is not OK to point out that there are other breeds that die even younger or some Flatcoats that beat the odds.

It is not OK to try to deflect the blame on kibble or vaccinations or toxins in the environment.

It is not OK to throw a few quid at research and keep on breeding them the way we do - not when we know why they are dying so young and we could stop it happening.


The Flatcoat is dying because it is so genetically depleted through inbreeding that it can no longer mount a defence.

Open the stud books.

Open them now.

Further reading:

Flatcoats and Cancer

Goodbye Maisie

Saturday, 27 August 2016

Two minutes to save a breed - here's how

I've documented the hideous drift in type in European Great Danes here many times. And, sadly, this mastinoid creep is spreading like some virus. Even in those countries where Dane bodies still remain lean and graceful, such as the US, we are seeing heavier and heavier heads.

1903 breed standard  illustrations compared to today's 'hypertype' Danes

UK Danes
Now Dane campaigner Maria Gkinala is petitioning the FCI to do something about the physical degradation of this beautiful breed - which has suffered, sadly, in many ways from not having a working job to keep it sound.

Please sign the petition here and help stop this before it is too late. It will take just two minutes of your time.  Petitions really do work if enough people sign them as they pressure organisations into engaging with the critics. This is the first step to reform.

I had Danes as a kid (galumphy boy Dougal just a pup here), so this one matters to me.

Further reading:

The demise of the Great Dane

More French Great Danes

Maria's excellent Great Dane Gnosis blog

Sunday, 14 August 2016


Because what the world needs right now is a brachycephalic Rottweiler. :-(

These Rottweilers are from a top Serbian Kennel owned by Darko Veselic. This picture on his Facebook page has prompted a torrent of comments from all over the world - with much of the criticism raising concern about introducing breathing problems into the breed.

And, of course, these dogs' heads are asking for trouble - domed, with an exaggerated stop, and a crania-facial ratio (CFR) of under 0.5  (i.e. the muzzle is less than half the length of the cranium). It is below 0.5 that we start to see respiratory issues. They do, at least, have good open nostrils.

Their breeder Darko Veselic is a charming chap. After one female commenter on his Facebook page criticised his dogs, he came back with this - which was then endorsed by several women.  They should be ashamed of themselves.

But I want to leave you with this thought. 

There are dozens of breeds with far shorter muzzles than these Rottweilers and it causes little or no outrage. I'm sure that many of the critics on Darko Vesilsc's page will pass a Pug or a Frenchie with a smile and may even have short-faced dogs in their own homes.

It's a shock when you see a dog that normally has a decent muzzle suddenly robbed of it, isn't it?  But sadly, most of us do not have the same visceral response when we see this. 

But we should. It makes absolutely no difference to the dog if it was acquired over 100s of years or just a few.

It is an aberration and a burden.

Wednesday, 10 August 2016

Help this little chap get a decent night's sleep

As I hope most who read this blog now know, many flat-faced dogs try to sleep sitting or even standing up because their airways block when they drop their heads.  It means that some brachycephalics are chronically sleep-deprived.

This particular video is on Facebook here where it has been viewed by a quarter of a million people and received over 12,000 likes.

It originates from the @meroglichar Instagram account which features many videos of the owner's dog trying to sleep, including this one. He is clearly much loved by his owner and I thought at first she was just clueless, but she continues to post them despite people pointing out their concern.

Please help inform owners and the public by leaving comments on these and any other similar video on social media pointing out that what they're seeing is tragic, not cute.

Hell, if you have a spare hour and would really like to help, please search YouTube for "[brachy] sleeping sitting/standing up" and post the #dontignorethesnore video in Comments.

Here's the link:

Sunday, 7 August 2016

Best book ever on pedigree dogs - available in the UK this week

Buy it on Amazon here.


For a taster, check out this piece by Brandow for Dogs Today Magazine - he's a very sharp and witty writer.

