Friday, 8 February 2013

Sex for bulldogs

Fun, eh? 

A huge number of bulldogs are mated like this - and probably most of them in countries like the US where artificial insemination (AI) is more routine than it is in the UK due to the geographical distances and the fact that it is much easier to ship a syringe of semen than it is a whole dog. 

This is especially true for a the Bulldog whose physical shape so often prevents a natural mating. Even if it didn't, you'd have a tough job getting a Bulldog from one side of the States to the other  by anything other than a car. The breed is so susceptible to dying during air transit that many airlines have banned them. Most Bulldog bitches, therefore, have to endure this indignity - while Bulldog semen is also collected by human hand.

The Bulldog has just made the AKC Top 5 for the first time. It is a breed for which the average age of death in most half-decent surveys of the breed is  five years old - half the average of what most healthier breeds can manage. (In fact, the AKC figures probably reflect this necessary turnover to meet the demand.) 

It is a bloody disaster for these dogs.  Have a look at - and a listen to - this video of a Bulldog youngster in the US,  rather astonishingly sub-titled "Having Fun at the Yard".

Now will you please stop breeding them and buying them?

Everyone involved in the Bulldog business is guilty of causing unacceptable suffering - even if the dogs you produce personally are a bit better than this one. 

I was recently asked by an American dog person planning an outcross programme for one blighted breed why I was so against artificial insemination.  

The reason is that it circumvents natural sexual behaviour patterns that have developed as part and parcel that ensures survival of the fittest. 

“Human assistance not only tolerates but also encourages males that in nature would never stand a chance to mate,” say Johan and Edith Gallant, authors of SOS Dog: The Purebred Hobby Re-examined (now also available on Kindle in both English and German). “Of course such matings may produce the desired color, the chiseled head that one is after or improve on any of the external features described in the breed standard, but the chances that it is instrumental in improving mental stability and true canine behaviour is remote.

"[It] brings two individuals together that most likely would not mate under natural conditions, the offspring that they produce are in fact contrary to nature and improvement of the breed concerned. When we are faced in modern dogdom with an endless list of complications in canine reproductive behaviour and with general behavioural disorders, their origins can be found to a large extent in human-induced mating, which in many cases has been applied over consecutive generations."

In the wild, it is usually the females who choose their mates. This is certainly true for the wolf, with whom our dogs share a common ancestry. And as nature favours the fittest/most adaptable, the females choose the most able and – it has been shown – often the most genetically diverse (i.e less related) mate. This is not something that can always be ascertained from a co-efficient of inbreeding which gives only a statistical measure of relatedness. 

In reality, individuals can be much more or less genetically similar due to the genetic deck-shuffling that happens with every generation. It is thought, for instance, that female wolves are able to distinguish between two brothers - on paper identically related; in reality not. This may be a critical mechanism in ensuring the survival of closed, isolated populations in the wild - and also in dogs which are artificially isolated by us wishing to preserve individual breeds.

Of course, I’ve heard dog breeders maintain that alpha male wolves mate with their daughters, but this is rarely the case. That’s because female wolves do not come into oestrus until two years old and often do not raise their first litter until they are four or five. By this age, their father is very likely to have been deposed by a younger, stronger, unrelated successor from another pack who has challenged and won the right to reproduce.

Now dogs are not wolves, even if genetically so very similar. It is obvious by some bitches’ utterly flagrant flirting that they can be shameless hussies compared to wolves, who often pair for life. But, still, bitches often do show a preference and we should show some respect for this where we can - as, indeed, some enlightened breeders already do. The bitch may know something about the mate that you have chosen for them that makes him an unwise choice.  And, believe me, she does not care how many fancy titles he may have if she doesn’t think he cuts the mustard.

“Bitches don’t like breeding down to lesser dogs,” says Don Turnipseed, an American breeder of hunting Airedales who allows his bitches freedom of choice .  “The dogs have more sense than people in this case”.

Artificial insemination circumvents another of nature’s safeguards too – the demanding journey sperm has to embark on in order to be the one that fertilises the ovum; a journey that so efficiently weeds out the weaklings.  

Of course, there are occasions where AI is justified – particularly if is to bring in some new blood from a valuable line from another country. But it should always be done with great care and only when both parties have already proved that they can reproduce naturally – as, indeed, is the current sensible Kennel Club requirement. 


  1. My personal rules on AI. (I breed a rare working breed in which the stud I want may be a continent away, and puppies sell rather cheaply.)

