Archive for the ‘dog health’ Category


I have been writing about the issues around purebred dogs for quite some time now, and one of the breeds that constantly comes us is the English bulldog. I know that this is not the “official name” of this breed, but in common parlance, it is the word used to describe this breed that was largely developed in its current form by English dog dealers. Because dog shows were created by the British, this breed gets called the “bulldog” by default, but in the common parlance, when I say “English bulldog,” people know exactly what I mean.

The bulldog wasn’t always what it is today:

At one time, bulls were baited for sport. Active bulldogs and mastiffs were turned loose on bulls in a way that resembled a sort of Medieval hunt scene against the aurochs. The bulldog’s ancestors were used to hunt the aurochs,  and then they were used to control domestic cattle. In those days, cattle had very tough beef from a life wandering the forests and common pastures, and it was believed that if the dogs baited the cattle, it would tenderize the meat. When they let the dogs fight the bulls, it became a spectator sport, and it was not long before there were bull and bear-baiting contests all over England. The dogs became greatly valued as sporting dogs, and their function was greatly esteemed throughout the British Isles. Queen Elizabeth I was a noted lover of baiting both bears and dogs, and her court bred dogs for that purpose.

However, baiting animals began to fall from favor over the next few centuries.

In 1835, parliament passed the Cruelty to Animals Act, and bull and bear baiting were both banned. The bulldogs were without a job, and it wasn’t long before dog dealers got their hands on the animals.  The infamous Bill George of Kensal New Town in London bred several lines of toned down bulldog for British consumers.  He bred little ones and big ones. He may have crossed the dogs with pugs, but it was pretty clear that pug got into the bulldog at some point.

But without a task for which one could breed a bulldog, British dog dealers and, later, British dog fanciers began to produce bulldogs that were totally unfit for anything. By the 1890s, the top-winning bulldogs were known for lacking soundness. One of them infamously got worn out on a walking race against a more athletic but less fashionable competitor. By 1900, bulldogs were known to be difficult to breed and rear, and for most of their history in the twentieth century, bulldogs were relatively rare.

The dogs became known for having so many genetic and conformation problems that essentially the only disorder they can’t suffer from is a matted coat. They have issues cooling and fully oxygenating themselves. They are known to suffer severe infections from inverted tails. The difficulty in breeding such animals almost sounds as if mother nature doesn’t want them be reproducing. Because the dogs are heavy in the front, they often have issues mounting the bitches. Mating cradles are often needed to hold the dog over the bitch, and many breeders simply do AI to produce their pups. And once conception happens, things get complicated when it comes to whelping. Virtually all bulldogs born in the US are delivered through Cesarean.  The pups have such big heads, and there mothers have such narrow pelvises that the pup very often cannot be born naturally.

The average lifespan of a bulldog is just a little over six years, so if you get one of these dogs, your chances of it dying before it hits middle age for most dogs is actually quite high. Many people have purchased bulldogs as companions for their children, but this breed has the potential to cause a lot of heartache for a young child when the animal suddenly dies.

Everything about this dog says that you don’t want it unless you have lots of money and rather weird tastes. The dog’s conformation isn’t just a hindrance to good health. It also a caricature. The dogs have been bred into a kind of canine John Bull figure, and unless someone would rather have the caricature than an actual dog, there really wasn’t a market for them.

But time, as they say, marches on.

In the first decade of this century, I began to see bulldogs on reality television shows. I thought it was a bit strange, but considering that the most prominent bulldog owner was Ozzy Osbourne, I thought that most people would just associate the extreme nature of the breed with the extreme nature of Ozzy.  People would want a bulldog in the same way they would want to bite off a bat’s head.

And I was wrong.

I started seeing bulldogs everywhere.

And that trend has only continued into the present day.

Last week, the AKC released its rankings of its top registered breeds of 2014. Labradors were the top breed in registrations, followed by German shepherds and golden retrievers. Labradors have been the top breed for over two decades, and the other two have had a long run of popularity as well. Those three were also the top three registered by the Canadian Kennel Club in 2014.

But what came in fourth in the AKC rankings was a bit of a shocker.  Bulldogs were the fourth most-registered breed by the AKC in 2014, and this is something that does require some attention.

