Saturday 28 July 2012

Out of sight, out of mind

In a move that isn't going to be the greatest surprise in the canine world, the Kennel Club announced yesterday that it has removed the Chinese Crested from the list of high-profile breeds singled out because of health and welfare problems.

This is a useful PR move for the Kennel Club which recently announced that the high-profile breed list is a two-way-street. ("See...look how quickly a breed can come off the list!"). And I see the move has been welcomed already out on the breeder fora.  But, actually, the addition of the breed to the HPB list was always a bit of an anomaly; added not because of conformation problems - but because of concerns raised on this blog and elsewhere regarding the denuding of these dogs with razors and depilatory cremes in order to make them conform to showring demands. The process can leave some dogs looking and feeling very sore.

Of course, breeders are still denuding the dogs. It's just that they're now doing it behind closed doors; not publicly on the benches - and, these days, they are more careful about presenting dogs that are obviously sore in the ring.

Why are they still doing it? Because showring fashion dictates that today's Crestie looks like My Little Pony - all flowing mane, tail and fetlocks - but bald elsehwere. Unfortunately nature rarely delivers such a dog.

So they fake it.

Today's Chinese Crested breeders have selected for hairier and hairier 'hairless' dogs in order to give them the requisite furnishings - and then they just remove the hair from the bits where they don't want it using electric and wet shavers and depilatory cremes.

What's wrong with that? Well in some cases they are removing a LOT of hair. Some of the dogs that you see naked in the show-ring would look like this if exhibitors allowed the hair to grow.

Here's what one American breeder, who has chosen to be honest about the process, describes as an "average" hairy-hairless in terms of natural body hair.

© Crestars Chinese Crested

"Some Chinese Crested Dogs come with a very decent furnishing with minimal body hair," she explains.  "The degree of thickness may also vary from thinner to thicker. Unfortunately they remain in the minority.  Unless there is a good reason to let the hair grow, most breeders will keep the hairy Chinese Crested shaved most of the time.  I am sure for most part; some breeders don’t even know just how hairy their dogs are because of the frequent routine grooming."

We've discussed the ethics of this here several times before and there's a diversity of opinion. Some think it's cheating. Crestie exhibitors in the main think it's just fine to do whatever it takes to make a dog look "good" for the showring. A few express concern about the loss of the original "true" hairless dog (there are still some to be seen in the show-ring, but they are very often beaten by their flashier, hairier cousins). Others believe that we shouldn't be breeding dogs with a mutation that leads not just to hairlessness, but very poor dentition; a mutation that is lethal in a double-dose.

While accepting that there are worse insults foisted on other breeds, I hate to see the videos on YouTube of very young puppies being wet-shaved or having their ears taped or glued to make them stand up correctly (something else Cresties often have to endure).

So what does the Kennel Club think?

Have a look at the wording in yesterday's release:
"The breed was added to the list in 2010, in light of welfare concerns about the shaving of some dogs for exhibition. The General Committee is satisfied that this issue is no longer of sufficient concern for the breed to remain on the HPB list."
A casual reader might think that the KC is satisfied that dogs are no longer being shaved for the showring. But of course that's not true.

What the KC is really saying is that Crestie breeders can do anything they like to their dogs; just don't leave any marks that would give those horrid critics any ammunition.

Indeed, the KC endorses the denuding of the Chinese Crested. There has been never been any public censure of the practice; no KC dispproval that the breed standard (for what it's worth) is being completely flouted by today's Crestie breeders.

The KC's Breedwatch which highlights points of concern for judges states merely: "Clipper rash or burns caused by shaving." Not "dogs shaved to look like true hairless when they are not". 

Absens haeres non erit.

See also:

The bald truth about the Chinese Crested 

Breeding dogs for intentional defect (Terrierman)

Thursday 26 July 2012

PDE blog - over a million pageviews

I started this blog in November 2010 and today,  243 posts and 8955 comments later, the blog has passed the million pageviews milestone. Amazing!

To mark the occasion, here's a snapshot of the statistics so far - audience, traffic sources, most popular posts and so on (click to enlarge). Interestingly, although the first screengrab below shows that overall UK visitors outnumber US visitors, in recent months, US visitors have outnumbered UK visitors.  This month for instance, the blog has seen 18,000 American visitors compared to 16,000 from the UK.

