Saturday 25 April 2015

Old English Dinosaur Club - update

A couple weeks ago, I reported on the Old English Mastiff Club's decision at its recent AGM to never-ever, not-in-their-lifetime-or-anyone-else's decision to refuse to recognise pied mastiffs - the piebald dogs that are occasionally born in purebred Mastiff litters. (See here)

The Club didn't give a reason - it stated simply:

"At the O.E.M Club AGM, it was unanimously decided that the deviant colour known as pied, would not be accepted for inclusion in the colour description of the breed standard, now, nor at any time in the future.

But now Mastiff old-timer Betty Baxter, in her breed notes for Our Dogs, has revealed the reason: they're idiots.

Betty is in her 90s now so should, perhaps, be forgiven the ability to string a coherent sentence together but I don't want to be accused of editing what she wrote so I reproduce it here as it was printed.

"As I am still housebound I was not able to go to the OEMC ATM but apparently a god deal of time was given to the question of pieds. It was decided that both clubs of that colour because of health problems. Apparently, they are subject to skin trouble. Both Lyn McKevett and John Bromley have done a lot of research and say that if there is just one pied in a litter, then all the other puppies are carriers for the pied gene. I am told that 2 have already been registered as ‘tiger’. As I said above, the KC is to be asked by other clubs to stop registering this colour, on health grounds. Both clubs are in agreement here.”

Just in case you're in any doubt:

• there have been no reported health/skin problems associated with the piebald colour in Mastiffs.

• if Lyn McKevett and John Bromley have been accurately represented here, I suggest they do a bit more research in order to understand the basic principles of inheritance of a recessive disorder. It is not the case that "if there is just one pied in a litter, then all the other puppies are carriers for the pied gene".  One shudders at the thought that a whole litter could be condemned for this and removed from the breeding pool in a breed that is teetering on the brink of genetic viability because it is so inbred.

• Pieds can only be registered as either fawn, brindle or apricot (the standard breed colours) or 'colour not recognized' (i.e. not "tiger")

But of course they have to make stuff up in an attempt to cover up the real reason which is good old-fashioned bigotry rooted in baseless beliefs about purity.

At least I can say this with confidence: the Kennel Club will not acquiesce to demands to stop registering piebald dogs (albeit it will be as "colour not recognised"). These days the KC asks for proof of such claims.

Tuesday 21 April 2015

Holy fatness! Labs, flab and the delusional Fancy

The posting of this pic has prompted a humdinger of a scrap on the Purina Pro for Professionals Facebook page.

"Holy fatness!" says one camp.

"You haters!" says the other.

His breeder claims: "I can assure you that he is solid muscle and great coat! A Labrador should not have a visible tuckup (per the standard) and there should not be ribs seen but only felt. He's a gorgeous boy and I'm proud of him and his accomplishments in the care of his wonderful owners and handlers!"

Have a look at the difference between Trouble and the 1964-born Am Can Ch Shamrock Acres Light Brigade ("Briggs") - one of the biggest winning American Labradors of all time.

This is what 50 years of the show-ring has done to the Labrador in the US.  And I am at a total loss to understand how anyone could think the dog on the right is any kind of improvement.

I live in a part of the UK where we see mainly working-bred Labs - although we did have a show-bred Lab in the village who wheezed, waddled and limped his way into old age.  It distresses me to see what the show-ring has done to the breed.  My vet told me recently that they are doing an increasing number of laryngeal tie-backs in obese Labs.

Now I am sure that Trouble is a loved dog with a good quality of life.  He is not brachycephalic; he's not achondroplastic; he isn't plagued with fester-pit wrinkling.

But he certainly looks fat to me - and fat is a welfare issue for dogs, particularly Labradors who are so prone to joint disease in older age - whatever their hips scores when they are younger..

There's a considerable irony in Purina using this dog to flog their dog food because the company itself produces this body-condition-score graphic featuring the yellow Labrador.  Trouble would score a 7/8... way too heavy.