And this bulldog attention has coattails. French bulldogs, the bat-eared little cousins of the English breed, have moved into tenth place. French bulldogs were once in the AKC top ten list. In the 1910s, Boston terriers were the AKC’s top breed, and their French cousin enjoyed high popularity just because the two breeds were related. A Boston terrier, in case you didn’t know, is actually a small bulldog that was created when fighting bull terriers from Boston were crossed with toy and French bulldogs from Europe.

French bulldogs have many of the same problems as the English breed, but this really doesn’t matter.  This is the decade of the bulldog!

With North America in the throes of bulldog mania, it might be useful to figure out why people are buying bulldogs.

As far as I can tell, there are a few reasons. One of these is that most Americans live in urban centers and have no real connection with other animals. There is no concept of what is “normal” for a dog or any other creature. If a person sees a cute dog on television, then they are instantly going to feel some connection to it. Extreme brachycephalic dogs are quite attractive to people. We forget that as primates we are predisposed to being attracted to things that look like primates. It is easier for us to have comradery with a dog that has a monkey face than it is with a long-muzzled one.

Another reason is that modern Americans work longer hours than every before.  The economic recovery after the recession has led to people spending more and more time at the office, and that means people have far less time to exercise dogs.

People are looking for dogs that don’t require much exercise, and if a dog breed has certain deformities that prevent it from running hard and long all day, then it is going to be the perfect dog for the modern world.

This is the real shame of the modern world.

We now live in a society where it is now much more difficult to own more active and more soundly constructed dogs, so we are turning to dogs that were largely cast aside because of their unsoundness.

It will take a long time for bulldogs to replace Labradors as the top breed. Indeed, I don’t see it happening any time soon. However, it is possible that they could make it into the top 3 breeds very soon. The AKC doesn’t release numbers of the dogs it registers. One reason it doesn’t is that most American dogs are not AKC-registered and that number has dropped over the past two decades. We really don’t know the relative popularity of particular dog breeds in the population at large, but the AKC registrations do suggest that bulldogs are rising in popularity.

The number of people who are willing to spend so much money for a dog must be much higher than I would have assumed. Bulldogs are not cheap.

And their vet bills aren’t cheap either.

But the allure of having a dog that looks like cartoon character, loves kids, and doesn’t have much of a need for exercise must be stronger than any of the money sense that goes into considering bringing a dog into a home.

Of course, my guess is there isn’t that much consideration going on at all.

The urban jungle and popular culture are working against good sense in choosing a dog, and if the future of dogs in this country is the bulldog, then we’ve totally lost whatever it means to appreciate Canis lupus familiaris. Just as the Chinese bred the peke with bent legs so it wouldn’t run off, the bulldog’s utter lack of physical soundness is now an asset in the modern world.

That’s just not a good future for dogs.

If the only way they can live with us is to be like bulldogs, then this is indeed a very dark development.

We have become so alienated from nature that we have forgotten what dogs are, and if we have lost sight of what dogs are about, then there isn’t much hope for the rest of the creatures on this planet.

We’re losing the plot.

We’re losing them, just as we’re losing ourselves.

And we may never regain any of it.

This is the real story behind the bulldog’s rise, and no cute little press releases about the AKC’s top are going to change anything about this dire situation.

Only connecting the modern world with real dogs in a truly meaningful way will ever stem the dismal tide, and such a task may be all but impossible.

If we lose real dogs, then we truly will be alone on this planet. Even though we evolved from earlier earthlings, we will become aliens here.

Our only companions will be these deformed dogs, who might as well be aliens to the rest of their kind as well.

Information-filled but largely ignorant humanity will reign will reign with debased canids licking our fingers.

This should not be where dogs and people wind up, but unfortunately, it may be where the final story of our kind ends up.

And it may not be stopped.

This is the true tragedy of our kind and theirs.





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I just noticed that this sort of bulldog tends to possess really screwy loins. The loins actually point up toward the hips, which is so disgustingly freaky.

At a distance the dogs appear short-coupled, but when you really look at the muscles, the loins are pretty long. They just reach for the sky!


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The closed registry system is so nineteenth/twentieth century. This is what the dogs need now.


David Cunningham comments on this blog pretty regularly.


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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.






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pug show dog

I am often amazed at what people think they are doing with dogs.

No one has demonstrated to me what is essentially an article of faith or at least a current mantra of the AKC-apologist set:

That breeding to a breed standard means that the dog is healthy.

