Best Friends Blog

The pursuit of breeding perfection leaves a trail of destruction

Purebred pug dogAt Best Friends, we don’t really dwell on the breed of a dog. Whether a dog is a purebred golden retriever or some jumble of breeds, we think each special doggie personality is what really counts.

You may remember our guess-the-breed contest that we did for our beloved Teddy. The outcome of the contest mattered very little to my wife Silva and me. Teddy is a wonderful family member regardless, and discovering his lineage was just a fun thing to do.

Dog fanciers obviously care deeply about certain breeds. Likewise, thousands of people devote their lives to carrying on the “winning” genetics that mean big bucks down the line, as litters are churned out and puppies are sold to those who find some sort of satisfaction in owning such an animal.

A serious issue facing the breeders and show-sanctioning organizations is coming to a head in a big way. The “desirable” traits that dogs must have to be a “winner” are often indicators of acute medical conditions — the kinds of things that defy logic as to how anyone could see them as positive. In truth they are quite the opposite, and they should give pause to those who think that appearance-based genetic modification of any species, including humans, is a good idea.

The Kennel Club in the United Kingdom recently released the results of an enormous 2014 study on the average life span of many dog breeds. Included in the study were 385,000 owners of dogs registered through the club, and almost 50,000 dogs representing 191 breeds were in the final tally. Overall, the results were not good, although the official press release from The Kennel Club doesn’t really say that. In fact, the club does a nice job of downplaying the incredibly sad difference reflected in these 2014 numbers, compared with those in 2004.

The bottom line is that many breeds are living much shorter lives, and in some cases, the differences are dramatic. A U.K. blogger did her own analysis of the data, and she says it best: “The numbers are jaw-dropping.”

Purebred German shepherd dogThis is not an issue that is confined to Great Britain. Breeding dogs for show involves a deliberate effort to breed for looks rather than health. While a German shepherd’s severe back line and hips may bring home the ribbons, that “preferred confirmation” also inclines the breed to suffer from hip dysplasia, a condition that produces tremendous suffering for dogs and their human families.

At what point does the ethics of this drive to win come into question?

Purebred English bulldogSadly, this is not a new crisis. In past decades, breeders (with the complicity of show judges) bred collies with heads so narrow that they had no room for brains, bulldogs with brachycephalic syndrome, and pugs who can only give birth by C-section, as well as frantic Irish setters and blind and deaf Aussies. It’s why the border collie community has assiduously avoided the “beauty show” circuit.

We’ve long called for the American Kennel Club and other organizations that register breeds to take a stand — not only to improve the health of the many breeds they gleefully and haphazardly register simply to boost their coffers, but also to play a collaborative role in helping to save the lives of animals, who are being killed by the thousands daily in shelters. Though these breed groups are not solely responsible for this crisis, their promotion of looks over substance has absolutely created demand and over-supply issues that lead to more killing in shelters across the country.

Together, we can Save them All.

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Francis Battista
Best Friends Animal Society

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  • Janet Diehl

    Photos & sketches of dog breeds 30, 50, 100 years ago, clearly show the deliberate breeding of various dog breeds towards shorter noses, slanted foreheads, short/long legs, bulging eyes, barrel chests, big heads and other features that reduce the healthy pain free living, birthing, running of the dogs. Any breed that routinely requires surgery to give birth is not my idea of a healthy breed; it is malformed by human intervention. Thus, humans need to return these breeds to earlier healthier forms. Personally, I adopt my dogs from shelters; my beautiful Rosie is a 16 year old red Chow mix…don’t know what the mix is, but she has a sweet, friendly disposition.

  • Kuvasz Breeder of Merit

    Well, and the incessant attacks against breeders and the crowing when negative reports seem to support the antibreeder’s lies, has not helped purebreds. Less breeders equals smaller gene pool. So if anyone is to.blame it’s the antibreeder who have driven breeders away so that the gene pool is smaller and smaller. Thanks a lot, jerks.
    This is a small sample size for each breed. I bet it also doesn’t differentiate between dogs from show breeders versus others. In the US, parent clubs require health testing and participation in the OFA database. Many clubs donate to OFA and help the organization develop genetic tests. Most people I know are genetic messes, so it’s interesting that the public expects animals to be perfect.

