The closed registry system is so nineteenth/twentieth century. This is what the dogs need now.
David Cunningham comments on this blog pretty regularly.
This a video about an appeal to for a basenji that is suffering from both Fanconi syndrome and either an ulcer or a tumor. The dog’s owner is need of funds for a endoscopic exam to determine whether she has either a tumor or an ulcer.
Basenjis look like they could be the most healthy dogs ever. They are very close to the primitive “wolf-like” dogs. They are more closely related to Middle Eastern wolves, which have been posited as a possible source of ancestry for domestic dogs, than other breeds are. The rarely bark, which may have been adaptation to avoid leopard predation. Leopards love dog and jackal meat and a barking dog or jackal is likely to draw in a leopard.
Or the dogs may have never developed barking at all. However, wolves do bark, especially when they feel that there is a threat near their young, and I have personally heard a coyote bark, which sounds almost exactly like a dog of half its size.
Basenjis are also typically monestrous, which means they have only one heat cycle per year– usually in the autumn months. There are other breeds that have monestrous breeding cycles, certain laikas and primitive sighthounds, but the basenji is the most famous for having these traits. Basenjis are comparatively much more common in North America than any of those breeds.
Basenjis obviously have no extreme exaggerations in conformation. They are not pugs or bulldogs with flattened muzzles and distorted airways that make breathing and cooling themselves problematic. They are not German shepherds with sloping backs or dachshunds with legs too short and backs too long– both of which cause massive structural problems for the dogs.
No. The basenji’s problems are much harder to understand.
The basenji’s problems come from what I call the Tristan da Cunha problem. It’s a phenomenon better known as a founder effect.
The reason why I refer to Tristan da Cunha is that is good example of what happens when a relatively small population is reproductively isolated.
32 percent of all islanders on St. Tristan da Cunha have a history of asthma, yet they live on a very isolated island in the South Atlantic Ocean. The people who founded the island’s population were a mixture of the British garrison that guarded Napoleon on St. Helena and some Dutch, Italian and American settlers who came to the island. The entire population is derived from just 15 individuals, which is actually very similar to human population resembling a closed registry breed of dog.
Three of the original founders were asthma sufferers, which 1 out of 5, and is actually much higher than one would expect in a nineteenth century population living in a part of the world with no industry.
But because that population became isolated from the rest of humanity, those alleles for heightened tendency towards asthma became more and more common in the population. With no new blood coming into the population, the tendency for people to inherit these alleles simply became more likely.
Now, this is exactly what happened to the basenji in the West. The basenji is naturally occurring landrace that occurs in central Africa. It was never a breed in the sense that it had a closed registry and a breed standard. However, that all changed when Western dog fanciers became interested in them.
In the twentieth century, there were three major importations of basenjis into the West. The first of these came in the 1920’s, when Lady Helen Nutting brought six dogs to England from the Sudan. All of these dogs died of distemper, but in the 1940’s, the famous (or infamous) German-American animal importer Henry Trefflich imported some basenjis from the Congo Basin into the UK and the US. Trefflich was into importing exotic animals from Africa, South America, and Asia for circuses, zoos, and Hollywood movies. His normal imports included hippos and jaguars, but a barkless dog from deepest, darkest Africa certainly would have been an amazing item to offer for sale.
Until the 1990’s, all basenjis in the West were derived from Trefflich’s imports. They were bred as a closed registry population, just like the population of Tristan da Cunha. However, unlike the human population, where incest is a taboo, basenjis began to be bred for the dog shows, and line breeding became more and more common. Line breeding, which is a variant of inbreeding (regardless of what the so-called dog experts tell you), is a very good way to make the problems that come from founder effect much worse. Within these dogs were the genetic tendency towards Fanconi syndrome,
In the 1990’s, it was decided that the basenji needed some new blood, so 14 dogs were imported from Central Africa to increase genetic diversity. These imports also introduced brindle coloration into the breed, but because the breed is still managed in a closed registry system, the dogs still have problems. Fanconi syndrome, which the dog in the video suffers from, is the most infamous disease in the breed. It’s a disorder that prevents the kidneys from reabsorbing electrolytes and nutrients, and it can result in significant organ damage if not treated.
The reason why it’s so common in basenjis is that in that founding population that Trefflich imported, there were dogs with a genetic tendency towards the disorder in the population. When these dogs were bred in a closed off population, the alleles for the tendency toward the disorder wound up being expressed. The allele for Fanconi syndrome in basenjis is a simple recessive, meaning that it would only ever be express if a dog inherited two copies of the allele from both parents. In a genetically diverse population, these recessives would have less of a likelihood of being expressed, which is a good reason why we ought to scuttle the entire closed registry system for domestic dogs.