And, of course, one of the most compelling studies ever on Labrador weight came out of Purina's own laboratories. It found that keeping Labradors slightly underweight extended their life by two years.  In also found that the age when 50 percent of the dogs required treatment for a chronic condition was 12 years among the lean-fed dogs, compared to 9.9 years for the control dogs.

The dogs in the UK show-ring are not so obese. This is this year's Crufts Best of Breed.

But they are still nothing like the gloriously-lithe dogs that actually do the work the breed was developed to do.

Here's what Labradors looked like 100 years ago - this is Horton Max who in 1916 won the Labrador Dog Challenge Certificate at the National Dog Show in the UK.

Now as it happens, Max wasn't purebred - he was three-quarters Flatcoat, and only one quarter Labrador. Despite what many people think, dog breeds have not been trapped in closed gene pools since the beginning of time. For the first few decades of the Kennel Club (founded in 1873), stud books were not closed and the Kennel Club was happy to register dogs on the basis of how they looked. Flatcoats and Labs were pretty commonly interbred and as the short-hair gene is dominant, many of the flatcoat-lab crosses were registered as Labradors, with no restrictions on their ability to compete in KC events.

Indeed, Max's maternal grandmother, Vesper Belle, wasn't even KC-registered.

This wasn't universally accepted though and after a fuss about the "half-breeds" the Labrador Club was founded and the KC stopped them competing in conformation shows (although they were still allowed to compete in KC field trials).

For some time after this, Labradors remained dual purpose. This is Bramshaw Bob who won Crufts in 1932 and 1933 - a working gundog.

And this is Cheveralla Ben of Banchory, who won Best in Show at Crufts in 1937 - a far cry from today's show dogs.

Today, dogs like this are only seen in the Gamekeepers classes, and they don't win outside of them.

There was a glimmer of hope  last year when the Labrador Retriever Club of America wrote a strong letter to AKC judges urging them to pay special attention to the standard which asks that "labrador retrievers shall be shown in working condition, well muscled and without excess fat" (a letter that I note has now been taken down off the Club's website)

So it is depressing that Trouble won Best Veteran at the biggest Labrador Show in the US. And he wasn't the only chubby chops at the Potomac show.

This dog won Best in Show - in flagrant disregard of the standard that asks that the length of a Labrador's legs are half the height of the dog. This dog has loose lower eyelids, too, not ideal in a working breed (see here).

There is a pet obesity epidemic in the US and UK; our perception of what is normal in dogs has shifted considerably - as it has in humans too.

The tragedy is that the show-ring could play such an important role in protecting against pet obesity by ensuring that its winners are truly fit and lean.  Instead, exhibitors and judges continue to cite the hallowed standard as the justification for the choices they make while anyone with eyes in their head can see that the dogs aren't even close.

Seriously. It's delusional.
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Monday 13 April 2015

KC mails crossbreed owners inviting them to breed

This is Luna - a pretty collie x girl who is registered on the KC's Activities Register.  She is three years old and spayed. This morning, her owner was completely thrown to receive this email from the Kennel Club. Other people have contacted me about this KC mail-out, too.

Click to enlarge

I honestly don't know how I feel about this. 

Is it inappropriate pimping in a country where several thousand strays/unwanted dogs dogs are PTS every year?

Or is the KC is simply doing the right thing in trying to educate the pet or casual breeder before they willy-nilly breed their dogs? As it happens, I think well-educated pet breeders have much to offer and I don't think that breeding should be the sole preserve of show breeders. 

Over to you...

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Sunday 12 April 2015

Another dog show poisoning

(Read the whole article here)

Shortly before Pedigree Dogs Exposed aired, I showed the film to Beverley Cuddy, editor of Dogs Today.  I asked her: "Do you think this will bring down the Kennel Club?"

Beverley has been in dogs for a long time. Her family bred Bearded Collies and at one point Beverley herself showed and even judged. She also once worked for the Kennel Club. In other words, she knew this faction of the crazy canine world as well as anyone - and certainly better than I did at the time.

Beverley thought about it. And then said: "No," she said. "I don't think so."

And she was right. It didn't.

Pedigree Dogs Exposed holed the good ship Kennel Club, but did not sink it. The old girl listed and swayed but stayed afloat.

