Friday, May 25, 2012

The OTHER Ugly Side of Dog Breeding

Hey ya'll 

I write this post today in response to this article on The Ugly Side of Dog Breeding that I read as a post on an acquaintance's wall on Facebook. As I perused the article and nodded in acknowledgement of all the points, I could not help but think about the OTHER ugly side of dog breeding. Breeding itself. Or rather, to be more specific, the prevalent method of breeding that resulted in the myriad of contemporary dog breeds we know today: Selective breeding. Before I go further into this I would like to apologize beforehand if my article offends anyone. I realize that there are many people who are dog lovers out there, and that people who love their pets can become very defensive about what is being said against them (heck! I, of all people should know this!!!). But what I would just like to say is that (while I may be more partial to other animals) I am a dog owner myself and that I write mainly in concern of my two companions, and the future prospect of other dogs of their "breed". But first, let us take a look at this picture...


This is a Pomeranian. And it is CUTE! Isn't it? Well, I suppose undeniably it is!!! Pomeranians today are known as small, vivacious and affectionate dogs that make some of the most wonderful animal companions for the animal owner who needs to be more discriminate about space. But what if I were to tell you that there is in fact nothing natural about this dog's appearance, indeed, about its behavior. In fact, everything about this dog that has made it so desirable to humans (its size, disposition, coloration, snout length, bodily dimensions, and fur quality) was "manufactured", so to speak, through years and years of selective breeding.

If you look at one of the charts in your vet's office, the one with all the dog breeds on them, you will notice that each animal is not categorized as an individual species but rather lumped together as a whole. They are called Canis lupus familiaris. And why would this be so? Quite simply put, because all of these contemporary dog breeds (which look quite different from each other that you might think them to be different animals) have all in fact originated from a (theoretical) single species of dog. In other words, all of these dogs probably (and very likely, based no current scientific evidence) had a common ancestor. Due to the breeding of specific individuals for very particular traits (both physical and personality), they then began to diversify into the vast number of recognizable breeds we know of today. Now while you may think that this process took place over a long span of time, the truth is that many of these breeds only came to "exist" as we know them during the past 200 years or so. The Pomeranian therefore, which we now desire for its small size, used to look something like this...

YES! That large white dog is the Pomeranian. This canvas dates back to only 1785.  
This is the earliest dated image I could find of a miniaturized Pomeranian. This picture dates back to only 1915. 
The difference in appearance between both dogs, and both dogs to the one at the start of the post is rather drastic and therefore, quite telling of the sorts of physical (and possibly behavioral) differences that have occured in each animal. Assuming then, that these two pictures constitutes a rough frame of measurement, I suppose we can deduce that the species only came to be what it is today in only 130 years!!! That is an extremely short time in terms of such drastic change!!!  But "get to the point already!!!" you might be telling me, and indeed I shall!!! Clearly by now some of you might be trying hard to see what the big deal of all of this really is. After all, so what if these animals were bred for specific and desirable physical traits? So what if some of these traits are impractical for its survival should it live in the wild? These animals are bred to be companion animals anyway! And you are most certainly right!!! For the better part of the story, none of this would really matter... but if only that were the only conundrum to take into consideration.

The Problem

The crux of the problem falls down to the notion of "pedigree" that is to say the tracing of the animal's geneology for things like "pureness" in terms of bloodline and quality. This in turn involves the foregrounding of certain physical traits (like length of legs, body size, fur etc.). However, when breeders choose to breed dogs for very specific physical traits they also inadvertently end up foregrounding the genetic material that determines this which in turn results in the inexplicable sidelining of other genes that may in fact be beneficial to the animal's overall well-being and health. The domestic dog is descended from canis lupus or the gray wolf. A comparison between the wolf and just about any dog breed you can think of in today's day and age will show you how much selective breeding has done in terms of altering the animal's physiology. The wolf, if its life is not cut short by predation or disease, can have a lifespan of up to 25 years. The domestic dog on the other hand, may live up to an average of 15 years in some toy breeds, about 6 or 7 years in others. Other, more specific genetic problems can also be linked to the accentuating of certain physical features of the animal. Flat-nosed breeds for example, because of the shapes of their faces, have frequent breathing problems because of their shortened air passages. Certain breeds, like Shih Tzus have become prone to hip dysplasia, and some dogs (like the Bulldog, because of the shape of their body which starts of broad at the head and becomes narrower at the back makes birthing a very difficult and potentially dangerous process for the animal without proper attention. And what do you think happens to animals that don't quite make the "pedigree" cut?

The Solution

I think that it is about time more awareness is raised regarding this issue. New "genetic material" must be added to otherwise "pureblood" lines to increase the variation of genes involved therefore reducing again the probability of puppies inheriting recessive-negative genes. Pedigree breeding, while necessary for show competitions aren't entirely fundamental in the decision to raise a dog as a companion. Indeed, any number of dog owners out there can probably tell you that their dog has been an awesome companion to them, and these dogs possibly span almost all known contemporary dog breeds. Furthermore show-dog associations can be petitioned to adjust their guidelines and judging criteria accordingly. The relatively short and recent life-history of contemporary dog breeds proves, if not anything else, how arbitrary these criterion are anyway. If you are a dog lover, I firmly believe that the health, longevity, and physical wellbeing of the animal and its offspring, should matter more to you than how specifically short its legs are, or how distinguishably flat is face can get.

ps. for a more comprehensive list of selective-breeding related genetic disorders in canines, please click on the following links.

Dogs that Changed the World: Selective Breeding Problems

Identifying Genetic Disorders in Dogs


No comments: