Tuesday 17 October 2017

Time to get tough

It is...

• soon to be 10 years since Pedigree Dogs Exposed
• five years since The Advisory Council on the Welfare Issues of Dog Breeding highlighted the issues linked to head conformation in brachycephalic breeds
• 18 months since the publication of research (funded by the kennel club) spelling out the link between stenosis (pinched nostrils) and respiratory issues, especially in French Bulldogs
• a year since a veterinary petition demanding urgent reform for flat-faced dogs
• almost a year since the Kennel Club set up the Brachcycephalic Breeds Working Group in response to that petition

.. and of course I have highlighted the issue of pinched nostrils endlessly here on this blog.


And yet... the picture at the top is one the Kennel Club has used as the ideal depiction of the French Bulldog in its new edition (2017) of its Illustrated Breed Standards.

And it isn't a one-off. Here's the one the KC has used for the Boston Terrier standard.

©  The Kennel Club

The Bulldog.
©  The Kennel Club
And the Pug.

©  The Kennel Club
Dogs are as near-as-damn-it obligate nose breathers. And even if they can supplement by mouth-breathing when they are awake, they are unable to do so when they are asleep, meaning thousands of these dogs live lives of interrupted sleep as they have to wake up in order to not asphyxiate.

Study after study has shown that these dogs pay the price for not being able to pull in a decent lungful of air and that starts with the nostrils.

These pictures are all the proof you need that the Kennel Club is not taking this issue seriously; that at its very core the KC is paying nothing more than lip-service to the demands for reform by the veterinary profession and animal welfare campaigners.

At one of the first meetings of the Brachycephalic Breeds Working Group, then KC Chairman Steve Dean expressly said that he didn't want "changing the breed standards" to be at the top of everyone's list of actions that could be taken.

And indeed, it hasn't been.

There have been some new measures.  The KC continues to fund brachy research. There is also now a brachy learning resource available on the KC website, the promise of better education of judges and a breed club commitment to educate better about the importance of keeping brachycephalics slim. There are also now health schemes for the Bulldog, French Bulldog and the Pug which do test for respiratory issues.

All this is welcome. But, bottom line, the Kennel Club continues to bat for the breeders who do not want the basic phenotype to change because it's the breeders that pay their wages.

Of course the simplest, quickest remedy is to give these dogs back some muzzle - to help not just with breathing issues, but to help protect their eyes from trauma and to give their teeth some room in their overcrowded mouths (a Pug here compared to an Australian Shepherd).

The problem is that  breeders are wedded to flat faces, particularly in Pugs and Bulldogs. They talk about the perfect "layback" - which essentially means that the nose should not interrupt the line between the forehead and tip of the dog's chin.

In fact, there's a new book out on the Pug head (yours for only $159) which reminds everyone that the word Pug comes from the latin for "fist" and that this is the shape the Pug's head should be in profile - i.e. totally flat.


Here's a reminder from a top UK show breeder of what the Bulldog's head should look like.


As you can see, a  protruding nose or a less severe underbite is considered a fault.

There was a big review of breed standards following Pedigree Dogs Exposed but it was mostly to add vague qualifiers such as, in the Pug standard,  "relatively" short rather than just short when describing the length of the muzzle. This gives the breeders way too much wiggle room.  We need proper metrics - a defined minimum skull/head/muzzle ratio and we need to find more profound ways to change their minds about what constitutes their breed in their eyes.

Large open nostrils are a requirement in brachy breed standards, but this is widely ignored because other points of the breed are considered more important. There would be outrage if a Frenchie with one lop ear  or a Bulldog with a liver-coloured nose won in the show-ring, but dogs with slits for nostrils continue to be made up to champions. 

Meanwhile, on my CRUFFA group, whenever you post a picture of more moderate examples of the breed, current of historical, the breeders heap scorn. A few days ago, one breeder insisted that the dog featured in this famous painting of a Pug by Carl Reichert, dating from the late 19th century, was a crossbreed.

Same for these ones. Mongrels, the lot of them.

She admitted that the eye-white showing was undesirable but  preferred the look of this Crufts dog.

Today, this was posted on a public Facebook page by one French Bulldog breeder in response to a plea by vets for more moderate dogs.

To those who say you cannot rebuild Rome in a day I say... rubbish. There are already more moderate versions of these breeds out there being bred by breeders more interested in health than the current fashion. 

For more than 10 years, I have called for moderation and hoped it would come from the breeders. But  I now know it won't. If we want anything more than a wee bit of tweaking round the edges, then we need to demand it. 

It is time to get tough. These dogs suffer - not all of them all the time but too many of them too often. 

Brachycephalics live a third less long than non-brachy dogs. Fifty per cent have significant airway disease. Almost all struggle to cool themselves. Most Bulldogs still can't mate or give birth naturally. Pugs have 19 times the risk of developing corneal ulcers.  All suffer from very low genetic diversity. And so on.

Today, Bulldogs, French Bulldogs and Pugs make up one in five of the dogs registered with the Kennel Club - up from one in 50 in 2005.

Yesterday, a new petition was launched asking for a ban on brachycephalics.  Over 20k people signed it in the first 24 hrs. 

Have we reached a tipping point?  With your help. 

I haven't been able to blog much recently because I am busy finishing off a television series for BBC2. But I have taken time out to write this because the new breed standard pictures made me so angry.

So please... Although it's moderation I want, not a ban, sign the petition. Make your feelings known to the Kennel Club (see here). Complain if brands or media use generic pictures of brachycephalics to sell their wares. 

Vets: thank you so much for all that you are now doing, but please keep the pressure on.

And, of course, to everyone out there - please don't buy that puppy. 

It is not safe to buy a Pug, Bulldog or French Bulldog. Not safe for them and not safe for your wallet.