Saturday, April 25, 2009

Scathing Expose of Pedigree Dogs Exposed

Yesterday, I just happened upon a dog-related blog, and while reading through, I saw this great commentary written by rufflyspeaking that hit so many good nails on the head, many of the same nails I have been trying to hit too:

I'm a (gasp!) breeder and I am trained in biology and genetics. I think that most good breeders end up with somewhere around a bachelor's level of knowledge in genetics, honestly. But I got it on a piece of paper, for whatever that's worth. I see a TON of misconceptions here. I think one of the things that hurts our understanding of dog health the most is a very faulty system of definitions. For one thing, there is no attempt to distinguish between a well-bred purebred and a terribly or carelessly bred one. Of the purebreds in this country, a conservative estimate would be that 90% are horribly bred by breeders who don't care anything about health or quality. I don't know any show breeder who would say that badly bred purebreds of our breeds aren't horribly unhealthy--we know they are, because we're the ones rescuing them and rehoming them. You can't lump the two populations of purebreds together. And you also have to distinguish between TRUE mixed-breed/random-bred dogs and what we actually have in this country, which is deliberately bred crossbreds. Again - go to the Middle East and look at the true random-bred dogs that are shaped by natural selection and must survive on their own. They really are healthier. That's an entirely different "crossbreeding" than breeding a wheezy dysplastic Pug and an epileptic Beagle, or a Maltese with a liver shunt to a dwarfed and unsound Poodle. You need to forget the labels. Say, instead, that the way you get a healthy dog is by breeding healthy dogs. That applies across the entire population, to purebreds and mixed breeds. And the way you tell whether your dogs are healthy is by HEALTH TESTING and KEEPING TRACK OF PEDIGREES. Both are essential; neither can be neglected. You can have a healthy dog that doesn't produce healthy dogs because every relative was unhealthy; that's why pedigrees are important. Second definition: "Hybrid vigor" in virtually all dogs is a complete myth. Hybrid vigor is a very specific thing; it has a specific definition. It means breeding individuals who are so totally unrelated that the offspring are bigger, grow faster, and have increased resistance to disease than EITHER parent. The reason it doesn't apply to purebred dogs is that there is not enough separation between the breeds. Most of the European-origin breeds were freely exchanging genetic information as little as 150-200 years ago. So when you put a Lab and a Poodle together, you're combining pedigrees that actually haven't been separate all that long, in the grand scheme of Dog. You're in effect putting them BACK together. There's no automatic benefit to the offspring. Hybrid vigor also requires that the breeds of origin are healthy themselves. Why on EARTH would you think that combining the cancer- and elbow- and hip-dysplasia-prone poorly bred Golden with the epilepsy-, SA-, thyroid-, heart-disease- and hip-dysplasia-prone poorly bred Poodle is going to give you a dog that lives a long time? If someone tells you they're accessing hybrid vigor, ask them to prove it. Have them show you charts of growth rates, food utilization, and multi-generational health testing. If they can't do that, they're using a phrase they have no permission to use. If "designer dog" breeders actually put their money where their mouths are, breeding only the best to the best (in other words, only using dogs who have not just health tested themselves but have parents and grandparents and great-grandparents who all have health testing) and rigorously selected their breeding dogs for sound structure and ability to do a job, none of us show breeders would object to what they do. After all, we have no issue with the Seeing Eye breeders who cross Labs and Goldens, or the bear-dog breeders who cross Ridgebacks and Coonhounds and Danes and various other breeds. But it's important to realize that if those breeders DID do those things, did build a program that produced predictable, reliable results of health and structure, and did prove their dogs by opening them to peer review, they'd be one more purebred. They would no longer be mixed. There's no "magic" in mixing. By the way, specifically on the Australian Labradoodles: There's a lot more (or maybe a lot less) there than meets the eye. The "breed" is now a mix of poodle, lab, cocker, curly coated retriever, some of the water spaniels, and they've been hitting up the Portuguese Water Dog people, all because they are not getting the "perfect" dog they're advertising. They do not have anywhere close to a finished product and they're not making the reliably fabulous dogs they say they are. I want to add that one of the reasons it's so important to keep a population of reputable breeders is that we're the ones pushing for the genetic testing and treatments that, ironically, open us to so much criticism. If you look at the diseases that everyone screeches about, the hearts in Boxers and cancers in Goldens and syringomyelia in Cavaliers, the studies and research are virtually all funded by the breed clubs (and therefore the breeders). It's because we're so obsessed with producing a healthy dog that we get accused of producing unhealthy ones. As a final note, because it illustrates this point, there's nothing about the "back" of the corgi that's an issue. The standard doesn't need to be changed. The things that happen in the long-backed dogs are illnesses like IVDD (intervertebral disc disease) and DM (degenerative myelopathy) and are almost certainly a function of how cartilage is formed in short-legged dogs and how the dog builds myelin around its nerve bundles. The community of breeders is working and funding research that will tell us how to select good breeding candidates that won't be prone to the diseases. But it's not a simple "they're just breeding freaks and that's what's wrong" situation. You can force Dachshund and corgi breeders to halve the lengths of the backs and it wouldn't change a thing. And that's exactly why we as show breeders object to being painted as the villains in these situations. We KNOW it's not our standards; we ABHOR and obsess over genetic disease; and, honestly, we're in this because we adore our dogs so much. We want them around for full, long lives just as much as any pet owner does.

Joanna Kimball
Blacksheep Cardigan Corgis

PS: We don't actually have any good studies on purebreds vs. mixed-breeds precisely because we haven't separated the well-bred portions of the purebreds. My own breed, when carefully bred, routinely (and I really do mean routinely, as in virtually all of them if they don't get injured or pneumonia or something) lives to be 13-15; I know of at least a few who are 17 and 18. So show me a study that looks at 35-45-lb mixed breeds and gives a reliable measure of how long they live, and then we can start to really compare numbers.

I considered this to be a most brilliant post, so I tracked down Joanna Kimball's rufflyspeaking blog and found an equally brilliant and scathing expose of Pedigree Dogs Exposed. Although I don't agree with everything that Joanna has on her blog site, and I truly feel ridgeless Rhodesian Ridgebacks should be carefully placed in pet homes not euthanized (afterall the word cull by definition means to "pick out from others, select" not kill), but otherwise Joanna does an excellent job in this particular article of exposing the inaccurate and misleading information presented in the television programme Pedigree Dogs Exposed. Permission was given on the site to reproduce or forward any content and rather that sending you to that site I have reproduced the expose here so it will be able to get even more exposure. It's long, but very worthwhile reading.

If you have never heard of Pedigree Dogs Exposed or not yet seen it, you can follow these links to view it:

Pedigree Dogs Exposed - Part 1
Pedigree Dogs Exposed - Part 2
Pedigree Dogs Exposed - Part 3
Pedigree Dogs Exposed - Part 4
Pedigree Dogs Exposed - Part 5
Pedigree Dogs Exposed - Part 6

Now on to the EXPOSE ...

The implications of the Kennel Club (UK) changes to the Pekingese standard; also Pedigree Dogs Exposed.

October 15, 2008 — rufflyspeaking
By: Joanna Kimball, Blacksheep Cardigan Corgis

I said I would get to the Pekingese and UK Kennel Club situation and here it is. I’ve been stewing for a couple of days about exactly how to communicate what I’m thinking and worried about, and I suspect this will be a very large post, so settle down and get a cup of coffee.

This can’t be told without going back a few years. Across Europe-and this is a situation very unlike the dog breeding culture in the US-there is a feeling that government is responsible for pet animal welfare to a very great extent. There is an expectation for rules-making that would be considered invasive and even unlawful here. For example, in some Scandinavian countries bitches are not allowed to care for more than eight puppies; any additional whelps must be put down. Failure to do this means the “breed wardens” will throw you out of the breed club and quite possibly you’ll be blacklisted. It’s a very interesting paradox; the acceptance of dogs as part of normal life is higher there (for example, dogs are often allowed in restaurants and shops), there is a much lower tendency to perform “routine” procedures on dogs (including spay/neuter, although there are very few unwanted litters), but there’s also a much greater interference in terms of what dogs may be owned or bred and how and when.