Thank you to everyone who has contributed - in agreement or not. You have all helped keep the issue alive and debated, something which was always, and still is, the aim of the blog. 

I have learned a lot along the way and hope others have, too.

Ah, and apologies for the lack of posts recently. I have been particularly busy with other stuff... but have a host of half-written posts waiting to be finished and uploaded, including posts on the Swedish Dog Health Workshop, two interesting developments from the Dog Advisory Council, the new voice of the Canine Alliance, and why some DNA tests should come with a health warning...

Here's to the next million!

Sunday 22 July 2012

Who's Your Daddy - Take Two

Three weeks ago, APGAW (Associate Parliamentary Group for Animal Welfare ) published an update to its damning 2009 report into pedigree dogs. (Link to both reports here).

It found, like Pedigree Dogs Exposed - Three Years On, that there had been some progress, but that there was more to be done. It also made several specific suggestions for further improvements by way of an Action Plan.  This week's Dog World features the KC's response, which systemtically trashes most of APGAW's suggestions.

There is also a lot of whinging about how unfair it is that KC breeders are being picked out in this way with so many unregulated breeders getting off scot-free.  I have never been able to understand this argument - a bit like arguing that a VW dealership should not have to provide a quality service because there are so many mickey-mouse garages providing a sub-standard product. You know, you really can't maintain that your "primary objective is the general improvement of dogs" and then complain when someone calls you to account on it.

Now, in truth, I didn't agree with all of APGAW's points, and thought the KC response to some were reasonable. APGAW, for instance, recommended that all dogs were health-checked before they entered the show-ring and I don't think that's practicable. And it also recommended that any breeder that produces three or more litters a year should be licensed (it's currently five or more) and I think that is both overkill and unworkable.

But the KC's resistance to APGAW's concern that the breed standard changes have not gone far enough was derisible: Dog World reported that the KC says that "it should be remembered that a breed Standard influences only those who breed pedigree dogs under the KC’s umbrella, and therefore changes to the Standards would have no impact on those who breed irresponsibly ‘as they have no relevance to this sector of the dog breeding community".

Piss-poor deflection. Really.

And there was one that made my jaw hit the floor - the KC's response to this section of the APGAW update:

There was also a lot of support for a limit on the number of matings permitted for each sire to allow registration. Currently the KC has a limit of 4 litters per bitch but no limits on sires. Other organisations feel there should be some sort of upper limit set even if it starts at a high number to prevent reducing the gene pool. The KC is wary of doing this as its view is that if the sire has been health checked and can produce disease free offspring it is better that it be allowed to continue siring rather than unhealthy sires being used. There is currently work being done on this, on a breed by breed basis, to ensure that if a limit was to be put in place it would be done based on scientific information to ensure it does not worsen any genetic disease issues. This work should be expedited to prevent the overuse of specific highly sought after sires that risk shrinking the gene pool further as health checking a sire will not detect recessive genes that may only become apparent once he has bred with certain bitches.

Now of course it isn't just APGAW and its respondents that have expressed concern about popular sires. It's just about every geneticist/conservation biologist on the planet. The need for some limits is a complete no-brainer.

So what was the KC's response?

"We would not support the suggested limit on the number of matings permitted for each sire to allow registration, as we maintain there is no reason why sires who have been health checked and can produce disease free offspring should be restricted from breeding.”
For goodness sake. Have you understood nothing about why popular sires are such a huge problem? Have you really just sat there and either not read the science or have you made a conscious decison to wilfully and irresponsibly ignore it? Do you not understand that the overuse of popular sires is one of the main reasons that some breeds are in so much trouble? Have you not - actually - read what you yourselves (or more likely the AHT on behalf of the KC) have written on Mate Select:

"Inbreeding arises in small, genetically isolated or closed populations, like pedigree breeds, because all members of the breed trace back to a small number of founders and over the generations they become more and more related to each other. Inbreeding thus accumulates over time and this is a natural, unavoidable, process in closed populations. Certain events such as genetic bottlenecks and selection can, however, accelerate the rate of inbreeding. Bottlenecks occur when a limited number of individuals contribute to future generations, for example, popular sires will have more offspring than other individuals and will consequently have a higher chance of contributing their genes to subsequent generations.(my bolding)
Love the implication here, btw,  that because inbreeding is inevitable in isolated or closed population that it is somehow "natural" and "unavoidable" in dogs. It isn't. We've foisted closed gene pools on them; an entirely manmade construct. Inbreeding is something nature does its best to avoid or mitigate; the whole bleedin' basis of sexual selection, in fact. And you don't need to do it in dogs to maintain distinct breeds.

