Monday, April 05, 2010

When Breeds are Failures


Art by the ever-astounding Kevin Brockbank for Dogs Today (May 2010 issue)


Is it time to thin the herd?

It's been said that the dog is the most successful wolf in the world -- the wolf that got man to adopt it, house it, feed it, and protect it.

Relatively docile wolves were fed and bred until, slowly, imperceptibly, they evolved into something different -- the domestic dog.

For 12,000 years, that's about as far as it progressed.


An Explosion of Breeds

Two hundred and fifty years ago, there were only about a dozen broad types of dogs.

Breeds, as we know them today with narrow written standards, were not yet known.

Your breed claims an ancient lineage?

Unless it's a greyhound, I can assure you it's almost certainly nonsense.

The Pharaoh Hound? Invented in the 20th Century to look like the dogs found on the side of the Egyptian tombs opened at the time of Carter.

The Chinese Crested? Not Chinese! Invented in America in the 1930s and popularized by burlesque stripper Gypsy Rose Lee.

Terriers? Retrievers? Setters? Spaniels? Pointers? Shepherds?

Analysis of Mitochondrial DNA shows that while the type may be old, the breed is -- almost invariably -- of relatively modern origin.

It's not like we created just a few breeds in the blink of an eye, is it? No, we created hundreds.

How did we do that? Mostly by selecting for odd types and then inbreeding to "fix" those types until they bred true.

The first breeds, of course, were created by merely tweaking Mother Nature's process. Herding dogs, for example, were selected because of function rather than looks. Ditto for running dogs, pulling dogs, bird dogs, guarding dogs, and terriers.

Dogs that were best adapted to function prospered, while those that did poorly were culled from the pool. The only difference was that the hand of man was now engaged in unnatural selection -- replacing Mother Nature, which had previously been employed in the task of natural selection.

Form Trumps Function

With the rise of dog shows, however, function took a back seat to form. Now the primary value celebrated was variability. And, of course, to get maximum variability, you had to green-light more and more breeds that were extreme, and in many cases maladaptive, including dogs that were brachycephalic (flat faced) and could not breath well, and dogs that were achondroplastic (dwarfs) and had joint and heart problems.

Added to these dogs were other extreme examples -- massive giants that had weak hearts and intestines prone to twist and bloat, tiny tea cup breeds prone to hydrocephalia and broken bones, hairless breeds prone to dental and skins issues, dogs with extreme skin wrinkles, ear length, and coats, and dogs with various spinal oddities such as over-long backs, roached backs, and spines that ended in a tight mass of twisted vertebrae.

And, of course, through it all you had to inbreed and line-breed in order to set type, and you had to invent ancient histories in order to speed the sales of these new creations.

The result has been a mixed bag. Some breeds have managed to stay healthy, and a few have even managed to be useful for work.

Most, however, have come down with one or more serious health problems, and most have devolved from working dog to mere pets.

There is nothing wrong with pets. There is, of course, something wrong with breeding dogs with serious health problems. Even here, however most genetic problems are manageable and most breeds are salvageable

But is that always the case? Are there dog breeds that are not salvageable?

This is not a small question.

When humans began breeding dogs, we began to act as Gods, but we failed to accept the full mantle of the Gods.

God culls misfits; man puts his in the Kennel Club.

Canine Failures

Let's talk about canine failures. They are not hard to find.

The Dandie Dinmont is a good example of a dog that has simply failed in the marketplace. Last year, more Pandas were born in captivity than Dandie Dinmonts were registered by the Kennel Club.

Named after a fictional character in a novel, and forced to compete head-to-head with other poodle-coated mops, this dog has found few customers due to its odd-looking sway back, poor movement, and complete uselessness in the field.

Add in the health problems suffered by Dandies -- cushings, hypothyroidism, and a narrow-angle glaucoma that is unique to Dandies -- and you stand at the cusp of a question.