Into that culture came the recognition of a term that, across all the countries I can find it, is translated as something like “pain-breeding” or “torture-breeding.” Pain-breeding is the production of a weird dog, basically. It’s when you breed a dog with a very short face, very short legs, long spine, lots of coat, or any other trait that could be seen to interfere with the dog having a “normal” (we’ll get to that later) life. Pain-breeding also means any kind of pairing that could possibly result in dogs that are unhealthy. This particular clause tends to affect those dogs that have possibly deleterious recessive genes but are themselves healthy (like dogs who carry for but do not express PRA, an eye disease), or those dogs that when bred together may produce a disorder relating to color (for example, breeding two merle collies, or two harlequin Danes, or two blue Dobermans).

Germany passed the first pain-breeding legislation that I am aware of, earlier in this decade. It forbade, among many other things, breeding two harlequin Danes or two dapple Dachshunds together, and outlawed a long list of breeds perceived to be either unhealthy or prone to aggression (which was, as far as I can tell from the German breeders, part of the same philosophy-it’s not so much “they’re unsafe” as it is “it’s unfair to the dog to breed them when they have tendencies like this”). The breeds forbidden were done so under the German Animal Welfare Law, which gives an indication of the philosophy behind the decision.

You need to know those three things-that there is a focus on a “natural” dog as opposed to an “unnatural” dog, that there is a feeling that any breeding that could possibly produce an unhealthy puppy (even if that puppy would be put down at birth) should be forbidden, and that there is a greater acceptance of dog-related legislation-to understand what’s going on in the UK right now.

Coming back to the present, this year the BBC sponsored and broadcast a… well, let’s very generously call it a documentary-style program, called Pedigree Dogs Exposed. It was a total piece of schlock journalism that basically can be summed up as “Purebred dogs? Parade of mutants! Kennel club? Moronic eugenicists! Breeders? Money-grubbing builders of gingerbread houses! You know who liked dog breeding? HITLER!”

I watched it and it’s honestly laughably inaccurate, both in facts and in conclusions, but it created a groundswell of dog-show hatred (and breeder hatred, and Kennel Club hatred) especially in the UK but around the world as well. The RSPCA withdrew from Crufts (and this is me being cynical here, but I believe this was their plan all along-the RSPCA’s vet was the one who called a dog show a parade of mutants). People were doing the Internet equivalent of running around waving their hands in the air screaming. And the Kennel Club itself… well, let’s talk about that in a minute.

That program “exposed” three categories of issues in registered dogs: extreme breed traits, inherited disease, and inbreeding.

Let’s define extreme breed traits first. The program pointed out the issues they say are the result of extremes in face, legs, spine, tail, and coat. It strongly alleged that breeding for any conformational detail that took a dog away from wolf-hood was detrimental to that dog to the extent that it deviated from the wolf, and pointed out some specific examples: the brachycephalic head of the Peke, the curled tail of the Pug, the dwarfed legs and long ears of Basset Hounds, the extreme angulation of the German Shepherd Dog, the large eye of several breeds, and the ridge of the Ridgeback (which got an extra helping of hatred because some breeders put ridgeless puppies to sleep at birth).

Second, they targeted inherited disease. Here they pointed out the epilepsy that plagued a sweet Boxer and the malformed skull and mitral valve disease in Cavalier King Charles Spaniels.
Third, they made some really stunning allegations about the vague and undefined evil of inbreeding, which was said to cause horrible diseases and mental defects and infertility.
They served it all up with a big swirly topping of vets decrying deliberately breeding mutations and how terrible inbreeding is, and owners weeping over their sweet sick dogs.

Well, the Kennel Club LOST ITS BOWELS. As far as I can tell, there must have been about twenty people in a board room having a complete fit. I’m tempted to call them naïve, but maybe it really is the truth that they hadn’t ever had charges like this leveled at them. The Brits LOVE their dogs, really adore them. So maybe the Kennel Club felt that it would enjoy the cozy approval of the entire country indefinitely.

And here is where the Kennel Club made what I feel to be a completely horrible decision and perhaps one that will end up being fatal to its role in the UK. It is a move that I feel indicates a genuine emergency on the part of the purebred dog community world-wide.

Instead of responding to each of the allegations of the program and explaining where and how they were incorrect, the Kennel Club AGREED. It not only agreed, it promptly shifted blame to the individual breed clubs and accused them of cruel and inhumane breeding practices.
The breed clubs were, understandably, horrified. This is their parent club; they have always felt not that this was a boss but that the Kennel Club is the very best of what they are. The people accusing them of not caring for their dogs were once (and many are still) breeders themselves; the KC, it is felt, should have had the breeders’ side on this.

Specifically, the Kennel Club announced the following sweeping changes:

1) Each standard (the description of the perfect purebred of that breed) would be reviewed and changed by fiat as necessary. If you’re not in purebred dogs, let me just tell you what an incredible assumption of power this is. Breed standards do change, but they do so extremely slowly and the major impetus behind each change is the breed club (for example, the Pekingese Club), not the Kennel Club. The breed club typically has a Standards Committee and spends literally decades considering whether the breed needs even the most minute changes to the standard. I’ve been in on months of deep and passionate arguments about whether a dog’s elbow should mark half the distance to the ground from the shoulder or if it should be an inch above that. Some people believe so much in the traditional description of a breed that they will talk longingly of the glories of, say, the 1971 standard, which was probably published when they were ten years old and which varies from the 1993 standard by half of one paragraph. The Kennel Club’s normal role in changing a breed standard is to provide input on the correct format of the proposed change or changes, to make sure that the wording will be clear to the judges, to suggest clarification, etc. For it to seize control of standards and change them without breeder input is shocking and unprecedented.

2) The standards would be changed with one goal: to reflect an emphasis on “health.” Now let me assure you that they don’t actually mean health, or longevity. They mean “less exaggeration.” The Kennel Club has totally bought, or is pandering to, the notion that deviation from the wolf equals detriment to the dog, with the extent of the deviation indicating the extent of the detriment. This is TOTALLY INSANE, as I will try to discuss later, but they bought it. And so the Kennel Club has promised to focus on the exact issues that Pedigree Dogs Exposed insisted were problematic-short faces, short legs, curled tails, heavy coat, long spines, long ears, and angulation.

3) The Kennel Club implemented a Code of Ethics for all breeders and forced each club to adopt it. This, again, is a power it has never before assumed.

A Code of Ethics is sort of like the standard for breeders. It describes what it means to be a good breeder of that breed, and is a valuable tool for prospective owners and also for prospective breeders. Most, if not all, breeds have a COE, but aside from some standard statements about humane breeding they vary considerably between breeds. The COE reflects the best practices for that particular breed or responds to a situation the breeders perceive to be an issue for that breed and that breed alone.

So, for example, in the US the Pembroke Welsh Corgi COE mandates that puppies not be sold before the age of ten weeks. The Cardigan COE has seven weeks, but forbids the retouching of show or informational photographs. I don’t even pretend to know what situation led those particular elements to be added to the COE of the breeds, but there they are.
The fact that the Kennel Club handed down a COE that must be adopted by all breed clubs was, again, an implied accusation that the breed clubs could not be trusted to make their own decisions or weigh for themselves which practices define a good breeder.

4) The Kennel Club is currently seeking legislative powers that will make it law to belong to the club’s Accredited Breeder Scheme if you want to legally sell puppies in the UK.

So what is wrong with what the Kennel Club is doing? Why is it such a bad decision?

I want to answer this in two parts: First, why Pedigree Dogs Exposed was incorrect, totally and fantastically and horrifyingly wrong, in its conclusions. Second, what this means to the community of UK breeders and, because the world of registered dogs is in fact very small, to breeders around the world.

Let’s examine the assertions of the Pedigree Dogs Exposed program, one by one. I’m going to leave out the Pekingese stuff for now, because I want to examine that breed in particular in Part 3.