Fanconi syndrome is now very common in basenjis, and even though a genetic test is available for selecting away from the disorder, one has to wonder if trying to breed out this disease is the best way to manage it
The best way to manage it would be to have an open registry for basenjis. This is how it would have been managed naturally in the Central African population. Genetic diversity and constant gene flow would prevent this disorder from being
Yes, I’m aware that breeding them to Western dogs would meant that some of the super special basenji traits might be reduced– at least in F1 crosses. The famous Scott and Fuller experiments with dog breeds included crosses between basenjis and cocker spaniels to determine the inheritance of barking behavior in domestic dogs. The basenji-cockers barked more readily than any of the pure basenjis.
But I bet we could easily return to basenji characteristics by backcrossing any hybrids into the pure population. It’s been done with breed after breed.
However, as with most problems in dogs, human politics and human mores keep rational breeding schemes from being utilized.
In this breed, there are people who think they are exactly the same breed as the tesem dogs of Ancient Egypt. There are people who think they are derived from black-backed jackals or African wild dogs, neither of which can actually cross with basenjis or any other breed of domestic dog.
People are so worked up on preserving what they view as an ancient artifact that they forget that this is a living organism with feelings and emotions, as well as things like genetic drift and random mutation.
It’s really quite sad.
I only came across this video because I do watch Jaclyn Glenn’s videos on politics, skepticism, and religion, and I just happened to come across this one about a dog. You can donate to help Rauree here.
A pekingese with a profile like this:
Anyone who can say that dog shows are solely about selecting for improvements within breeding stock clearly needs to have their heads examined.
And even if we accept that some breeds do have functional standards, it is the same piece of paper that says the sleek German short-haired pointer is of breeding quality that also says the same about the deformed pekingese.
Why would anyone who breeds functional dogs want anything to do with an organization that rewards pekingeses, bulldogs, and pugs?
This is why I think multibreed registries really don’t have much of a place in the future of dogs.
And if breeders of functional breeds had half a brain, they would walk out of these registries that celebrate deformity en masse.
What good is to say that you breed dogs to functional standard when in the ring next to you there are all these dogs struggling to breathe and cool themselves?
These dogs defame dog breeding as a respectable activity. They are not worth defending in the least.
The AKC got shellacked in a piece on HBO RealSports last night.
Soledad O’Brien did a short, Pedigree Dogs Exposed-type segment for the series.
And the AKC proved just how inept it really is when it comes to public relations.
This is what the AKC is promoting as its response to the segment, which supposedly shows that Soledad O’Brien was unfair and deliberately cut out reasonable parts to make it look more sensationalist.
The piece was largely about bulldogs, which are the poster dogs for all that is wrong with the modern dog fancy.
So the questions are all about bulldogs.
And to say that these responses were twaddle is a bit of a stretch. It’s not even twaddle. It’s not even spin. It’s just mantras!
“Happy, healthy dogs” and “the breed standards is a blueprint” are the worst mantras ever.
“Happy, healthy dogs” are perhaps the three most meaningless words in the English language when they put in this particular syntax.
And breed standards are not blueprints. They are actually scripture. And like all scripture, they are up for interpretation, and the interpretation often depends upon how ignorant and/or evil the person doing the interpreting actually is.
The only thing they say that is true is that the bulldog has been bred to this standard for over a century, and this was certainly the first breed to be so severely deformed through competitive dog showing, that within 25 years of it entering the Kennel Club, the very “typey” bulldogs were having all sorts of trouble. And one winning specimen couldn’t even finish a walking race!
It is a circular argument to say that bulldogs have been bred this way for a long time, therefore the standard is good.
The fact is this breed is a monstrosity of canine flesh, and sadly, it has been that way for over a century. i
The AKC better hire some PR people. It is obvious there is now some blood in the water, and it’s just a mater of time before there is a Hollywood documentary in the same vein as Pedigree Dogs Exposed.
If the AKC handles this poorly, as it very likely will, then we will have animal rights legislation of the absolute worst sort shoved down our throats.
This is the real threat.
The AKC doesn’t understand that its values are behind the times when it comes to both science and ethics, and if it continues on, all dog breeders will soon be so regulated as to make dog breeding next to impossible.