Factor in the fact that more than 40% of dogs are born cesarean, and the case is made for intervention.

The old working terrier from which the modern Dandie claims descent was not a product of the Kennel Club and did not suffer these indignities.

Perhaps now is the time to release this breed from the inbreeding mandated by a tiny gene pool wedded to a closed registry system.

Perhaps now is the time to release this dog from the bondage of contrived show dog standards.

Yes, let us release this dog "back to the wild" of its working roots. It has not done well in "captivity". De-list this dog from the Kennel Club's roles, and move on.

Other breeds should also be delisted, and for much the same reason -- the Skye Terrier, the Clumber Spaniel, the Sussex Spaniel, the Glenn of Imaal Terrier, the Manchester Terrier, and the Sealyham Terrier.

None of these dogs were created in the Kennel Club -- they have only been deformed, emasculated, and inbred since their arrival. Release these dogs "back to the wild". They have not done well in "captivity", and they have failed in the marketplace.

And what about those breeds that are true genetic wrecks beyond salvation?

There are not many, but let's face the problem head on, and end the nonsense.

There is no reason to try to repair a Disney castle built on sand, with a blown foundation, rotten roof, walls riddled with termites, and a dangerous boiler about to explode in the basement.

Take the Cavalier King Charles Spaniel. This was a breed invented at the Crufts dog show in response to a prize offered up by an American by the name of Roswell Eldridge.

Thanks to a bad gene pool at the start, and the incredible inbreeding that followed, more than 80 percent of today's dogs end up with serious heart problems, while more than a third have a genetic brain disorder affecting the nervous system.

With this level of defect, and this thin history, why not sweep it all aside and start again?

Ditto for several other breeds with serious health problems -- the Miniature Bull Terrier (50% cesarean, dead at 6 years), the English Bull Dog (90% cesarean, dead at 6 years), the Scottish Terrier (60 percent cesarean, 45% cancer rate), the Dogue De Bordeaux (dead at less than six years).

Are there other breeds that might be "returned to the wild" through delisting and/or delisting and recreation (i.e. starting again with a healthy gene pool, scientific breeding, and a commonsense standard)?

Sure, but I think I have been controversial enough for one day, don't you?!

The question stands: Is it time to thin the herd? Is it time to end the Kennel Club's preservation of defect and failure?
.

17 comments:

HTTrainer said...

Getting people to actually do something about standing up to the Kennel Club, their shills and also the animal rights extremists is another story. The Kennel Club is concerned with registering dogs, some people will say they are obsessed with registries and to date they have not shown any other interest.

The Doubtful Guest said...

Very well said, again. I'm sure the "fanciers" of the breeds you targeted will be outraged with righteous indignation, which is just fine by me.

I say, when the breed cannot reproduce without artificial insemination, cannot whelp without C-section, and cannot breathe normally, or has other ridiculous defects as a matter of course, Mother Nature is trying to tell the stupid humans something.

Heather Houlahan said...

American cocker spaniel. I don't see a way forward through the health and temperament minefield.

As I've said before, in ten or twenty years, with access to the right stock of several breeds, a dedicated breeder or a small group of them could produce a NIFTY small-to-medium companion spaniel breed that was healthy and could be trusted with the kids, and maybe even go pick up a dove and bring it back to you.

Another breed that seems to have hit a dead-end is the Bernese Mountain Dog. Maybe that could be saved as such by judicious cross-breeding. Another dead-at-six breed.

A breeder who was bent on selling me a pup 20 years ago told me that the Swiss fanciers say of them "Two years a puppy, two years a good dog, two years an old dog."

WTF?

Instead I bought a working-bred GSD who graced us for 13 1/2 years. Which was not long enough, either.

Stoutheartedhounds said...

Greyhounds as we know them are probably not as ancient as many romantics will have you believe. The real ancient sighthounds are the Salukis.