    1. Bitch or dog, the animal has to have produced a litter naturally before being considered for AI.

    2. The AI can't be an effort to address a problem conceiving/engendering. If the pair can't breed, or the bitch can't conceive, without technical intervention, then she isn't meant to.

    3. AI only to bridge great distances of space or time. (As when an exceptional stud is more than two days driving away, or has passed on and persists in the deep freeze.)

    4. Great scrutiny on the possibility for AI to create an unhealthily large splash in the gene pool for a given stud. (In our breed, same as for many natural breedings, since we have a small population.)

    That said, I've flown my seasoned bitch and myself across the North American continent in order to naturally breed to the dog I wanted in my program. Have not yet done an AI.

    1. Great rules--I plan to adopt them myself if/when I ever breed.

    2. One question: If you breed working dogs, why do you need another dog of the same breed? Are there no other dogs nearer by that can get the job done and thereby would be suitable as stud?

  2. Unless the KC has changed its rules recently on AI it does not allow AI where the stud is resident in the UK, unless, curiously, the dogs are Irish Wolfhounds.
    It has tho' changed the rules on bitches recently.

  3. You are aware, of course, that the KC won't register puppies conceived by AI where both dog and bitch are resident in the UK.

  4. Thank you for the clarification David and Mary. Interesting re the Wolfhounds - didn't know that!

  5. For information:

  6. They also have '(AI)' listed after their name in show results.

  7. This relies on the honesty of the breeder of course. And clearly UK Bulldog breeders are not being very honest.

    1. You can't blame the KC for that! ;)

  8. Jemima, I hope you mean stop breeding the bulldog in this breed standard, and not ending the bulldog all together.. I hope I'm not miss understanding you.

  9. I agree on every point, except one. This goes into another topic, but I feel it is a good time as ever to talk about it here, as I think it does matter ultimately, on how we treat the ethical manipulation of genetic generations in nature.

    Dogs are wolves. Specifically, grey wolves. This is by a purely technical classification though, and it is obvious that our meddling has given it a tremendous transition into something new.

    Still, wolves are the same species, with dogs simply being domesticated wolves, and can breed very successfully with many types of dogs that are still healthy directly and genetically, baring the extreme deformities of bulldogs along with toy dogs, that make mating and birthing physically impossible, not even counting social unlikelihood.

    This is the same with basically ALL domesticated animals. The difference is that we named wolves different. Modern farm sheep, chickens, cows, etc; are all still the same species as their wild counterpart, just with a different shape and attitude.

    They have been physically altered to suit our wants and needs in food and clothing production, and in the case of wolves along with a few other species like cats, hunting partners and companionship.... At least initially. Today, its more like for amusement taken to the stage of national-grade fashion designing, with the clothing and make-up equaling gene breeding.

    It seems like I'm contradicting myself, but I think that is the point, its in a grey area where scientists are still in a huge argument with each other, over what defines a species, and sub-species, from one another. These include dictionaries, which most have a hard time applying specifics, and seem to contradict each other when looking closely.

    I myself, have chosen a genetically loose criterion, that matches technical definition. As long as they can physically breed healthy offspring, I feel them to be the same. Its just that humans are the exception, in that we are extremely similar genetically, as we were forced into a social bottleneck while all else died. And that therefore, in our view, if species populations aren't similar enough, in relative similarity to how we see ourselves, then they must be different species. (cont. in reply)

  10. (cont. from previous post) I feel that logic to be wrong. They are wolves and should be treated as wolves first, domestication second, breed third, and individual dog last.

    Nature has had millions of years to perfect health and prevent genetic trash from leaking in, and I feel that the closer we get back on track to using (though not necessarily with wolves directly) them as a map back to Grade A standard breeding. GSDs and Huskies of all breeds come to mind. They have very little skeleton deformations and keep some social traits that wolves have, namely howling and pack-leadership.

    In fact, the original GSD breed makers considered it a great idea to put some wild wolf blood in them (thankfully they were wise enough not to put too much). And if it weren't for the bullshit breeders today making them frogs, they could be the model of breeding done right throughout most/all generations.

    If there is one thing KCs have done right though, it is the second road map, being domestication. Most dogs are bred to be obedient and have evolved to the point that our eye signals can tell pups where the food is in which cup, along with knowing their name along with many other commands if trained right.