What followed were some ad hoc repairs, a paint-job, a glossy new brochure, slicker PR, a few extra quid thrown towards good causes, and it set sail again.

Now, even I can congratulate the Kennel Club for some reforms. At the recent Dog Health Workshop in Dortmund, KC Chairman Steve Dean said to me: "Some of the other Kennel Clubs here make us look quite good, don't they?" and I agreed. They do.

But for all the talk of health at the Dortmund workshop, it was all within-the-box stuff - how to slow the rate of inbreeding; not reverse it by opening up the stud books for those breeds that need it.

Remove the veneer and the Kennel Club is still same old vessel with the same old hands on the tiller; men in fusty tweed and women in a nice practical wool-mix with delusions of being blue-chip but who in reality have always travelled steerage. (The Kennel Club never was on a par with the Jockey Club - perhaps because, in the sport of Kings, trotting round a ring is the precursor to the main event, not the sole purpose of it.)

And today, the critics are not just from without but increasingly, and divisively, from within.  Even the previously loyal dog show press now dares ask questions that would have been unthinkable a few years back - last month causing KC Chairman Steve Dean to jump ship from Dog World to write his column for the more obsequious Our Dogs.

I've continued to chip away too - often, these days, accused of curmudgeonly obsessiveness. In fact, I would love nothing more than to walk away.  It pays me nothing and costs me dearly in time. But - for better or worse - there's no one else out there doing what I do.

And I do it because I can't shake the panic that the dogs aren't safe.

So the KC has continued to sail a stormy sea.  Pedigree Dogs Exposed and the fall-out over inbreeding and phenotypic excess may no longer be headline news other than here and on social media, but it has left the Kennel Club very vulnerable. It was only a matter of time before it was rocked by another tsunami.

And so it came to pass at this year's Crufts with the allegation that Jagger the Irish Setter was poisoned on the show's benches by a jealous rival.  Weeks on from Crufts, I am still getting calls from the Press wanting juicy quotes on the wicked lengths dog-show people go to win. This week it was a writer for Vanity Fair utterly convinced that there has been a Kennel Club cover-up (not helped of course by the dog's owners refusing to accept that their dog probably picked up some baited meat meant for foxes or rats near his home in Belgium).

I pointed out the problems with the conspiracy theory - as I have to the dozens of media calls I've had on this.  Jagger died more than 24 hours after he'd left Cruft's and the laced meat in his stomach was undigested, suggesting the dog ingested it long after he left the show. The toxicology report, too, found a fast-acting poison - too fast for Jagger to have been perfectly OK up to shortly before he collapsed. I also pointed out that no one would be faster to cry foul than me. The Vanity Fair journalist was clearly unimpressed. "Is there anyone else you would suggest I talk to then?"

There was a lot of other bad press surrounding this year's Crufts, too. Thousands signed a petition to have the Scottish Terrier stripped of his Best in Show handling because of the perceived (if not actual) cruelty inherent in the way the dog's handler lifted him by his tail and jaw. There were claims of other poisonings, too. Then there was the social media shit-storm prompted by pictures of an obedience competitor apparently beating up a Border Collie in the car park.

No matter that all the claims turned out to be dubious, baseless or unprovable. No matter that the Kennel Club did a pretty good PR job in an impossible situation.

And now, today's Mail on Sunday prints a piece by columnist Liz Jones which is as damaging as anything we've seen printed in the mainstream media before; far more poisonous in terms of its spread than the vermin-bait that killed Jagger.

Note too the shift from what we've seen before. Gone is the mildly-humorous Best-in-Show-type piss-take about frou-frou Poodles, handlers in garish suits or long-haired blonde woman who look like their Salukis.  Dog-showing isn't funny any more. It's something bad.

And, again, no matter that the Secretary of the show Jones attended disputes the writer's version of events (see here) or that the author has zoned in on non-issues and extrapolated stupidly regarding the preferableness of rescue dogs

Because here's the rub. Every new scandal - real or imagined - inflicts further, deep-down reputational damage to the Kennel Club and dog-showing.