Pharaoh hounds were not created in the 20th century, but that's when they were given the unfortunate misnomer name of "Pharaoh Hound" (because they resembled the dogs seen in Egyptian tombs). The Pharaoh Hound is actually known as the Kelb tal-Fenek in its native land of Malta where it has been used as a rabbit hunter for many years and continues to be used as such today. It is just one of several Mediterranean breeds that are used for this purpose (the Ibizan Hound being the second most well known).

It's unfortunate that the Pharaoh Hound's true identity has been masked by its western given name, but there are still those out there who wish to restore its real name and history: http://www.kelb-tal-fenek.de/indexeng.htm

PBurns said...

The Science magazine article on the 85 breeds they did mDNA wiork on is here >> http://www.terrierman.com/ancient-dog-Genetic-Structure-SCIENCE.pd

A summary article from the blog is here >> http://terriermandotcom.blogspot.com/2004/10/ancient-breed-of-dog.html

mDNA is pretty stable stuff, passed down on the maternal side; it has a kind of "time clock" built into it.

P

Stoutheartedhounds said...

I'd have to read the article more closely but I don't believe it stated that the Pharaoh Hound was created in the 20th century; just that it was of more recent origin than was originally thought. In my mind, "recent" goes back further than just the 20th century as far as dogs are concerned.
The Kelb tal-Fenek wa; not created for the purposes of looking like an Egyptian statue; they do have a real function in their COO. It's just unfortunate that they were given such a misleading name.

PBurns said...

Stoutheartedhounds --

The notion of "breed" is a very recent one.

The Pharaoh Hound was not admitted to The Kennel Club until 1974, was not named as a breed until the 20th Century, has no mDNA suggesting it is an ancient breed, and appears to be little more than a fast running pariah dog not so very different than those found the world over.

The Mediterannean has been run over by commerce for well over 4,000 years, and there is NO isolation anywhere, and certainly not on Malta or Ibiza where traders of every nation stopped on every voyage due to its central location east to west and north to south (only the end of sail has slowed that down). The Ibizan Hound and Pharaoh Hound are simply local pariah dogs with some sighthound lineage and little or no isolation and not too much specialization.

Patrick

Stoutheartedhounds said...

If you are saying that Pharaoh Hounds are a recent breed because "breedness" is a recent concept then even the "ancient" breeds described in the mDNA study are recent. I'm not claiming that the Pharaoh Hound is an ancient breed, but I wouldn't go so far as to say that they were "invented" in the 20th century either. Just because they were given that terrible name in the 20th century doesn't mean they were invented in the 20th century. The myth of the ancient Egyptian Pharaoh Hound was certainly invented in the 20th century but the dogs themselves were not.

Stoutheartedhounds said...

One thing I forgot to mention; the Mediterranean hounds may be pariah dogs, but I would argue that they are a bit more specialized than the average pariah dog. You yourself said that they are "fast-moving" pariah dogs; that in itself is a form of specialization which makes them particularly suited to hunting rabbits. That's why the Pharaoh Hounds are called Kelb tal-Fenek (i.e. "rabbit dog") as opposed to just "village dog" or even just "dog."

I've seen general pariah dogs in the Mediterranean and the Podenco types are definitely distinct from the general non-specialized types you see on the street. I've also seen the Podenco types hunt in the field and compared to traditional sighthounds they're quite unique in their style.

PBurns said...

Pariah dogs can be a distinct type --a Basenji is a good example -- without being unique to a specific location or even very isolated.