The reviews:

'An essential and incredibly well documented read for those who want to know more about how we have strongly, selfishly and negatively affected the awesome beings whom many call their BFF, the very beings who depend on us to have their best interests in heart and mind. Agree or not, Mr. Brandow's book is a serious, significant and most timely message that deserves a global audience. It really is that good' 
Marc Bekoff, Huffington Post

'A must-read for all dog lovers' 

'An often biting social critique of people, their dogs, and the world they have made for each other' Mark Derr, author of How the Dog Became the Dog

'A no-holds-barred defense of dogs that are the hapless victims of their clueless owners' 

'Brandow not only unearths the status-driven history of so-called 'purebreds' but exhorts us to love all dogs regardless of breed' 
Betsy Banks Saul, founder of

'Incredibly important... a delightful read with fascinating insights into the history and psychology of the purebred-dog world' 
Alan M. Beck, ScD, professor and director of the Center for the Human-Animal Bond, Purdue University

'If you're considering welcoming a dog (or two) into your family, read Michael Brandow's fascinating and eye-opening book... A dog is a living, loving creature, not an accessory item, and Brandow makes his case persuasively and with wit.' 
Betsy Banks Saul, founder of

'Brandow's A Matter of Breeding is at once a keenly observed memoir of his days as a New York City dog walker, a thoroughly researched history of purebred dogs, and an often biting social critique of people, their dogs, and the world they have made for each other.' 
Mark Derr, author of How the Dog Became the Dog

Saturday, 6 August 2016

Science versus Bulldog bullshit

Yesterday, the public radio show Science Friday featured a segment on the Bulldog in response to the publication last week of a paper which detailed the lack of genetic diversity in English Bulldogs. (See last week's blog on this here)

The show pitches the paper's lead author Professor Niels Pedersen against another scientist, Peter Photos.

Photos is scientific advisor to the Bulldog Club of America and he has a PhD in biomolecular engineering, so it should have been lively. 

Instead, Photos clings to the old mantra that the breed standard is a template for good health when adhered to by responsible breeders and blamed ill-health in Bulldogs on irresponsible breeders.

No, says Pedersen... the Bulldog's ill health is due to simply being a Bulldog. Dogs, he says, were never meant to be flat-faced dwarves with deep wrinkles and a genetically-compromised immune system.

Photos also claims that Pedersen's own work shows that Bulldogs are not that badly off in terms of genetic health compared to others.

No, says Pedersen, the UC Davis team has only found one other (as yet unnamed) breed with less diversity than the Bulldog.

Have a listen here. It's fab.

By the way, whenever I hear scientists sounding like they've drunk kennel club kool-aid,  I always go hunting for their kennel name.

And it is no surprise to learn that Peter Photos, along with his partner Blake Hamman, is a breeder of French Bulldogs

But, boy, I'm so sick of this. Do dog breeders and kennel clubs have any idea what it looks like to an outside world when the default response to research findings they find uncomfortable is to go into full-on-denial... to challenge peer-reviewed science ... to accuse the researchers of some kind of anti-purebred dog bias?  (There has, sadly, been plenty of that on bulldog social media in the past week.)

If you are truly dog lovers please embrace the science - it is you and your dogs' friend.

There has, by way of example, been a good response from Poodle breeders following Professor Pedersen and his team's analysis of the genetic diversity of that breed (see here). They are using the UC Davis Veterinary Genetics Lab's test to breed Poodles with stronger immune systems and less chance of disease. 

The correct response from the Bulldog breeders isn't to retreat behind a wall and wail that its not fair. It is to pull together internationally and submit swabs to UC Davis's VGL to get a broader picture of the genetic diversity in the breed; perhaps also bring on board a population geneticist to advise the breed. This might give you some more wiggle room. And if it doesn't then you need to do what's right by your dogs - outcross to a different breed to enable you to build better Bulldogs.

You love your dogs enough to do right by them - don't you?

Wednesday, 3 August 2016

Got an oldie? The Royal Veterinary College needs you!

The Royal Veterinary College is looking for older dogs to take part in a survey that is exploring the impact of health and training on behaviour.

They've had a fantastic response (almost 5000 so far!) but they are short of dogs eight years or older. So if you have an oldie - purebred or cross and wherever in the world you are - they would be very grateful if you could find a few minutes to complete the survey.