I hope it doesn’t come to this. I hope that it eventually brings back innovative breeding experiments that once were common in domestic dogs– innovation that has been stymied through the closed registry system.
But that’s only the hope.
The reality is that there could be a major disaster in the offing.
I would love it if the AKC as an institution would disappear.
But not if it ends dog breeding as we know it.
Nara U. sent me this photo today. I hope you are not eating when you look at this photo:
This dog was bred by a Peruvian dog breeder (or more likely, a Peruvian dog dealer) named “Sharpei Juliuss,” who apparently has decided to push the defective and feverish sha-rpei phenotype as far as it will go.
This dog cannot open its eyes all the way, and while it certainly wouldn’t be wining prizes at any dog shows, there are very idiotic people who think breeding such extreme dogs is a wonderful thing.
This dog is not the only one that this breeder is producing.
Here is just a sample:
The shar-pei breed has a lot of problems.
It is derived from a very small gene pool. When I was a kid, this was “the world’s rarest dog,” and within a decade, I saw them in pretty decent numbers in West Virginia, which is nowhere near where they originated.
So someone had to be cranking out these rarities at a pretty strong clip to get them on the pet market in here in America.
And that’s only its genetic structure.
The dog itself is often bred to such extreme with its wrinkles that many puppies have to have their eyelids tucked up so they can both see and not have their eyelids raking against their eyes.
This is what happens when the only thing you care about is what a dog looks like.
Dog breeders can produce all sort of different morphological traits in their dogs, but at some point, it becomes cruelty– cruelty that in the amount of suffering actually exceeds that of dog fighting.
This is dog production without empathy.
It’s nothing more than perverse vanity masquerading as something noble.
It’s really pretty sickening.
Let’s clear the air a bit.
When a dog breed is put into a closed registry system, it has been decided to create a population of animals that has a population genetics structure that resembles that of an endangered species. There is plenty of evidence that many very popular breeds have terrible genetic structures. In a 2008 paper in the journal Genetics, Calboli et al. performed an analysis of ten dog breeds in the UK, using Kennel Club pedigrees to determine effective population size. Effective population size tells you how big the population would be if a random number of individuals were put together that would have the same amount of genetic diversity as the population in question. The general rule for conservation genetics is that anything under 100 individuals is of critical concern.
The results went as follows:
Akita – 45 (effective population).
Boxer – 45
Bulldog – 48
Chow Chow – 50
Rough Collie – 33
Golden Retriever – 67
Greyhound – 17
German Shepherd – 76
Labrador – 114
English Springer Spaniel – 72
Every one of these breeds is a closed registry breed.
All but one have very real problems with genetic diversity. Only the Labrador retriever is out of the crisis zone– and just barely.
If you read the paper, the golden retriever, which doesn’t look as bad, has the worst problems with popular sire effects in its population. Only 5% of the male dogs in the UK population are sires, and for a popular breed, this is a recipe for disaster.
This is because even though these dog breeds have a genetic structure resembling that of an endangered species, they are not bred the way conservationists would breed endangered species.
With endangered species, the goal is to conserve as much genetic diversity as possible. The Chinese spend countless hours working to maintain what genetic diversity can be spared in giant pandas. Giant pandas, which are actually a primitive bear with no living close relatives left, have no populations for which there can be outcrosses.
You can’t say that about golden retrievers, which would be greatly served with occasional outcrosses to their somewhat more genetically diverse smooth-coated cousins. The differences between Labrador and golden retrievers aren’t that extreme. Both are derived from the same root stock. Both breeds share ancestors in documented pedigrees, and there was a famous cross between a yellow Labrador (Haylers Defender) to the Haulstone line of golden retrievers in the 1920’s.
Not ancient history at all!
If we had a dog culture that was based upon reason and science, this would be a no-brainer.
However, this is not the dog culture we have.
The dog culture we have does two things that utterly gum up the works when it comes to sound population management principles:
1. Closed registries as dogma.
2. Competitive dog breeding.
The former is what creates the genetically compromised population. The latter is what exacerbates it.
Could you imagine the madness that it would be to breed giant pandas based upon a conformation standard?
But that’s exactly what is happening in the world of dogs, and as I’ve noted before, it’s not just dog shows that are causing this problem. Breeding choices that are based solely on trial performance do the exact same job.
Each generation of dogs that is bred under these conditions loses genes. Some of these genes might be pretty nice to have– like the gene that Dalmatians had for producing urine with normal levels of uric acid. This was actually lost to the entire population of Dalmatians before a pointer was crossed in to reintroduce it.
