Monday, January 12, 2009

Obama Is on the Edge of a Canine Mistake

The word in the newspaper today is that Barack Obama is considering getting a Portugese Water Dog.

A Portugese Water Dog? Why??

Answer not said: Because Ted Kennedy has one. Picture at right.

I'm pretty sure that's about as deep as the research went on this one.

You see, the Portugese Water Dog is not a healthy breed. And it's not hard to understand why.

This is a breed which exists for no real purpose. It does nothing that a Labrador Retriever does not do better.

Because it is was once "rare," (because it brought nothing new to the table in terms of work) it was "rescued from extinction" by a vacationing show dog breeder who wanted "something different" to parade around the AKC show ring.

As the AKC web site notes:

The breed's water ability was also employed by Portuguese fishermen. They worked on the boats and were paid wages just as any crew member. They became indispensable to the fishermen. They retrieved nets, dove for lost items, served
as messengers and acted as an alert signal when danger was present or when fishing opportunities arose. However, technology soon brought this bond between dog and fisherman to an end in the 1960s. With the need for the working dog diminishing, the breed's numbers dwindled to as few as 20 dogs in Portugal. However, the interest in the United States helped the numbers recover and bring it back from near extinction.

It was Deyanne Farrell Miller and Herbert H. Miller, Jr., who took interest in the breed after a few trips to Portugal. During their 1968 visit they viewed a day-old litter at the Al-Gharbe Kennels. They fell in love with one puppy, soon-to-be-named Renascence do Al-Gharbe, and imported it eight weeks later. The dog would become part of the foundation stock for the Miller's Farmion Kennels in Connecticut. The following year, the Millers imported another puppy from Portugal. And in 1971 the first Portuguese Water Dog litter was born in America.

By 1975 there were 66 registered PWDs in the United States and 85 worldwide. Although these numbers seemed promising, the fact remained that the breed was still very rare. In fact, in 1981 the Guinness Book of World Records listed the dog as the rarest breed. Despite this fact, the AKC admitted the dog to the Miscellaneous Class. According to a news release dated, 21 May 1981, the then president of the PWDCA, Pamela Schneller, stated "...[the new status is] a significant accomplishment for a breed of dog almost extinct just twenty years ago." In 1983 the breed was accepted for AKC registration. Finally, in 1984 it became a member of the AKC Working Group.

What happened next is as predictable as the tides: rising levels of inbreeding within a closed registry system. Here are annual AKC registration numbers:

. . . . . . . . . . 1984- 182 dogs
. . . . . . . . . . 1990 - 601 dogs
. . . . . . . . . . 1995 - 919 dogs
. . . . . . . . . . 2000- 1,023 dogs
. . . . . . . . . . 2006 - 1,454 dogs

The AKC web site goes on to explain what happened next: Disease and defect. Can anyone be surprised?

During the 1980s, breeders and owners were baffled by a disease that was killing puppies for unknown reasons. Veterinarians and universities were called on to identify the illness. They identified it as a rare hereditary disease called GM -Gangliosidosis, or storage disease. The disease attacks the nerve cells, which then cause a loss of coordination and body functions and eventually kills the puppy. For breeders and owners, it was obviously a devastating disease. Soon, though, health professionals discovered that the disease was caused by a recessive gene, which meant two carriers would result in a sick puppy. Steps were taken to avoid such disasters. A blood assay test was developed to identify carriers of the disease. The blood test was effective. However, with the advancement of genetics in the 1990s, a DNA test was developed and has been used since.

At the same time storage disease was invading the PWD community, there was another disease ravaging the breed. Addison's disease is inherited, but unlike storage disease, there is no test for it. A dog is usually diagnosed by a veterinarian once it starts to exhibit symptoms such as vomiting, diarrhea, loss of appetite, weight loss, and weakness. Research on the disease revealed that "...3% of PWD were affected with Addison's - a percentage higher than most other breeds." Once a dog is diagnosed, it can be treated with medication and live a relatively healthy life. Unlike storage disease, there is no way to predict which dog will be afflicted with the disease. However, the club, along with the AKC Canine Health Foundation and the University of Michigan, are trying to develop a test for the disease. These studies and initiatives like the Georgie Project provide hope that such diseases will eventually be eradicated or, at the very least, controllable.

Barack Obama, my advice is to stay away from inbred animals.

That's just basic "vetting," in more ways than one.


YesBiscuit! said...

I'm guessing the family may be attracted to the breed because they are low allergen, which is apparently an issue for one of the girls. I've known a number of Porties and they were all very springy - like Tigger.

Anonymous said...

If the Obamas are considering PWD, I can't see why they just don't take the leap and get a standard Poodle. My state senator (Dinniman-D)'s buff standard Poodle is the perfect politician's dog -- Henry goes with him everywhere and is beautifully behaved.

Actually, someone in Chester County is doing right by standard Poodles -- I've seen several at the local dog parks and they have the best manners of any dog I've seen around here.

Addison's just scares the heck out of me -- originally, I wanted to get a Bearded Collie but after hanging out on Bearded lists and finding out how much Addison's there was out there and how some breeders wanted to open the studbook to working Beardeds in England to flush out the genes, but the AKC wouldn't let them (this was 7 years ago -- so much progress with AKC since! :-P), we abandoned that thought and started looking on PetFinder for Border Collie mixes.


Anonymous said...