In the case of the Pharaoh Hound, the distinction is not a particularly Maltese distinction as you suggest. A short way away there is the Sicilian rabbit-hunting Pariah known as the Cirneco dell'Etna which is visually identical to the Pharaoh Hound and does the same job in the field. The Ibizan Hound is another dog, from another island, that has an identical provenance and an identical job. And then, of course, a 1,000 miles away (but a very obvious voyage by boat), you have the Podenco Canario which is, again, identical in appearance and which does the same job. The Canary Islands, which is home to the Podenco Canario, is actually named after the dogs. The history of Malta is as an island with so many people passing through it for the last 4,000 year that it was a bit like a bus terminal. On every boat was a dog, and those dogs traveled around, were crossed with others routinely, with each group claiming the resulting "rabbit dog" dog as its own, but in fact what you really have here is three to seven "breeds" which are really one slighly variable type of Mediterranean pariah dog. A good dog, a useful dog, but not isolated enough to be "ancient" or unique to one place any more than most any other hound is. Let's face it, most breed histories are more than a bit of a crock!

P

PBurns said...

Pariah dogs can be a distinct type --a Basenji is a good example -- without being unique to a specific location or even very isolated.

In the case of the Pharaoh Hound, the distinction is not a particularly Maltese distinction as you suggest. A short way away there is the Sicilian rabbit-hunting Pariah known as the Cirneco dell'Etna which is visually identical to the Pharaoh Hound and does the same job in the field. The Ibizan Hound is another dog, from another island, that has an identical provenance and an identical job. And then, of course, a 1,000 miles away (but a very obvious voyage by boat), you have the Podenco Canario which is, again, identical in appearance and which does the same job. The Canary Islands, which is home to the Podenco Canario, is actually named after the dogs. The history of Malta is as an island with so many people passing through it for the last 4,000 year that it was a bit like a bus terminal. On every boat was a dog, and those dogs traveled around, were traded, were crossed with others routinely, and with each group claiming the resulting "rabbit dog" was its own unique breed (better than all the others!), but in fact what you really had were three to seven "breeds" which were really one slighly variable type of Mediterranean pariah dog. A good dog, a useful dog, but not isolated enough to be "ancient" or unique to one place any more than most any other hound is. Let's face it, most breed histories are more than a bit of a crock!

P

an American in Copenhagen said...

I think what Southeartedhounds is trying to say is that the Pharoh hound (and all other related breeds/names) is a very old type/breed of dog which was developed a very long time ago in a particular region and has been existing and working there in the same basic form since times. These very fast periah hound used for hunting rabbits have probably had infusions of fresh blood all along (thus they aren't an ancient lineage per say) but, in general, the type has been preserved/improved for a certain purpose and in a certain place since ancient times.

Correct me if I'm wrong but it sounds like this disagreement is largely about semantics; breed v type, ancient lineage v ancient history of a type, specific location v specific region.

PBurns said...

Sure, I'll go with that....

There are different ways to look at dogs.

One is the mDNA level which is a bit precious, but it makes the scientists giddy as they can tell you how isolated a breed has been from other dogs (see Science magazine article, etc). ;)

Another way is as "breeds" which are a very modern construct (about 1850) with closed registries coming even later (about 1890). Also a bit precious.

Types of dogs have been around for quite a while (sighthounds, molossers, scenthounds, etc), and a lot of "breed" names are actually just generic descriptions of a subtype (Black and Tan Terrier, White Terrier, Rabbit Dog, Village Dog, Fox Terrier, Otter Hound, etc.)

Most pariah dogs fall into the "semi-sighthound" folder and many have only one estrus a year and do not bark much (suggesting a kind of reversion to their proto-wolf origins).

There has not been much true isolation in the world of dogs, however, as they have been common travel companions, gifts, and articles of commerce since the beginning.

Analysis of village dog DNA even in very remote villages around the world suggests all the dogs are very closely related, and it is not an accident that pariah dogs all over the world look very much alike and are not too specialized.

So YES, in that sense, all pariah dogs are ancient and "just invented here" as well. Some more on this here >> http://www.nytimes.com/2009/08/04/science/04dog.html?_r=2

Dogs, of coure, come with a lot of invented histories that, upon inspection, turn out to be mostly bunk. I always urge caution here.