And it took decades and decades of fighting the closed registry dogma to get these Dalmatians into the breed. Even though they were very, very distantly derived from that pointer that was crossed in, the breed vanguards would not allow in the “mongrels.”
Until it became impossible to say no.
Every single breed in a closed registry system that is being bred with under these principles is at risk for winding up like the Dalmatian. What’s even more frightening is that as these breeds become more and more related through both popular sire problems and “line-breeding,” it becomes impossible to control for genetic load. Dog breeders operate under the delusion that you can just select away from any disease just like you’d select away from poor conformation, which is why they go ape over every genetic test for a disease that comes down the pike.
It’s not that these genetic tests aren’t useful. It’s that they do give dog breeders a crutch to hold onto. You can’t talk about a better way to manage genetic load– i.e., let in new blood and selectively breed for better gene conservation– because everyone is awaiting the next genetic test to come along.
The problem is that the greater dog fancy is a culture that worships genetic plunder. Most of the effects of such pillage are not known while the pillaging is happening. During that time, a breeder might become rewarded with top winning dogs that may or may not have long lives.
But it is the next generations that the problems with gene loss and reduced genetic diversity start to become apparent. By then the breeder or breeders who plundered the genes may not even be around anymore.
But they have stolen from the next generation of dog owners and breeders.
It’s that next generation who will have to pay the vet bills and watch their dogs die agonizing deaths.
And all because we have contrived up endangered species that we call dog breeds and then bred them in ways that make absolutely no sense.
No one wants to talk about this genetic plunder.
And no one wants to talk about the simple fact that this concept of closed registry breed is really a very new concept. A breed is not a species. And although there are breed differences, when we start talking about breeds that are closely related, the differences become somewhat trivial.
And it is at this point the dog world becomes a dogma– a type of religion.
Breed becomes a faith-based assertion, and the dogs suffer because reason is not the operating force behind the management of their populations.
Dogma is not good for dogs.
I am not fan of journalism by press release.
It’s not really “journalism” anyway. It is simply media relations, and media relations might as well be called spin. Spin is not really about the truth. It’s about advocacy, and it’s often about deception.
There is so much of this in the world of journalism about dogs that it is very hard to tell if something is true or not.
And if you want to see a very good example of it, take this puff piece that appeared on the BBC’s website last May. It is called “Why is the Skye terrier is an endangered breed?”
It discusses how popular Skye terriers were for a time. For a period in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, It was a breed that was quite fashionable to have, especially in the burgher classes in Scotland. Indeed, I’ve written about how the Marjoribanks family, who started the strain of yellow wavy-coated retrievers that are the basis for the golden retriever, were actually better known for the Skye terriers than their retrievers.
But now their retriever has taken the world by storm, and their terrier is a breed on the verge of extinction.
The BBC piece could have done some really good homework on this breed. The question of why breeds become popular and then become extinct is a very fascinating question to me.
Instead, the reporter who wrote the piece decided to do the laziest thing possible: Go to the Kennel Club and get their media relations expert to spin a tale for the presses. It goes like this:
Caroline Kisko, secretary of the Kennel Club, says Skye terriers are good house dogs with a very loyal and friendly character.
She says: “They are very glamorous. Their coats are very attractive. They are a very friendly, nice dog to have around and they are certainly very weather-proof.
“If you are out and about they will not get cold.”
So why has the breed fallen out of favour?
Ms Kisko says: “Much of this is about the profile of the dog, whether or not people are aware that the breeds exist.
“Some of the problems we have with the vulnerable breeds is that people have simply forgotten that they are there.”
Well, that actually didn’t answer the question at all. People just don’t know about them.
Except that they do.
I grew up on the story of Greyfriars Bobby. Disney made a movie about this dog, a Skye terrier that stayed at his master’s grave for fourteen years.
Too bad the entire story was a hoax. The truth is it was an elaborate hoax to promote tourism and business in that part of Edinburgh.
People know about this breed. They just don’t want them.
Now, I thought we could delve into why this breed’s popularity collapsed, but the Kennel Club representative decided to use this opportunity as a chance to smear Labradoodles, a dog that has nothing to do with Skye terriers at all. Although in fairness, it is a representative with the parent club of the Skye terrier in the UK who starts down this bizarre comparison.
Designers breeds such as the labradoodle – a crossbred created by crossing the Labrador Retriever and the Poodle – have become very fashionable.
