Just for SHOW

“The time has come where we’ve just got to give up this kind of “master race” mentality that we have about dogs. Our system of breeding dogs, of isolating small populations called breeds and then practicing eugenics, generation after generation after generation, all of those dogs are inbred beyond belief. It’s not good genetics and it’s not good dog breeding.” ~ Ray Coppinger (author of Dogs – A New Understanding of Canine Origin, Behaviour and Evolution) in Dogs and More Dogs (Nova, 2004)

There is a common call, among animal welfare workers, for breeding of companion animals to be regulated, because there are too many animals and not enough homes, and that this should be achieved through legislation prohibiting breeding unless done so by ‘registered breeders’, and by this they mean breeders who are registered with one of the breed associations or ‘kennel clubs’. The intention is that breeding should be the province of experts who have the necessary expertise to do the job in a manner that is beneficial to the animals and the community. In principle, I agree with this ethic.

Download the full PDF version here (31 pages, 700Kb): Just_for_Show

The difficulty I have with linking ‘ethical breeding’ with the breed associations and the pedigreed breeding community is that there are significant problems with the mindset and practices of the ‘purebred’ syndrome.

Watch this movie: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=t4Hfqv0uCrg (Pedigreed Dogs Exposed)

And this one on cats: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9YUksJvEcsY (The Insanity of Show Breeding)

Note: The issues highlighted in this article apply equally in breed-specific terms to cats as well as dogs.

Early dog breeding mimicked natural selection, in that dogs were bred to work; the dogs that could herd sheep or cattle, or that could defend against intruders, etc., were the ones that were bred to produce the next generation. This process over time produced the modern breeds. However, with the advent of dog showing in the middle of the nineteenth century, the focus shifted away from function to aesthetics.

The Show Ring has also been largely responsible for the decline of breed purpose, working ability and temperament in a great many breeds, notably sporting breeds, herding breeds and sled dog breeds. The quick and easy gratification of blue ribbons and gilt trophies all too readily supplants the hard work necessary to preserve and advance canine working abilities.

Competitive dog-showing, in its pursuit of perfection, has driven the various breeds to ever more drastic extremes in body proportion and shape. The Dachshund’s legs have become much shorter over the last century, but their long back often gives them spinal problems, and they often suffer epilepsy and eye problems as well. The Bull Terrier’s head has been deformed, as has that of the Pit Bull – breeders have contorted the skull shapes showed how drastically these breeds have changed in less than a century. Bulldogs have slower relative growth of the nasal bones, and this causes breathing difficulties and the need to be born by Caesarian section.

The German Shepherd shows that these changes are carried out for purely cosmetic reasons. There are actually two varieties of German Shepherd: the working variety, which is often used in police forces and as guard dogs, and the show variety. The former looks very much like the original German Shepherd, but the show variety has a very different shape, with their back ends slouching. Orthopaedic surgeon Graham Oliver described the gait of the show dogs as ataxic, lacking full coordination and control.

The fallacy of breed purity, the ideal of the purified lineage, is seen as an end in itself; and accordingly, the studbook has been structured to reflect and to enforce that ideal rigidly and absolutely. This insistence on absolute breed purity arises from nineteenth-century notions of the “superior strain” which were supposedly exemplified by human aristocracies and thoroughbred horses; this same ideal, pushed to an illogical conclusion on the human plane, resulted in the now discredited “scientific racism” of the Nazis, who tried through selective human matings to breed an Aryan superman. The idea of the superior strain was that by “breeding the best to the best,” employing sustained inbreeding and selection for “superior” qualities, one would develop a bloodline superior in every way to the unrefined, base stock which was the best that nature could produce. Naturally the purified line must then be preserved from dilution and debasement by base-born stock. There is no support for this kind of racism in the findings of modern genetics — in fact, quite the opposite: population groups that are numerically limited and closed to new genetic inflow are now thought practically certain to be genetically inferior.