  • Kuvasz Breeder of Merit

    Where is the comparison to mutts? Pollution,.over vaccination and early spay/neuter all contribute to shortened lifespans.

  • Caroline Thibodeau

    How do you explain the hundreds of dogs imported from foreign countries to fill the demand for ”rescue” that has been created by the Animal Rights movement? You will not find purebred dogs from reputable breeders in shelters very often because we look after our own if their owners can’t keep them for one reason or another, they don’t get sent to shelters, our breed rescues look after placing them in a new responsible home or the breeder takes the dog back Reponsible breeders health test their breeding stock and this testing has also led to the discovery of genetic markers and other diagnostic tools for many canine diseases and conditions. If you read the UC Davis study on longevity and health you will see that the myth of ”mutt” health and longevity is just that – a myth The Kennel Club in the UK caved in to pressure from Animal Rights groups who were determined to see the end of purebred dogs and their breeders.

  • Jonwain

    Another thing to lay at the doorstep of AKC is suffering caused by puppy mills. Greedy people are making large amounts of money by exploiting registered dogs. They would be unable to sell the animals without registration and AKC just collects their fees rubber stamps the documents through the system. They have no idea of how the dogs are being treated. and take no responsibility for their part in making puppy mills profitable.

    • Kuvasz Breeder of Merit

      Actually, many of the high volume unethical breeders use CKC, the Continental Kennel Club, which does not inspect.

  • Debie Pettry

    I find your opinion pretty misinformed, I agree that if you love a dog it doesn’t matter what breed it is or if it is a mutt.. But to imply that dogs are living shorter lives because of show breeders is simply not true. A better study would have taken into account things like the high number of meds dogs are given today to make the vet a buck and the increasing recalls of inferior pet food. When I look at my friends who have lost dogs too early in life recently, it has always been reactions to drugs, reactions to vaccines,( dogs are multi vaccinated far far more than they were 10 or 20 years ago often in conjunction with other meds all on the same day) and even kidney failure because they believed the marketing of a dog food company.Cancer has made a huge jump in numbers for dogs, you can’t blame that on breeders.The problem isn’t show breeders, the problem is that the toxic burden being dumped on modern dogs must be lightened.

    • Melissa Miller

      Hi Debie,

      We appreciate your feedback. While there may very well be other contributing factors to shortened life spans for dogs, we can’t ignore the deliberate breeding for looks rather than health, as we’ve stated here. With 9,000 healthy and treatable animals being killed every day in shelters across the country, our hope is to encourage the American Kennel Club and other organizations that register breeds play a collaborative role in helping to save the lives of animals.

      We appreciate all that you do to help homeless pets.

      Melissa Miller
      Best Friends Animal Society

    • Debie Pettry

      Obviously you are unaware that the AKC established the Canine Health Foundation years ago. There are many breeders in the country who are not responsible and not every AKC breeder is a responsible breeder but of the responsible breeders in America, ALL are AKC breeders. Could you tell me why you did not touch on CKC breeders? The CKC was started by irreputable breeders when the AKC began requiring DNA testing on dogs bred 3 or more times. So the puppy millers decided to start their own registry. CKC puppies make up the majority of the 2 million plus puppies bred by mills and backyard breeders and they ,unlike a responsibly bred pup, do not have parents that are OFA certified against genetic issues. And yet despite this, I never ever see a blog post by anyone condemning the CKC. Why is that? It astounds me that people like to jump on the ‘lets condemn dog show people’ bandwagon yet say nothing about the real problem which is CKC breeders. Why is that? I am not saying that GSD’s are not overangulated or that the foreface of Bull Terriers haven’t become more extreme. What I am asking is why are CKC breeders allowed to create more and more sickly puppy mill pups and designer dogs with no care in the world about health genetics while AKC breeders take all the blame? As for those 9000 animals in shelters, they did not come from show breeders. Responsible AKC breeders sell with spay and neuter contracts and almost always stipulate that if for any reason the dog cannot be cared for it comes back to them.I have pulled purebreds out of shelters for years and not once was one from a show breeder, while there are numerous rescue charities set up that only place breeder surrenders from mills. How can you blame show people? I think realistically you can’t.