1. Purebred dogs have radically changed in the last 100 years.

The pictures the documentary uses to supposedly “expose” the changes in purebred dogs are totally false. You cannot make statements about a dog based on a photo of a POOR EXAMPLE of the breed! I can go find you a poorly bred long-legged Basset right now in 2008; doesn’t mean that the breed has changed.

From 1931. See the front legs?

From 1950

Oh, and just because I promised, here’s a 2008 Basset (found this one on one of the Internet puppy finder sites, which means that now I have to take a shower to wash the skeeze off):

Moving on: The bulldog they say is the historic one absolutely isn’t. That’s a PIT bull dog, not a bull-baiting dog.

What they actually looked like in 1850 (look at how short the face is):




Bulldogs: (1950s):

Modern (2007): This is a show Bulldog (a Polish boy). Look at the angle from his nose to his lower jaw. You can see that his upper teeth would be only slightly inside his lower teeth. Note that he’s actually more moderate than the dog from the 1950s!

This is the exact skull the program said was representative of the English Bulldog:

This is not only an incorrect skull but a grossly malformed one. The dog would have had serious trouble eating or living anything close to a normal life.

By the way, this is a skull sold by a medical research company, which would, of course, have nothing to do with determining the normative Bulldog skull. And it’s on the first page of a google images search for “bulldog skull”– the research done for this program was incredibly shallow and irresponsible.

This is the actual Bulldog skull, as described by the illustrated standard–in other words, this is the skull that is seen as the highest achievement of deliberate breeding:

It is absolutely obvious that show breeders do NOT want the unhealthy skull, would immediately reject the unhealthy skull, and would be horrified by any animal in that condition.

2. How about the Bull Terrier! They’ve totally changed! You can see how the skulls have changed through the decades!

Answer: This is the skull series they animated to supposedly show changes (found, yes, in a google images search):

It’s irresponsible of anyone to use that skull series to show that bull terriers used to look like X and now look like Y. That skull series shows exactly what the study says it does, which is that dogs have an extremely plastic phenotype and you can cause rapid changes in a short period of time.

In order to say that bull terriers looked like X in year 0 and look like Y in year 30, you have to show far more than one skull per year and you have to find the NORMATIVE skulls. There’s a huge variation in type according to deliberate breeding (or the opposite, careless breeding) and I could find you identical skulls to every single one of those, all labeled AKC-registered Bull

Terriers, in 2008.

Check it:

The “1890s” skull:

The “1950s” skull:

The “unhealthy overexaggerated skull”:
The “hey, that’s pretty moderate, why don’t breeders do THAT?” skull:

ALL of those are BTs, ALL are from the late 2000s, and the one who is a champion, the head they want? Yep, #4.

Here’s another example, a top-winning Bull Terrier from the 70s: still think the breed is in rapid flux?

3. Rhodesian Ridgebacks have a ridge, which is a form of spina bifida, and because of the ridge they have horrible painful dermoid sinus formations. If they would just breed the ridgeless dogs, they wouldn’t have this problem!

Answer: That statement was just categorically untrue. The ridge is NOT a form of spina bifida; it’s a cowlick. Ridgeless dogs do NOT have a lesser chance of having dermoid sinus formations. They are two separate issues. Dermoid sinus, by the way, is actively battled and bred against by good Ridgeback breeders.

4. Horrible Ridgeback breeders cull puppies without ridges!

Yes, some do. And I want to explain why. It’s not because they’re evil. It’s because ridgeless dogs don’t look like Ridgebacks. They look like a hound-pit bull mix. They are very rarely picked up as Ridgebacks when they come into rescue, so they’re not valued and are not turned over to purebred rescue. Ridgeless dogs are very likely to be put to sleep, assumed to be a dangerous cross-bred. Many end up as bait dogs in dog-fighting rings.

The fate of a ridgeless dog is far less than certain if the first and original owner does not act responsibly, and every breeder knows that you can’t always trust owners to act responsibly.

So, as a breeder, if you know that a certain percentage of your ridgeless puppies are going to end up living horrible lives of pain and confusion and loneliness and then be put to death, even if it’s only one percent, you have a decision to make. You can send them out there, trying hard not to think about that one percent, or you can make sure that their lives are short and painless and they never know fear or hunger or fighting. It is an individual decision that no breeder makes lightly. We LOVE our puppies. We ADORE our dogs. Every single time we lose one it is a personal tragedy. So while I may have certain convictions about what I would do, I have a great deal of sympathy for those who make a decision that is different.

5. Cavalier King Charles Spaniels are unhealthy because uncaring breeders (who, it is pretty explicitly implied, enjoy causing dogs pain) are trying to produce a tiny skull that doesn’t leave enough room for their brains.

Answer: Nobody knows exactly why syringomyelia is a problem in CKCS. The round head type is not appreciably different from many other small dogs, including the English Toy Spaniel, the Shih Tzu, the Maltese, etc. Across the world, good breeders are horrified and are doing something about it. I would bet money that almost every health issue that the documentary pounced on was uncovered by good breeders, the research paid for by good breeders, and the population of good breeders is freaking out and trying to fix.

Note here: (<– linky)

Look at the summary of DNA research. Every single study is being paid for by the breed clubs of various countries, meaning that every penny is coming from the pockets of the breeders themselves.

No one is sure, yet, how to get rid of syringomyelia in CKCS. My sister-in-law owns two Cavaliers, a mom and son, who were given to her by a breeder who MRId the mom and found very mild signs of the disease (the dog is pain-free). That particular breeder was completely clearing out (finding good homes for and never breeding again) every single dog who had any signs of the disorder. The mom dog was imported from England, did well in the shows here, the breeder spent hundreds and hundreds of dollars on health testing, and then gave the dog away. That’s the kind of response good breeders are giving to these horrific diseases.

Right now the Cardigan people are tackling IVDD (disc disease). You know who has worked to describe the disease? breeders. Who is donating thousands of dollars to DNA research? Breeders.

Who is pushing everybody to do cheek swabs, bringing the swabs to shows, pressuring every owner they can think of? Breeders.

There is no body of individuals more dedicated to stamping out canine genetic disease than the ethical purebred breeders. Every year, the purebred clubs donate literally hundreds of thousands of dollars to fund studies to identify genes, they are 90% of the customer base for the genetic testing companies, they are the ones pushing for health registries, they rigidly police their own ranks and disavow anyone who is knowingly breeding unhealthy dogs. I’ve never met a single cross-breeding breeder who will volunteer their dogs for studies, but it’s commonplace in the show world. I have a friend who has driven her Danes hundreds of miles, twice a year, on her own nickel, for years now, just so the researchers can do serial ultrasounds on a related family of dogs. When the call goes out for cheek swabs and blood tests and x-rays and echocardiograms, show breeders consider it their duty to respond–never seen a Puggle breeder do anything of the kind.

The idea that breeders are sinister in this is absolutely untrue. There ARE bad apples. Of course. But when you look at the entire body of responsible breeders, it’s an overwhelmingly concerned and careful group of people.

6. It’s a symptom of how terrible CKCS breeders are that they continue to breed affected dogs.

Answer: is an absolute required read to understand this issue. It is a fact that if no Cavalier with any form of indent in the skull is ever bred, the breed will cease to exist. This seems to be a skull formation that exists throughout the breed (and is NOT, and NEVER HAS BEEN, the result of breeders trying to get a smaller and smaller skull regardless of the consequences). The goal of the protocol is to minimize symptoms and the expression of the actual disease, and to move toward a breed that has no skull indentation. Within this protocol, it is acceptable to breed dogs that have the skull indentation but are asymptomatic, as long as you are breeding them to dogs that do not have the indentation.

7. There are a few good breeders, but most of them are in it only for the ribbons and don’t care about health.

Answer: This really isn’t true. The reason that doesn’t work too well to ignore health if you’re a breeder is that it’s very difficult to exist on your own. You have to buy puppies, use other people’s stud dogs, and hopefully other people will ask to use yours. Since there is a huge, HUGE amount of peer pressure within the group to never lose sight of health testing, you will not be welcome. Puppies will not be sold to you; you will not be able to use stud dogs. Your own stud dogs will not be in demand. So you will not succeed consistently or at all.

