Thursday, 6 January 2011

Fitness tests for the unfit fifteen

KC puts a lid on the Basset's baggy eyes. Ish...
In the face of continued strong criticism about the state of some breeds, and in response to campaigners who have long argued that the show-ring must reward something other than looks, the KC announced today that, from 2012, fifteen troublesome breeds must pass a vet-check before they will be awarded the big prizes. 

It is, of course,  astonishing to anyone outside the wierd world of dog shows that animals with obvious health problems could ever win. But it's a depressing fact that dogs that are lame, have sore eyes, skin problems and even breathing issues are sometimes rewarded by judges. This is sometimes because the health issue is so ubiquitous in the breed that judges no longer see it as abnormal (red and baggy eyes in Bassets and Bloodhounds, for instance), or because the judge believes that "type" (the essential "essence" of a breed as defined in the breed standard) in some way over-rides a corneal ulcer or obvious respiratory distress.

The KC announcement seeks to address this, and also - significantly - is designed to distance the KC from the damage that these breeds continue to do to the KC's reputation because of the fodder they provide to critics like me.

“The majority of people involved in showing dogs, including the 15 high profile breeds, are doing a good job in moving their breed forward and many judges are ensuring that health is paramount when they judge. This work should be applauded and recognised," says KC Chairman Ronnie Irving.

“Sadly though, a few judges in some breeds simply can’t or won’t accept the need to eliminate from top awards, dogs which are visibly unhealthy. Neither we who show dogs, nor the Kennel Club which must protect our hobby, can reasonably allow that state of affairs to continue."

In other words... It's them, sir, not us! Pretty outrageous, really, given the role the KC has played in the development of all these breeds - analagous to Henry Ford blaming a deathly fault in the Model-T on the workers that built it.

The 15 breeds are: Basset Hound, Bloodhound, Bulldog, Chow Chow, Clumber Spaniel, Dogue de Bordeaux, French Bulldog, German Shepherd Dog, Mastiff, Neapolitan Mastiff, Pekingese, Pug, Shar-Pei, the St Bernard and - da-daa - the Chinese Crested. I'll be demanding all the credit/blame for the inclusion of this last one as it was me who drew the KC's attention to the fact that breeders are resorting to ridiculous means to ensure their dogs are entirely free of hair in all the right places.

Still,  I'm not getting too excited. The vet checks are being done by KC-appointed show-friendly vets, not an independent group appointed by the British Veterinary Association. One of these, Andreas Schemel (seen right), is a breeder, judge and staunch defender of the right to breed pugs with ridiculously flat faces. What he would consider normal in brachycephalic breeds such as the pug, peke and bulldog is likely to be entirely different to a vet operating outside of the KC bubble.

Finally, it is only 15 breeds and there's nothing in the new initiative to stop a dog with a non-visible hideous genetic problem from winning rosettes and then (as we saw in Pedigree Dogs Exposed) going on to sire the next generation of sick pups. And why on earth do we have to wait another year before obviously sore, lame, squinting and gasping dogs are barred from being awarded prizes?

As one commentator on the Dog World reporting of the announcement this morning opines: "Listen to my one hand clapping."


  1. Shame it had to come to this for the Chinese Crested, but I'm glad to see there is a glimmer of hope now for the naturally hairless. If people can't police themselves, someone has to do it for them. A wake up call. If the KC apponted Vets let too much slide, and challenges are made to those 'oversights' perhpas the KC will then appoint outside Vet agency . One can only hope. I really wish the AKC would do something similar here in the US.Far too many breeds have lost thier ability to do the jobs they were bred to do and far too many have lost primary breed traits at the hands of the Show breeders.Do I show? Yes, now mostly Obedience because my dogs conform to breed standard rather than ring trend.I hate politics and refuse to practice creative grooming (shaving, dye jobs, wigs, ect) At least Obedience is honest and based on hard work and a bond between dog and handler- Lyn B

  2. Andreas Schemel has also admitted he feels it's 'naive' to take the Crested standard seriously for hairlessness since ring fashion prefers heavy furnishings:

    Judges who openly wave off the standard or soundness of breeds for fashion's sake are the main cause of many of the problems with dog shows today.

  3. Jemima, I struggle to follow your motives at times. There's part of me that wants to believe you are a true campaigner for better health by better breeding practices and better information....and yet you consistently take cheap shots at the very people who will actually be on the front lines of making this happen.