You can find the Mature Dog Survey here.

I've already submitted info on my amazing oldster, Jake.  This video comprises footage of him shot in the past few weeks. He is 14 years old - a GSD/Dobermann x with a sprinkling of English Setter.

Friday, 29 July 2016

Death of the Bulldog

It's not a good day for Bulldog breeders and owners - but it might just be a good day for Bulldogs.  A new paper in Canine Genetics and Epidemiology from a team at UC Davis documents the eye-watering lack of genetic diversity in the Bulldog - or English Bulldog as the breed is known globally.

The conclusion? The Bulldog is in big trouble because it does not have enough genetic diversity to allow breeders to breed away from the health problems known to plague the breed.

The story is all over the media here in the UK and internationally - with the above headline in the Independent particularly blunt.

The Indy piece also contains this very strong quote from lead author Professor Niels Pedersen.

“The English bulldog has reached the point where popularity can no longer excuse the health problems that the average bulldog endures in its often brief lifetime."

I think it's fair to say that there has been some small improvements in health, at least in the UK, in recent years. But big problems persist - include breathing issues, an inability to cool themselves, skin, eye and joint problems and an inability, often, to mate or whelp naturally.

Bulldogs are also dead, typically, by the age of six (KC 2014 health survey).

The researchers' aim was to assess if the breed retains enough genetic diversity to correct the genotypic and phenotypic abnormalities associated with its poor health.  The answer? Probably not.

To put it very simply: even if there was a will to breed only from the very healthiest, most moderate dogs (and I'm afraid there isn't because, mostly, people like their Bulldogs just the way they are), you'd only wreck the breed further because it would result in even less of the genetic diversity needed to ensure a healthy life. 

The study found many sections of the Bulldog genome that were identical in every dog they looked at. In particular, they found very little variation in the parts of the genome that code for immune function - very likely the reason the breed suffers a number of immune-mediated issues.

Where does the breed go from here given the increasing pressure on breeders to do more to tackle health problems in the breed

The quickest and simplest option is to outcross - and indeed there are now several varieties of outcrossed Bulldogs (none recognised by the Kennel Club) that can boast a more moderate phenotype and improved health (notably the Leavitt Bulldog which sets a particularly high bar health-wise).

Leavitt Bulldogs     ©Jessica Gilmour/Lonsdale Bulldogs

But of course traditional breeders would rather stick pins in their eyes than cross-breed - and the two dogs above would be considered mongrels by many; no matter that they can run and breathe freely.

Another option could be to... nope, can't think of one. If there isn't enough genetic variety within the breed, outcrossing is actually the only solution.

Leading brachycephalic researcher Dr Rowena Packer (Royal Veterinary College) says the study is a game-changer.

"Our previous research at RVC found that several morphological traits that are actively selected for in this and other breeds, including short muzzles and wrinkled skin, are associated with quality of life limiting health conditions. These problems include lifelong respiratory difficulties and painful corneal ulcers.

"We recommended that breeders should move away from extreme body shapes, and instead select for 'moderate' dogs (with longer muzzles, smaller eyes and less wrinkled skin) within their own breed to avoid associated breathing, skin, eye, reproductive and dental problems.

"However, this recommendation was with the proviso that there was sufficient phenotypic and genetic diversity in the breed, that these new selective pressures would not lead to more problems. This study has demonstrated that the required genetic diversity is unfortunately not present, and thus to obtain healthier body shapes we should strongly consider outcrossing with another, less extreme breed.

"These reforms could allow the Bulldog to see, breathe, eat, birth and move freely, uninhibited by the body shape that we have chosen for them. We need to put health before looks or breed 'purity' to protect the welfare of these dogs. Members of the public who are particularly interested in buying a Bulldog should consider the health problems associated with this breed in its current form, and explore other less extreme breeds with fewer health problems."

