Tuesday, December 22, 2015

Making and Breaking Dogs In the Show Ring

The story of Kennel Club dogs is pretty much the same from one breed to the next:

  1. A relatively small numbers of dogs are brought into the Kennel Club;
  2. The registry is closed so no new genetic material can find its way in;
  3. The show ring selection system results in a relatively small number of dominant (ribbon-winning) sires being elevated in the gene pool;
  4. The breed splits due to differences between types (coat color, size, lay of the ear), further reducing the already-small gene pool;
  5. An extremely condensed gene pool (10,000 dogs may have the genetic diversity of 50) means that negative recessive genes are able to easily find each other and double down within a litter, resulting in offspring with disease or deformity.

With any Kennel Club breed, the only three variables in this story

  1. The genetic quality of the dogs in the original Kennel Club pool;
  2. The length of time the dogs are in the Kennel Club, and;
  3. The degree to which the breed standard calls for negative morphological selection.

The genetic quality of the original Kennel Club pool is obviously important, but it cannot provide salvation, for even a pool of dogs without negative genetic traits is doomed under a closed registry and show-ring selection system.

The reason for this is the pairing of two phenomenon called genetic mutation and genetic drift.

Most genetic mutations are recessive, and remain unseen and unexpressed in the form of visible defect. In a large and "wild" population of animals most of these negative genes will "drift" out of the population just as they drifted in.

In a closed registry system with a relatively small number of dogs, however, negative recessive genes can quickly find each other and spread through the population -- especially if they are passed on by a show-winning sire with many offspring.

The result is a rapidly rising level of "spontaneous" disease and deformity out of what was once thought of as a "healthy" population of animals.

Time is a variable in the Kennel Club destruction process for the simple reason that some breeds have not been in the Club long enough to be completely wrecked.

It takes time (about 50 years in practice) for a small, but diverse population of dogs to become inbred to the point that recessive genes start to dominate, resulting in a noticeable increase in infecundity, mortality, deformity, and disease.

Negative morphological selection is the third variable, and the easiest to see because it is so extreme and so overt.

Negative morphological selection is simply the practice of show ring breeders and Kennel Club standard writers to positively select for negative health traits.

These negative health traits include (but are not limited to) extreme size (very small dogs or very large dogs), dwarfism, bizarre hip angulations, overly wrinkled skin, flat faces, massive heads, and the elevation of certain coat colors (such as merle) and eye colors (blue) which are linked to deafness.

Contrary to what some folks think, the history and health problems of the Cavalier King Charles Spaniel, the German Shepherd, the Pug, and the Rhodesian Ridgeback, to name a few of the dogs shown in the BBC special Pedigree Dogs Exposed, are not unusual -- only the degree to which they are easily visible to the naked eye.

Nor is a genetic bottle neck within a breed unusual in the Kennel Club. In fact, it is what the entire system is designed to do. Hence the name: "pure breed."

Genetic diversity is the opposite of what the Kennel Club wants -- what they want is "conformity" to a beauty show standard. Hence the name "conformation show."

Below are links to Kennel Club health survey results. I have selected one breed from every canine group, but you can see other breeds here.

Overall, The Kennel Club reports that of the 36,006 dogs surveyed, 37.4% had at least one reported health condition, and that the average age of the dogs surveyed was just five years.

Of the health problems reported, 14.4% were reproductive (Pyometra, false pregnancy, dystochia, infertility, cryptorchid, irregular heats), 12.9% were musculoskeletal (arthritis, cruciate ligament injury, hip dysplasia, patellar luxation), 10.5% were dermatologic, and 9.6 were ocular (cataract, entropion, corneal ulcer, epiphora, KCS, cherry eye, distichiasis).

And to repeat: Nearly 40 percent of dogs had one more more health problems even though the average age of the dogs in question was only 5 years old!

Scottish Terrier (PDF) - Terrier Group
  • The median age at death for Scottish Terriers was 10 years and 3 months.
  • More than 47.5% of deaths were from cancer.
  • In a dog population with a median age of 4 years and 11 months, 46% were reported to have at least one reported health condition. Of these conditions, 28.3% were issues or reproduction (dystochia, infertility; infertility; pyometra; agalactia; vaginitis), 15% were dermatological, and 11% were respiratory.

The Flat-coated Retriever (PDF) - Gundog Group
  • The median age at death for Flatcoated Retrievers was 9 years and 10 months.
  • More than 54% of deaths were from cancer.
  • In a dog population with a median age of 5 years, 41% were reported to have at least one reported health condition. Of these, 15.2% were musculoskeletal (arthritis; patellar luxation; lameness, dysplasia, spondylitis), 13.1% were benign neoplasia(lipoma; histiocytoma; cysts; fibroma; granuloma), 12.0% were reproductive (false pregnancy; pyometra; irregular heat cycles; dystochia), 9.8% were dermatological, 8.3% were gastrointestinal (bloat, colitis; foreign body obstruction; pancreatitis), and 7.8% were ocular (distichiasis, goniodysgenesis, entropion, glaucoma).