How do I feel about this? In truth, I'd rather the KC/show world was beaten up for the real issues. I have a strong sense of fairness and some of the recent press has been unfair.

But if the upshot is that dog-showing continues to lose favour, call me happy. I hate the damage that the show-ring has done to dogs and the mainly superficial reform we've seen so far is never going to repair it. If dog shows cannot be re-invented in such a way as to truly reward health and function, then they should be condemned to history; as inappropriate, fundamentally distasteful and pointless as human beauty pageants.

I think, deep-down, the Kennel Club knows this, but it is in a tough place: on the one hand trying to appease claims from the dog fancy in the US that it has pandered to animal rights activists; on the other being drawn towards a more modern agenda by the Scandinavian KCs, campaigners, science and good common sense.

My recent blog about the KC becoming more inclusive of crossbreeds/mutts was an April Fool but I have little doubt that it's true. A more all-embracing Kennel Club is an obvious step. It needs a turn of the generations though. There are still too many backward-thinkers in a position of power at the KC hindering true reform.

Can you imagine a future where there is no discrimination between purebred and crossbreed? Where the KC records pedigree info for all dogs, building into an amazing international resource like Where the stud books are open and the emphasis is on conservation? Where dog shows, should they exist, are places to show off fitness and function as well as good looks?

I can.



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Friday 10 April 2015

The Old English Dinosaur Club

Click to enlarge

The above statement has just appeared on the UK's Old English Mastiff Club website - the final word (or so the Club hopes) on the issue of pied (piebald) Mastiffs.

So now you know. In the eyes of the Club, pied Mastiffs are considered... deviant.


Sure, the word can be used benignly in the sense of "divergent", "non-typical" or "anomalous". But  the popular use of the word describes something perverted, malignant or nefarious. Sex offenders and killers.  How telling that the Club uses it - surely pure belligerence.

I have written at some length on the battle to get pied Mastiffs recognised before (see here). But to re-cap:

• pied mastiffs were accepted in the breed's original (1880) breed standard

• despite attempts to rid the breed of the colour, pied pups continue to be born from time to time (the piebald gene is recessive). Pied pups are either quietly disposed of or sold off cheap to pet homes.

• There have been no health issues in pied Mastiffs relating to the colour. 

• DNA tests have confirmed that piebald Mastiffs are indubitably purebred Mastiffs, and not the result of a sneaky behind-the-bikesheds liaison with another breed.

• The route of the colour-bar in Mastiffs (and indeed in some other breeds) has its roots in repellant Victorian racist propaganda about mixed race and "mongrelization" in humans
Source: Genocide and Settler Society by Dirk Moses
Seriously, there is NO place for this in this day and age. Not here. Not now.  

If you don't want pied Mastiffs in the show-ring... fine. But they need to be accepted for registration by all Kennel Clubs and their colour needs to be recorded accurately. Currently, those KCs that will register the dogs list them either as "colour not recognised/undesirable" or only as their base colour - apricot, fawn or brindle.

This beautiful pied Mastiff is Opus - born and bred by Simon and Jen Willshire of Gammonwood Mastiffs in New South Wales, who have led the campaign to get the colour recognised.

He is fully health-tested and clear of everything. He also has probably the best hips ever seen in the breed.

No matter that you can breed on from Opus and produce solid apricots, fawns and brindles.

Opus is the wrong colour! 

Stupid, anachronistic, bigoted idiots.

Please take a moment to email the officers of  OEMC and let them know what you think. You can find their contact details here.


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Sunday 5 April 2015

Help me, I'm melting

On the left, show Bassets walking into Crufts 2015. On the right, "Truffle" from the Albany Bassets working pack in the UK.

This is a breed divided by 50 years of show-breeding - particularly in the UK where the show Bassets are real shockers.

I had an interesting comment on the PDE Facebook Group this morning in response to the pic above - a claim that the show dogs on the left are "normal" for a Basset and that working Bassets are more like a Basset Artesien Normand.

Now that's true today. But as a reminder of the damage that's been done, here's what the show Bassset Hound looked like 50 years ago. This is Ch Fredwell Varon Vandal - a hugely famous dog considered the epitome of the breed in the UK at the time.

