Tuesday, June 21, 2011

On Eugenics and Dogs, Circa 1942

As I have noted in previous posts, Charles Darwin's work in The Origin of Species drove Francis Galton, his half-cousin, to create the field he called "Eugenics" -- the notion that natural selection done by the unguided hand of God could be put into hyper drive by unnatural selection at the hand of man.

It was Galton who framed out the core intellectual construct that became the Kennel Club, though it was John Henry Walsh who created the points system which was based on the eugenics theories of Plato several thousand years earlier.

It was not until almost the turn of the 20th Century that the Kennel Club fully embraced a closed registry system, and by then the field of eugenics was taking off like gangbusters.

By the 1920s American veterinarian and consummate dog man Leon F. Whitney was not only writing about dog breeding, but he was also head of the American Eugenics Society where his work involved holding dog-show-like "Fitter Family" contests across the Midwest and writing and publishing a book advocating the sterilization of some 10 million Americans -- a book praised by none other than Adolph Hitler.

Into this arena, the Rockefeller Foundation stepped in 1926 with a grant to Dr. Charles Stockard for the establishment of the Cornell Dog Farm at Shrub Oak, near Peekskill, New York. 

The purpose of this dog farm was simple:  to study the endocrine systems of dogs and determine the role of breeding and the impact of genetics on this system.

Kennels at Peekskill, NY
The research progressed for 13 years until Dr. Stockard's death, but a summation of what was learned can be found in a July 1942 paper by German-born Jewish geneticist Hans Grüneberg, M.D., published in The Eugenics Review (the house publication of the Eugenics Education Society) in 1942.  At the time Grüneberg was with the Department of Biometry at University College London.

In Dogs and Eugenics he writes:

The breeds of dogs studied included the following:
  1. St. Bernard
  2. German shepherd (Alsatian)
  3. Saluki (a large North African greyhound-like animal)
  4. Great Dane
  5. Bassethound
  6. Foxhound
  7. Dachshund
  8. English bulldog
  9. French bulldog
  10. Boston terrier
  11. Brussels griffon
  12. Pekinese

Of these widely differing breeds the Alsatian [German Shepherd] is rightly regarded as the most normal type, lacking obviously pathological stigmata and being closest to the wolf-like ancestors of our dog breeds. Comparatively harmonic in general shape are also the Great Dane, the Saluki, and the foxhound. The giant St. Bernards have signs of acromegaly; Bassethound and dachshund show marked achondroplasia of the legs, but not of skull or tail; the two bulldogs, the Boston terrier and the Brussels griffon have extremely shortened muzzles, but normally shaped legs, while the Pekinese is highly achondroplasic both as regards skull and appendicular skeleton.
Pekingese X Salutki cross
Grüneberg goes on to note that Stockard created some fantastically odd crosses, and that many were quite unsatistactory -- a result that Dr. Charles Stockard pointed to as a caution as to what might happen if there was too much race-mixing in humans.

Is it surprising that the startled author of this nightmare dog show should utter warning after warning against "mongrelization" of human races? And yet, most of these monstrosities would have been predictable from the ingredients contributed by the parent breeds. These divergences are vastly greater than anything that could possibly occur in human race crosses. And if you cross breeds of dogs which are not predictably incompatible, like a bulldog and a dachshund, or a Saluki and a Pekingese, quite alluring animals may be produced. For instance, the hybrid between Great Dane and Alsatian is a strong and distinctly handsome dog, and a similar type could no doubt be made homozygous in a later generation. But a good deal of the highly pathological, and unpredictable, monstrosities probably owe their origin not to the race cross per se....

Grüneberg then goes on to discuss inbreeding, and how a doubling down on the genetic load to be found in Stockard's small pool of dogs likely led to to some of the disease, deformity and defect that was found:

... there is every reason to believe that all breeds of dogs are soaked with harmful recessives; in an outbred population these remain largely under the surface, but inbreeding makes them homozygous. Now Dr. Stockard's experiments involved not only race crosses, but also much closer inbreeding than is customary within breeds; for technical reasons most experiments started with a few specimens of the " pure " breed, and the production of an F2 or backcross generation involved close inbreeding. Hence the pathological types recovered owe their appearance to a double reason; one is the reshuffling of genes, the other is the segregation of pathological recessives which were hidden in heterozygous form in the " pure " breeds; The latter source of monstrosities has not been recognized by Dr. Stockard, and for this reason his argument about the undesirability of human race crosses is considerably weakened.

And so there you have it: even as men, women and children were locked in World War, and millions of bodies were being tossed into ovens and graves, the Faustian eugenics dance between Germany, America and Britain played out in the world of dogs as scientists, geneticists, and social theorists looked to canines and Kennel Club breeds as a predictive models for human differences and human breeding.


Bjarne said...

Thanks for the link to the book with the cross breeds.I have been
looking for thouse photos for some

bdalzell said...

Stockard's work was also published in detail by the Wistar Institute after his death. The book is available online at the Internet Archive.

Here is the internet archive introductory page for Stockard's work.


while the scientific hypothesis - that differences in morphology in dogs are due to endocrine glands has not proven to be the case, Stockard's observations on the pattern by which morpological traits are passed on are still useful and interesting to study.

When I taught vet anatomy at U Penn in the mid 1980's some of the Stockard skeletons where still at the vet school anatomy collection.

bdalzell said...

Stockard's work was published as a large hard bound volume after his death. It is available on the Internet Archive here:


Although his idea that the endocrine glands were the primary agents of control of differences in morphology proved to be incorrect, his observations that there was a predictable pattern to the inheritance of many of the morphological traits of dogs was and is still useful. Pictures in the books of the various cross breds and their descendents are well worth studying.

When I was teaching veterinary anatomy at U Penn in the mid 1980's some of the Stockard skeletons where still in the Anatomy Department.