Bernese Mountain Dog (PDF) - Working Group
  • The median age at death for Bernese Mountain Dogs was 8 years.
  • More than 45% of deaths were from cancer.
  • In a dog population with a median age of 4 years, 46% were reported to have at least one reported health condition. Of these, 31.5% were musculoskeletal (arthritis, dysplasia), 13.9% were reproductive (pyometra; false pregnancy; dystochia, infertility), 9.4% were dermatological, 8.4% were gastrointestinal, and 6.4% were ocular.

Deerhound (PDF) - Hound Group
  • The median age at death for Deerhounds was 8 years and 8 months.
  • More than 24% of deaths were from cardiac problem, with cancer accounting for an additional 18.8% of deaths.
  • In a dog population with a median age of 4 years and 2 months, 32% of dogs had at least one reported health condition. Of these, 17.5% were reproductive (pyometra, vaginitis, dystochia), 14.8% were musculoskeletal (arthritis, dysplasia), 13.2% were gastrointestinal (bloat, diarrhoea), and 10% were respiratory.

Border Collie (PDF) - Pastoral Group
  • The median age at death for Border Collies was 12 years and 3 months.
  • More than 23% of deaths were from cancer. Another 9.4% were from strokes, and 6.6% from cardiac issues.
  • In a dog population with a median age of 5 years, 29% were reported to have at least one reported health condition. Of these 18.6% were musculoskeletal (arthritis, lamenes, dysplasia), 14% were reproductive (dystochia, false pregnancy, cryptorchid), 11.6% were respiratory, 8.7% were dermatological.

British Bulldog (PDF) - Utility Group
  • The median age at death for Bulldogs was 6 years and 3 months.
  • More than 20% of deaths were from cardiac issues, with an additional 18.3% from cancer, 4.4% from respiratory failure, and 4.4% from strokes.
  • In a dog population with a median age of 3 years and 1 month, 46% were reported to have at least one reported health condition. Of these, 31.6% were ocular (cherry eye, entropion, dry eye, corneal ulcer), 15.2% were dermatological, 10.8% were reproductive (dystochia, infertility, false pregnancy, cryptorchid, pyometra), 10.4% were respiratory, 9.2% were musculoskeletal (arthritis, lameness, dysplasia, patellar luxation).

Pekingese (PDF) - Toy Group
  • The median age at death for Pekingese was 11 years and 5 months.
  • More than 23% of deaths were from cardiac issues, and another 9% were from neurological issues.
  • In a dog population with a median age of 5 years, 37% were reported to have at least one reported health condition. Of these 20.4% were issues or reproduction (infertility; false pregnancy; cryptorchid; agalactia; eclipse; mastitis; pyometra), 13.9% were neurologic (intervertebral disc disease, deafness), 11.1% were dermatological, 10.2% were respiratory, 8.3% were ocular, and 7.4% were cardiac.

Clearly, different breeds have different health issues, but just as clearly, none of the breeds listed can be said to be problem free.

In fact, many AKC breeds are so fraught with health problems that they would be subject to massive class action litigation and product recalls if they were a manufactured commodity.

So how does the Kennel Club get away with a business plan that guarantees that most dogs sold "with papers" will die sooner and have more expensive health conditions than most run-of-the-mill mutts?

The answer can be found in the all-absolving language to be found on The Kennel Club's web site which says that:

"The Kennel Club makes no warranty as to the quality or fitness of any puppies offered for sale and can accept no responsibility for any transaction between purchaser and vendor arising from publication of the listing."

In short, the Kennel Club offers no warranty and accepts no responsibility for the genetic wreckage you may be about to buy.

Good luck, and you're on your own.

And don't let us know if it doesn't work out!


"Parson Russell Terriers" go to the show. And never mind that the Reverend Jack Russell refused to register his own dogs. To read more about the history of this breed, click here.


Oscar Cadena said...

E.B. White
The New Yorker, February 23, 1935
The Talk of the Town
Notes and Comment

DOG SHOW: A NEW SHOWMANSHIP Next year, when Dog Show time comes round, we would like to see a wholly new brand of showmanship introduced into the Garden. We were horribly bored by the judging last week—all that business of standing around a ring, hour after hour, brushing a dog’s hair the wrong way and jacking his tail up with the palm of your hand. Who cares, anyway? Only a handful of fanciers know about a dog’s points, and besides, conformation and ring manners are piffling qualities in a dog, reveal- ing little about the animal’s character, exploits, or temper. A dog should be made to work for his ribbon, each breed in his own wise. Pointers should have to point, Shepherds should be required to herd a band of sheep from the east goal to the west goal. Poodles should be required to jump through a paper hoop, not just fol- low Mrs. Sherman Hoyt around the ring. English bull terriers should be made to count up to ten, retrievers retrieve rubber ducks, Scotties chew up old shoes. Grey- hounds should be put over the high hurdles. Sled dogs should race with a little anti-toxin, while St. Bernards carry brandy to anyone in the audience who feels weak, preferably us. Beagles would jolly well have to beagle, or shut up. How about it, dogs—are you dogs, or mice?

HE said...

It breaks my heart to read this, but it's the truth.
I hope my Scottish Terrier loves longer than 10, with healthy years.