Saturday 6 August 2016

Science versus Bulldog bullshit

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Have a listen here. It's fab.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


  1. Wow, this Photos guy sounds like a real piece of work. Surprise, surprise: a guy with a doctorate in BIOENGINEERING doesn't care that twisting a species all out of proportion is bad for it.

    Pedersen was a pretty good advocate for sound breeding practices. Could have been a bit more forceful, but overall he did a fine job, and I'm glad we have folks like him on our side. Actually, we need more vets, naturalists, and breeders to make this case effectively and turn the tide.

  2. Photos sounded very credible and persuasive...right up until he stated that the dogs would be OK if only they were bred to The Standard. It's a diametric and non-sensical statement, because the AKC 'Standard' is the original and only cause, and the current maintainer, of the problem.

    Then we find out that the 'facts' he quoted so calmly and credibly are simply false.

  3. I don't believe the Standard is the problem, At least not by itself.
    I think its more a problem that its seen as the only legitimate goal for K.C breeders.
    If ONLY breed standards can give a set of values to follow in breeding "successfully" , any others will be lost.
    Its changed the whole purpose of the pedigree system from improvement of Dogs, to improvement of pedigrees.

    The pedigree becomes a belief system instead of a tool for better breeding practices if theres a DIS-belief any thing else can have value.
    That no other environment can produce a VALID Dog, with attributes worthy of preservation- simply because it wasn't 'Predicted' before hand by an approved body.

    No 'NEW" values permitted. Only whats able to be predicted before hand.
    A closed and set culture, in charge of closed and set lines.

    1. The standard is just a written version of how the dog looks.
      I reckon the problem is breeding for a ribbon in the showring.

      It naturally favors exaggeration as its human psychology for attention to be drawn to the animal which stands out the most, and it will always be there in the subconscious, no matter how you try to say otherwise.
      Longer coats, more wrinkles, shorter legs, baby face, etc.

      Also, it favors cookie-cutter looks, which equals linebreeding and even inbreeding. To produce the best showdog, it leaves perfectly good dogs out the genepool purely based on appearance as well. Those dogs could be perfectly healthy, with a unique set of genes, but are passed on as "pet quality" and then spayed/neutered.

      The showring also promotes popular sires, which are a problem for genetic diversity as well.

      And it seems the showring is the only situation where they want it compulsory for only "pure" dogs to be able to compete, and it makes outcrossing a misery, and shame be upon those who outcross, your pedigree is removed!
      Even if you breed crossbred dogs that have no effect on the breed, woe betide you crossbreeder!
      Of course, that has a lot to do with the Kennel club and breeders as well.

      A dog can not fit the standard and still be a brilliant dog, a dog can fail in the showring and still have valuable genes for the breed.

    2. Yep, but show and trial ring is the only measure of value accepted, by breeders not free to 'find' any other value while restricted to pedigree breeding.

    3. Actually, there is a choice. There are breed specific sports (such as herding, IPO, gundog training, hunting) and there are sports for any breed (agility, barnhunt, obedience, etc)

      You will find though that the majority of breeders will choose the showring. Some breeds have no breeders whatsoever breeding for the traditional purpose of the breed.
      Breeders can if they wish, but they don't want to.

  4. "perhaps also bring on board a population geneticist to advise the breed."
    This being the key to success.
    (for all breeds, if breed clubs are acting now and thinking ahead instead of waiting on the fence, they could save a lot of other breeds from the same sad future!).

  5. I have a great idea! Let's breed horses with twisted legs, dwarfism, lots of wrinkles and short noses.