Posts Tagged ‘dog breeding’

slope back

I have to say that much of what I wrote in the early days of this blog came from ignorance. I had never been exposed to serious hobbyist breeders of purebred dogs, and much of what I thought I knew came from reading some books and reading blogs.

Over the past year, I have developed really good friendships with several breeders, including a few I used to have rows with on social media.

I must say that much of what I used to believe is utter rubbish. If you see these blog posts and ask me about them, I will instantly apologize and laugh at my own stupidity.  I suppose that is what happens to all of us, especially if we are capable of being objective and are always striving to keep an open mind.

Recently, a Facebook page shared a graphic that compared purebred dog breeders to used car salesmen. In my past life, I would have shared such a graphic without hesitation, but now I know better.

This page encouraged people to adopt a dog from a shelter or rescue, especially if the dog happened to be crossbred.

Having spent enough time dealing with dogs of various types, I’ve come to the controversial view that first time dog owners should avoid rescuing a dog from the shelter. First time dog owners are better off going to a show breeder.


Well, dog show people are breeding dogs, but they aren’t doing so haphazardly. No dog of any breed can do well as a show dog, even if it has stellar type and movement, if its temperament is terrible. I know breeders who place temperament above all when they make their breeding selections.

And although there are breeders of working strains, especially of the breeds I’m most familiar with (German shepherds and retrievers), who are thinking carefully about their dog breeding decisions,  these working strain dogs are often too much dog for the typical first time dog owner.

So my initial contention that people should always go for the working dog type was unbelievably stupid.

Now, ten years ago, I might have suggested rescuing a dog from the local shelter, but the shelters now don’t have that many dogs that would be great for novices.  The breed rescues and the shelters themselves have done a much better job finding homes for adoptable animals, and in 2017, it is estimated that only 780,000 dogs were euthanized in shelters. That same year, there were an estimated 89.7 million dogs in the entire country.

So the shelters now are filled with lots of dogs, usually pit bull type dogs, that might be great companions for the right owner. That right owner, though, is almost never a novice. Yeah, there are mild ones that easy as a typical Labrador, but there are also really hot ones that need careful management and skilled dog handling and training.

The reason these dogs are now so common in shelters is that virtually every other breed or type now either winds up in a breed rescue or is transported to another part of the country where the shelters can easily adopt them out.  Dog aggressive pit bull-type dogs are not among the desirables for these rescues.

So the pet overpopulation issue that tends to behind the nonsensical mantra of “adopt don’t shop” is now obsolete. You can buy whatever breed you want, guilt free.  A show bred GSD with health clearances and strong selection for a good temperament is not equivalent to a shelter bully breed mix.  The person who can handle the former might get lucky and be able to handle a mild specimen of the latter, but the same person will not be able to handle a particularly hot one.

A purebred dog from a serious hobbyist breeder offers you some consistency and knowledge that the breeding that produced your puppy came was one that was fully thought out. These dogs cost a lot of money, because it took a lot of money to prove these dogs worthy of breeding, through the shows, any working tests, and the health testing.

The people who shame those of us who buy purebred dogs because we’re killing shelter dogs are simply ignorant. They don’t know what is going on with shelters and dog populations right now. They know only what the world was like 20 years ago, when dogs were roaming the streets and mating all over the place. They don’t know that some people might want a dog that has more utility than being a pet, and they don’t know that breed actually does matter when it comes to proper dog management and husbandry.

So the purebred dog and its fanciers, though under attack by various lynch mobs, are ultimately the choice for better future for our species and theirs.

I don’t hate crossbreeds. I don’t hate mutts. I don’t even hate those who cross purebred dogs, and some of those breeders really do care about what they are producing. I don’t think dog people of any stripe should hate on other breeders, because dog breeders must stick together if we are to deal with the various lynch mobs and legislative fiats heading this way.

I only write these words in defense of the purebred dog and its fanciers and to offer encouragement for the public to support serious hobby breeders.



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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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bassano pointers

I had an interesting conversation a few days ago:

Why is that people who keep fish and exotic pets are so open to new scientific knowledge about their animals?

Why is that the innovative ways of keeping these animals quickly gain acceptance among their owners, while in the world of dogs, the bulk of the culture has stagnated around a bunch of tired ideas (particularly dominance behavior models and the closed registry system)?

I think the answer has two parts two.

People have been keeping dogs for longer than we’ve cultivated fields, while fish and exotic pets are often only just a few generations removed from the wild.

The best ways to keep these animals are often in a somewhat experimental state, and it’s not always guaranteed that the ways that those who came before had the best way of caring for them.

Caring for dogs is pretty much cut and dry, or at least, that is how it seems.

But the world of dogs, unlike the world of exotic pets or aquarium fish, is very much caught up in some sort of tradition.

When you buy a breed, you buy into a  breed history, which may or may not be true, and you also buy into a culture that pays a lot of homage to those “greats” who came before.

Now, maybe those greats had some insight about the animals at hand, but there often gets to be a sort of cult based upon that great’s ideas– even if what that great happens to believe absolute garbage.

Take German Shepherd dogs and the worship of Lloyd Brackett and his cute incest formula. Brackett was an anti-Semite eugenicist who happened to win a bunch of dog shows, so in the world of show GSD, his ideas are treated as if they were wonderful. Of course,  I doubt that very many people in GSD’s share his views that the Jews were a “superior race” because they were inbred, but many people who show GSD’s hold onto that same logic.

Of course, it’s garbage.

But if you follow Brackett, you might win a few dog shows. Never mind that the bulk of the show GSD population is slowly deteriorating into a bunch of ataxic-gaited hyenas.

This never gets questioned, of course, because Brackett leads to success within  the culture.

And when you buy a dog breed, you’re buying into a culture. You’re also buying into a brand, and within a brand, there are all sorts romantic ideals about what that brand should be.