As reported recently in Dog World, KC Chairman Steve Dean admitted that the Club was under pressure to introduce limits and in the April issue of the Kennel Gazette had asked the breed clubs for their views on double matings - where two sires are used - as a means of maintaining genetic diversity. This is a technique already used by some breeders in small breeds and is certainly worth exploring. So to come out now with such nonsensical resistance is deeply depressing.

Let me spell it out again:

  • dogs are used at stud when they are young - too young, very often, for serious health problems to have manifested.  Every case of haemophila B in GSDs, for instance, can be traced back to one dog: Canto. Over-use a top dog at two, three, four years old, that then drops dead of something hideous at five and it's a disaster for the breed.
  • most dog health issues are caused by recessive genes. Let one dog sire too many of the next generation and, da-daa, those recessive genes meet up when those half-sibs and their descendants mate.
  • popular sires deplete an already depauperised gene pool. Dog breeds simply cannot afford this.
  • it doesn't matter how healthy that popular sire is. Reduced genetic diversity in and of itself leads to inbreeding depression - immune issues, fertility problems, lower litter sizes, reduced vigour.

It is almost impossible today to find a Flatcoat pedigree free of Shargleam Blackcap, who won Crufts in 1980. He had 252 puppies from 47 litters - a huge amount in what was then a small breed, leading to a lot of inbreeding in subsequent generations  - a combination that scientists believe has very likely contributed to the very high rate of cancer in the breed (cancer, of course is an immune problem).

As we showed in the sequel to Pedigree Dogs Exposed, the over-use of one top Boxer (894 puppies), combined with a lot of inbreeding, has very likely contributed to the spread of juvenile kidney disease in the breed.

Top GSD Zamp vom Thermados, the 2006 Sieger and BOB at Crufts in 2008, sired close on two thousand puppies before he died aged 8 of causes still undisclosed by his owners. His progeny currently flood the UK show scene.  The rumour is that Zamp died of bloat - a condition that is thought to be at least partly genetic. If true, you can expect bloat to feature as a more significant cause of death in the breed from now on.

Hungargunn Bear It'n Mind - "Yogi", the Hungarian Viszla that won Crufts in 2010 - sired over 500 puppies in a five year period - more than 10 per cent of Viszla pups registered during that period.  Yogi appears to be healthy, but the point is that if one dog sires too many puppies, it is almost impossible not to inbreed subsequently, with all the problems that this cause.

Bottom line, the Kennel Club urgently needs to revise its policy regarding popular sires and to start introducing both some broad guidelines and some breed-specific limits now. The FCI has had some measures in place for some time - one that would have only allowed Yogi to sire half the number of puppies that he did. And there are some kennel clubs (eg Finland and Sweden) that are particuarly proactive on this, both in exploring limits that go beyond the FCI's and in encouraging their breed clubs to introduce breed-specific limits. I also believe that many UK breeders do now understand why popular sires are a problem and would be happy to consider limits.

Honestly, to give out the message that there is nothing wrong in allowing a top dog to sire hundreds - and sometimes thousands - of puppies, has me shaking my head in total despair.

 Who's Your Daddy? (Take One)

Tuesday 10 July 2012

Dutch dogs 1922

Click to go to archive site

Fascinating footage this, from a dog show in Amsterdam in 1922.  As ever, I prefer most of the dogs from this time compared to their current counterparts, and many of the breeds are a revelation. I particularly love the Setters, which have so much more substance than the breed today and smaller, more natural heads.  Many of the dogs look more real to me. And as for the Boston Terrier... how amazing that they used to have so much muzzle.

Hook's Punch - the first AKC registered Boston Terrier
 More pictures of Bostons as they used to be here.

And a provocative post on today's Boston Terriers from Terrierman here.

My thanks to Alan Hedges for this link, which he posted last eve on the naughty Gossip Hound site (mainly UK dog show goss, so will have overseas visitors scratching their heads). He captioned it:
"film from 1922 in holland, seems lots of things haven't changed, although it appears film makers had integrity in those days. How times have changed in that area."

