Over the last 100 years or so, humans have focused on breeding dogs with the goal to exaggerate specific characteristics and/or achieve a certain look. Over time this has lead to modern versions of dog breeds that are, in truth, somewhat deformed and less healthy versions of their ancestors. Although in the beginning breeders may not have understood the consequences of their breeding practices, it has become clear in the last few decades that breeding for “looks” can create terrible, even painful, outcomes in future generations.
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For this reason we encourage all pet parents to only buy dogs from responsible breeders who do careful genetic testing in order to avoid further deforming the breed. A good breeder will immediately spay or neuter a dog upon finding a genetic condition that can easily be passed to offspring. If you pay irresponsible breeders, you are creating a demand for deformed dogs.
How Modern Dog Breeds Are Different From Their Ancestors
As we take a look at different dog breeds, you’ll see two different pictures for each canine. The pictures on the left come from the book Dogs of All Nations, published in 1915. The pictures on the right are modern versions of the same breed, after decades of poor breeding practices.
The Bull Terrier
It is shocking how different the shape of the bull terrier’s head has become in such a short amount of time. The most obvious trait changes in bull terriers are their misshapen skulls and an abdomen that is too thick. The bull terrier has other maladies that are more difficult to spot, such as patellar luxation and compulsive tail-chasing. (1)
The Basset Hound
Basset Hounds have been hit noticeably hard from selective breeding. This had led to an enormous amount of health issues that include joint disorders, osteochondritis dissecans, and both elbow and hip dysplasia. Many of these issues stem from their short, stubby legs. (2) But their droopy eyes can lead to infections or corneal disease. (3) Basset Hounds are also highly prone to obesity. (2)
The most noticeable change in Boxer dogs is their shorter faces. The reduced nose has introduced numerous issues with the Boxer, the most prevalent being difficulty breathing and controlling their temperature in hot weather. This is due to a condition known as brachycephalic, which is caused by the shape of a dog’s head. (4, 5) The change in the dog’s body shape has also led to the possibility of spinal issues such as degenerative myelopathy (spinal cord injury). (6, 7) This breed is also highly prone to cancer.
The English Bulldog
Looking at the pictures above, the most noticeable difference in English bulldogs are the extra skin on their body and head and their smushed face. Because of this they are prone to complications while under anesthesia due to their obstructed airway passage. They face issues all over their body including eyes, ears, teeth, respiratory system, and nose problems. (8) A 2004 survey by the Kennel Club found that they die at the median age of 6.25 years. 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 German Shepherd
German Shepherds don’t look too different at first glance. However, they become much larger over the last century. In Dogs of All Nations, the German Shepherd is described as a medium-sized dog (55 pounds). This is a far cry from the angulated, barrel-chested, sloping back, ataxic, 85-pounders we are used to seeing in the conformation ring. There was a time when the German Shepherd could clear a 2.5 meter (8.5 ft) wall; that time is long gone. This change in body size has led to issues such as hip and elbow dysplasia, and even the painful bone condition of panosteitis. (16, 17)
Similar to the Boxer and English bulldog, pugs also suffer from brachycephalic issues such as high blood pressure, heart problems, low oxygenation, difficulty breathing, a tendency to overheat, and dentition problems. (5) This seems to have become more prevalent in the last century, and “improvement” breeding is probably the biggest culprit for this. Pugs also seem to have gained some extra skin in recent decades, which can lead to other issues, such as skin fold dermatitis. (9) Similar to other dogs that are brachycephalic, pugs can struggle with anesthesia. (9) Their now standard double tail curl is also a genetic defect that can lead to spinal issues or paralysis.
The Saint Bernard
Once a noble working dog, the modern St. Bernard has been over-sized, had its 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. Their larger body leads to issues such as hip and elbow dysplasia, along with eye conditions such as ectropion, entropion.
A quick glance at a Dachshund reveals that over time, its legs have gotten significantly smaller. It seems to be common for the legs of a dog to change size after breeding, but the Dachshund is unique because its body has gotten noticeably longer and thinner. This leads to numerous health issues such as Intervertebral Disc Disease (IVDD). (14, 15) Obesity is especially dangerous to them because their awkward form can barely carry itself as it is. (14)
It’s not hard to see that conformation breeding can be dangerous and lead to serious deformities and health problems for future generations. It is true that selective breeding has not affected all breeds equally, and some suffer the consequences more than others.
Can you imagine not being able to breathe well, overheating frequently, or having painful joints most of your life? Many pet parents don’t even realize their dog is suffering because dogs are wired not to show weakness, and this pain may be all they have ever known.
Although we cannot rewrite history, we can make a better future for these dogs. Support responsible breeding practices, don’t purchase breeds who are a genetic disaster and spread awareness of this information to your friends and family.
Word of mouth is a powerful tool to create a ripple effect through the dog breeding community.
Another special thanks to the owner of these pictures and some of the text, and to Science And Dogs, for being so generous by allowing us to use them on our blog.
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