It is not just within show dogs  that people get caught up in the branding. One of the things I’ve always found amusing about the border collie is a belief that this is a traditional farm dog and that its abilities as a farm dog have been made better through trialling. Except that the original collie-type farm dog was not nearly as strongly-eyed or obsessive as a border collie, and in my part of the world, this sort of “collie” still exists in the form of English shepherds and farm collies, neither of which would ever be able to win a border collie trial in the first place.

A border collie is actually a dog created to manage very large flocks. It was never a dog for small farmers, and what’s more, it exists in its current form largely to win sheepdog trials.

But if you buy into the culture, then you accept that sheepdog trials are “traditional dog work,” when they really are something pretty new in the grand scheme of pastoral dogs.

If a dog person wants to think as an aquarist or exotic pet owner does, then one must be willing to go against the grain.

To accept new ideas is blasphemy in much of the world of dogs.

At some point, you almost have to deny the breed brand and also deny much of the wisdom that came before.

Because science tells us that dogs are organisms. All dog breeds are part of the same species, and special beliefs about dogs– like those that deny heterosis exists within crossbreeds– simply aren’t true. No matter what misrepresentations or jun science studies people come up with, the rules of population genetics still work in the world of dogs.

Further, we don’t now everything there is to know about dog behavior, but it is pretty clear that we were wrong in assuming that dog societies and behavior can be modeled on decades-old and somewhat discredited studies on captive wolf packs.

But if you’ve bought a breed where the people most successful in training it in the past have all adopted some form of  what might be called dog abuse axioms, then to question the way the dog is trained is also to blaspheme the breed.

But if we are to do what is truly right by dogs, then we have to be willing to blaspheme.

And if you blaspheme, there are countless numbers of people who will come after you. If your breed exists only as a specialists’ dog, then you might very well be run out of it– just for questioning shibboleths.

The sad thing about the world of dogs is that rationalists and skeptics exist in a very small minority within the various dog subcultures.

To question is to deny.

And to deny is heresy.

We have allowed our relationship with the domestic dog to stagnate.

Modern science has been relegated only toward a celebration of health testing, as if breeding out genetic diseases within increasingly inbred populations is the best way to manage them. As soon as someone who knows better points out that this is not a good long-term solution, it is automatically denounced as animal rights issue or “socialism.”

It’s very sad that so much of the world of dogs resembles a religion, and in the past, I’ve actually called much of the world of dogs a series of ersatz religions.

One of the things that religion often does is it puts mental blocks when understanding is not complete or when accepted truths are contradicted with obvious facts. In the former case, dogma will fill in the gaps, and in the latter case, facts will be denied or dismissed (often in a vast conspiracy theory).

I have had very stupid people post things to my blog and to my Facebook page like “If every time you breed it’s a crap shoot, then shoot the crap you breed.”  The “if” in this case is what you have to accept if you allow for a certain amount of genetic diversity in a breed– some dogs aren’t going to be winners or have the preferred conformation or temperament one wants in a breed. But if you inbreed, you will get lots of dogs that look and behave alike. Of course, such animals might be fine or even quite healthy, but if an entire population of a breed gets subject to such consanguinity, then the chances for higher levels of genetic load will be heightened and the chance of a real inbreeding depression is almost certain.

But no one cares about that when you’re winning the prizes.

You will be rewarded for pissing away the genes, and it will be successive generations who will have to deal with the consequences.

And it will continue up and until one of two things happen:

The real animal rights agenda comes to power and pushes upon dog breeders a ton of regulations.

Or there is rationalist revolution in the world of dogs.

My hope is for the latter, but I am not holding my breath.

There just isn’t enough blasphemy.







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Simona, Kali dog’s human, sent me this photo of a dog dealer’s shop in Kathmandu.

nepalese dog shop

She says that the the shop usually has little fuzzy bichon/poodle-type dogs available in the store, but you can order a golden retriever or German shepherd pup from the store’s catalog.

This is Nepal, a country that occasionally has a Maoist government take over (through elections of all things), but they allow this bit bourgeois decadence to go on.

And don’t be smug.

You can still find shops like this in the US, and at one time, they were very commonplace. As recently as 20 years ago, every pet store sold puppies.

And we still have mass-production facilities for puppies.

It’s just in Nepal, it’s still politically correct.




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bull terrier and dalmatian

As long-time readers of this blog know, I think we need a new dog fancy.

By “fancy,” I simply mean the cultural institution that sets the mores and values for breeding dogs. The initial fancy was developed in the period from 1860 to about 1885 under the premise of improving strains of domestic dog. This was the time of Victorian science, which had inherited a legacy of the scientific breeding that traced back the eighteenth century agriculturalist Robert Bakewell.

This was also a time when zoology consisted of Europeans with some scientific training going to the far corners of the world in search of new beasts. If someone saw a bear with somewhat off coloration, that person usually declared it a new species.   This was the age of taxonomic splitting to the extreme.

And it was applied to dogs in ways that we would later come to regret. In those days, it was common to apply those taxonomic splitting principles to dogs. Even if you could get several breeds in the same litter, it was generally accepted that one would register each puppy according to its phenotype. Perhaps the most extreme example is the Bedlington terrier and Dandie Dinmont terrier problem. At one time, one could get either breed in the same litter. If it had dwarfism, it was a Dandie. If it had legs, it was a Bedlington. At some point, the Bedlington terrier’s coat was altered through cross-breeding with a poodle, and it became much less likely to have strains in which Dandies and Bedlingtons would pop up in the same litter. In Northumberland and the Scottish borders, there were drop-eared terriers that produced long-legged and short-legged varieties, but the dog fancy decided to split them up.

And now they are quite different dogs.

Fights in breeds about the true type also led to breed splits.

Yes. It was politics. The golden retriever was split from the flat-coat for two reasons:  1. It was believed to be of Russian and not British origin and 2. the yellow dogs weren’t winning prizes at shows.

