I think we should stop breeding purebred dogs – Dogster
We can all agree that puppy mills are bad. Some of us disagree about whether breeding dogs, even responsible ones, is ethical. But what I often find lost in the breeder vs rescue debate is whether or not continuing to breed purebred dogs is necessary. I would say that, for the most part, it doesn’t, and we should rethink what the human emphasis on purebreds actually does to dogs.
Dog breeds are a purely artificial construction. As humans began to selectively breed dogs for distinct purposes, distinct breeds began to emerge. It was great when we needed dogs for hunting, herding or draft work. But as the dogs left the fields and entered our homes, breed standards no longer made sense – and appearance and temperament began to show off. This has resulted in dogs with exaggerated breed traits that often make them inherently less healthy.
Breeding has gone wrong
Let’s talk for a moment about the English Bulldog because I think he embodies everything that is wrong with dog breeding. Once a sturdy and sporty little dog, English Bulldogs now face such a long list of health issues – heart and respiratory disease in the lead – that they have a average lifespan of only 6.25 years. Why? Because people started breeding these dogs to exaggerate their wrinkles, head size, and other features that we thought were cute (and, I must point out, up to their breed standards). Now, most of them are unable to reproduce without human intervention and live relatively short and limited lives. As Temple Grandin says: “I mean, look at the Bulldog – it’s a monstrosity.” How to continue to breed these dogs for these ethical traits?
You might say this is just one example of a breeding gone terribly wrong, but there are plenty of other dogs being bred by “responsible” breeders for traits that are inherently harmful. Many giant dogs only live slightly longer than the Bulldog’s 6.25-year-old because their bodies give in earlier than small or medium-sized dogs. Cancer is rampant in boxers. More than half of the Cavalier King Charles Spaniels have mitral valve heart disease, and they are also prone to syringomyelia – a painful and devastating condition caused by their tiny skulls. Many of our most popular family dogs – like Labrador Retrievers, German Shepherds, and Golden Retrievers – have hip and other skeletal issues. Dachshunds have a very high risk of intervertebral disc disease, which can lead to paralysis, and brachycephalic dogs all have different levels of breathing problems. Even something as seemingly harmless as floppy ears is associated with increased health issues, even if those issues aren’t life threatening.
Many purebred dogs that no longer serve their original purpose have found success in more modern jobs. Instead of scavenging dead birds, Labradors now guide the blind and sniff drugs. Instead of raising sheep and keeping the farm, German Shepherds are now at the forefront of the battlefield and the work of the police. Even I can agree that breeding dogs for these purposes may still be necessary (although many shelter dogs have been shown to be effective as working dogs), but I don’t agree that these dogs have to be purebred.
Let’s talk about bomb sniffer dogs for a moment. Walk around any airport and you’ll find a variety of dogs doing this job – German Shepherds, Belgian Malinois, and Labradors. If you had to breed the best bomb-sniffing lab and bomb-sniffing shepherd, would the resulting mixed-breed puppies be less likely to excel at this job than their purebred counterparts? No, but they could be a little healthier.
Is a Border Collie-Australian Shepherd mix less proficient in grazing than either of these individual breeds? Probably not. Breeds like these arose when farmers took their best sheepdogs and selectively bred them over the years with no regard for appearance. Even today, farmers know that what matters is a dog’s ability to do the job, not his pedigree. (Just ask this website where breeders go to buy and sell working dogs, many of which are purebred, some of which are not, and some appear to be selectively crossed.) It is no coincidence that some of the healthiest dog breeds are those bred for work, where the health and stamina matter.
So what’s the answer?
For many dog ââbreeds with hereditary issues, the answer to a longer, healthier life is through diversification of the gene pool. Some English Bulldog enthusiasts have started to mix other breeds of bully into the Bulldog gene pool, to create the Old english bulldog, which looks more like the English Bulldogs of the 1820s. Some Dalmatian lovers have tried to reintroduce the english pointers into the mix to help stop the spread of hyperuricemia. But dog clubs and others who care more about pedigrees than dog health are reluctant to diversify breed genetics.
I’ve often wondered what the common sense is of people who are willing to pay more for glorified pooches like Puggles and Goldendoodles, but I’m starting to think these breeders are on to something. The way forward for dogs may be intentionally mixed breeds like these. By focusing so much on the purity of races, people have unwittingly done a lot of harm to our best friends, but we also have the power to undo everything, if we want to.
So the next time you’re looking to bring a dog to your family, ask yourself if their pedigree really matters.