If only it had stopped there, eh? But nooo. Award prizes to ribbon-chasers who in my opinion [legal caveat...] know little about dogs and... ta-daaaa...

                                             Crufts BOB 2014   ©On-Edition/The Kennel Club
And still they claim that these dogs can hunt down a hare with as much aplomb as a true working dog. Indeed, some even try to maintain that the show dogs are better workers because all that excess skin prevents the dog from being caught on brambles.

Nick Waters highlighted the issue in an interesting column for Dog World last month which featured this picture of Ch Blaby Hal, another big-winning 1960s-vintage Basset.

Waters also documents the (ultimately futile) efforts for there to be no difference between the show and working-bred Basset, concluding:
"At the risk of putting my head on the block, this featured hound, Ch Blaby Hal, and the late, great Ch Fredwell Varon Vandal (at one time the breed’s CC record holder) are, in my opinion, the epitome of a show hound ‘fit for function’."

I am often asked why I keep batting on.

And the answer is this.

There is a still a desperate need to continue to highlight the delusional nonsense spouted in defence of deformity and disease by too many people who breed and show dogs.

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Friday 3 April 2015

The demise of the Great Dane

The two line-drawings at the top are taken from British Dogs, Their Points, Selection, And Show Preparation by W.D Drury, published in 1903. They formed part of the Great Dane breed standard adopted by the Great Dane Club (UK) at the time. The two pictures underneath are of modern show dogs (on the left, UK; on the right a French champion).

One hundred years ago, the breed looked like this...

Today we see dogs like this (below) in the show-ring. It is not every dog in every ring, but it is in sufficient number to sound the alarm.

Can anyone truly think that this is any kind of an improvement on the dog of 100 years ago?

In France, particularly, the rise of what's often called the Euro-Dane is turning the breed into a Neapolitan Mastiff - a grotesque, floppy-flewed caricature of what the breed used to be.

© Falkhor Babinosaure

Better body... but who on earth thought that head was a good idea?

This is not just an aesthetic issue. Floppy flews are dysfunctional. There is no benefit to a bigger/heavier ear leather. Over-sized bodies elevate the risk of joint issues. Many Dane eyes are wincingly painful, too - both for the dogs and for any observer not subsumed into a breed culture that makes them oblivious to the every-second-of-the-waking-day discomfort dogs like this endure.

UK showdog
Almost every day I hear a breeder of a breed with dreadful eyes (Danes, Clumbers, Neapolitans, Bassets) justify the breeding of these dogs by telling me it's a minor issue compared to other bigger breed issues. But it isn't - not for the dog. If you think it's OK, please poke yourself in the eye with a dirty finger and leave the conjunctivitis untreated for a few days.

UK showdog
Then there's the swingeing longevity, or rather lack of it. Average life expectancy today? Just six years old, with cancer being the biggest cause of death, followed by bloat/digestive issues, heart disease, joint problems and spinal disease (source: Finnish KC database).  And it is not just Finnish Danes. The KC's 2004 health survey found a median age of death for the breed of 6 yrs 6 months.

I continue to be at a loss as to why poor longevity in Danes and many other breeds doesn't trigger a massive effort by Kennel Clubs and breeders to do something to tackle it. Instead, breeders seem to claim it as some kind of breed feature, something they accept as one of those things; not their fault... not much they can do about it.

This is not true. They can do something about it. 

I have a soft spot for Danes because I grew up with two of them. Neither of them were any great shakes. One had a digestive problem that kept him rake thin. The other was a nice-but-dim-Tim who died young of a reason lost in time. This is me with him when he was a pup at a fun dog-show in the 1970s (we came second in the dog-with-the-longest-tail class).

I remember being concerned about his slightly saggy eyes at the time; but the ectropion (as I now know it to be) was very minor compared to what you see in today's show dogs. They also used to be dry-mouthed; whereas today most Dane owners have to deal with globs of viscous slobber that makes the breed increasingly undesirable as a family dog.

Here's another beautiful Dane head from the 1970s compared to a modern UK show dog.