The last breed split I’ve seen that resulted from a dispute over phenotype was the division of the Norfolk and Norwich terriers. At one time, there was a breed drawn from the little terriers of East Anglia that was called a Norwich terrier. There were two varieties:  one with prick ears and one with folded drop ears.  If you have both ears in a breed, it’s actually pretty hard to breed for consistent ear carriage– just ask the people who breed phalenes to papillons in the US–so they decided to split the Norwich terrier into two breeds in 1960.

Splitting up types and refining them were the main activities of the dog fancy. They didn’t have a good grasp on the science of population genetics at all.

These were social climbing people who wanted to innovate and create. In some ways, their hearts were in the right place.

But they were still stuck in the limitations of the Zeitgeist.

We now know that splitting up dogs into often contrived esoteric forms called breeds and then shutting off all those breeds from almost all infusions of new blood are actions that are not going to lead to improved health or welfare. We also know that if rigorous selection is performed within those breeds, we are doing nothing more than making the march to misery move at double-quick.


The dog fancy that we have right now isn’t really that far removed from the Victorian days.

It has generally been impervious to new scientific findings that have directly challenged axioms about blood purity and rigorous selection within a closed population.

It has also been impervious to suggestions that breeding for certain phenotypes are directly responsible for creating health problems. The extreme brachycephaly of pugs and the sloping hyena backs of German shepherd dogs can be demonstrated to cause very real maladies, but these criticisms are ignored.

One intellectually lazy argument is to attack anyone who points out these facts about extreme conformation as an animal rights activist. I know the full mantra– “You’re one of those PETA types who wants to end dog ownership!”

Not at all.

When one points out the absurdity of blood purity in this day and age, the other intellectually lazy argument is to say that one wants to end purebred dogs  or selective breeding.

I rather enjoy it when people who don’t wish to debate the issues simply put words in your mouth and intentions in your head that you simply wouldn’t consider in the first place.

No. I actually want to encourage selective breeding, but I want to give breeders more tools and more freedom to correct genetic problems and to innovate. Innovation is the key. People need freedom to think and to experiment.

The problem with the dog fancy is that skills and knowledge were passed on like apprenticeships. A new breeder would hook up with an older established one, and the established one would give out all the advice. That established breeder likely got his or her ideas from earlier one, who in turn got it from an earlier one. In the end, it may be that this wisdom all gets traced to someone who lived either in a time when we simply didn’t know or someone who was trying to peddle a pet theory about how to breed dogs (see Brackett’s formula for a good example of that one).

That’s not a culture of innovation. That’s a culture of tradition– often the culture of tradition for tradition’s sake.

In order to create a dog fancy of innovation we need a new paradigm, and I think this new paradigm needs to be based upon two principles

  1. Science
  2. Empathy

The first principle is oddly lacking in so much of the modern dog fancy.  People use scientific findings. If there is a new genetic test for a disease or a recessive coat type they don’t want, they are excited to use it.

But when science questions the validity of long-standing traditions and ideas passed on from established people to their apprentices, that is when things get ugly.

There is very little critical thought, and critical thinking is key to having science as a main principle.

It can be acceptable for someone to say that if you don’t trim the fur on Keeshond’s feet, its pasterns will become weaker.  (Someone did actually say this!)

If the dog fancy were more science-based as a founding principle, people would not be able to get away with pronouncements that are either not provable or are demonstrably false.

I don’t see why it’s such a scary notion, but a lot of people get nervous when you start talking like this. That’s because you may discover that some long-held shibboleth is nothing more than bullcrap.

Empathy is the other principle that is sorely lacking in the world of dogs.

I don’t know how someone can claim to love a dog and be satisfied with its constant discomfort.

But that’s exactly what you see when people breed extremely brachycephalic pugs that cannot cool themselves efficiently or breathe properly.

As soon as you start down this path, the accusations of confederacy with Ingrid Newkirk come out, and the breeders almost always say “It’s in the standard.”

And this is where the two principles come together. Breed standards are like scripture. They are written by fallible human beings.

They are also interpreted by fallible human beings, and they are misused by even more fallible ones.

At some point, your empathy for the dog has to bring to a critical analysis of the standard and the institutions that claim to be acting in its best interest.

It is at this level that the modern dog fancy has let the domestic dog down.

We can change it, but we have to be acting with the right principles.

Otherwise, we’ll fall into the trap that goes “All we have to do is have working trials replace dog shows and things will turn out fine,” which is followed by the even more absurd variant that goes “All we have to do is make sure our champion dogs pass a working test before they become full champions.”

Both of those statements are acting in the old paradigm.

They simply will not change things enough to make a real difference.

The new dog fancy cannot be the based on the old. It must be based upon principles that are worthy of the dogs themselves.








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Chris has a killer post up over at BorderWars.

Just because a dog has “been tested” doesn’t mean that it’s healthy.

Health testing is useful and important, but it’s not the full picture.

That’s why some of the DQ’d BOB’s at Crufts got dismissed, even though they “had been tested.”

It’s simply a red herring to use the ruse that these dogs passed their breed specific health tests to attack the vets for DQ’ing for health purposes.

We’re talking about two different things here.

Of course, it’s a great argument tactic. It muddies the water and further adds to the histrionic, paranoid collective meltdowns we’ve been seeing over the last week.

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A health survey of Scottish terriers that included dogs that were bred by established and backyard breeders revealed that the established breeders were not producing healthier dogs than the backyard breeders. Further, the only group that did not include 19-year-old dogs was the one that contained dogs from established breeders. The oldest dogs in that group were 17 years old when it died.

Many dog people like to throw mud. It’s just something they like to do.  That’s probably because they don’t have any ideas at all, and they just yearn to believe all the Grade A Bullplop they’ve been fed all these years. People with ideas are dangerous things. That’s why totalitarian societies criminalize thoughts. Thoughts have a way of becoming actions, so they must be kept under control.

Of course, I’d be delusional if I thought I could compare myself to a political prisoner. I’m nothing of the sort.

I know I don’t write the most controversial dog blog out there, but I am very much a skeptic of much of the belief systems that underpin the various subcultures that people have created around domestic dogs. And I do catch hell every once in a while. I’ve dealt with so many vile people in experience on the dog blog world that I could have lots of reasons to be a pessimist. And some days, I really am a dark cloud.  But for every naysayer I’ve dealt with, there have been a least half dozen others who make this work more than worthwhile.

So much of what I get from these odious individuals is nothing more than crap. You know, something that a certain political figure called “pious baloney” to refer to his main opponent’s near constant nattering about not being a “career politician.”  I think he erred slightly in his use of words. I would have used the term “sanctimonious baloney,” for piety generally refers to belief systems that are generally positive. Sanctimony is hypocritical or feigned piety.

And boy do so many dog people have that!

In no other place does this sanctimonious baloney reach the height of its hypocrisy than when these people start making lists of what responsible dog breeders are.

It seems that every problem that exists in the purebred dog can be blamed on backyard breeders. And if they aren’t blamed, puppy mills are. Or the really evil people are– the vile, disgusting, abusive people who crossbreed!

Puppy mills are bad places. I don’t defend them at all.

But the notion that the vast majority of the problems purebred dog can be placed at the foot of these people is utterly absurd.

And there is no evidence for it.

There not a single study that says that backyard bred dogs are less healthy than those bred by established breeders.

The evidence for this claim does not exist.

Strangely, in at least one breed, the evidence suggests the backyard bred dogs are no less healthy than those bred by established breeders. This study, performed by Joseph Harvill of Great Scots Magazineincluded survey of readers of the magazine. The magazine is widely read by both show dog enthusiasts and pet owners, and the sample surveyed included dogs that came from established breeders (“professional breeders,” not a very good term), pet stores, and backyard breeders. That means that the Scottish terrier’s health problems cannot be excused through blaming backyard breeders and puppy mills. The problem is both endemic and systematic to the nature of how Scottish terriers are bred.  The author makes comparisons with a study from the 1995 Scottish Terrier Club of America that came from surveying show breeders in 1995. That study found the average lifespan was 11.2 years, and although it is not necessarily fair or accurate to make comparisons with these two studies, the author does make these comparisons to state that the lifespan is getting shorter.

Further, the author discovered that the longest lived dogs in the survey came from “nonprofessionally bred sources.” The oldest professionally bred dogs lived to only 17, but there were 19-year-old dogs that were in the rescues, backyard bred, and pet store groups. The ages of rescued dogs may not have been accurate, but pet store and backyard bred dogs would have had a known date of birth or purchase.

This study really calls into question the shibboleth that the health problems in purebred dogs can be blamed upon backyard breeders and puppy mills. In fact, it really shows that the systems that have maintained the Scottish terrier within a closed registry system have caused a general inbreeding depression that exists across the breed. That’s the problem, not the backyard breeders.

I have not been able to find another study that examines longevity and health within a dog breed from this perspective. The Golden Retriever Club of America has a wonderful study on health and longevity within that breed. This study came out in 1999, and it came from surveys that were sent to all members and placed on the GRCA website in 1998. It also placed the survey on its website. The study included health and longevity history for 1,444 dogs, which is a large n.

However, as good as that study is, I don’t think it can be used to make generalizations about the entire breed. In 1998, the internet was a very new and novel thing. The most Americans were not on the internet at the time, and it may have been those who had lost a dog at young age who were likely to download the survey. The sample also included a huge proportion of established breeders or those breeding for conformation and obedience trials– which is exactly what you get when sample club members.

Only one fourth had never competed in a show or trial?

That’s not representative of the breed as a whole. In Harvill’s paper on Scottish terrier longevity, he points out that 95% of purebred dogs come from non-established breeders.

This study doesn’t contain anything like that sample. 54% were bred for conformation, and 40% were bred for obedience trials. Although this survey says that 61% were bred to be pets, vast majority of golden retrievers are bred to be pets– something  I would estimate to be in 85-90 percent range. Dogs bred for hunting purposes appear to be underrepresented in this survey, too, though I would definitely concede that the a small minority golden retrievers are bred for this purpose. People who breed their dogs for hunting purposes may not have registered their dogs with the AKC or even registered them at all, or if they did, they may not be as in touch with the Golden Retriever Club of America as other breeders. There are large numbers of golden retrievers in the Midwest, Great Plains, and Northern Rockies that are bred for hunting and may or may not be registered at all.

This is a good study, but generalizations about it are rampant. People think that golden retrievers live on a little over 10 years on average, when all other surveys show them living into the 12-13 year range. From that study,  people think that cancer is just rampant in golden retrievers, but a multi-breed survey of 350,000 dogs insured by Swedish dog insurance company found that they were no more likely than average to die of cancer. They were actually one of the healthier breeds in the survey.

Golden retrievers were at low risk for mortality in this study – only 22% died before 10 years. Golden retrievers were significantly less likely to die of trauma and heart disease and were in the baseline (average) risk group for neurological and tumour causes of death. They were at increased risk in the first age category for locomotor problems, but this effect waned with age as demonstrated by a negative age-breed interaction.

A much larger proportion of the Swedish dog population is insured when compared to those of the United States. Lots of people insure their dogs, regardless of the background of the dog itself Sweden has a relatively large population of golden retrievers, and these dogs represent lines that are fairly common in Europe in both conformation and performance lines. And while it is certainly true that Sweden has one of the most progressive kennel club systems in the world, I don’t think it can account for the differences in findings in the surveys. It is likely that a huge proportion of these dogs are bred to be nothing more than pets from people keeping just one or two dogs for breeding purposes.  It is much more likely that this study represents something like the sample in the Harvill Scottish terrier survey.

I am not saying that golden retrievers have no health issues with cancer and other disorders. They clearly do, but the issues surrounding them are more complex than most people assume.