I know the Dane world better than I know the Cardigan world, yet. So I can tell you that in the community of blue/black breeders, which is maybe 30-40 active and inactive kennels across the US, there’s a set of four or five “show” breeders that do not health-test consistently, or they do health test but they don’t make decisions based on those results. Everybody knows it and nobody will touch them with a ten-foot pole. The non-testing breeders all stick together and they breed to dogs owned by the other members of that group. They are not respected by their peers, nobody sends puppy people to them, and if we can warn puppy people away from them we try. They’re so shunned that most of the other breeders won’t even breed to something with those kennel names in the pedigree–those non-tested dogs as parents or grandparents taint even otherwise excellent breeding prospects, even if the offspring dog has finished its championship, even if the dog itself has health testing. Those non-testing breeders have effectively totally shot themselves in the feet.

So no, I don’t think that there are many more non-testing breeders than there are testing breeders. The dog show world is intensely political, it’s not really “fair” in many ways. It’s far from perfect. But the pressure to consistently health-test, in every breed I’ve seriously investigated or been involved in, is SERIOUS AND REAL.

8. The show ring is the real evil; because it only looks for beauty, breeders only care about looks.

Answer: The community of good breeders knows that the show ring is purely a place where the conformation of the dog is evaluated. Conformation is only one piece of the puzzle. We think that shows are VERY important, and goodness knows we love the gorgeous dogs who are the top winners, but if you are savvy and watch the dogs actually being bred, you’ll find that some of the top-winning dogs of all time have very, very few offspring. That’s because within their breed, even though the breeders recognized the beauty of the dog, it was not a suitable stud dog or brood bitch because of some health, temperament, or ability shortfall.

That’s where the real question of responsibility comes in. Breeding only for looks is, for obvious reasons (that’s what they see on TV), what everybody thinks we do. But it’s far more often that I hear “I’ve got this lovely bitch at home and there is literally not a male in the country I want to breed her to” than the opposite. It would be EASY to breed for looks and nothing else. But you bankrupt yourself ethically and you do a huge disservice to your dogs if you do.

The one place where I think that the program had some leverage with me was with the rears on German Shepherd Dogs. I happen to be a person who thinks that GSD rears are in terrible shape right now–but what they don’t tell you on the video is that the majority of everybody in the show dog community who are not GSD breeders thinks GSD rears are crazy. “My gosh, I can’t even look at them; they look crippled” is the most common show-ring comment. I HOPE that someday they get their heads out of their armpits and realize that it’s nuts, but I will say that even with the enormous change in preferred style, they’re STILL OFAing their dogs. They’re still testing and still breeding carefully. And not every dog is that extreme–I’ve seen the ones that wobble and I hate it, but I’ve also seen dogs winning that are, yes, overangulated and yes, too far down in the rear, but they can stand normally.

In any other breed, a dog who stood like that in the rear would go to the back of the line. Dog shows are NOT about health; they are about soundness. So you could have a dog with lymphoma win Best in Show as long as he looked sound and muscular and his gait was perfect. That’s why you always insist, as a breeder, and why you must insist as a puppy buyer, on health testing as well as show participation.

How about temperament? Any registered dog on full registration (as opposed to limited, which means that the breeder doesn’t want the dog shown or bred) who is not spayed or neutered can be entered in a dog show and can walk in the ring. That means there are absolutely dogs with poor temperaments in the ring. Again, this is one of the reasons that you sometimes see those top winners with very few offspring. If the handler is good enough to keep the dog from biting the judge, it can and will win. If it does bite, it will be excused and/or disqualified and after 3 DQs you’re done; you can’t ever show the dog again. Dogs that attack other dogs and do harm will sometimes be immediately banned, sometimes not. That’s why you never, as a breeder, breed to a dog without either getting your hands on him yourself or getting the opinion of someone you trust who HAS had their hands on him.

I would honestly invite anyone who is interested in this subject to attend a dog show. I strongly suspect that you’d not find a crazy freak show full of unhealthy dogs. I’ve said this before and I’ll offer again–if someone in the New England area wants to attend a show (to look at the different breeds, to see whether show dogs are abused, to see if this documentary is correct, etc.) and I can get there, I’ll walk around with you and show you what’s going on and what happens with the different breeds.

9. Mixed-breed dogs are healthier and have better temperaments than purebreds because they have hybrid vigor.

Answer: Here’s the way it usually works: Mixed-breed comes into vet. Vet says “I’m so sorry; your dog has osteosarcoma. These things just happen sometimes.” Boxer comes into vet. Vet says “I’m so sorry; your dog has osteosarcoma. It’s because he’s a Boxer.” Labeling plays a HUGE part in our perception of purebred health.

The other thing that happens is that people’s experience with purebreds-and this includes VETS’ experience with purebreds-tends to be almost exclusively with poorly bred ones. How many actively showing, health-tested, hunt-tested Labs have you ever met? How many World Sieger Shepherds? If all you’ve ever met are badly bred purebreds, of COURSE you think they’re all unhealthy and squirrely–they probably are, because they’ve been bred for nothing more than an certificate of registration, and with no more care than you’d use in choosing a pair of socks. An UNTESTED purebred is a very poor health risk, because if you’ve got two dogs on the street at least they have to be strong and sound enough to get tab A into slot B. Purebreds have no such restriction; a bad breeder will find some way to get the bitch pregnant.

There is absolutely no such thing as hybrid vigor in dogs. Hybrid vigor is a term that means that when you breed two TOTALLY unrelated breeds, or even two species, the resulting babies are bigger, taller, stronger, healthier than either parent. So Brahma-Limousin cows, for example, are heartier than either Brahma or Limousin purebreds. In order to take advantage of hybrid vigor, you have to keep breeding the originals–in other words, you don’t keep breeding the Brahmousin to each other or they become just another purebred with no advantages; you’re constantly producing new ones using the two unrelated breeds.

All purebred dogs are about 150-200 years old, and they all came from the same place (Europe). Aside from a few primitive breeds like the Chow, genetic testing has proven that even the breeds that look old are modern European creations (much to the chagrin of the Ibizan hound people). Until 200 years ago, there was no notion of a closed stud book, so while you had some lines that were relatively pure, the fact is that if it could herd and looked mostly like a corgi it WAS a corgi, and the same dog in another part of England would possibly have been labeled as desirable Shetland Sheepdog breeding stock.

So when you breed a Labrador and a Poodle, for example, you’re not accessing any “hybrid vigor.” You’re putting back together two breeds that were probably freely exchanging genes no more than a couple hundred years ago. The hip dysplasia in Poodles is the same hip dysplasia as is in Labs. The genes for thyroid disorders in Dobermans are the same as the genes for thyroid disorders in Rottweilers. You’re right that the genes have to meet to be expressed–and they’re quite as likely to meet when you cross-breed as when you breed two purebreds, except in the relatively few breeds that have genuine issues with a few cancers.

I have four dogs in the house, all of which I love dearly. The Cardigans represent the best lines in the US. They have strong, enduring structure, their backs are not too long or too short (won’t break down under stress); their teeth have a perfect bite so they’ll always be able to eat, even in old age; their front feet turn out no more than 30%, so they won’t get arthritis. They’ve been genetically tested for PRA, heart, hips; I know exactly how long their parents, grandparents, great-grandparents, and gg-grandparents lived and what they died of (actually, thanks to the great good health of Cardis, most of those dogs are still alive). I have an accidental cross rescue, a dachshund/Jack Russell Terrier. He’s also achondroplastic, like the Cardigans, but in his case there’s been no care to make sure his feet don’t turn out too much or that his back is level and strong. His elbows do not touch his body, so he can’t run as fast or corner as quickly as they can. His feet turn out and are flat, so he doesn’t have the tendon system he needs to keep his feet from hurting when he gets older. I have no way of knowing whether he’ll suffer from eye, heart, hip, or spinal problems as he ages. I also have a “designer dog,” a deliberately crossbred Papillon-Cavalier King Charles Spaniel. She has cherry eye, a congenitally deformed jaw, and bowed front legs, and for her whole life I’ll have to watch out for glaucoma, epilepsy, spinal disorders, brain disorders, etc., because none of those have ever been tested for, as far as I know, in her generations of puppy-mill ancestors. So from my point of view this is not even close to an argument.