    That is a very crazily awesome thing when you consider what they came from, especially today when wild wolves are so shy of humans now (and rightfully so, as we've killed almost a 100% of their populations the world over, for those that weren't smart enough to be shy).

    Only after these two models of wolf near-genetic-perfection of health and body, and domestication of loving, tamed, and brain expanding power, can we move on to making breeds that we can play with genetically, to suit our desires.

    No bullshit with flat faces, no tightened airholes, no bulging eyes that might fall out, no sizes like that of horses (with bones/spine/muscles/heart being crushed), no c-sections needed to give birth or injections to impregnant..... A LOT LESS DISEASES OF EVERY SINGLE KIND. Good Lord, it kills me to what we've done to these once elegant creatures we have so revered in lore and myth.

  11. Did my comment get sent? Or is the approval wait list just that long? I'm saying this a total unsarcastic way, as it took quite an amount of time to write it all.

  12. Apologies for delay in posting comments... my laptop playing up yesterday which meant I was unable to publish 'em.

  13. I'd like to comment on how dogs ( females) may be able to smell healthy, strong DNA. Nothing remotely scientific behind my argument, purely anecdotal and my perception:

    I used to own Bernese Mountain Dogs ( males), a breed not exactly renowned for longevity. The average lifespan is given as 7.5 years. The cause of their premature death is mostly cancer ( histio) deemed to be polygenetic. last Berner boy, unlike any other, was a babe magnet, par excellance. Without exaggeration, if I had a pound for every time a brazenly hussy bitch literally threw at him, I'd be a rich gal. More astoundingly, however, was that the same bitches totally ignored my other male...and even showed her teeth at any other interested male coming along. Consistently.

    When he was young, I just laughed and said he clearly must have Brad Pitt's sex appeal. But as he got older, and then old and bitches STILL ruthlessly flirted with him, I couldn't help but wonder whether they could somehow smell, or in any other way know that he would pass on strong genes.

    He died just under 13, which is old for a Berner. And he was a astoundingly healthy, vibrant, youthful dog until literally a couple of weeks prior to his death. Which made me convinced that those brazen girls somehow DID know that he would be a great sire.

    To my boy's disgust I never allowed him to take up the advances of the flirtatious females. In hindsight, whilst is a pity and likely short sighted.

    Since then I am convinced that, possibly, the most beneficial and productive way for a breeder to maximimise health and longevity in her line and breed, would be to line-up a whole bunch of suitable males in front of her bitch and to say " ok, Honey, now pick one! "

    I fully realise that this is never going to happen, unpractical, ect, etc. Yet, I am certain that any bitch would pick infinitely better than any breeder EVER could. Healthier, stronger, more resilient offspring would follow.

    In lieu, we are running in circles. And A I simply can't be the best way forward.

  14. Thanks for sharing.. fab story!

    Although no doubt someone will be along soon to tell me about the disastrous choices made by their bitch when given the chance!


  15. I don't disagree with the content of this post whatsoever--ever since reading "Can The Bulldog Be Saved?" in the NY Times, I've been sensitive to the problem of over-breeding---but I do have a minor quibble regarding natural selection.

    One of the biggest myths about evolution is that its purpose is to create a stronger / faster / bigger / better / healthier / more perfect organism. However, genetic variation is random. True, beneficial traits usually emerge in the long-term while less desirable traits become extinguished, but it's not part of some greater plan that evolution has up its sleeve; populations change over time and generally the individuals who can best adapt to and reproduce in certain environments start out-reproducing others of their kind. So to say that "Nature has had millions of years to perfect health and prevent genetic trash from leaking in" is rather erroneous, as it implies consciousness on the part of Nature and also uses the qualifier perfect. Evolution is not trying to make a more perfect creature. After all, many less adaptable or less genetically fit animals go on to reproduce, just not in the same quantity.

    That said, I agree that humans, canines, and other animals are naturally loathe to mate with kin (with good reason!) and the breeding practices forced onto breeds like bulldogs are grotesque. Anyway, here's hoping that the breeding of bulldogs becomes more humane and healthy sometime in the near future.

    1. I understand what you're saying, and whole-heartedly agree. However, what I wrote was simply a brief one-liner summarization of what evolution does in the long-term. Those with directly horrible features, like blindness, hard breathing, diabetes, etc, will not likely reproduce, and therefore have a chance to pass on their unhealthy traits. This can work in reverse though, as for example coyotes, (which can be argued to still be of the same species too) were and still are a lot more successful, not because of a more healthy body, but because they died faster!