But one interpretation of the comparing the Swedish study with the GRCA study might be that the general pet population is healthier than the dogs bred by the experts. One needs to be careful of this interpretation, of course, but there might be some reason for at least considering it.

Think about what pet breeders do.

They breed dogs to be pets. They don’t care much about conformation, and no one has taught them that line-breeding is the best way to produce puppies. Most backyard breeders would go out of their way to breed from male dogs that are unrelated. That’s something that established breeders really don’t do. They line-breed.  And because they compete for titles, they covet blood from top producing sires.

And we all know what that does to animals in closed registry populations over time. It creates the issues associated with an inbreeding depression, and it allows certain genetic diseases to get spread throughout a larger proportion of the population.

Backyard breeders, if informed that breeding two dogs might result in severe deformities, would not likely do the breeding. The same cannot be said for certain show breeders. I only have to point you to the breeders who produced a double merle collie that has no eyes. This dog was intentionally bred  to produce litters of merle collie puppies that would do well in the show ring.

They intentionally bred a defective dog to satisfy the fancy, yet it is these same people who will give you lectures about how unhealthy backyard bred dogs are.

We would call this the height of hypocrisy.

But then, the dog fancy is largely underpinned with theology, so actual facts don’t really matter.

And never mind that the real issues that are causing purebred dogs so much trouble are actually within the system that claims to be preserving and protecting them.

Virtually every purebred dog has issues with genetic diversity, mostly resulting from popular sire syndrome and a closed registry system based upon a very finite number of founders.

The way to solve this problem is to have more dogs within a closed registry breed reproduce. We need more sires producing litters and more bitches producing pups. If more sires are producing puppies, then the effects of just a single sire producing a huge proportion of puppies in any given generation are reduced. If more bitches are reproducing, more genes are surviving in each generation.

How do you get more dogs contributing in this way?

You encourage other people to breed dogs, including those who want a dog for a pet.

Oh my God! The heresy!

You’re saying backyard breeders can be a solution to some of the problems in purebred dogs.

You’re damn right I am.

The Norwegian lundehund has largely been able to continue to exist because its breeders decided to breed from virtually every male dog in the breed.

And this solution could apply across many breeds.

Jeffery Bragg, who has actually performed quite a big of conservation breeding with a particular strain of husky, writes about the importance of maintaining about the importance of several puppies in a litter producing litters, not just an elite one or two:

The breeder should strive to ensure that at least two of every litter (unless it should happen to be one of those litters that really had best be forgotten) contribute to the next generation; half the litter should be the ideal, though perhaps a difficult one to maintain. In every instance in which only one progeny from a given mating contributes to the next generation, automatically and infallibly half of the available genetic diversity in that line is lost permanently! If two progeny contribute the theoretical average loss is reduced to 25%, still less if more littermates contribute. This single point is a major source of losses of genetic diversity among purebreds, yet it often goes totally unconsidered by the breeder.

But this solution won’t be available to us when people do nothing but write screeds about what a responsible breeder is and continually denounce backyard breeders as if they are devil incarnate. Because everyone’s resources are finite, it will be necessary to have puppy buyers do some of the breeding, and by definition, these people will be evil backyard breeders!

The truth is purebred dogs wouldn’t exist all if it weren’t for backyard breeders. The vast majority of dogs are bred by people like this, and if that’s the case, it ought to be embraced.

Backyard breeders do need to be educated on what should and shouldn’t be done.

But they are not the cause of the problems that purebred dogs have.

The problem that purebred dogs have is the dog fancy system itself, which is overpopulated with hypocritical snots who like to lecture people about all the problems that come from dogs that weren’t bred “by experts.”

The truth is they are just diverting attention from the real problems, and in doing so, they create a scapegoat. In the diversion, they don’t get blamed for supporting the closed registry system, and in the scapegoat, they create a boogie man for everyone to hate.

Which leads to more laws being passed to control breeders.

The fancy has many sins, but one thing it uses to protect itself is to blame other people for the problems it has created.

Not a bad move.

It’s selfish and pig-headed.

And oh so hypocritical.

But that doesn’t matter, they can keep on doing what they want.

And if they want sympathy for their dogs dying of early ages from diseases that could be controlled if they would drop the entire dog fancy system, I suggest they consult a fine dictionary. There, you’ll find that sympathy can be found between shit and syphilis..

That’s the perfect location in the dictionary, if you ask me. You catch shit for calling them out on diseases that come from bad breeding choices.

Solutions aren’t going come so long as we hold onto the same shibboleths and bromides that brought us to this place.

We have to drop them, or we’re just wasting time and energy.

And if we don’t drop them, there are many breeds that simply will not last.

Extinction is forever, so the maxim goes. It is the same for dog breeds as it is for species.

And that’s where we’re heading. Slow but surely, but that’s where it ends.

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Image from Cappella dei magi in Florence. Work by Benozzo Gozzoli.

A common misconception that continually gets spread is that domestic dogs were created through inbreeding wolves and that the different specialized breeds and types were created through inbreeding.

There is almost no evidence for either assertion.

The first assertion is easily falsified. Domestic dogs retained most of the wolf’s genetic diversity through domestication– in the neighborhood of 95 percent.  Wolves are a very genetically diverse species, so dogs, as a population, really do have a lot of genetic diversity for a domestic animal.

Further, there is no evidence that these specialized dogs were created through inbreeding.

Retrievers, for example, were always celebrated as being crossbred dogs. That’s right. For most of their history, different dog breeds were bred together to create retrievers of various types. It’s just the retrievers that derived mostly from the St. John’s water dogs that became the most celebrated and “improved” into modern breeds. Prior to modern breed formation, retrievers were bred through crosses in this fashion. Many retrievers had collie, St. John’s and Large Newfoundland, setter, and land and water spaniel ancestry, and others even had terrier and greyhound in them.

All they selected for was for dogs that would carry things in their mouths. And you can get that from a wide variety of dogs.