    Your remark about the ''weird'' world of dog shows highlights once again that you actually have no respect for the breeders who devote their lives to breeding healthy, beautiful stock.

    You would have people believe that it is common to see sickly, inherently ill animals winning in the ring, which is quite simply not true.

    I am starting to think you are on a mahoosive ego trip, titillated each time a discussion breaks out over a photo you post or ''bad guy'' you name and shame.

    If you are about trying to help people make better puppies, then that's one thing. But please don't make this a witch hunt on the dog show fraternity.

  4. I wonder if main governing body over veterinarian in the UK has any power over their professional members who knowingly misrepresent science to promote things like extreme brachycephaly in pugs.

    It seems to me that this would be some sort of breech of professional ethics-- or maybe the governing body hasn't thought of it.

  5. Let's face it .. it will never be "good enough" for this blogger.. if it were.. what could she possibly write about.. it is called "create a crisis". I wonder how many litters this blogger has whelped.. how much hands on experience she has actually has with dogs other than some rescues and "growing up with dogs"
    Jemima.. ever think about becoming a judge yourself.. that way you could weed out all of the problems you continuously rave on about all by yourself.
    How about attending vet school? It is never too late for a new career

  6. Congratulations, Jemima! No PDE and this would never have happened. Also, well done KC! Yes, it´s a first step only, and maybe it will be a rather small step when it comes to practicalities, all depending on which vets are chosen and how seriously they take their job...
    But still: it does give people a hint of what they have thr right to expect. NOT treatment-sore skin! NOT hideously wobbling, funny-backed GSD:s accepted as the normal thing! NO basset bellies and ears dragged on the ground any more!
    Just as I believe that every time disfigurement is accepted and praised , it stretches our tolerance of similar distortion of all breeds - so I believe that every time there is non-acceptance, it will right our perception of what is normal a little.
    Yes, there are lethal genetic traps that will not be visible in the ring, SM in a young Cavalier for instance. But that can´t be a good reason for NOT throwing out the visible madness, can it?

  7. Congratulations, Jemima! No PDE and this would never have happened. Also, well done KC! Yes, it´s only a first step, and perhaps it will turn out to be rather a small step too, when it comes to practicalities - that would depend on which vets are chosen and on how seriously they take their job.
    But just as I believe that every time disfigurement is accepted and praised, it stretches our tolerance for similar distortion in other breeds, I also believe that every time there is a stop and a limit to it in one breed, it will right our perception of what is acceptable just a little. NO treatment-sore skins accepted here! NO hideously wobbling GSD:s! NO basset ears and bellies dragging on the ground in this show... will signify that we shouldn´t tolerate it anywhere else either.
    Yes, of course there are even lethal genetic traps that will not be visible even to a vet, like SM in a young Cavalier. But that is no reason why the perfectly visible madness shouldn´t be thrown out, is it?

  8. . One of these, Andreas Schemel (seen right), is a breeder, judge and staunch defender of the right to breed pugs with ridiculously flat faces."
    says the blogger

    excuse me // can you substantiate this comment?
    Amazingly he is a trained veterinarian.. unlike you.. and still you maintain he would be a poor candidate as a veterinarian to "health test " dogs because he is a breeder and a judge.
    Now THAT is ridiculous

  9. Dogs In Training7 January 2011 at 01:19

    Regarding the Chinese Crested, as I read that blog post I couldn't get past the photo. My first thought was "well, no wonder!" when I read the dog's record. I had never in my life seen such a crested with such a stunning look about it. It was like a painting of the ideal hairless crested.

    It wasn't until I continued reading that I realized why it struck me so deeply - I had NEVER seen a hairless that hairy!! We have a lot of cresteds around where I live, and while I have never seen a true "hairy hairless" as shown in your photo, I've also never seen a true hairless. Every hairless I know has a certain amount of body hair, and most of the owners I know DO use electric beard shavers to keep the dogs clean shaven. Some do it for looks, other for cleanliness, one because otherwise the cat grooms the dog and it irritates his skin.. :OP

    Regardless, looking again at the photo, it is CLEAR that the dog is not a true hairless, and it is CLEAR that a judge of Cresteds would recognize this immediately!

    Regarding the veterinary inspections, what's to stop them from just pushing this one step further? Surgery to correct faults, plastic surgery, laser hair removal? There's already false testicles ready for the perfect dog who happens to only have one... how do we know how many nips and tucks a dog has had before it's seen by said veterinarian?