Many of today's Great Danes are a disgrace, with mostly no purpose other than to be an oversized, slobbery mess. They are a travesty of what they used to be.

Here's one of the reasons why... take a look at the points system that was in place for many years in the UK. Although no longer used in the UK, it helped set the agenda.  Most important? The head and the size. Least important, less so even than the tail or feet? Overall condition.

Want to know what do to do about it?

• international breed database that records health data and is open to all

• make death reporting (age and cause) a priority

• store semen when dogs are young and use it if they prove to be healthy into later years

• revise the points system (where still in use) to make condition/activity more important.

• rewrite the breed standard to reduce the minimum weight; introduce a maximum height and weight.

• worldwide symposium aimed at uniting breeders in a breed conservation plan

• breed them smaller. As with many giant breeds, there has been a creeping increase in size. Today's Danes are massive - much bigger than they used to be.

Big dogs die young. Bigger dogs die younger.

And bigger dogs with deep chests die even younger.

(The bloat situation is so bad in the breed that many breeders and owners do a pre-emptive gastropexy.)

This is also, perhaps, where the new International Partnership for Dogs (IPFD) could play a role. If every signed-up KC contributed pictures of their top-winning dogs every year, the side-by-side comparisons would alert to the different types, prompting discussion that would hopefully help reign in excess.

Additionally, in the UK, the Kennel Club now needs to make this breed a Category Three breed - one whose conformation demands urgent action.

To finish with an eye-cleanser,  I should say that there are still some nice show Danes around - this is the Dane that took Best of Breed at Westminster this year. The dog is too big, and his neck is too long, but the WKC winner is much more moderate than some of the travesties we are seeing on this side of the pond.

And how about this... a Dane in the Finnish show-ring. Beautiful - and pretty typical of the breed in Finland; a country so often ahead of the rest of the world when it comes to the health of purebred dogs.

So let's see more of them.. and a lot less of these.

© Falkhor Babinosaure
© Falkhor Babinosaure

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Wednesday 1 April 2015

KC report reveals plans for new crossbreed register

A document leaked to pedigreedogsexposed by an insider at the Kennel Club reveals that the KC plans to extend its register to provide ancestry data for all dogs, whether purebred or crossbreed.

The Kennel Club does, of course, already register crossbreed dogs on its Companion Dog Register, but this does not include pedigree data. This new move is the first step to a database which will allow people to track their dog's ancestry regardless of their dog's provenance.

The confidential report makes no bones about the likely opposition. "Many KC breeders feel very strongly that the KC should be the preserve of purebred dogs only," it says. "However, there is much to be gained from embracing responsibly-bred crossbreeds."

The report goes on to spell out the benefits:
  • it is important that the Kennel Club is seen as a modern, inclusive organisation, representing all dogs.
  • an increasing number of responsible cross-breeders produce health-tested puppies that deserve our support
  • pedigree/health-test information for crossbreeds is of clear value to both breeders and buyers.
  • an inclusive register detailing a dog's ancestry regardless of breed will be particularly useful in the outcross projects that are necessary in order for some breeds to survive.
  • registering crossbreeds will provide an additional revenue stream for the Kennel Club
The report even discusses the possibility of recommending that the conformation show-ring is opened up to the more recognised crossbreeds such as the Labradoodle and Cavapoo - but admits this may be for the future.

A company search reveals that the Kennel Club registered the Kennel Crossbreed Club as a limited company on 20th August 2008, suggesting the move has been on the cards for some time. This might mean that crossbreed dogs will  be KCC-registered rather than KC-registered - a small sop perhaps to the many breeders who will object to the KC legitimising crossbreeds.  I would imagine over time, however, that this is a distinction that will be lost.

The report finishes by stressing that the announcement will need to be handled with tact and diplomacy to prevent alienating core breeders.

The move is not a complete surprise. During a chat with KC Chairman, Steve Dean, on the way back from the recent DogHealth Workshop in Germany, Professor Dean mentioned the desire of the Kennel Club to be "more inclusive".

But may I be the first to offer my congratulations to the Kennel Club for this forward-thinking initiative. It's a bold move and makes sense - not something I say very often about the KC.