Now, retrievers are modern working dogs. Their exact function really didn’t become widely necessary until shotguns were invented. Before that, dogs like poodles and barbets were used for this purpose– and they were were often employed to retrieve shot arrows that missed their marks.

Earlier dog types were created, but they were created as landraces.  One of the oldest landraces is the tazi family of sighthounds. These dogs were among the earliest specialized dogs to have formed from the wolf. They are a very diverse lot. Some are shaggy. Some are smooth. Some are merely feathered.  But they are pretty genetically diverse as a landrace, and they are found from North Africa across the Middle East to China. In Asia, they are found from Siberia to India.

Because these dogs are pretty diverse, we know that they likely weren’t created by inbreeding. In fact, some regional variants have mtDNA squences that they share with local pariah dogs. The azawakh has mtDNA sequences that are similar to African village dogs, while Israeli salukis sometimes have mtDNA sequences in common with the Canaan dog.

So as this type evolved from the wolf, it likely incorporated genes from less specialized dogs. That’s not a closed registry system at all.

However, these dogs were selectively bred from genetically diverse stock over a long period of time.

This is very similar to the domestication process that Mark Derr describes in How the Dog Became the Dog Over tens of thousands of years, wolves and people began to affiliate with each other. This happened over a broad swathe of Eurasia. Over time, these wolves began to evolve into dogs.  During the last glacial maximum, Derr contends that the first phenotypically distinct domestic dogs appeared, largely because they were suffering from lack of prey for both humans and their socialized wolves to hunt. These dog features were not created through intense inbreeding, though the eventual development of the small dogs at the end of the Pleistocene may have been maintained by inbreeding.

At their founding, dogs were, by and large, genetically diverse.

This diversity was maintained in two ways.

Prior to the development of pastoralism, wolves were largely tolerated near human camps. Wild wolves and dogs exchanged genes quite a bit.

And humans were movers. In the days of the hunter-gatherers, dogs would always be on the move. If dogs are moving all the time, so are their genes. So there would always been a gene flow across Eurasia– and this would prevent any one population of dogs from becoming inbred.

Now, this is the exact opposite of what some people think. They think all of these dog breeds developed in complete isolation, and they regularly inbred to keep things going.

Actually, that wasn’t true even after the rise of agriculture around 10,000 years ago.

Once agriculture got started, people could remain in one place all the time, so it could be possible that people would start to become isolated– and their dogs would become inbred.

However, there were two aspects that always prevented this from happening.

One of these is trade. Trade has been a big thing even before humans began living in agricultural settlements. The earliest evidence of long-distance trade dates to as early as 150,000 years ago, and when settlement allowed people to produce more advanced goods, they were very interested in spreading it as far as possible.

Dogs had to have gone along with these early trading forays, leading to a continued gene flow.

Further, although most agriculturalists were sedentary, pastoralists never were.

Pastoralists were always following herds and flocks up and down mountains to access the best grazing, and in other areas, they moved their stock to better watering places from areas experiencing drought or dry seasons.

Everyone knows that dogs were and still are a vital asset to any pastoralist. They can alert the pastoralist to predators, and if the dogs are big enough, they can even kill them. They also can run off rustlers and bandits, and they can be used to manage the flocks and track down strays.

But because pastoralists are always moving, so are their dogs. And as their dogs move, they spread their genes.

One of the very good parts of Raymond Coppinger’s book is that he recognizes how important this movement of humans across these routes every year is very important to the story of the domestic dog. This movement is called “Transhumance,” and it has likely had a major role in maintaining genetic diversity in domestic dogs than we might have realized. Dogs traveling with pastoralists from village to village were mating with dogs belonging to villagers, and in this way, local genetic diversity was maintained.

The thing that actually created all the inbreeding in domestic dogs is the development of modern breeds.

Modern breeds that exist within a defined closed registry system are very new. They have only appeared in the past two hundred years– most in the last 150.

In this system, there was a delusion that one could continually improve upon the types and landraces by separating them from other dog stocks and then tightly breeding upon these dogs to set type. This exact same method was tried on cattle, sheep, and horses– and then fancy show pigeons. Results were quite substantial in those species, which were now much more productive, and the pigeons became more and more esoterically bizarre– the exact result the early pigeon fancy wanted!

In the early days, there were successes.

But over time, this sort of very close breeding and breeding within closed registry systems have had a deleterious effect upon domestic dogs.  Dogs within these breeds have lost 30 percent of their genetic diversity over the past two centuries.

Genetic diseases are encountered much more commonly in dog breeds than in almost all other organisms, though the notorious inbred factory farm turkeys are definitely more diseased in this fashion.

Many dog breeders exist under the delusion that they can breed out all the diseases their breed possesses. Many of these diseases are simple recessives, so all you’d have to do is inbreed to expose the disease and then cull. That works to a point.

But usually what happens is they select out a disease is they often wind up doubling down on something else.

Not all diseases are simple recessives either.  In fact, it has yet to be proven to me that the majority of them are.  Many are the result of several genes which are inherited in different ways, and it is very hard to selectively breed them out of a population.

The other problem is that the MHC haplotypes within any inbred population are very easily lost or become very homozygous rapidly. You cannot see MHC haplotypes, but if you breed them out and the dogs have more and more homozygous haplotypes, you will have a compromised immune system on your hands.

So you might breed out the easily defined genetic diseases, and in the end, you’ll wind up with dogs that are infertile or dying of autoimmune diseases– neither of which is uncommon in many dog breeds.

For tens of thousands of years, people have bred from genetically diverse dogs.

Now we’re seeing the full consequences of squandering genetic diversity in the name of delusion.

Diversity is the solution to so many problems in domestic dogs.

Unfortunately, the very notion of diversity conflicts with the long held shibboleths and bromides that underpin the dog fancy that has developed in the past two centuries.

Delusion is dangerous because it is more than a lie. It is a lie that the liar himself doesn’t know is untrue.