    Classic example, the Peke with the pallet surgery at Crufts. And that's before veterinary inspections were a necessity. What's next?

  10. Thank you for your tireless advocacy. My pug, LilyMunster, sends you her best. She has had eye surgery to make her eye openings smaller, and three procedures to resolve breathing issues. I even have the DVD from UCDavis proving her fame in the brachycephalic world! She had her nostrils enlarged, her larynx scraped, and almost a half-inch of soft palate removed SO SHE COULD BREATHE. I suggest the KC use the services of an UCDavis vet for health tests.

  11. As a trained vet his A to Z of pug health on the National Pug Dog Club is a little wishy washy.

    As a trained Vet Nurse I personally would add these;

    B = Brachycephalic obstructive airway syndrome
    H= Hemivertevrae
    P= Pug Dog encephalitis
    S= Scoliosis
    D= Distichia, Dry eye
    L= laryngeal collapse
    E= epilepsy, elongated soft palate

    I could go on......

  12. Sally, take your pug´s breeder to court. Kate, are you serious - laryngeal COLLAPSE? Why, and how does the dog survive it?

  13. Hi Bodil,
    extreme brachycephalics such as pugs and pekes have such flat faces that basically the nasoturbinate bones and nasal cavity are crushed. This hinders the normal gas exchange and cooling that longer muzzled dogs benefit from. If you couple this with the fact the soft tissues within (soft palate) are forced into a smaller space, it puts considerable strain on their ability to cool down. This is why brachy dogs find it difficult to cope with warmer temperatures.
    Many are also born with stenotic nares. The continual snoring and panting puts enormous strain on the soft tissues which eventually become stretched. This then leads to cartilage around the larynx to start collapsing in on itself making breathing even more difficult.
    Laryngeal collapse is graded from 1 to 3, the latter being the worst.
    Dogs with laryngeal collapse will need exactly the surgery Sally's poor pug has been through. From then on it's down to the owner to manage the condition. Keeping the dog slim, not over exercising etc.
    There is no cure.
    Next stage would be a permanent tracheotomy.

  14. Sally, thanks for clarification. I was aware of the first of the difficulties produced by the "crushed-face" look - upper airways in humans of course have the same function of cooling(or warming, as the need may be) and moistening air before it passes down the larynx, trachea etc. Must confess, though, that the prospect of laryngeal collapse never occurred to me.
    There is something in this I find hard to understand. If my dog had an accident resulting in an upper airway syndrome like this, people would question my ethics if by repeated surgery I tried to keep the dog alive with a chronic breathing problem. If I kicked my dog´s face in wilfully and produced the same, I would be in prison.
    But if I do it by genetic surgery, I am praised???

    Let´s have an end to this. Sally, I realize you know all about it by now. But before you bought your first pug, how much did you know? What were you told by the breeder and the breed club?

  15. Bodil
    I forgot to add that the newest technique used along with the above is a laser assisted turbinectomy to remove some of the nasal turbinate bones to lower air resistance.

  16. GRRRR...!!!

    Kate, I am happy to learn that veterinary surgical technique has progressed in a way that enables vets to help animals suffering from airway obstruction and respiratory distress. I am rather less happy to understand that resources and skills that should be used to compensate for accidents and disease in humans and animals are actually being used to correct very ugly consequences of normal anatomy being distorted. For what?
    For FUN!

    Has nobody tried to find a pro bono legal advisor to try cases like these before an Consumer´s Rights agency and/or a court of law?

  17. I am always curious why a person chooses a breed like a pug.. then complains when they have health problems that are easily found on the internet and in books.. and then someone suggests that they sue.. or at least consult a solicitor or bring the breeder up on some sort of "charges".. for what? When you have a child.. do you sue the husband or the wife.. the father or the mother when the child has a problem? Most people have children without ever being "tested' for anything so they are generally a genetic soup. What if both of the parents of the pug are health tested for everything under the sun.. and the dog still had problems?
    Buying a dog is an endeavor that needs careful thought.. if you buy a pug.. or peke or any other dog with a flatter face then you should know that you are getting a dog that has a semi flat face and deal with the problems yourself.. why is everyone so "sue happy" and unwilling to take the slightest responsibility for themselves and their choices?
    No one should question your ethic if you decide to keep your dog alive.. it is YOUR dog and as in many other things ie numbers of litters.. number of sections the owners choice as to number of surgeries to keep their animal live should not concern you

