I will be the first to admit that I am highly opinionated. But I do have reasons for my opinions and like to believe that I can back them up with facts. And I have an opinion on pretty much everything. So a few years ago, after a talk for one of the local breed clubs, one of the breeders asked me what I thought was the most serious disease in dogs. Without hesitating, I told her, “that’s easy, kennel blindness.” She raised her eyebrows, smiled, and walked away.
But in all my years in purebred dogs and as a veterinary surgeon, I have yet to see a more serious problem for our dogs. Face it, the dogs don’t sit around at night critiquing their structure or performance and trying to decide who should be the sire of their next litter. And our dogs are not emotional about their faults. We are human and tend to be too emotionally involved with our dogs. A lot of people breed for the wrong reasons – they love their little darling and think the rest of the world will love darling’s puppies. Or maybe after several years in dogs, they have finally finished a dog and feel that they just have to breed it now. But does being finished mean the dog is breeding quality??? And if you cannot see the faults in your little darling, how on earth can you breed a better dog???
Every dog has its faults, but that doesn’t make it a bad dog. And it doesn’t make the breeder or owner bad either. However one needs to be able to recognize the faults and how serious they may or may not be before they can improve the breed. And structure should not be the only thing that dictates our choice of breeding stock – what about temperament? Fortunately we all like different things and that is good, because life would be so boring if we all liked the same things. While beauty is in the eye of the beholder, someone still has to live with the dog. And in a lot of breed standards temperament is considered as a vital part of the breed. Are there not breeds in which the true working dog is very different from the show dog?
Does being a champion mean that a dog/bitch is breeding quality? And if he/she is a gorgeous specimen of the breed, it is enough to be pretty? Shouldn’t breeding quality also involve temperament and working ability – and are those two not intimately related? I have been told that in some breeds if you restricted breeding to finished dogs with OFA and CERF there would be nothing to breed. So if the whole purpose of dog shows is to improve the breed and we cannot produce dogs that can finish and have good hips, elbows, and eyes are we truly breeding better dogs?
Having assisted many purebred rescue organizations over the years, it never ceases to amaze me how many dogs are turned into rescue because they have physical problems that the owner cannot or will not deal with anymore. Allergies have a heritable component and are tremendously debilitating for the dog and owner. I have seen dogs with bad hips and/or knees and/or shoulders and/or elbows over the years. Then there are behavior problems and dogs that aren’t a good match for the owner they have been placed with. And where was the breeder/seller of the dog when the owner decided to give it up?
A few months ago I saw a Bulldog that had been relinquished to rescue. The owner had become frustrated with the myriad of problems that the dog had had its entire life and the breeders response that “that is normal for a Bulldog.” The dog was severely dysplastic and had trouble getting up and around, it also had a luxating patella – but the owner had repeatedly been told that hip dysplasia was normal for the breed and did not cause any problems. Normal or acceptable because no one cares? The dog had terrible allergies and was hypothyroid. I saw him for refractory ear disease and a bilateral ear canal ablation because his disease had progressed so far that it could not be managed medically. He had an ingrown tail and packed feces around his perineum so he was always dirty. His soft palate was too long and his trachea was too narrow, so subsequently if he found himself in conditions much over 80 degrees he would collapse. He came from a local breeder who is reportedly very involved in the breed and shows a lot. His parents were both champions, but of course they too had hip dysplasia and the mother had to be on thyroid so she would come in heat. Bear in mind that this dog was only 18 months old! His mother was surgically inseminated because the male Bulldog had upper airway problems and would collapse if he tried to mount and breed a bitch. And of course, a C-section was required to bring her puppies into the world. The breeder had considerable money invested in getting the puppies on the ground – this train wreck of a dog did not come from some hit or miss backyard breeder. The purchase price of this puppy was $1500 and he was not to be neutered in case the breeder wanted to use him for breeding in the future.
Does the amount of money one spends to get puppies on the ground mean that a quality breeding has been done? Anyone who has bred conscientiously has had well planned litters that did not turn out nearly as nicely as anticipated. This dog was relinquished to rescue and several of his more pressing problems, the tail and ears and allergies, were addressed. He still has trouble breathing and getting up, and I wonder how he will find a new home with all his problems at such a young age.
How ironic that the people I advise about not breeding little darling because she/he has heritable problems are the ones that ignore my advice and create a lot of business for me.
So I throw out these items for thought. I certainly don’t have the all the answers, but unless one can take an honest, non-emotional look at their dogs, I question that they should be breeding. I can make some suggestions – like going to every specialty you can if you intend to breed, researching the health problems in your breed then in your pedigrees, and working your dogs to learn something more substantial about their temperaments and work ethic. How about finding a mentor – someone who has been in the breed for some time and is producing the kind of dogs that you want to produce? The vast majority of people I have encountered who are truly serious about their breed are more than willing to share their knowledge if you truly want it. You need to be sincere in your desire to learn and you need to grow a thick skin when they critique your dog. Our dogs are not us, they don’t care if their topline is bad or their eye is too light. And they really don’t’ care if they reproduce or not. Should we?
Page Updated 07.23.2005
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