      They bred like a swarm, and food is limited. The faster and more that died, the more meat is available for the rest. That is why hunting has been so ineffective against them, despite what hunters say. They are only culling the excess that aren't needed. This is in direct contrast with wolves, who mature slower and have less pups per litter.

      My point is that evolution, even in chaos (of good or bad selection), is still far better than what we are doing now, which is letting so much inbreeding happen, having the sick allowed to mate, and letting ones with horrible attributes continue down the generations. That is why I suggested that we don't directly need to use wild wolves to put back some good genes in, which would be a terrible idea on a macro scale, as it would push back the domestication we've done for the last thousands of years.

      My overall summary I believe is true though, in that only the fit survive per long-term, and that therefore their body should be a general model to see what is right about them compared to say a pug with its flat-faced bulging eyes and chicken-sized bones with barely a tail.

    2. I wholeheartedly agree that letting nature take its course overwhelmingly results in a genetically healthier creature. I just wanted to point out that evolution is not a controlled or perfect process, and that many organisms have extraneous physical features or a quality (e.g. a panda's diet) that may comprise their long-term survival in a changing environment.

      However, what has happened with pedigree dogs is just beyond the pale. And I think the solutions are a lot simpler than bringing wolves back into the equation! Dogs have plenty of genetic variation, but often it isn't within registered breeds unfortunately.

    3. I'm not sure what you're saying at the end. I even explained the moderation of putting wild wolf genes in, or not at all, and that their body is just a general model of something done right. (in fact, sometimes even advancing a cause, like do to pack's complex strategies needed for survival, their brains are considerably larger) It is nice for it to be in, in certain scenarios, like with making GSDs, who are therefore incredible police dogs, but it is hardly required.

      Lets take out the "wildness" attribute out and say they were just generic dogs. As those generic dogs, they would have the greatest amount of purity-per-selection process of truly the fittest(baring unusual cases), and they are largely undefiled from today's breeders, yet have a specific gene-set that can be identified as a unique breed without hybrids (mostly).
      Because of the severity of abuse of inbreeding in modern breeding, and the convoluted bloodlines that have therefore resulted, it is getting ever-rarer to find truly healthy pure-breeds that are virtually free of any defects. In fact, I haven't found one dog breed, where they do NOT have a breed-defining disease of some kind. They always have something that shows up above the average of non-pedigree dogs. Even if one pure-breed dog doesn't have the illness, doesn't mean they won't carry it to the next generation. And so it accumulates, as we've seen for the last two decades, where medical bills go through the roof.

      On your statement though, I agree, in that wild wolves are not 'needed' in the equation at all. Mixed strays that find homes are far more healthy and genetically diverse, and they have largely all we need to inject good attributes that prevent cancer among other things. But realistically, the modern breeder would never ever do this, because they are "un-pure mongrels" in their eyes, just a fleshbag made of gene mud and trash without any "elegance", as if their meddling is far better than nature. (Obviously though, even chaos is better than intentional corruption.)

      Wolves are seen as mythical graceful creatures though, and have attracted breeders before many times. Unfortunately, I cannot say this is a good thing, as capitalism, in this case, fosters irresponsibility, as people want a dog that is "part-wolf" just for the novelty. You can see where this leads, as the half-domesticated wolf is confused by its own brain, and has a handler that doesn't know crap about how to take care of its habits, instincts, and the financial investments involved.

      We've heard it all before, where, like puppy mills, these dogs are sold to the uninformed public for vast profits, often with lies, saying they are "75% wolf", when its only "8.75%" (since the sellers obvious don't want to deal with the cost of high maintenance wild wolf parents), so buyers that are successful in training them claim that they did so easily, when its just domestication at work, not them.

      So as you can see, both wolves and "mongrels" have considerable hurdles to overcome. I would bet on crossbred dogs leading though. As they can still be considered "pure", since the mixing is more easily documented, along with still being seen as "elegantly" made from their hands, instead of chaotic nature. They are hardly ideal themselves though, as they can largely keep the negatives of BOTH sides, and have a horrible experience. Still, the diversity outweighs this, as it is a million times better than the inbreeding.