  18. Bodil I think most cases are not done for fun but to allow the dog to actually be able to carry on living. Having said that, I have read that in the USA, pugs have had their palates snipped as a matter of course when booked in for a routine neutering.
    I think its both a matter of educating both the puppy breeders (supply) and puppy buyers (demand).
    It's my own personal belief that educating the potential puppy buyer is VERY important.
    When someone chooses to take on a breed that by conformation alone is likely to be a higher maintenance breed, prone to certain possible problems etc, the breeder cannot be blamed entirely for the problems that occur. The puppy buyer should also agree that they have done enough research into the breed, and agree that they understand the potential problems that could occur. Of course the breeder must also ensure they have done all they can to provide the puppy with a long healthy life.
    But for breeds like the pug, this is where it becomes sticky. Many of their problems are purely conformation related and there are no recommended health tests, although the best breeders will xray for hemivertebrae, hip score and eye test.
    I guess with many of the 15 breeds, you either love them or hate them.
    Appointing a KC vet that must love extreme brachycephalics (pugs, Japanese Chins) and has also been a judge of them for many years, essentially agreeing with the standard, before and after it changed, could make people skeptical.
    I guess all he can do is his best on the day.
    But for me personally, although this step by the KC is a good one, it does make me think that the KC are just covering themselves against the embarrassment of poorly conformed dogs being exposed in the media.
    Maybe FURTHER and CLEARER changes to the breed standards are needed.

  19. Anon 00:12
    I for one have never contemplated taking my dogs breeder to court. I do not see the point.
    Before accusing people of taking no responsibility, read my last post 06:48.
    I hold my hands up very high in saying I made a bad choice of breed. I'll even give you a gun to shoot me down for being a vet nurse, as apparently I should therefore have known better.
    But where do all these accusations get us with regards to improving dog health?
    Rather than blame, try taking a bad situation and doing something positive even if it means taking the sarcastic and quite frankly unproductive comments along the way.
    I also admit to doing a hell of a lot more research into my breeds problems since she became ill which has made me conclude that they are much more prevalent than breeders, the breed club and Kennel Club would like to believe.
    Linking all this in with the original topic of this thread, as I feel we have somewhat gone off topic, I feel that this move by the kennel club is a good one but I can also only conclude it has been done because they know they are being watched.
    Why just those 15 breeds?
    Japanese chins have just as bad breathing in some cases as pugs.
    The only link I can see is that these are many of the breeds that Jemima has focussed on. So I put this positive move (among others) down to her work.
    Well done Jemima.

  20. It's funny, the looks I get when people ask me why my husband and I don't have children.

    We both have inheritable defects, as it were, and both of us are known carriers of several recessive defects.

    I always reply "If I were a dog, I'd be spayed already." Meaning, of course, that it would be morally improper of me (my opinion only of course!) to breed two such specimens knowing full well what the offspring would likely suffer from in the future.

    Sadly, it appears that my husband and I have more genetic concern over our own procreation than many dog breeders.

  21. Katie, sorry - I expressed myself badly, perhaps. I definityely did not mean that corrective surgery for breathing problems is done for the fun of it, oh no!
    I meant to say that "genetic surgery" - wilfully producing distortions of structures, like the upper airways, which have evolved over a very long period of time in order to permit the passage of temperate, properly humified air into the lungs - THAT is done for fun.
    I don´t think the pugs are amused.

    And not to victimize any one breeder, but yes, I am beginning to wonder about legal action. Repeat, if I smashed my dog´s face in so violently that it was left with a severly deformed face and chronic respiratory distress, I would be sentenced for it (and quite rightly, too). If I do it by other means, because it has become acceptable practice I might even find myself approved of -?

    Respiratory distress is respiratory distress whatever caused it. One single case of a court finding such breeding goals incompatible with the laws protecting animals might change things greatly - for many breeds.

    That said, of course I agree with what people have said about educating the puppy buyers. When poeple learn about the LUA Dalmatians, it will be rather difficult to keep selling the urate stone prone variety, won´t it?

  22. I know very few people who have genetic tests prior to undertaking breeding. Yet I know hundres of dog breeders who do just that. Dont assume that everyone is the same