10. The dog on the program was so congenitally deformed that he had to sit on an “ice pillow” so he wouldn’t die!

Danny, the Peke pictured, was on a cool bed, which is an extremly common tool used in the show ring to keep the dogs comfortable so they won’t pant. It’s got a gel inside that is at room temperature but helps transfer heat, and it feels pleasant to the dog, like lying on a tile floor. Some exhibitors will put an ice pack under the bed to cool it off. We don’t want them to pant because an open mouth makes a bad picture. Judges can’t see the profile of the dog’s head properly if the dog is panting; the dog can’t show an alert or pretty expression when it is panting. We like to have a nice photograph, too; it’s important to us as breeders that photos show our dogs at their best. Danny was in no danger of overheating. It had been a very long day for everyone; Danny was going to need to have his picture taken hundreds or thousands of times and was under hundreds of lights. That made him pant, so his handler wisely let him lie down on a cool bed. No dog would ever lie down on an actual ice pack, any more than you’d lie down on a block of ice.

11. Purebreds are so deformed that they have to be bred by AI and have c-sections!

There’s a huge difference between “have to be” and “usually are.”

Good breeders typically get one or two or three litters from each female. Every single litter is extremely precious and represents the investment of years of effort and thousands and thousands of dollars, and we LOVE our breeding bitches. That means that we have a very low tolerance for the risks associated with breeding.

So a large proportion of ALL breeders, across ALL breeds, preferentially use AI (either “fresh,” where the male is collected right there and the bitch immediately inseminated, or surgical). They don’t want to risk infection, injury (I’ve had a male injured during breeding, so I know this happens), or the possibility that either dog won’t get the job done.

Pekingese CAN breed normally, but their breeders are very worried about the possibility of injury when the two dogs involved are short and heavy, so they do AIs. As I said, this is true across the spectrum of breeds including those very “natural” in shape and size.

There are SO many reasons that dogs end up with sections, and some are a “weakness” and others are not. The c-sections we had with the Danes were on a mother and daughter; the mom’s section was because she had dead puppies inside that had set up a huge infection; she delivered five live and five dead puppies and I sectioned her for the last (live) puppy. Her daughter’s labor stalled out, and when the vet opened her up she found the puppies “shrink wrapped” in an extraordinarily tight uterus (she actually had to be spayed to get the puppies out). For each, if I had let the labor progress she would eventually have delivered. But we would have had what I considered, at the time, exhausted and terrified, too high a chance of losing puppies or mom. Objectively, looking back, I don’t know.

Neither bitch could be bred again, obviously (massive infection and scarring, mandatory spay), but even though this was in mom and daughter I don’t think I would have called it a genetic weakness.

If you have a whole bunch of related dogs who are all ending up with primary inertia–yup, I’m willing to call that a genetic problem. But the number of times I’ve actually seen that isn’t high. Most of the times when you have a high incidence of c-sections it’s for slow labors, which IS something I’d love to have erradicated in purebreds, but the reason they’re sections is that it’s a nervous breeder who sections quickly and for any reason that could possibly lead to puppy death (ummm, guilty as charged).

And of course a true dystocia you’ve got to section or everybody dies.

I’m honestly not sure there’s ANY data about c-section frequency in dogs. I’ve certainly never seen a study or seen a study referred to. You have to understand that c-sections in dogs are run entirely by breeder judgment; except for the very rare complete dystocia, these are ALL breeders making the decisions. So rates are heavily, probably almost completely, influenced by personal comfort levels and not necessarily by any kind of medical reality.

Let me give you an example: I have a friend, a GREAT breeder, who breeds Mastiffs. She sections every bitch, every time. They do not get a trial of labor, nothing. For her, losing a puppy is absolutely unacceptable. She also needs the predictability of being able to take two weeks off work for each litter. So she progestone tests, knows the day of ovulation, schedules the section for the exact day when delivery should occur (this is actually OK in dogs–there’s not a wide range like there is in human women), and sections every bitch.

So she’s got multiple generations getting multiple c-sections. But *could* those bitches have free-whelped? Quite possibly. She could, in fact, have the freest of free-whelping Mastiffs in the entire country, but the stats would not reflect that.

I have another friend, a Bull Terrier breeder, who NEVER sections except for a complete dystocia/malpresentation. She wants the bitch to whelp no matter what. She’s lost large proportions of entire litters during the whelping process; almost every litter has at least one or two stillborns. So are her dogs statistically complete free-whelpers? Absolutely. Would they be free-whelpers if they lived in my house? VERY doubtful.

Pekingese (and bulldogs and pugs and so on) CAN free-whelp. But they will lose puppies if they do, and these are already breeds who cost a huge amount (not just in money) to get pregnant and who have small litters. A single stillborn represents half the litter, often. When canine c-sections are relatively safe and ensure that you get every puppy out alive, for many breeders (across ALL breeds) and or many repro vets, this decision is absolutely understandable.

I want to spend some time now looking at the specific situation with the Pekingese standard, because the changes made to it are the distillation of the new direction the Kennel Club has decided to take in its (regrettable, in my opinion) response to the concerns raised in the Pedigree Dogs Exposed program. Pekingese were the first to fall in what is going to be a wholesale razing of standards because they have the misfortune of combining all of the mutations (and they are mutations, that much is true) that the program highlighted.

Pekes have a brachycephalic face, they are achondroplastic, they are often gotten pregnant via AI and given c-sections, they have great quantity of coat, they have a tail up over the back, they have long spines in proportion to their height, they have heavy shoulders and forequarters, and (let’s face it) they walk funny. For an agenda that focuses on appearance as an indicator of health, they’re walking around with big red targets on their backs.

What I want to do first is explore exactly how tortured a typical Peke’s life is, and then move on to what the implications of this move are going to be for all registered dogs. I don’t think I’m exaggerating or overreacting when I say that this will have very profound and very far-reaching effects throughout dogdom.

Pedigree Dogs Exposed made so many terrible assertions about Pekingese dogs that many viewers probably wondered how on earth the dogs could even make it through the day. But the Peke is actually, in the grand scheme of things, a pretty hardy little dog. They run like crazy-yes, even the ones with the show-quality faces-they jump, they play fight, and they live terribly long lives, well into their teens. You need to stop and realize what that means-they have a lifespan between four and six years longer than the average Golden Retriever. Four to six years longer than Flat-coats. Six years longer than the average Great Dane. They are stubborn, charming, demanding dogs with a fiercely devoted following, and if you buy one you are much more likely to have it die of old age than anything else.

The health problems that occur in Pekingese dogs do relate to the dog’s face. A proportion of the dogs will need soft palate surgery, and probably more should get it than currently do. The poorly bred dogs, whose breeders are not paying attention to this issue, can also have stenotic nares, where the nostrils curl inward and restrict free breathing. Labored breathing affects the health adversely, (eventually) causing tracheal problems and heart problems.

The question is Does this need disqualify the Peke from existing? I would strongly argue that the answer is no.

Palate surgery is one day in the life of the dog; it is not a risky surgery and when done with a small laser does not even require stitches. Stenotic nares surgery, where it is necessary, requires only two sutures. These procedures, alone or in combination, totally solve the breathing issue and resolve any discomfort.

What the Kennel Club should have done, in my opinion, is immediately respond to criticism about SHAPE by emphasizing QUALITY OF LIFE. Pekes generally have an extremely high one. This is not a breed in crisis.

What needs to be changed, I would argue, is that breeders should stop any form of insisting that the face is not an issue. They must instead fully acknowledge it and take responsibility for making sure it never affects the dogs’ quality of life. If breeders established as a standard best practice that puppies be kept until the palate could be evaluated, and that any puppy or young dog receive any needed surgery before being placed, without exception, they would do a great deal of good for the individual dogs and for the image of the breed.

This would almost certainly necessitate a longer period of time before the puppies could go to homes; a possible “fix” could be the use of a palate deposit or similar, where part of the purchase price could be held in anticipation of the surgery. If the dog needs the surgery, it is “free” or at a much reduced cost to the owner; if the dog does not need the surgery everyone goes on his or her way with a happy and healthy dog.

Why is this so terribly important, and why should every breed club take notice and strongly consider allying with the Pekingese contingent to fight this?

Let’s look at the mutations that were targeted in the television program, and look at how the Kennel Club changed the standard to move toward erasing exaggerations in EACH area. Most people think that the face is the only thing the KC cares about. This is entirely false and you’re asking to have your standard changed underneath you if you don’t pay attention. Complacency is a VERY BAD IDEA.

Face: If we take the necessity for soft palate resection or stenotic nares to be criteria for a needed change in the standard, EVERY brachycephalic breed is in danger. Every single one of them, even those with as much muzzle as a Boxer or American Cocker, needs tracheal surgery on a more or less regular basis. LENGTHENING THE PEKE MUZZLE WILL NOT FIX THIS. This is SO IMPORTANT to understand! Let me say it again:

If the necessity for palate surgery is the criterion, nothing less than a full (same length as backskull) muzzle will suffice.

That means the Kennel Club can be expected to target the following breeds:

  • American Cocker Spaniel
  • Boston Terrier
  • Bulldog
  • French Bulldog
  • Shih Tzu
  • Tibetan Spaniel
  • Boxer
  • Affenpinscher
  • Brussels Griffon
  • English Toy Spaniel (what the UK calls the King Charles Spaniel)
  • Japanese Chin
  • Pekingese
  • Pug

Legs: The Kennel Club specifically changed the leg length on the Peke. The Pedigree Dogs Exposed program called for an end to the breeding of achondroplastic dogs (who are “mutated” and “deformed”).

This means you will see pressure on, if not changes to the standard for:

  • Basset Bleu De Gascogne
  • Basset Fauve De Bretagne
  • Basset Griffon Vendeen
  • Basset Hound
  • Dachshund (all six varieties)
  • Clumber Spaniel
  • Cesky Terrier
  • Dandie Dinmont
  • Glen of Imaal Terrier
  • Sealyham Terrier
  • Scottish Terrier
  • Skye Terrier
  • Swedish Vallhund
  • Pembroke Welsh Corgi
  • Cardigan Welsh Corgi
  • Lancashire Heeler

Wrinkle: This was specifically mentioned as a problematic mutation. Look for targets painted on these breeds:

  • Bullmastiff
  • Dogue De Bordeaux
  • Mastiff Neapolitan
  • Mastiff
  • Shar-Pei
  • Bloodhound

Coat: is already being radically changed in the Pekingese standard. Others that share the excessive coat mutation:

  • Puli
  • Chow
  • Bergamasco
  • Komondor
  • Poodle
  • The Bichon group: Bichon, Havanese, Bolognese, Maltese, Coton
  • The hairless breeds: Chinese Crested, Mexican Hairless

Eye size: The large round eye is being changed. Other breeds with similar eyes (that are not already targeted under the anti-brachycephalic language):

  • Lhasa Apso
  • Cavalier King Charles Spaniel
  • Pomeranian
  • Chihuahua

Thick bone/heavy forefront: Most affected breeds are already noted here under another mutation, but I think the Clumber Spaniel could fall into this category.

Commonly bred by AI/commonly delivered by c-section: Because it is not recognized that these decisions are made by breeders who are nervous about disease, need to get a breeding done in a short amount of time, and won’t tolerate losing puppies, this will also be perceived as a health issue. Expect most of the toy breeds, the short-bodied muscular dogs, and many of the very large breeds to be blamed.

Common congenital issues: Now here’s where we’re going to really get in trouble - as if we haven’t already. The RSPCA has already made the case that deliberately breeding ANY dog with a congenital issue or with the possibility of passing along a congenital issue is “pain-breeding.” Think about this very carefully. Is your breed currently fighting an issue? Goldens and Flatcoats and Rotties and Boxers and Bernese and Danes with cancers and heart problems; Collies with CEA; Poodles with SA; breeds with storage diseases, breeds with low puppy vitality, breeds with Addisons and Cushings. Let’s make the pile higher: Dalmatians with deafness; Keeshonds with thyroid disorders; Dobermans with von Willebrands and color dilution alopedia; the fifty breeds at increased risk for bloat.

I know of very few, if any, breeds that do not have one or two issues that are more common than in the background population.

Unless we are very clear on the benefits that deliberate purebred development brings - that yes, your Smooth Fox Terrier is more likely to have patellar problems than average, but is healthier and more predictable in these other four ways - we are going to find ourselves playing a very uncomfortable game of defense against people who do not like us, who do not think dogs ought to be deliberately bred at all, and who view purpose-breeding that changes body types as immoral and quite possibly illegal.

The other thing nobody’s talking about is what this decision and the changes in the standard are going to do with the UK Pekingese. The United Kingdom has historically been a repository of some of the very best genes in purebred dogs. They REALLY know how to breed dogs. For such a small country, they have an incredibly huge number of dogs being exported to all corners of the world to enrich and better the gene pools and conformation of many breeds. The herding dogs, of course; the Labrador and Sussex and Clumber and other sporting dogs; many of the giants (I absolutely love the UK Danes; they have the fronts and shoulders that put the US dogs to shame); etc.– all of them exist there in an excellence of form and function that exist very few other places.

The changing of these standards is going to effectively rip these breeds out of international consideration, and vice versa. Crufts, which has been the show against which all other shows are compared, will no longer be allowed to use the standards that draw breeders from the US and all over the Western and Eastern Hemispheres. That means that it will no longer be a meeting of the best of the best. The UK will no longer be the arbiter of quality. And there is a very real danger that the FCI (the standards-keeping body for most of the world except the US, Canada, UK, and Australia) will throw the UK Pekingese out if it physically changes. This has already happened with the US Akita when the US decided the breed should be larger and stockier and be many different colors; the FCI split the breed into two (the American Akita and the Japanese Akita) to indicate that the US Akitas had indeed become a different breed. Accordingly, the two are no longer allowed to be bred together. If this is what happens to the UK Pekingese, the breed will effectively be stranded in one country, unable to contribute to or access the gene pools of other countries, or to be shown against the Pekingese in other countries.

Implications: What’s next?

We must have good, logical, specific, TRUE, and ethical answers to the following questions, remembering that most people have little or no experience with the well-bred purebred. Don’t lose sight of this! Most people go through their entire lives and never meet even a single show dog. They already think of show breeders as a group of weirdos who don’t like normal dogs, and this recent criticism has fueled the “us” (owners and dogs) versus “them” (breeders) view. If we avoid these questions, or don’t have well-thought-out answers to them ( “because you just don’t understand” or “because that’s what makes a good show dog” are NOT good answers - we have to have answers that focus on the good of the dog and its suitability as a pet), we will only fall deeper into this hole.

We must also willingly and proactively admit that these body shapes ARE mutations, and DO require a lot of care to breed properly. We should immediately tell our prospective owners that the unhealthy short leg, or short face, is a legitimate danger to the dog.

Individually and as clubs, we must consider:

Is the brachycephalic head an unhealthy head? Does it disqualify the breed as a pet? How much does it affect normal quality of life? How does it change the care the dog must receive? How can you recognize an unhealthy brachycephalic head as opposed to a healthy one?

Is the achondroplastic leg an unhealthy mutation? What is its purpose? What is a sound achondroplastic leg as opposed to an unsound one?

Is it cruel to breed dogs with a lot of hair (or no hair at all)?

And so on–carefully consider anything that could legitimately be called a mutation, whether of skin or hair or bone or ears or head or whatever.

Are we doing absolutely everything we can to respond to genetic disease? If we are, how do we communicate that in a clear and succinct way to our puppy buyers?

Is our breed in a genetic corner scary enough that we need to consider cross-breeding with another breed? (Listen, I know how unpopular this is, but this decision will be made for us if we’re not proactive about it.)