And to fight off the pesky truth, the deluded grabs at straws to excuse his delusions and make them true.

This, folks, is about 80 percent of what is written about dogs in the modern era.

Excusing and dismissing facts to hold onto delusion.

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Halfghan hound.

Jess has a wonderful post at DesertWindHounds.

She shows how the dog fancy’s inability to adapt to scientific facts and its desire to tarnish and harass those who don’t tow the party line on dog shows/trials/blood purity are ultimately going to be its destruction.

The animal rights fascists are pushing any number of draconian laws at both the state and federal level. They are using ideas that have currency among the pet owning populace, but because the dog fancy stubbornly holds onto its various traditions and shibboleths, it cannot effectively answer these people. Instead, it goes tars anyone who wants to fix with the label “animal rights activist,” which means that no one listens.

Not listening is perfect fodder for the AR’s, who then feed off it all.

The extreme AR’s want to ban all pets ownership and all domestic animals– and if they can’t do that, they can stop people from breeding animals for a purpose.

They know they can’t do it by passing a law that has that objective at the top of the list.

Instead, they Trojan horse it with laws that are supposed to “ban puppy mills” or “stop bad breeders.”

Everyone hates puppy mills.

No one is going to write a defense of puppy mills.

But we need to find ways to effectively fight animal cruelty, but in trying to stomp out puppy mills with laws that use sledgehammers against all breeders, we ultimately come up with another problem.

As you know from reading this blog, the domestic dog has a lot of problems.

These problems are only going to be solved if dog breeders are given the freedom to  use the tools they have, and they need to have freedom to operate outside of official breed registries.

You start legislating dog breeding in this fashion, and you could wind up with a situation in which only dogs from approved registries and of clearly defined and recognized breeds can be kept for breeding purposes. You think that can’t happen?

Well, it’s happened in many continental European countries.

They don’t have as many issues with puppy mills, but they have closed dog registries that will remain closed forever.

Closed registries and the dog competition system, which rewards breeding from “elite” sires, will ultimately result in very  depauperate gene pools– which means more issues with diseases that result from an inbreeding depression and those that are inherited via deleterious genetic mutations.

We want to stop puppy mills but not at the expense of shutting every door that could lead to genetic rescue for so many dogs.

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One of the common arguments for maintaining the closed registry system is that as soon as one does an outcross it will be impossible to breed back to the original phenotype.

This is actually not true, and with dogs, it does not take many generations to breed back before the dog looks and behaves exactly like the purebred.

I have already mentioned a nineteenth century program that introduced bloodhound into the British basset hound population to save it from an inbreeding depression. I have also mentioned Bruce Cattanach’s bobtailed boxer program, which used a naturally bobtailed corgi to introduce the trait into the boxer. In both cases, the dogs were able to return to their original type through relatively few generations of breeding back into the boxer gene pool.

Cattanach writes about how quickly he could breed dogs that looked very much like pure boxers:

The transformation in one generation can only be described as amazing. It suggests that very few genes are responsible for the main features distinguishing the Corgi and Boxer, except for the special Boxer head. The white coat colour, of course, was Boxer white and resulted from the doubling up on Boxer.

That’s right. Just a few genes separate all of these dogs breeds. Variation on only a single gene explains most of the wide variance in size among dogs.  Size is very easily selected for in breeding programs, which is why we have three widely varying sizes of poodle that all descend from essentially the same stock.

If a breed has a particularly specialized head, it may take few more generations to “fix.” The bull terrier in Britain was traditionally a white dog. After all, it was derived from the English white terrier. The English white terrier went extinct because it developed severe genetic genetic problems– among them deafness. Deafness also affected the white bull terrier breed, and it was feared that it would follow its white terrier ancestor into oblivion if something was not done to correct it. The English white terrier was extinct by 1900, and within just a few years of its extinction, crosses between bull terriers and a few select Staffordshire bull terriers occurred. One of the staffies used in the program was a first cross between a bull dog and a Manchester terrier.

Although it was easy to return to the bull terrier phenotype, it was very hard to breed the special bull terrier head in the colored lines. Bull terriers have a very specialized, egg-shaped head, and they also have triangular eyes, which were very hard to fix in the colored lines. The prevalence of “button eyes” in colored strains led some fanciers to denounce them as mongrel, and it is one of the reasons why the AKC has two separate varieties of bull terrier: white and colored.

However, even those button-eyed coloreds looked very much like bull terriers. Perhaps if the bull terrier fanciers had been more open to breeding from them, they would have become more or less like the white dogs much more quickly.

But through backcrossing and selective breeding, the colored bull terriers now have classic bull terrier conformation. One even won best in show at Westminster  in 2006.

Simply put, the argument that it is impossible to breed back traits after doing an outcross is simply bogus. The fact that it takes just a few generations of backcrossing to produce a dog that is virtually identical to the backcrossed breed shows how easy it is.

Albert Payson Terhune evidently knew of this fact when wrote the story of a collie named Buff. Nina, Buff’s mother, was an accidental cross between a collie and pit bull, and she accidentally mated with a top show collie. Buff resembled a perfect show collie, even though his grandsire had been a pit bull.

There actually was a collie named Buff. His photo appears in the frontispiece of the book, but I do not think that this collie actually had this ancestry. It is possible, but I doubt it.

The rapid effects of backcrossing in dogs have been well-established for quite some time. Stonehenge (John Henry Walsh) was quite aware of how easy it was to return to phenotype after just a few generations of backcrossing. He used an experimental crossbreeding between a bulldog and a greyhound. Writing about this crossbreeding and back crossing program in his The Dog in Health and Disease (1859), Stonehenge points out how quickly it easy to produce dogs that resemble greyhound from backcrossing:

It might naturally be supposed by any person who has not been convinced to the contrary, that it would take several crosses to get rid of the heavy form of the bulldog when united with the light and graceful shape of the greyhound. But on actually trying the experiment it will readily be seen that in the third generation very little trace remains of the bulldog, while in the fourth there is none whatever apparent in external form. My friend Mr. Hanley is the last who has tried the experiment, and having kept a daguerreotype of every individual used in it, which he has kindly placed at my service, I have been enabled to present to my readers perfectly trustworthy proofs of the correctness of this assertion. The bulldog “Chicken” used was a very high-bred animal, and of him also Mr. Hanley has preserved a daguerreotype, but as his blood is very similar to that of Mr. Stockdale’s “Top,” I have not thought it necessary to engrave him. The bitch “Fly,” put to “Chicken,” was also highly bred (pg. 179).