I fear, however, that Bulldog breeders will stick their heels in, claiming that their beloved breed is sacrosanct and that everyone is ganging up on them. The researchers will be accused of being secretly funded by PETA; any Kennel Club that acts will be deemed overtaken by animal rights activists and any vet that joins in the cry for reform will be an unreasonable militant who has "got it in for Bulldogs". BVA President Sean Wensley, who appeared on BBC Breakfast this morning highlighting the issues is being widely slated on one Bulldog Facebook group. "He is an ill-informed moron" wrote one commenter. "He needs a good slap" wrote another.

A statement in response to the new study from the UK Kennel Club's Aimee Llewellyn-Zaidi is predictably within the box. First, she suggests that a bigger study is needed in order to get a true picture, saying:

“It would be very interesting to use genomic tools to investigate the bulldog breed on a global level, as it is well-established that breeds that have developed in isolation over time can be utilised to improve over-all genetic diversity and selection for positive characteristics, on a global level.
She goes on to suggest there might be sufficient genetic diversity in the breed in the UK:
"In 2015, a paper published in Canine Genetics and Epidemiology summarised the research undertaken using Kennel Club registered dogs, that estimated the rate of loss of genetic diversity within all 215 breeds of pedigree dog over a 35 year period, and provided information to guide a future sustainable breeding strategy. Latterly in the individual report for the Bulldog the rate of inbreeding declined, implying a slowdown in the rate of loss of diversity, and modest replenishment of genetic diversity which may be through the use of imported animals."

There's a problem with this. All the Bulldogs in the world descend from a small handful of UK founders - and not that long ago either. While it is true that different geographical populations, through a process known as genetic drift, can be a little different genetically it is unlikely to offer much hope in this case. Although most of the dogs sampled in the new study were American, the study did include a handful of dogs from elsewhere (Finland, Canada, Austria, Czechoslovakia, Hungary and Argentina) and found no significant genetic difference.

That said, I can see nothing to be lost by the Bulldog peeps in the UK getting together to donate blood to a further study to see if there is any more genetic diversity in the UK population. Perhaps this is something the KC could help fund?

Professor Pedersen is doubtful that there is much more diversity to be found - but says he would welcome such a move.

"We have done genetic diversity testing on a number of other breeds and have found in every instance that we could identify over 90% of the known diversity with as few as 50-150 dogs," he says. "The more genetically diverse a breed, the more individuals that have to be tested to encompass the existing diversity and the less diverse a breed, the fewer individuals that need to be tested. We are confident that we have identified most of the existing genetic diversity of the English bulldog, but welcome a much wider screening of dogs around the world to identify small bits of diversity that might remain to be discovered.

However, Professor Pedersen disputes the KC's claims that its research showed that Bulldog might be seeing a "modest replenishment of genetic diversity which may be through the use of imported animals"...

He says:

"The [2015 paper by Tom Lewis] confused inbreeding with genetic diversity. The author concluded that dog breeders in the UK have been doing less inbreeding over the last two decades than in the previous decades. The conclusion was that this caused an increase in genetic diversity, when all that it said was that breeders were being more careful in selecting sires and dams that were as unrelated as possible. You cannot increase genetic diversity across a breed by stopping inbreeding because the amount of genetic diversity in any breed is fixed at the time the registry is closed to outside dogs. Therefore, every breed starts with a known amount of diversity and that diversity will either be maintained or diminished by artificial genetic bottlenecks such as inbreeding to a popular show winning sire. You cannot increase diversity of a closed breed without outcrossing. [Prof Pedersen's emphasis] Therefore, dog breeders in the UK are doing a better job maintaining the genetic diversity that currently exists in their breed by avoiding inbreeding, but they are certainly not increasing genetic diversity."

Indeed. And if the KC data shows otherwise it's likely because it only records 3-5 generations of pedigree info for imports, giving a false impression of unrelatedness.

Tom Lewis is a geneticist working with the Kennel Club. He was interviewed today by the BBC's World Service and, encouragingly, did not dismiss outcrossing out of hand. Have a listen here.

Will add more info/statements/responses as I get them so please keep checking back.

In the meantime, here's a clip from the discussion on BBC breakfast in the UK this morning accompanied with an ever-growing number of angry comments from Bulldog breeders and owners defending their breed. Just posted there is this comment from Dr David Sargan and the "brachy" research team at Cambridge University.