Purebred breeding methods replace nature’s role and condemn purebred dogs to live with health and/or behavioural problems. Deliberate manipulation of a dog’s genome, the essence of its life, is an extreme violation of its autonomy. The 500 genetic diseases that have been documented to date are merely a starting point, and it is irrefutable that these defects cause pain and suffering to the dogs that bear them. Dog breeding principles do not provide beneficence to the dogs; on the contrary, they result in many injustices to them.

There is a sense in which the purebred breeding philosophy mirrors apartheid and racism – the notion of the ‘separate and distinct’ breed (race) in isolation from others, as if there is a genetic basis to the idea. There isn’t. It’s a human-engineered fiction, with a sad ending. The word “mongrel” is in fact part of the vocabulary of racism, being applied equally to canine stock of no recognisable breed, to animal crossbreeds, and to persons of mixed race!

More than 500 genetic defects exist in today’s purebred dogs. Inherited diseases such as hip dysplasia, brachycephalic airway syndrome, cardiomyopathies, endocrine dysfunctions, blood disorders, and hundreds more, affect the quality of life and longevity of these dogs. Over 400 breeds currently exist, but they are artificial constructs of human fancy, instead of the evolutionary outcome of natural selection. The wide array of genetic diseases found in purebred dogs reflects their unnatural development, by kennel club associations and breeders who are largely responsible for this welfare predicament.

For many of the disorders that are believed to be inherited, the specific pattern of inheritance has not been established. Breeds that have an increased risk for a condition, relative to other dog breeds, are said to have a breed predisposition. Preferably, affected dogs and their close relatives should not be used in breeding programs.

Some examples of exaggerated features are listed below, but there are many more.

·         Dogs with short flat faces often have narrow nostrils and abnormally developed windpipes. They can often suffer severe breathing difficulties and may have difficulty enjoying a walk or playing.

·         Very large and heavy dogs are more likely to suffer heart, digestion, muscle or joint problems, and live shorter lives.

·         Dogs with folded or wrinkled skin are prone to itchy and painful skin complaints, and infolding eyelids that can scratch the eye ball.

·         Dogs with very long backs can suffer crippling back deformities.

·         Dogs with ridges along their backs are prone to nervous system problems.

·         Dogs with very curly or short tails can have trouble communicating properly with other dogs as they can’t raise or wag their tails. Dogs with screw tails can also suffer crippling back deformities.

·         Dogs with bulging or sunken eyes are prone to injury, pain or discomfort.

·         Dogs that have large heads but small hips have trouble giving birth, risking their lives or needing surgery.

·         Dogs with long floppy ears often suffer ear infections or injury and cannot move their ears to communicate with other dogs.

·         Dogs with very short legs have difficulty moving properly.

·         Hairless dogs have trouble keeping warm

Canine breeds can and should be differentiated, bred and maintained on a dynamically balanced, heterozygous population basis without restriction to a closed, historic founder group. The closed studbook and the breed purity concept are, from a genetic point of view, simply unnecessary. Indeed, as we have seen, from the standpoint of maintaining a genetically healthy limited population, they are thoroughly counterproductive.

The most important change to be initiated is the opening of all dog breed registries to allow an increase in genetic variation. Additionally, kennel clubs should follow the example of the agriculture industry and set minimum numbers for foundation stocks during breed establishment. If dog breeders were to be subjected to a similar stock regulation, the frequency of heritable diseases seen in purebred dogs would decrease, and eventually many diseases would be eliminated. The end in view is healthy stock, not “racial purity”.

If kennel clubs permit increased genetic variety amongst registered dog breeds, the inbreeding depression that is so rampant today will eventually decline. Canine breeds can and should be differentiated, bred, and maintained on a dynamically balanced, heterozygous population basis without restriction to a closed, historic founder group.

Proposed Breeder License System

Since animals are traded across borders, a nationally consistent Breeder License system is needed for anyone who breeds cats or dogs.:

1.      Anyone who breeds cats or dogs.should have to be licensed. Qualification should include suitable premises, facilities, accreditation and access to a geneticist. Failure in any of these respects should bring about denial of the license.

2.      DNA testing to be conducted on all breeding stock and the breeder must be part of a ‘Population Genetics’ programme.