We must realize the implications of buying the lie that mutations are bad. If we try to toe that line, purebred dogs as we know it will end. A three-inch leg will NOT satisfy this requirement better than a two-inch leg. A short muzzle will NOT satisfy this requirement better than a flat face. The only logical outcome of this kind of philosophy is that all dogs end up looking like wolves again.

We must make sure that the public sees the truth - that we got into this activity because we are knowledgeable, careful, passionate dog owners. It’s tragic that the opposite is usually assumed. We need to emphasize the nature of our involvement with dogs as being 98% pet owners and dog lovers and 2% exhibitors, that we show dogs to enjoy time with them, that we don’t make money on litters, that we are heavily involved in rescue, that we sponsor research and homeless dogs, and every other great and good thing show breeders do.

Get out there! Show breeders should be walking dogs through town, should be coming to the street fairs, should be bringing dogs to groomers, etc. Don’t let your dogs sit in the backyard while every other human on the street is walking a Labradoodle and enthusing about what a great dog they are.

Danny, the Peke so unfairly featured in the Pedigree Dogs Exposed program, is now nine years old and healthy and happy. Why wasn’t this emphasized in the Kennel Club response? Why wasn’t Danny immediately shown, running happily around his yard and flirting with his bitches? Instead, the world is left to believe that he probably walked off the green carpet at Crufts and fell over dead.

The best defense is a good offense. This cannot be said more clearly. Breed clubs need to take firm control of this issue and present a TRUTHFUL picture of their breed and their practices, or they will have that picture painted of them-and it will not be flattering.

Friday, April 24, 2009

Commercial Breeders Produce Healthy Puppies?

On one of the canine genetics lists someone has questioned why it would "not be possible that commercial breeders are careful to produce healthy puppies", afterall "market forces ... must control the quality of these operations" because "if you have a bad product, the word spreads fast, you get a bad reputation and you are no longer able to sell your product".

One would think (and hope) that would be the case, but in fact most commercial puppy buyers are unaware of the conditions from where pet stores and online brokers acquire puppies.

Here are 14 links that distinguish between the various types of breeders and dog producers and how purpose and goals drive the breeding operations:

Types of Breeders

Evaluating A Pet Dog Breeder

Puppy Mills

The price of puppies, literally

Hobby vs. Commercial Or Wholesale Persian Cat Breeder

Dog Breeders

How to Distinguish Reputable Breeders from Any Other Dog Breeders

What Is A Dog Breeder?

Evaluating A Breeder

How to find a reputable breeder

Breeder of Westminster winner Uno has a few words for PETA


How Responsible Breeders Differ from Backyard Breeders and Pet Shops

Stop Puppy Mills - Survivor Stories

Wednesday, April 22, 2009

What do dogs have in common with fruit flies?

From: April 12, 2009

Just this week I was sent the link to this article and I thought it was one that was worth sharing. Note the last paragraph. The Genetic Dynamics Of Inbreeding Depression "It means that there is no easy fix to the problem of inbred populations. The best approach is to try to preserve and maintain genetic diversity in natural populations well before they begin their slide into an "extinction vortex," he said."

Some things to keep in mind about this paper:

(1) First it's a study of fruit flies, not even mammals, let alone dogs.

(2) The fruit flies were genetically identical except for one chromosome. Even siblings in a high COI purebred dog litter would not come close to being as genetically similar similar as the fruit flies in this particular study.

(3) No dog breeder ever inbreeds to the extent that occurred in this research.

Some will try to argue that dog genetics is no different from genetically manipulated fruit fly studies.

But what useful information for dog breeders comes out of exaggerated "near clone" type experiments using fruit flies?

This particular study involved the use of genetic manipulation; the fruit flies were basically manufactured to be genetically identical except for one chromosome. Genetically identical dogs or species do not occur naturally - even identical twins are not genetically identical.

This study is being inappropriately used to promote the "evils" of inbreeding in dogs, without any mention of how breeders are able to use selection and pedigree histories to increase the liklihood (probability) of producing healthy, sound, examples of the breed.

It never ceases to amaze me why we need to extrapolate from the results of studies of fruit flies and other animals in order to predict the possible effects of inbreeding in dogs. I mean we have millions of purebred dogs just laying at our feet. Why can't we study them?

Normally research results are only extrapolated to other situations that cannot be directly investigated.

For whatever reason, we have few studies of dogs to draw from, which begs the question could that be because there really is no need for such studies?

I mean, where is the evidence?

If purebred dogs really are in the crisis that some claim, would there not be much insistence from recognized authorities to collect data and investigate the issues, and wouldn't the evidence be glaring?

Millions of public funds go into research projects for wild animals, and yet it is only the dog breed clubs that fundraise for research into genetic diseases affecting purebred dogs.

That's pretty compelling evidence that the only people who really care about the health of purebred dogs are the breed fanciers themselves. But, hey, aren't they the very ones that the television expose Pedigree Dogs Exposed was talking about? You know the people who are to blame for ruining all these breeds in the first place?

Pedigree Dogs Exposed has about as much in common with the truth as dogs have with genetically altered fruit flies.

Sunday, April 5, 2009

The Wolves of Isle Royale - The Implications of the Transitional Vertebrae Findings

The canine genetics lists and Terrierman are all a twitter about the finding of transitional vertebrae in the inbred population of wolves that live on the Isle Royale in Lake Superior. Terrierman blogs in his typical sensationalistic style that Inbred Wolves Live with Pain (April 4, 2009). Oh, the horror of inbreeding! Once again Terrierman speaks from an uninformed and unresearched position.

Background Information:

Approximately 24 wolves (up by one from last year) and approximately 520 moose (down by 650 from last year) live on the Isle Royale that is situated in Lake Superior. The Isle Royale is just 50 miles long and 8 miles wide.

The moose population originated with moose that are believed to have swam to the island in the 1900's. The wolf population is believed to have stemmed from wolves that crossed the ice from Minnesota or Ontario around the year 1950.

The population of moose and wolves fluctuate from year to year. The moose peaked at 2,445 in 1995. The 2007 moose survey of 385 has been the lowest numbers recorded. The number of wolves has ranged from a low just 11 in 1993 (following the introduction of parvovirus by a dog) to a high of 50 in 1980. The approximately 24 wolves currently on the island are divided into three packs.

Moose kills comprise 90% of the wolves diets. They hunt and kill moose in packs of about 6 or 7 wolves. Bringing down a moose is no easy task even for 6 to 7 wolves, it requires expending considerable energy, and the wolves are frequently injured. Most have suffered broken ribs from being kicked by moose. The body of one wolf that was retrieved by researchers was found to have broken ribs, and bruising and bleeding in the lung area, sustained most likely from being kicked by a moose that it was attacking.

The main causes of death for the wolves of Isle Royale include: (1) lack of food, and (2) being killed by other wolves in conflict over food.

The Isle Royale moose can live to 17 years of age, but most die before 9 years of age. They are plagued by winter ticks which feed on their blood and cause hair loss and just make life miserable for the moose.

Isle Royale wolf pups that manage to survive to 6 or 7 months of age, tend to live on average to 3 or 4 years of age. Some years none of the pups survive. An alpha wolf may survive to 9 or 10 years of age.

The wolves of Isle Royale walk approximately 30 miles a day.

Researchers who track the populations of moose and wolves on Isle Royale are concerned about the arthritic spines (spondylosis?) and transitional vertebrae that have been found in 58% of the skeletal remains of wolves found on the island since 1993.

Read here about a witnessed moose kill involving seven wolves

Now I ask you, after reading this, did you get a picture of crippled up wolves in agony?

Of course not!

And there is good reason to believe that the transitional vertebrae findings in the wolves of Isle Royale are not causing pain or mobility issues.

Why do I say that?

Because transitional vertebrae and spondylosis are usually an incidental finding in dogs for the most part and typically do not present with clinical signs requiring treatment.

Why would it be any different for wolves, especially considering their short life span (3 to 4 years) in the wild?