Now I normally don't rise to that kind of bait. I've learned that it's pointless as some breeders simply see Pedigree Dogs Exposed as free license to say anything they like about me for the rest of time, however rude and however loosely based on reality. But, stupidly, I responded on this occasion, commenting that the archive footage was surely evidence of how "dog breeders had integrity in those days and how times had changed in that area".   I was, rather clunkily, trying to point out that it was nonsensical to draw conclusions about either dog breeders' or film-maker's integrity from some archive reportage shots with no sound.  Hardly the height of witty repartee,  though, and realising it would probably backfire, I quickly deleted the comment and apologised.

I know. I should have known better.

Back came the following tirade from Mr Hedges.
"You have demonstrated you are not straightforward, or honest, and are generally pretty despicable. How does that sound for starters? You caused a lot of good people a whole lot of grief and I hope you get your share in due course. You are not fooling me in your "concern" about dogs. Its all about your career and no care as to who gets hurt along the way. I think you are a straightforward waste of good oxygen. I may know nothing about film making but I recognise when there is a bad smell on my shoe."
Bit between the teeth, Mr Hedges has now gone even further and made the untrue and damaging claim that we withheld medication from Boxer Zak in PDE in order to get the dog to fit for the cameras - a horrible rumour made up by someone and oft-repeated in the dog world (including by KC Chairman Steve Dean) by those who are determined to not let the truth get in the way of a good demonisation.

I understand Mr Hedges has launched something called the Dog Union as an alternative to the Canine Alliance.  I'd been told the DU might be a more interesting/level-headed/open-minded version of the CA.

Indeed, the Dog Union's Facebook page claims:

"The Dog Union... Working for the Health and Welfare of Dogs Through Negotiation not Confrontation."
Obviously not universally.

Wednesday 4 July 2012

Yesterday's dogues

Many thanks to Ann Cardon for sending me these pictures from a 1901 edition of the Windsor Magazine - part of an article entitled "A Connoisseur in Curious Pets" featuring a Mr H C Brooke of Welling in Kent.

The colourful Mr Brooke, who trained as a vet in Berlin,  kept foxes, polecats, wolves, a dingo, snakes, a leopard and several breeds of dog - including these Dogue de Bordeaux.

"I introduced that ancient and historic breed the Dogue de Bordeaux into this country with the help of Mr G R Krehl," reveals Mr Brooke. "But as the breed has been killed by the anticropping regulations of the Kennel Club, I have given up benching these valuable speciments. I admire them immensely, as I consider, next to the Tibet mastiff, the dogue is the grandest breed of all. I tested them at baiting a bear, and I know what they can do. I have also tried the dogue at a bull with excellent results."

I had no idea they used to look like this - and, as is so often the case, I prefer the dogs of yesteryear.  The pictures above show a stocky, powerful, but more athletic-loooking dog compared to the squatter, increasingly-brachycepahlic, more wrinkled dog you more usually see today. Indeed, you'd be hard-pushed to believe they are the same breed.

Let's take a closer look:


...and then
To check how typical these dogs were, I had a look at Pietoro's wonderful Historical Dog Breed site and found this picture of "Turc",  one of the very first Dogues to be imported into the UK dating from 1897:

This dog looks more like today's dogs (although longer-legged) but Brooke's dog "Sans Peur" (top pic) was a Champion (clearly shown, despite Brooke's irritation with the ban on ear-cropping - introduced in England in 1899).

I was particularly struck by the early dogs' nostrils... huge great pipes on all the dogs in the historical pix (and in old breed books, too).  And that, at least, would be a good thing to see in more of today's Dogues who often have stenotic nares that compromise breathing/temperature control on warm days, as I caused some uproar by mentioning in a blog about Dogues at Crufts four months ago.
Stenotic nares...

....wide open nostrils
I note that the KC's Breedwatch still doesn't list stenotic nares as an area of concern for the Dogue de Bordeaux. It would be good to see this added.

Mr Brooke, incidentally, was  keen dueller. "I have been and still am a great believer in the duel.... My own nose has been cut off and my skull splintered; the loss of several teeth from a cut is common but death is very rare. I have, however, seen death on the spot in the case of a sabre duel."

Now how about that as a way to settle those Facebook squabbles?