3.      An independent inspection conducted on application for a license and every 3 years.

4.      Tests relating to health issues should be mandatory. Results should be recorded in registry databases.

5.      Like-to-like matings between breeds carrying lethal or debilitating genetic diseases should not be permitted.

6.      Inspections based on compulsory standards including limiting frequency of breeding and rehoming breeding animals.

7.      Breeders pay for the Breeder License to cover costs of inspections, providing certification and keeping records.

8.      Compulsory publishing of Breeder License numbers so consumers can make more ethical choices when looking for a new companion animal.

9.       All animals to be vaccinated and treated for external and internal parasites according to current veterinary advice.

10.  Sterilisation of puppies and kittens before sale or transfer. All puppies and kittens required to be sterilised prior to sale or giving away at 10 weeks of age, unless the animal has a health problem or is being transferred to someone with a breeder permit.

11.  Any animal born with a defect should be euthanized by a veterinarian if in the opinion of the veterinarian it would be unable to lead a healthy and comfortable life.

12.  Home inspections to be conducted by companion welfare organisations at a reasonable price so that the Breeding fraternity support animal welfare

13.   All animals must be healthy at time of going to a new home with breeders responsible for their continued health up to two weeks after the relocation.

14.  Licensed breeders should be prohibited from selling animals to commercial wholesalers or retail pet dealers.

Questionable Ethics of the Breeding Imperative

Breeders typically fall into one of four types:

1.      The Home breeder who somehow did not know that companion animals will mate and give birth to a litter if they are not sterilised, or the ones who want Sophie to have ‘just one litter’. Equally ignorant, these two types will add to the problem of overpopulation and will also dump puppies with their local shelter or just dump them anywhere. They also don’t know that puppies need to be vaccinated and they often don’t have the Mom sterilised after the first batch because they don’t have enough money or intelligence or willingness. They also typically advertise their animals ‘free to a good home’, thereby inviting those involved in dog fighting to pick up their latest bait dog or fighter.

2.      The Commercial breeder who does what they do for money, knowing that there will always be people gullible and ignorant enough to buy pets from pet shops or on the Internet or from a newspaper ad. This type sees the animal as a commodity, nothing more, and any expenditure on vaccinations or vets is just an added cost they can do without. They will breed with their females until they die, with no consideration for their well-being. They knowingly add to the overpopulation but invariably have a deal with a pet shop owner or a media channel so they see only their opportunity and not the consequences of a market that is oversubscribed with animals. They will sell to anyone as long as they get paid; they could care less whether the person they sell to will look after or wants to breed with the animal.

3.      The Pedigreed Breeder who subscribes to the maxim that a purebred is a ‘better’ dog and is very proud of their maintenance of that myth, while at the same time reducing the biological diversity of the species and bringing animals into being that are deformed, suffer from hereditary disease, or have compromised immune systems, and all for the sake of propping up the fragile and desperate egos of their buyers who need to gain acceptance and admiration vicariously through their animals. They claim to be actng for the good of the breed while insisting on remaining ignorant about population genetics and believe that a breeder acting in isolation can enhance the breed, amongst other nonsense. To this breeder, a dog with ‘papers’ is a good dog. The rest are inferior – mutts, mongrels, children of a lesser god.

4.      The Ethical Breeder who understands that diversity is strength, that the good of the species may requre outcrossing, who consults with a geneticist and is selective as to who will provide a home for the offspring. The Ethical Breeder is less concerned about breed identity than about health, function, and quality of life, so they breed to develop purposeful traits, not conformance to a petrified cosmetic standard.

In my view, only the fourth one should exist. The rest should be eradicated through legislation and regulation.

If only registered breeders bred registered, pedigreed dogs, and this was the only breeding allowed, then we would be guilty of chronic animal cruelty, since the process of breeding within a narrowly-confined genetic footprint MUST have a negative effect on biological diversity and the natural consequence of that is hereditary defects and reduction of the effectiveness of the immune system – in short, we consign the species to discomfort and pain and increased risk of disease. So NO, I don’t support the common call for allowing ‘registered’ and ‘ethical’ breeders (if there is such a thing) free rein. It’s time we saw that the entire process is contrary to animal welfare.


Derek du Toit.