Quick facts about spondylosis:

  • Found in 70% of dogs
  • Occurs in mixed bred and purebred dogs
  • Typically an incidental finding when xraying for some other reason
  • Rarely produces clinical signs
  • OFA does not see as a reason to remove a dog from a breeding program
  • Also occurs in cats (68%)

    • Quick facts about transitional vertebrae:
      • Typically an incidental finding when xraying for some other reason
      • Rarely produces clinical signs
      • OFA does not see as a reason to remove a dog from a breeding program
      • Can be associated with hip dysplasia
      • Frequent in cats and rarely presents with clinical signs

      What do veterinary radiologists have to say about transitional vertebrae and spondylosis?

      From Small Animal Radiology and Ultrasonography: A Diagnostic Atlas and Text by Ronald L. Burk, Daniel A. Feeney, Norman Ackerman (2003):

      "Spondylosis deformans is the most common degenerative disease that affects the spinal column. This produces a partial or complete bony bridge between the caudal aspect on one vertebral body and the cranial aspect of the adjacent vertebral body. The body proliferation, although frequently present on the ventral and lateral surfaces of the vertebral bodies, rarely is present on the dorsal portion and therefore rarely encroaches upon the spinal cord or on the nerve root. Thus spondylosis almost never has clinical ramifications except for pain in "nearly" bridged vertebrae. In rare cases the amount of spondylosis may become extensive. Bridging spondylosis involving fore or more contiguous vertebrae has been termed diffuse spinal idiopathic hyperostosis (DISH). Close scrutiny of these animals will reveal stiffness in some individuals. Spondylosis may be seen at necropsy in dogs as young as 6 months of age but is usually a disease of older large breed dogs. The ossification may start from one vertebrae and grow toward the other, may start on both and meet in the middle, may start in teh middle and progress in both directions, or may have any combination of these variations. Spondylosis may result in complete spinal fusion. Some mechanical interference with normal activity may results, but in most cases the bony lesion doesn not produce clinical signs. Narrowing of the intervertebral disc space maby occur secondary to spondylosis, but in most cases the disc is not prolapsed. Spondylosis may also occur secondary to chronic disc prolapse. The distinction between these two conditions usually is based on the amount of spondylosis that is present. If only one disc space is affected and there is no evidence of spondylosis at other sites, then the lesion most likely is primary disc degeneration with secondary spondylosis. If there is extensive spondylosis with only one narrowed disc space, then the lesion most likely is primary spondylosis deformans with secondary disc degeneration. If clinical signs are present. a myelogram is needed to document or rule out disc prolapse."

      From Exercises in veterinary radiology: spinal disease by Joe P. Morgan, Cleta Sue Bailey (2000):

      "Many of the dogs with a transitional vertebrae have concurrent hip dysplasia. If the pelvic attachment in these dogs caused angulation and/or pelvic rotation, an assymetrical arthrosis results. The resulting degree of femoral head subluxation and secondary osteoarthrosis is greater in the hip in which the dorsal acetabular coverage is decreased."

      "Transitional vertebrae in the cat are frequent and have a similar appearance to what is seen in the dog, however, they are rarely associated with a clinical problem. This may be a result of the cat's smaller size or may relate to their physical activities."

      What does the Orthopedic Foundation for Animals (OFA) say about transitional vertebrae and spondyosis?

      "Transitional vertebra is an incidental radiographic finding noted during the evaluation process. Transitional vertebrae are a congenital malformation of the spine that occurs at the junctions of major divisions of the spine (usually between the thoracic and lumbar vertebral junction and the lumbar and sacral vertebral junction). Transitional vertebrae take on anatomic characteristics of both divisions of the spine it occurs between. The most common type of transitional vertebrae reported by the OFA is in the lumbar-sacral area where the last lumbar vertebral body takes on anatomic characteristics of the sacrum. Transitional vertebrae are usually not associated with clinical signs and the dog can be used in a breeding program. The OFA recommends breeding the dog to a dog with a clear family history for transitional vertebrae."

      "Spondylosis is another incidental radiographic finding where smooth new bone production is visualized between vertebral bodies at the intervertebral disc spaces. The new bone production can vary in extent from formation of small bone spurs to complete bridging of adjacent vertebral bodes. Spondylosis may occur secondary to spinal instability but often it is of unknown cause and clinically insignificant. A familial basis for its development has been reported. Like transitional vertebrae, dogs with spondylosis can be used in breeding programs. It is recommended however, that they not be bred to others with the same condition."

      Many, many dogs are living normal lives and exhibiting no clinical signs despite showing radiographic evidence of spondylosis and transitional vertebrae. The OFA does not see either of these conditions as reasons to remove a dog from a breeding program.

      My suggestion for the researchers of the Isle Royale wolves would be to take a "wait and see" approach. Clearly, the wolves are well able to bring down bull moose to feed on. They are not hampered in their long treks of 30 miles per day. Most never live long enough for the spondylosis to be able to progress (if it does) to the point of severely hampering mobility and survival. Wolves of advanced age (8 to 10 years) have been found on the island.

      The predator - prey balance on the Isle Royale is tenuous at best. Introducing wolves is a risky prospect. Wolves are well known for killing strange wolves so the introduced wolves may not survive their "introduction". The moose are being severely impacted by the winter tick infestation (maybe something should be done about that?). Bringing in more wolves could result in a devastation of the moose population by (1) "potentially" fitter wolves (without spondylosis and transitional vertebrae *if* these conditions are truly impacting on the fitness of Isle Royale wolf) and (2) potentially increased wolf population (if the introduced wolves are able to establish themselves). Natural selection will over time select for the fittest wolves and it may be that the spinal abnormalities found in the skeletal remains of the Isle Royale wolves have not reached the threshold at which point fittness is impacted, and in fact due to natural selection may never reach that point of threshold.

      So my position remains one of "wait and see".

      If the wolves of Isle Royale go extinct or reach dangerously low levels then outside wolves can easily be introduced at any point if desired.

      But until there is solid evidence that the wolves can no longer fend for themselves and/or are manifesting signs of distress, then they should, in my opinion, be left alone.

      With dogs, breeders can xray spines and make appropriate breeding decisions. But how could such an approach be used with the wolves of Isle Royale? Even if they could be sedated and xrayed, how would one go about controlling mate selection? Use AI's sure, but once they are released they would just go mate with a related wolf that likely also has spondylosis and transitional vertebrae.

      At this point in time the spinal abnormalities are not producing evidence that the wolves fittness is affected. Bodies found by researchers, as reported on the The Wolves and Moose of Isle Royale site died due to one being killed by an alpha male, another from falling through the ice and presumably drowning, and another from injuries sustained during a moose attack. There is some suggestion that the wolf injured by the moose may have not been nimble enough to avoid being kicked. Reading the account of the bull moose attack where the wolves were hanging by their teeth from the rump of the moose and sustaining kicks, it's pretty clear that the most pristine spine would not enable a wolf to avoid getting kicked while hanging on to the rear end of a powerful kicking moose!

      These wolves have survived on the Isle Royale for 51 years now; if inbreeding was going to lead to their demise, it would have done so by now. Both the moose and the wolves have been highly inbred since the 1900's and 1950's respectively, yet according to John Vucetich, Michigan Tech scientist and now the lead scientist in the 51-year-old study of moose and wolves on the island: “Wolves right now are surprisingly holding their own. And moose are fairly steady as well, maybe down some’’. Vucetich also noted "it’s not clear if the deformities are hurting the overall wolf population or just individual animals. So far, wolf numbers have not crashed from the problem" (from Isle Royale wolves suffering from inbreeding: Scientists uncertain whether population needs “genetic rescue’

      The research team studying the Isle Royale wolves is looking for public opinion on whether they should intervene or not. Why not add you own opinion?

      Do Isle Royale Wolves Need Genetic Rescuing?

      What do you think?


      Morgan, J.P. & Cleta, S. B. (2000). Exercises in veterinary radiology: spinal disease. Wiley-Blackwell.

      Burke, R.L., Feeney, D.A., & Ackerman, N. (2003). Small animal radiology and ultrasonography: a diagnostic atlas and text (3rd edition). Elsevier Health Sciences.