That said, when push comes to shove, there is a core truth to dogs, which is that most "honest" breeds or types are working landrace dogs, and the nature of the work and the lay of the land does not change much.

What that means is that the dogs working in the field retain their integrity to some degree, whether they are guarding stock, herding stock, chasing rabbits, going down holes, or busting game out of forest to gun, net or spear.

Think of a few breeds for example ....Has the Greyhound disappeared from the world because engines and newspapers have come to Cairo? Has the working terrier disappeared because the Internet and television have come to the Highlands of Scotland? Has the Blackmouth Cur disappeared from Georgia because they now have paved roads and 7-Elevens? Has the working Dachshund disappeared from Germany because they now have Japanese radios and Turkish guestworkers? Are the stock guarding dogs gone from Mongolia?

No!

Is the work these dogs have done in the past being done now by a different dog?

Are Huskies coursing rabbits? Are Blue Tick Hounds now going to ground in Scotland? Are Irish Setters being used to hunt squirrels in Georgia? Are the herds of Mongolia being guarded by Standard Poodles?

No!

And so the "right types" of dog endure because the land endures and the work is still done, if only for fun and not out of necessity. This is a good thing, and it is the true (and ancient) history of dogs and man.

Patrick

Amanda S said...

We need to get a new concept of breed established which does not require hyper-standardisation and which can express acceptable breed traits in terms of ranges, or options.

I was recently reading about the situation regarding Miniature Fox Terriers. These little dogs which descend from Fox Terriers brought from the UK are common throughout Australia and New Zealand. Although they have origins as vermin control dogs on farms, they seem to adapt quite well to urban living. Most of them are bred by backyard breeders.

About ten years ago there was a group of Miniature Fox Terrier breeders who managed to get their dogs registered with the Australian kennel club. The name was unacceptable to the ANKC however as the Fox Terrier breed people objected so, on some very hokey grounds, the name "Tenterfield Terrier" was chosen.

However a group of the Miniature Fox Terrier breeders in New South Wales were unhappy with the situation and opted for independence and a slightly different breed standard. Apparently the question of whether Miniature Fox Terriers should have round compact feet or oval, semi-hare shaped feet was a crucial issue.

I also have read that there's a group of Miniature Fox Terrier breeders in New Zealand who are trying to get their dogs registered with the New Zealand Kennel Club because apparently the NZ ones are uniquely New Zealand dogs.

No matter that for most of the public would see all these dogs as belonging to the same breed and it would be ridiculous to create three closed gene pools to represent a single dog type. With a more flexible concept of breed, there should be no reason why different strains and types can't be maintained within a single breed organisation.

It seems to me that unless we come up with a better overall model then the Kennel Club breed concept is the dominant one, the one to which others aspire. Miniature Fox Terriers don't get the recognition they deserve in Australia because as a (until recently) non Kennel club breed, they don't get in the dog breed books that people use to help decide what type of dog to get and they don't have breed books written about them.

PBurns said...

Well said Amanda!

Patrick

Canidae Art said...

PB Burns

Thank you so much for the work you are doing in your blog, opening the world's eyes to the state of our canine companions. I have seen with horror the work of the KC, and the documentary of PDE exposed the world to a great many issues that needed to be exposed. Whilst many figureheads in the canine world ARE changing their opinions and steps are being taken, so many individuals are still happily parading mutant dogs, dogs that would be on an intensive care ward if they were human, and deliberately causing sons to mate with daughters, fathers with daughters, and then mating these siblings with each other.

Abortion, murder, incest, mental abuse and physical abuse are all crimes committed by us to each other, and are heavily penalized...when will our beloved dogs receive the same respect for their right to a happy, healthy life that does not mean standing on a show table being prodded by a ****.

I look forward to reading more from you.

Chloe Waterfield

panavia999 said...

I completely agree with you, but as long as people pay for it, and think there is some caché in display and ownership, someone will breed useless dogs.