And from what I’ve seen in the actual scientific literature, it’s actually something that is probably not true.

At least not always true:

Now, if you’re breeding a vizsla to its breed standard, you’re really not producing any exaggerations that might cause the dog to be unhealthy.

But the same logic that produces the athletic and svelte vizsla– that is healthy because it is bred to a written standard– simply cannot apply to a dog like a pug.

A vizsla is a gundog.  It was developed in Hungary as an HPR, and it actually prospered quite well during the communist years as it was the Hungarian equivalent of the German forester’s drahthaar.

Vizslas, like many continental gundog breeds, were only recently allowed to be sold to people who were not hunters. Thus, through most of the history of this breed, it was always a performance dog that was bred to a performance standard that also was as much about the dog’s behavior and aptitude as its conformation.

You cannot say that about pugs.

Or a lot of other breeds.

What use does a pug have?

Well, it’s a pet dog. A pet dog doesn’t have to bred to any sort of performance standard like a vizsla would be.

And this is precisely where things start to go off the rails.

In the case of a vizsla, a written standard has to have some basis in the real world.

In the case of the pug, it can be as convoluted as the human imagination will take it.

And that’s the big problem with saying that breeding to a breed standard makes a dog healthy.

To breed a dog with as many health problems as pugs have that call all be traced to its various exaggerations in morphology is perhaps the most stupid thing we’ve ever done to dogs.

It’s also unusually counterproductive.

The claim is that modern show dog breeders are selecting for the healthiest dogs ever, but this claim doesn’t even pass the giggle test when you start looking at dogs like pugs.

There are lots of claims that pugs have ancient Chinese origins, and although I will admit they do have some ancestry from dogs imported from China, most of their development actually happened in the West, first in the Dutch Republic and then in the UK.

And it’s in those countries that breed took on its current form.

In the early nineteenth centur, this is what an English pug looked like:

chalon pug 1802


It’s still a brachycephalic dog. And yes, it has cropped ears.

But it still has a relatively normal dog body.

And in 200 years of “breed improvement,” we’ve produced a dog like the modern pug, which has too many health problems to elucidate in a single blog post. Almost every single one of these problems can be traced to its phenotype, which has been the result of human ignorance mixing in with human caprice and vanity.

The story of the pug is the story of everything that is wrong with dogs in the West.

It’s a tragedy masquerading as virtue.

Breeding to the standard has done nothing good for the pug.

And these people ought to be ashamed of themselves.

But they aren’t.

They twist it all around to blaming it on puppy mills and the mass production industry.

But that’s nothing more than an obfuscation.

If the public were fully informed of the problems that come from breeding a dog with a muzzle like a pug’s, I don’t think the breed would have one tenth of the popularity it now has.

At the very least, there would be demands to change the standard or maybe bring in new blood to make a more healthily conformed dogs.

Of course, the bastards lambaste the puggles, which are not terrible idea. However, the entire puggle concept has been based upon a puppy mill economic model, so at least right now, it’s a bit doomed to failure.

But that doesn’t mean the concept is wrong. It just means that puggle  and pug cross-breeding for health would have to take more human approach.

Because that’s one thing the modern pug fancy doesn’t have going for it– they really don’t care about how much suffering they cause the dogs.

They delude themselves into thinking that if they just win ribbons, they are being ethical

Instead, they are breeding dogs that have obvious problems. These problems are obvious to anyone but a pug breeder, of course.

They’ve bought into the cult.

And there is no reasoning with them.

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I’m so sorry that this dog has now gone, but I’ve never seen a Neapolitan mastiff with such extreme (and very uncomfortable and unhealthy conformation).


It’s sad when dogs die. They ought to live to be in their forties!

However,  we have a moral responsibility to breed dogs that have a good quality of life. Dogs with eyes that hang open, very loose connective tissue, bacteria and yeast-filled skin folds, and flews that never stop dripping really can’t be said to be living a good quality of life.

This dogs eyes were so severe that it was completely blind.

This is the kind of dog that is being produced through breeding according to its breed standard. This dog likely wouldn’t have won any prizes at a dog show, but its siblings might have.

This is one of those dogs where “pet quality” actually meant “vet quality.”




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This scene should be part of a population management program for golden retrievers. Source for image.

This scene should be part of a population management program for golden retrievers. Source for image.

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

Shocking, eh?

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.

Dogma is not good for dogs.




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