"My colleagues Jane Ladlow, Lajos Kalmar, Nai-chieh Liu, I myself, and others at the University of Cambridge have been working with breeders of UK bulldogs and other short faced breeds, doing both genetic and clinical analyses related to one specific problem, the respiratory distress that many of these dogs, (and dogs of other short-faced breeds) suffer from. Our findings agree with those published by Prof Pedersen and his colleagues in that there is little scope for breeding back to a less extreme skull shape whilst staying within the registered population. This is likely to be true of many other aspects of conformation and temperament as well, as we also find large regions without genetic variation in all dogs of the breed. We would agree that the extreme changes in the conformation and appearance (such as the excessive skin rolls in these breeds) do account for many of their disease problems. 

"Fortunately despite the similarities of appearance, not all dogs suffer from the respiratory disorder and although our studies are not yet complete we now have pretty strong evidence that there are still multiple genetic variations between those that do and those that don’t suffer from the disease. But we do not know whether this is also true for other aspects of conformation and appearance related diseases.  

"In summary, I believe that the swiftest way to remove these diseases would be to outbreed to a dog type that does not have to the same degree the conformational features that cause the health problems referred to in this programme. This would certainly be our group’s preferred option. But over the last few years there has been a lot of advice available directed at these health problems and attemting to reduce the popularity of these dogs. What there has not been is the expensive advertising campaign that could bring these problems to public notice. Without it the advice has not got through to the public. We are therefore looking at how we might reduce the problem more slowly by offering advice on how to breed for healthier dogs using the remaining genetic variation within the breed."

All well and good but the problem remains that brachycepahlia doesn't just result in respiratory problems.  There is a huge number of other consequences, including eye injuries, skin-fold issues and a mouth full of crowded, misaligned teeth that is a veterinary dentist's nightmare. Extremely unpleasant for the dogs, too. At the end of the day... we need dogs with longer muzzles.

• 14:30pm: strong press release from the British Veterinary Association.

Vets urge revision of breed standards to protect animal welfare

Following the release of new research data by Niels Pedersen from the Centre of Companion Animal Health, University of California, into breed health of the English bulldog, the British Veterinary Association (BVA) has issued the following statement:

Sean Wensley, President of the British Veterinary Association, said:
“The research released today reflects the seriousness of the health problems associated with English bulldogs that our members are seeing in practice. Revision of breed standards, to include evidence-based limits on physical features such as muzzle shortness, and full consideration of other approaches such as outcrossing, are now needed to ensure high risk breeds, such as the English bulldog, do not continue to suffer unnecessarily.

“Vets are reporting concerning trends in dog health and welfare linked to the rise in ownership of brachycephalic breeds, such as bulldogs, and we are unequivocal in the need for all those with roles to play – including vets, breeders, breed societies, the pet-buying public as well as others – to take action to combat the health problems that brachycephalic breeds experience due to extreme conformation. These issues include severe lifelong breathing difficulties, corneal ulcers, skin disease, a screw-shaped tail which is linked to painful spine abnormalities, and the inability to give birth naturally. As part of their pre-purchase research, prospective dog owners should consider the health harms perpetuated in dogs by purchasing brachycephalic breeds and choose a healthier alternative breed, or crossbreed, instead, and local veterinary practices are ideally placed to give this advice. Brachycephalic dogs should not be seen as cute or desirable, rather as dogs predisposed to a lifetime of poor health, and English bulldogs should not be hailed as a national symbol for the UK where animal welfare is strongly valued.

“Vets have a duty to always prioritise the best interests of their pet patients, which, for affected animals, can involve performing surgical procedures to correct conformational disorders.  They have a concurrent duty to be part of initiatives that aim to address the health and welfare of a breed beyond the individual affected animal. This is why BVA promotes the importance of vets submitting data on caesarean sections and conformation-altering surgery to the Kennel Club, to improve the future of dog health and welfare. We recognise and take seriously vets’ responsibility to develop and contribute to all such initiatives that aim to address the health and welfare of these animals and we will continue to work with all stakeholders who can positively influence and improve the health and welfare of brachycephalic breeds”