The closed registry system is so nineteenth/twentieth century. This is what the dogs need now.
David Cunningham comments on this blog pretty regularly.
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.
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:
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.
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.”
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.
A Korean dosa. Left without comment.
One of the great shibboleths in the dog world is that there is a creature known as the “responsible breeder.”
Each person has a definition about what one is, but for many years, the biggest defining point was the adherence to blood purity cult. Usually this would be mixed in with all the delusions of preservation, as well as the delusion of improvement.*
The unfortunate thing is none of these things have much to do with the real world.
In the real world, crossbreeding isn’t evil. It’s innovation.
In her part of Oregon, it’s not unusual for someone to breed this:
This dog is a German short-haired pointer/Labrador retriever cross. It’s basically a purposely-bred cross that mixes the ruggedly versatile German HPR wit the always popular, hard driving Labrador. Suzanne mentions that when a friend of hers bred such a cross people drove from hundreds of miles to pick up one.
Such is the reputation of this cross.
She mentions another variant of the cross in the post as well. This time the retriever in question is a Chesapeake, but she has been bred to a German shorthair.
It’s hard for anyone in that old way of thinking to say that these were not well-bred animals.
Chesapeakes, Labs, and German shorthairs are all very useful animals. Not a single one of them was created through maintaining closed registries until very recently.
And even now, many people who want a useful dog don’t pay much attention to the old blood purity rules.
That’s because these blood purity rules are way outside of the average person’s experience with dogs. Almost no one owns a dog that is very tightly bred, and virtually everyone in the public would be repulsed by the idea.
Many people talk about the reason why the American Kennel Club is in such terrible financial straight. Animal rights activist get the blame. The puppy mill paper mills get their share, too.
But I think the real problem is that the American Kennel Club, though it is headquartered in the United States and always has been, is really a foreign institution.
Its values were imported from Great Britain at the height of its imperialist glory. As strange as it sounds today, most Americans were very anti-British during most the nineteenth century. Britain had burned down our capital. It allowed the Confederacy to have the delusion that it was on the side of their rebellion. It was also a major competitor in the Northwest. Plus, tons of Americans were Irish famine refugees.
As America grew wealthier, wealthy and upper middle class Americans began to emulate the British Empire. Some of the first retriever trials in America were held on Long Island. Labradors were the breed of choice, and they were run almost exactly as they were in the mother country.
Meanwhile, American market duck hunters were blasting away with punt guns and heavy shotguns at vast flocks waterfowl. Their hardy “Chesapeake duck dogs,” water spaniels, and retrieving setters were earning their money. The backwoods market hunters were treeing grouse and turkeys with curs and feists. And very few of these people gave a rat’s behind about the pedigree of the dog.
In fact, most Americans didn’t care for this nonsense at all. The most common dog in much of the country was the generalist farm collie, usually called “a shepherd,” which did some light herding work and hunted everything it was asked to.
None of these dog were maintained within a concept of a “fancy.” There might be shows for foxhounds, coonhounds, and beagles, but every single dog in those shows was also a performance hound. And none of these dogs was kept in a true closed registry, and even now, pack hounds are still crossed on a routine basis.
But they are outside the AKC, and they are also outside the UKC.
Americans bred dogs to perform. In the early days of settlement, vast numbers of dogs couldn’t be imported from Europe. Our dog culture became based upon what can survive and what could do multiple tasks well.
The British dog culture was about specialization and arbitrarily classifying things based upon color and coat and size.
It became well-established among “learned circles” that American dogs, like our livestock, were in desperate need of improvement. From the 1870′s onward, there has been attempt to bring America the glories of canine improvement through closed registry breeding.
And it’s been a colossal failure.
It came closest to success in the middle to late part of the twentieth century, when the burgeoning middle class that had grown up out of the Second World War began to own purebred dogs as status symbol. It’s at this time that my own family got their first AKC dog, a registered rough collie named “Cam.” Cam produced more than a few litters of collie-foxhounds, which were then quite in demand in West Virginia as varmint dogs.
I’ve noticed that when most laypeople watch dog shows, they only want their favorite breeds to win. They want to see the golden retriever go BIS at Westminster. They don’t care about the rare breeds. They are curiosities, novelties to be looked as if one were looking artifacts in a museum.
And that may be too charitable for some breeds.
I’m sure the untrained eye sees many of the really exaggerated dogs as creatures best belong in a freak show.
And of course, one really can’t argue with them.
Many progressive people rightly complain about how Americans have never adopted certain European ideals, but the notion of a national kennel registry to tell us how to breed dogs is one I’m glad we’ve never fully accepted.
So long as a dog fancy remains this insular, very foreign, and reactionary clique, the American people are going to ignore what these people say.
And buy gun dogs like these.
And Texas heelers.
After all, this culture produces good dogs.
And the dog fancy continues to produce freaks– many of which are unhealthy and very hard to care for.
This is how market economies work. There is failure, and there is success. The dog fancy has been a failure in the United States– and our dogs stand a much better chance because of it.
*There will be a post on this at some point,