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THE BUBBLE: The Perfect Storm


THE BUBBLE: The Perfect Storm

The perfect storm is a well-known phrase, and it describes what has been happening to the dog show community over the past several years. We have been faced with multiple challenges, from legislation proposed by animal rights activists to the rising demand for doodles—which have probably become the most popular dogs on the planet. We have fewer AKC breeders than at any time in the last 50 years, dog show entries are down, AKC litter registrations are down, and purebred dogs are being assaulted by activists on all fronts with claims that purebred dogs are inherently unhealthy.

Throughout the 20th century, mixed breed puppies were referred to as mutts in the US and mongrels in the UK, and the comparison never occurred. Mixed breed puppies were given away by the people who had them or were adopted from shelters and pounds at a nominal price. Purebred puppies, referred to as “pedigree” in the UK, were not criticized the way they are today, and breeders were judged on whether or not they produced happy, healthy, and well-reared puppies.

Sadly, and coincidentally, social media, hitherto restricted to email membership groups, was overtaken by the modern platform along with the release of a documentary in the UK in 2008 called Pedigree Dogs Exposed. This “shockdoc” focused on individual breeds which did have serious health problems and genetic issues, and slammed pedigree dogs of all breeds. The trend for so-called designer breeds followed suit and they became a marketable commodity. They were presented to the general public as a safer, healthier option than an inbred purebred dog. Over the next few years, every breed imaginable was mixed with the Poodle as the doodle craze spread across the world.

During the same period, wise breeders were quietly doing their best to produce healthy puppies with the tools available. Initially, this meant physical examination, (e.g., X-rays of hips or checks of eyes), but this did not solve the problem of screening out inherited defects. In breeds where defects were numerous, not only were the affected dogs removed from a breeding program but all close relatives were removed as well. This had the unfortunate effect of reducing the gene pool in many breeds. Now with the advent of DNA testing and advances in molecular biology, breeders have better tools at their disposal. Breed-specific testing is now available for many breeds. Sadly, not all breeds have been able to embrace this technology and some have avoided it.

Health testing has become the benchmark by which breeders are judged in most breeds, but in my opinion it has been presented badly. In social media, we see testing mentioned in a very negative context instead of positive (e.g., proving that the dogs being bred from are free from defects). Instead, it is presented as something that must be done to avoid breeding from defective dogs.

I remember one instance online where a woman had come to ask for advice on a puppy that she had purchased and was told that before she could even think of breeding, she would have to make sure she had all her clearances, then she would know if she could use her! When puppy buyers go online and see comments like that, and then they see an ad from a doodle breeder saying that all their puppies are tested using a commercial all-breed test such as Embark and they have been tested as being free of 300 diseases, people believe what they read.

In my opinion, DNA testing has been the most useful and valuable thing to have been made available to breeders of purebred dogs in this century, but not every breed has a breed-specific DNA test for problems that affect their breed—my own included. Those who have pursued it now have tests that they can use to eliminate a defect from a breed without losing parts of the gene pool.

The opposing viewpoint is that DNA testing is useless, and that inbreeding is the problem. The promoters of this belief have stated that outcrossing is the solution, and that by keeping the Coefficient of Inbreeding (COI) as low as possible and breeding to unrelated ancestors it will reduce the odds of a defective gene being inherited. The problem is that it does not exclude the possibility that defective offspring will continue to be produced. It also ensures that a defective gene could be spread throughout the population. When that happens, breeders of that breed may have nowhere to go, unless they adopt DNA testing before it is too late.

Yes, some breeds do have breed-specific problems, but concerned breeders are working hard to eliminate them. Just because brachycephalic breeds have short faces doesn’t mean that all of them are struggling and suffering. One of my favorite videos from Australia is of an Agility Pug! Yes, zipping through the weave poles!

Something that does concern me is that a very basic health necessity is all too often overlooked: that is reproductive health. Until the big push to spay and neuter everything, male and female dogs alike lived happily intact into their old age. The general public were encouraged to spay and neuter their dogs on the grounds that they would be healthier, although the real reason was to cut down on the number of unwanted litters being produced by irresponsible owners who were overloading the shelters.

Incidentally, then like now, the majority were not purebred dogs but mixed breeds given away as puppies as soon as they could eat solid food. Today there is a very strong belief that sterization is healthier because the veterinarians have told them so. People have embraced an exaggerated idea that all intact bitches are at risk of developing pyometra unless safely spayed. In fact, the risk varies from breed to breed, but there has been little interest in supporting research to find out why.

When all is said and done, the majority of purpose-bred purebred dogs do provide their owners and families with companionship, as well as assistance dogs, working dogs, and show dogs, living long, healthy lives. Even though they may at times run into health issues, good breeders do their best to avoid them. The majority of breeders in any breed want to produce healthy, well-tempered puppies. It doesn’t do them any good to have anything else and they will do everything possible to raise healthy litters. They will keep those puppies for as long as it takes to see them settled in the right homes and they will become honorary uncles and aunties to the puppies when they leave.

The majority of breeders in any breed want to produce healthy, well-tempered puppies. It doesn’t do them any good to have anything else and they will do everything possible to raise healthy litters.

I have been an owner, breeder, and dog show exhibitor since my teens and it makes me sad to see so much criticism about our wonderful purebred dogs, and I sincerely hope that they will still be with us for many generations to come.