One must note that Stonehenge writes that Chicken was nearly identical to a bulldog named Top, which he depicts in his section on bulldogs. The first cross between Chicken and Fly, called a “Half- and-Half,” is a meld of features from the greyhound and this old type of bulldog:

The “Half-and-Half” was then bred to a greyhound named Blunder, and this breeding produced a white bitch named Hecate:

Stonehenge describes Hecate:

From these came the second cross, “Hecate,” a white bitch still presenting some slight characteristics of the bulldog breed, but by an ordinary observer this would be scarcely noticed. There is, however, a remarkable want of symmetry and true proportion in this bitch, which the portrait conveys exactly (pg. 181-182)

Hecate may not have been what greyhound fanciers wanted in an ideal specimen, but she doesn’t look all that much like a bulldog. She just looks like an “off” greyhound.

Hecate was bred to another greyhound named Preston. He was a very fast dog, and it was thought that he would pass on these traits to his offspring. One of the puppies produced from that breeding was a black bitch named Hecuba:

Stonehenge describes Hecuba as “a large black bitch of good shape, and, as I before remarked scarcely distinguishable from the pure greyhound” (182-183).

She was a very fast dog, but she lacked stamina. This finding suggests that certain working characteristics might be hard to breed back through backcrossing when the original outcross is between two very different breeds.

Hecuba was bred to another greyhound named Bedlamite, and the offspring that resulted from this litter were fast but were deficient in “stoutness.” Stonehenge shows a depiction of one of these dogs. Her name is Hysterics, and she is very clearly a greyhound.

Hysterics was then bred to Ranter, her full greyhound half brother, and the puppies that resulted from that breeding were not as good as the fourth cross. Perhaps such tight breeding caused these deficiencies.

So even in Stonehenge’s day, it was well-known among dog fanciers that it didn’t take many generations of backcrossing from an outcross to produce dogs that had the correct phenotype.

And in Stonehenge’s day, Gregor Mendel’s work was not yet accepted as science. Although Mendel was conducting his experiments at the time of Stonehenge’s writing, his work was essentially unknown to the British public.

Now, we have a much more complete understanding of genetics. It is not complete by any means, but we know how many traits are inherited dogs. Because we have this knowledge, it will be easier for us to engage in cross-breeding and backcrossing programs. We also know how to test for many genetic diseases, and we can test both breeds used in these programs for certain inherited diseases.

We know so much more than they did, and we could use crossbreeding and backcrossing programs to improve the health and diversity of many breeds.

However, institutionally, there are many barriers to these programs. The Dalmatian Backcross Project has produced Dalmatians with low uric acid concentration in their urine. Uric acid stones are major problem in the breed, so it was decided to make a cross with a pointer and then backcross to produce Dalmatians that have low uric acid concentration. After generations of backcrossing, these dogs are now 99.7 percent Dalmatian.

But the AKC and the Dalmatian Club of America have been resistant to allowing these dogs to be registered. The AKC recently deferred the decision to include these dogs to the Dalmatian Club of America. The DCA still refuses to accept them. The DCA has also started a propaganda campaign in its own literature, claiming that if such dogs are allowed in, the Dalmatian will no longer be purebred and the health of the breed will deteriorate.

All of these things are unlikely to happen, and if a dog has an old pointer ancestor but still looks and behaves like a Dalmatian, what difference does it make? The average dog owner might want a dog that looks like a Dalmatian and acts like one, but they also want one that is healthy. I don’t see what the big deal is– unless purity is such an overarching virtue that one “bastardization” several generations back negates the  validity whole strain. Such a position is actually quite hard to defend to the average person looking for a dog, and this might not be the best public relations step to take.

Backcrossing allows the breeder an opportunity to return to phenotype and working ability. It allows those genes to return to the bloodline, which also has the genes from the outcrossed breed. If those genes add something to dog– such as a healthy urinary tract or a naturally bobbed tail– then these outcrossing projects are worthwhile endeavors.

Because of the successes of these sorts of programs, the dog world should be more willing to operate with an appendix registry system. As we saw with the greyhound/bulldog project, not every dog produced was worthy of breeding– as is the case with purebreds. An appendix registry allows dogs that meet some of the breed requirements to be registered, and then these animals can be bred to the other dogs in the registry. When puppies are born, they are also checked to see if they fit the criteria and are registered accordingly.

The cat fancy has totally embraced the crossbreeding and backcrossing of many different breeds. The CFA allows certain breeds– such as Persians and Exotic shorthairs– to be crossbred. These two cats have very similar conformation, just one is long-haired and the other is short-haired. The animals are crossed and registered according to phenotype– something that was done in retrievers and spaniels for decades.  Cat fanciers are given a greater opportunity to selectively breed from diverse bloodlines than dog fanciers typically are.

Crossbreeding and backcrossing are tools that should be open to more dog breeders. They are tools that do require skill to use properly, but the skills can be learned. They require understanding the genetics of what makes up a particular breed or variety and that of the outcrossed breed. This sounds very scary to many traditionalists within the dog fancy. It needn’t be.

In the nineteenth century, they were doing these crossbreeding experiments with no real knowledge about health or genetics.

And the dogs didn’t fall apart.

We know so much more now. And it is time we get a chance to put that knowledge to work to build a better future for Canis lupus familiaris.





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