These poodle-type water dogs are a relict population of the first dogs bred to enter the water to retrieve things. The English rough water dog (the "water-rug" of Shakespeare), the Barbet, the Iberian water dogs, the Poodles from France, Germany, and Russia, the Lagotto (truffle dog), and Stubbs's water spaniels ( and These were the first water dogs. I think they are in some way related to the Puli, which can also be used as a water dog. The Iberian dogs were often called "Turks," which, in the Middle Ages, often meant Hungarian. The Spanish water dog may have originally been a herding dog, because its main purpose now is as a herding dog.

In Britain, these dogs were crossed with spaniels to make them better on birds, these became water spaniels. In the Netherlands, they were crossed with Spitz-type dogs to make them good otter hunters, becoming the Wetterhoun, the Friesian water dog. Some of these dogs wound up in Newfoundland, where they mixed with all sorts of dogs on that island. These dogs eventually developed a sleek coat or a feathered one, becoming the St. John's water dog. Along the River Tweed, another smooth-haired water dog developed, which is sometimes thought of as a water spaniel but a bit larger.

In the late eighteenth century, setters and collies were being use as retrievers along with water spaniels. They were bred for purpose, so lots of interbreeding happened. Then, the St. John's water dog (sometimes called a "Newfoundland" or a "Labrador") arrived with cod imports, and these dogs were crossed into retrievers. These dogs became the ancestors of all major strains of retriever, and it often claimed to be the same breed as the Labrador Retriever (it is not). Some of these Newfoundland water dogs had feathering, which was a bad thing to have in icy conditions, so they were often sold to English merchants and exported. This explains why the most common variety of retriever in Britain in the mid-nineteenth century was the wavy-coat. There were also some larger long-haired dogs that were used for hauling loads on Newfoundland, which had a mastiff-type influence. These dogs were exported in droves and crossed with more mastiffs in Britain to make the breed we call the Newfoundland, which was the first mass-produced fad dog (as near as I can tell).

So that's how water dogs evolved.

They are largely relics of an ancestral population, and they were replaced with more efficient models. The Labrador is a far better water dog, because it has a coat like a seal or an otter. These heavily coated dogs had to be clipped in order to make them streamlined in the water. You don't have to do that with a Lab.

Anonymous said...

The Obama's other choice sucks just as much - the Labradoodle. Cool. Let's do even more to popularize hybrids that are, to a large extent, bred by mills and greedy BYB'ers who put together any poodle and any lab they can get their paws on because the resulting puppies sell for thousands. Health? No need to test or breed for health - donchaknow - hybridization eliminates all those pesky genetic problems (even the ones like PRA, hip dysplasia and vonWillibrand's that occur in both parent breeds!)

There also seems to be something in the F1 mix that causes about half of them to have horribly greasy, dandruffy lab coats with ugly sprigs of poodle popping through here and there. These individuals seem to aggravate allergies more than any dogs I've seen.

sassanik said...

I think that the Obama's probably don't want a poodle because of the crazy haircuts you frequently see on them. As the owner of a minature poodle it has taken me a year to get my dog groomer to groom him to look like a dog. His ears are shorter and no big puffs on his head. Its funny I have met several people who thought that poodles have long ears more like a basset. Nope that is just the haircut.

Yes a poodle can get a haircut that doesn't make them look silly, or need a ton of maitanance.

But the perception of poodles I think is more what the show dogs look like as opposed to what the average dog looks like.

I also think the Obamas should consider getting a smaller dog, after having a JR and my little poodle I love that they can sit on my lap. You can also put them in the shower with you when you need to bathe them! Big dogs are fine, but there is alot to be said about getting a smaller dog to.

I thought that F1 Labradoodles almost always took on the more poodle like coat? With a smaller precentage having the lab coat. I have also heard that the labradoodles that have the lab coat aggravate allergies more than the average dog.

Anonymous said...

labradoodle? really? did not know labradoodles were hypoallergenic, but thinking about it, with the poodle mix, they very well could be fine. I came across an OK site that provides some background info:

Anonymous said...

Obama still seems to be indicating that they want to get a rescue dog and also the word "puppy" was the word he used on election night. I would have thought that if the Obamas want a puppy from a rescue organisation they'll need to be somewhat broad-minded on the question of breed.


Caveat said...

"I thought that F1 Labradoodles almost always took on the more poodle like coat? "

That's the beauty of mutts - you're never sure what you'll get.

I saw a dog at an outdoor show this summer (we had a fundraising booth as usual). I assumed it was a young Spinone Italiano (and quite a small specimen) but had never seen the colour before - kind of a liver brown with gold highlights.

It had a wiry coat with whiskers, the whole thing.

The owner sniffed and said "THIS is a Labradoodle."


Anonymous said...

Caveat, my dear friend -

OF COURSE the F1 Labradoodles (goldendoodles, schnoodles, morkiepoos, puggles, et al) all ONLY express the very best and most desireable features of the excllent progenitor breeds in the F1 cross! This is a proven artifact of all hybrid breeding!

Srsly - I dunno why anyone would want one of those crappy thoroughbred dogs.

[shakes head in compleat and utter consternation]

Unknown said...

I bought a pup with Giarda, severe skin allergies to this day, a bad under bite and he has issues too. he is a good little guy and smart but very expensive to take care of. I would never go to this grooming/pet store again. Every day there seems to be a different problem with him and this is going on 7 yrs.I
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