Katz Tales/Dog Talk

Published: Saturday April 19, 2014 MYT 12:00:00 AM
Updated: Saturday April 19, 2014 MYT 12:00:45 PM

Defects in purebred dogs

Pedigree: A pinscher taking part in a competition during an international pedigree dog exhibition. Dogs are often bred for certain qualities without proper consideration of the potential health problems that could ensue. - Filepic

Pedigree: A pinscher taking part in a competition during an international pedigree dog exhibition. Dogs are often bred for certain qualities without proper consideration of the potential health problems that could ensue. - Filepic

A clash of philosophies leads to some introspection about pedigrees and breeding standards.

Why can’t you recommend a breeder?” the woman asked. “I’m not buying from a pet shop, so why can’t you advise me and tell me where to go?”

She sounded rather vexed. I don’t blame her because I must have appeared uncooperative but the fact is that I was being tactful. This is very unusual for me so it seemed rather unfair to be slated for it, but that just proves that it isn’t just good deeds but also good intentions that don’t go unpunished.

The problem was that this woman had different values from mine so I was trying to avoid saying something that would hurt her feelings.

She wanted a pedigree dog, any kind as long as it was within her budget, and she knew I have canine pals who are blue-blooded.

What she didn’t know was that I would never buy a pedigree dog. My personal choice is based on several principles.

First, I don’t like the effect profits have on animal welfare. A family whose lady gets into trouble with the handsome tramp across the street, will look for the best homes for the pups that result from the tryst.

A commercial enterprise tots up costs, weighs it against profits, and then inevitably decides that it’s perfectly sustainable if a certain percentage die from lack of care or that if the pets aren’t sold after a certain time, that they should be euthanised.

I don’t want to fuel that kind of thinking, so I don’t support the commercial live pet trade. And don’t ask me what I eat for dinner because I know my thinking is neither uniform nor particularly defensible. It’s simply how I feel.

Health problems

Second, I don’t like what I’m reading about the effects of dog-breeding. It was Darwin who suggested way back in 1868 that Scottish Deerhounds had weak joints because breeders had crossbred for size with the result that the dog had become too big.

Darwin didn’t live in an era that had DNA analysis and other modern tricks so it took a hundred years before scientists began investigating the link between breeding practices and health problems.

In fact, it was the British Kennel Club that became worried in the early 1960s about the increasing number of dogs suffering from hip dysplasia, skin-fold dermatitis and other problems.

At the time, the science of genetics was rather new; although there were many opinions, facts were extremely scarce.

There was a considerable body of people who blamed the Kennel Club. They pointed out that breed standards had changed. For example, Alsatians in the 1920s had straight backs and powerful hips, whereas the 1960s fashion was for sloping backs and splayed legs. This meant that breeders who wanted to win prizes (and make money from breeding pedigree pups) were purposefully breeding very different kinds of dogs.

Critics said that it was changing standards like these that were causing the huge upsurge in health problems.

The Kennel Club decided to commission a scientific study. They listed 13 abnormalities and asked the British Small Animal Veterinary Association (BSAVA) to investigate why these health problems were increasingly plaguing the pedigree population.

When the results came out in 1963, it turned out that Darwin had been on the nose with his hypothesis: all the 13 health conditions plaguing pedigrees were linked to the breed standards.

One might think that the standards would be immediately changed but no such thing happened. Kennel Clubs the world over continue to set the standards they like and, for every large show, there’s a fight over the true quality of the winners with one side pointing out that the dogs are riddled with health problems and the other denying it.

That there are problems is certain. For example, a 2010 study found more than 80% of bulldogs, Boston terriers and French bulldogs surveyed were having elective caesareans because puppies have heads that are too big for the mother to give birth naturally. I find that an unnatural and rather creepy state of affairs.

Going for certain temperaments

Me, I love Labradors, Alsatians, Bouviers, cattle dogs and Dachshunds for their temperament, and I understand why people would want a pedigree in order to try and secure that kind of temperament, but given what I see, I’m not in the market for one.

I know there are breeders out there who ignore breeding standards in favour of health, who avoid in-breeding and who care about their charges, but I’m afraid I don’t know exactly who they are, which is why I won’t make recommendations.

But as I told the woman, I think it’s up to every dog lover to do their own homework and to come to their own decisions. Everyone to her own, right? She wasn’t happy.

> Ellen Whyte is ruled by cats but she sneaks out to talk to her dog friends. Find her on Facebook at

Tags / Keywords: Opinion, Lifestyle, Ellen Whyte, Dogtalk, pedigree, breeding, Kennel Club

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