Mrs [Gail] Marshall [of the Skye Terriers Club] says this is another reason why traditional breeds such as the Skye terrier are being marginalised.
Ms Kisko, whose organisation does not register cross-breeds, says: “The designer crosses such as the labradoodle and the cockapoo (a Cocker Spaniel and a miniature poodle) are proving to be very popular these days and that is all on the pretext that they will be automatically healthier than the breeds they come from, which is patently untrue.”
She says people should do more research before buying a dog, checking out some of the British native breeds which have been popular pets for centuries.
I was not expecting this to be the reason why Skye terriers are becoming rare!
First of all, the purebred Labrador retriever is by far the most popular native British dog breed. It was actually developed in its present form from the St. John’s water dog of Newfoundland on a few select estates in England and Scotland. It is an easily trained dog, noted for its versatility in helping guide the blind, assist the handicaped, and sniff out bombs and contraband. It is also docile as can be.
Skye terriers, by contrast, have very hard to care for coats. They known for being difficult to train, and they do not have a reputation for being good family dogs.
The Labrador requires more exercise than the Skye, but if you’re in a world in which dogs with Labrador-type temperaments are more practical and desired, why would you expect Skye terriers to be able to compete?
Futher, the big reason people get Labradoodles is because they want the Labrador temperament, but they don’t want the Labrador hairs all over their houses. So they get Labrador/Standard poodle crosses, which are lower shedding than pure Labradors.
Now, there are a lot of claims about Labradoodles that are not true:
They are not hypoallergenic because people are allergic to dog dander, not dog hair. Also they do get the health problems associated with both Standard poodles and Labradors, but because the cross has been around for only a short time there have been no good studies to see if there is a heterosis effect (though there probably is).
And Labradoodles are mass-produced, often in deplorable conditions. After all, there is a big market for a Labrador that doesn’t shed as much and looks like a bigger version of Benji.
And that’s precisely what doesn’t exist for the Skye terrier.
Further, the terrier and retriever markets are entirely different demographics, so this claim that people wanting Labradoodles is the reason why no one wants a Skye terrier might be the stupidest thing I’ve ever read on the BBC’s website.
I’m stunned that the answer to the question about why the Skye terrier is going extinct gets reduced to something so completely impossible.
This is actually a question for which I don’t have an answer.
I know that Skye terriers have not been used as actual earth dogs in many, many years, but that alone wouldn’t ruin their value as pets. Yorkshire terriers, which are also silky-coated terriers of Scottish ancestry and are almost never used as anything but pets, are quite popular little dogs.
Why would people be so Yorkie-crazed but so dismissive of the Skye?
There must be a good reason, and the answer absolutely is not that people want Labradoodles.
All that was done in this piece was to deflect what is a very good question into a hatchet piece on intentionally-bred crossbreeds.
Not all is perfect in the world of the doodles, but just because they are intentionally-bred mixes does not make them illegitimate. If done right, doodling is an entirely harmless activity, and if really done right, it could be a source for increasing genetic diversity in established retriever and poodle strains.
It just makes them a convenient scapegoat.
The Kennel Club has no answer for why the Skye terrier is in such dire straights.
I think the real reason it has no answer is the real answer is that this dog is a fanciers’ dog. It became a plaything of the dog pageant set. The dog pageant and freak show people are at the heart of the Kennel Club’s mission. It is their base in the same way the religious right is the base of the Republican Party. In politics, one does not go out of the way to insult one’s base. (Only Bill Clinton could ever get away with it!)
When a dog breed becomes something that can only be admired by a very narrow set of fanciers, then it is on its way to becoming rare already.
I also think there is a distinct possibility that the fanciers of this breed intentionally bred “one mannishness” into this dog after buying wholeheartedly into the Greyfriars Bobby hoax. If you breed a dog that naturally tends to bond with only a few people and then is reactive toward strangers, you might be asking for its popularity to drop rather quickly.
So if you breed a dog with a coat that is hard to groom and temperament that requires lots of work and socialization to make the dog docile and tractable, why would you be surprised that very few people want them?
You cannot blame the public for wanting Labradoodles.
The real blame is on dog fanciers who allowed a romantic story– one with huge gaping holes in it– to cloud their judgment on how to breed a dog for the twentieth century.
And because they allowed that story cloud their judgment, the breed won’t likely see the end of the twenty-first.
That’s definitely not the Labradoodle’s fault.