100 Years of Breed “Improvement”

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For the sake of honest disclosure, I will admit to owning “purebreds” (the ‘pureness’ of purebreeds is a discussion for another time) but I also have mutts. All the dogs I’ve had since childhood had a few things in common, they were friendly, prey driven, ball-crazy, intense, motivated, athletic (crazy dogs are easier to train) and none had intentionally bred defects. I would never buy/adopt a dog whose breed characteristics exacted a health burden.(Asher 2009). That just incentivizes people to breed more of these intentionally unhealthy animals. The dogs on the left are from  the 1915 book, ‘Breeds of All Nations by W.E. Mason. The examples on the right are modern examples from multiple sources. To be able to make an honest comparison, I’ve chosen pictures with similar poses and in a couple of cases flipped the picture to get them both aligned in the same direction. I had to skip some breeds I wanted to include because of the lack of detail in the older photographs.

It seems incredible that at one time the Bull Terrier was a handsome, athletic dog. Somewhere along its journey to a mutated skull and thick abdomen the bull terrier also picked up a number of other maladies like supernumerary teeth and compulsive tail-chasing.


The Basset Hound has gotten lower, has suffered changes to its rear leg structure, has excessive skin, vertebra problems, droopy eyes prone to entropion and ectropion and excessively large ears.


A shorter face means a host of problems. The modern Boxer not only has a shorter face but the muzzle is slightly upturned. The boxer – like all bracecyphalic dogs – has difficulty controlling its temperature in hot weather, the inability to shed heat places limits on physical performance. It also has one of the highest cancer rates.


The English bulldog has come to symbolize all that is wrong with the dog fancy and not without good reason; they suffer from almost every possible disease. A 2004 survey by the Kennel Club found that they die at the median age of 6.25 years (n=180). There really is no such thing as a healthy bulldog. The bulldog’s monstrous proportions make them virtually incapable of mating or birthing without medical intervention.


The Dachshund used to have functional legs and necks that made sense for their size. Backs and necks have gotten longer, chest jutted forward and legs have shrunk to such proportions that there is barely any clearance between the chest and floor. The dachschund has the highest risk of any breed for intervertebral disc disease which can result in paralysis; they are also prone to achondroplastic related pathologies, PRA and problems with their legs.


The German Shepherd Dog is also a breed that is routinely mentioned when people talk about ruined breeds; maybe because they used to be awesome. In Dogs of All Nations, the GSD is described as a medium-sized dog (25 kg /55 lb), this is a far cry from the angulated, barrel-chested, sloping back, ataxic, 85-pounders  (38 kg) we are used to seeing in the conformation ring. There was a time when the GSD could clear a 2.5 meter (8.5 ft) wall; that time is long gone.


The Pug is another extreme brachycephalic breed and it has all the problems associated with that trait – high blood pressure, heart problems, low oxygenation, difficulty breathing, tendency to overheat, dentition problems, and skin fold dermatitis. The highly desirable double-curl tail is actually a genetic defect, in more serious forms it leads to paralysis.


Once a noble working dog, the modern St. Bernard has been oversized, had it’s faced squished in, and bred for abundant skin. You will not see this type of dog working, they can’t handle it as they quickly overheat. The diseases include entropion, ectropion, Stockard’s paralysis, hemophilia, osteosarcoma, aphakia, fibrinogen deficiency.


It is unrealistic to expect any population to be free of genetic diseases but show breeders have intentionally selected for traits which result in diseases. Conformation breeders claim they are improving the breed and yet they are often the cause of these problems. If “improvement” in looks imposes a health burden then it is not a breed improvement..

No dog breed has ever been improved by the capricious and arbitrary decision that a shorter/longer/flatter/bigger/smaller/curlier “whatever” is better.  Condemning a dog to a lifetime of suffering for the sake of looks is not an improvement; it is torture.

Further Reading

Dog Breed Historical Pictures. Breed-Predispositions to Cancer in Pedigree Dogs - ISRN Veterinary Science The Price of a Pedigree – Dog breed standards and breed-related illness  – Animal Welfare Group (PDF) A healthier future for pedigree dogs (2009) – Associate Parliamentary Group for Animal Welfare (PDF) A healthier future for pedigree dogs – 2012 update – APGAW (PDF) Pedigree dog breeding in the UK: a major welfare concern? – RSPCA (PDF)

REFERENCES

Asher L, Diesel G, Summers JF, McGreevy PD, Collins LM. (2009). Inherited defects in pedigree dogs. Part 1: disorders related to breed standards.  Vet J. 2009 Dec;182(3):402-11.

  1. Bull Terrier
  2. Basset Hound
  3. Boxer
  4. Bulldog
  5. German Shepherd Dog
  6. Pug
  7. Saint Bernard
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815 thoughts on “100 Years of Breed “Improvement”

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  8. This is one of those articles where I read it saying “YES AND THAT” over and over again. I have rabbits and ARBA is just as bad as the AKC. I have a holland lop and we have to hold him down every week and thin his butt fur because he and his penmate have both been to the vet ER from hairballs. (Bunnies have too rudimentary of a digestive system to cough them up). I feel like a murderer every time and I think my bunny agrees…. I totally blame selective breeding for causing him to have a coat too thick and long to maintain on his own. Also, because of the selective breeding favoring a boxy head, he’s at risk for malocclusion and molar spurs, which are wildly painful, disfiguring, and life threatening.

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  12. I completely agree! That would be torture…No animals should be bread for the pure sake of the looks, in no way would that be an improvement! I think fair enough when trying to bread out diseases etc! But no animal should be subjected to suffering!!!!
    Good read

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