    4. Just to add, in modern times, wild wolves have been forced into an extreme bottleneck, thanks to our genocide against them, they are actually very inbred now, and although restoration has cured some of it, it is still in a budding stage. That said, wolves inbreeding hardly compares to the man-made pure-breeds, especially pedigree dogs, with multiple consecutive generations of only a few dozen individuals at most (mostly from already inbred studs).

      Ironically, I'd want to count coyotes as the main source of potential dog breeding injects, as truly only the fittest and cautious survive, along with their vast numbers, makes them incredibly diverse. But like I said before, they actually would die quicker in the long-term, since their body ages faster, do to their own evolution favoring it.

      If I had my own utopian way, limitless power, I'd simply look at every single wolf, pure-breed dog, mutt, coyote, or any other reproductive canid, and pick only the smartest, loyal, long-lasting, resilient, healthy-bodied, athletic, disease-resistant, trainable canines out there. I care not where they are from, what they are defined as technically within biology, or what gene-family they're parents are from, or what they are perceived as (be it a stray that everyone considers an unwanted failure, or the most elegant creature we've seen).

      And then, would I finally see a true model of breeding done so very right, where I could say "This truly is man's best friend, and is made and treated as the creature that they deserve to be for their help to us, in our loneliest moments".

      True, they could already be our "best friend", but I don't think we have made them what they deserve to be, as the relationship I feel is very one-sided. There is only one unrelinquished love to another, not a friendship involving a crossing of dedication from both.

      Instead we have shrunken their brain size, destroyed their bodies, lowered fertility, tossed them into the streets, used them as fashion-pin-ups, ego-boosters, and novelty toys. Many don't put in the effort to exercise them, treat them like a best friend back, or read guides on how to communicate with them. Many overlook by our indifference, in how puppy mills are horrible to support, how manipulated they are in every single form of the word, just for our sadistic enjoyment and profit.

      But it is a dream to think this would all be fixed, along with my idea of a perfect form for the canine. I can't think of any easy answer to all this.

  16. Sexual selection based on female preference has apparently resulted in evolution going off in some extreme, and not so viable, directions. There's good evidence that dogs have much, much better chemoreceptors than humans, and it is possible that females can scan for better genes. But it is far from proven that they do so...or that genetic fitness is at the top of the list when they select mates. Until there is strong evidence to the contrary, I think breeders will do better to select mates based on the best health data available, pedigree analysis to avoid inbreeding, and factors such as temperament and intelligence, tha affect the dogs ability to perform a certain role.

    1. Can you give any examples of female preference that has resulted in evolution off in extreme, non viable, directions, Jennifer?

      I think my advice would be to draw up a shortlist based along the lines of the criteria you suggest plus traits you're looking for and then allow some mate choice from that point.


  17. All I can say at the moment is, I hope the bulldog dog breeders pull their heads out of their bums and smell the fresh espresso. They really need to work together and improve the breed standard for the sake of the breed's future. How many times do we have to say this?. Is it too much to ask to lessen the extreme exaggerations, breed towards more athletic body shape, and give bulldogs a muzzle with wider nose nostrils and have indication that they have more comfortable breathing?, possibly more muzzle?. Apparently it is, for these extreme breeders.

  18. More mastiff qualzucht:

  19. Jemima, the extinct Irish Elk, who had huge antlers, and the long tail of the male peacock are both said to have gotten their extreme form from females choosing the most extreme males.

    Having seen peafowl mate, I am not so sure. The spots on the peacocks tail feathers look like eyes. Being a ground feeder, peahens tend to hide by freezing still while lying down, hoping to not be seen. The male might be using his tail to induce this freeze response.

    And the Irish Elk are extinct so who knows what role the females played.

    But I did have a female dog who refused the males of her own breed, then ran over to a male of a different breed. So there seems to be females who would rather stay a virgin then mate with any of several males, but who will happily select their own partner if given a wider choice.

    Looking at so very very many breeds, I will say that it seems the female dogs simply could not have made worse choices than their human breeders, and the female dogs might have made far better choices. But then pulling the name of the sire out of a hat [random selection] would have done better than show breeder choice too, and preserved gemetic variability too.

  20. "By this age, their father is very likely to have been deposed by a younger, stronger, unrelated successor from another pack who has challenged and won the right to reproduce."
    Actually, by this age, they disperse looking for unrelated males to start new packs with. Generally not as far as their brothers, but certainly far enough from their father, who is either fine, dead, or "deposed" (or should I rather say "retired"?) in favour of an unrelated immigrant after their mother died.