The Problem With Purebreds

The Problem With Purebreds

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  1. It’s difficult to look at a Pug or even a Great Dane and remember that there’s a wolf under all that domestic clothing.  In the beginning, this versatile creature served as a guardian and hunting partner, offering superior hearing and smell in trade for relative safety and easy meals.  As human culture changed, our contracts with dogs changed, too.  They became herders, vermin killers and game spotters.  As we moved into cities, we brought our dogs with us, making them smaller, gentler and calmer.  They were no longer wolves, and they didn’t need to work for a living. 

    The problem with this successful relationship is that we haven’t taken time to study what we’ve created. 

    Case in point: The English Bulldog.  If you search for images of the Bulldog from the 19th Century, you’ll see a very different animal; taller, with a slightly enlarged head and a pronounced break between the forehead and the muzzle.  We took a liking to these traits and selectively bred for them until we arrived at the modern version:  A sweet, mellow animal that is plagued by enormous health problems from the day he’s born.  The Bulldog’s cranium has become so enlarged that it’s impossible for a bitch to deliver her litter naturally.  The heads of the puppies won’t fit through her birth canal.  Every Bully you see on the streets today was born via caesarian section.  The mortality rate for pups is abnormally high, sometimes nearly 50% at 6 weeks.  As they grow too wide and heavy for their legs, they develop patellar luxation and hip dysplasia, problems that lead to lameness and bone cancer.  They have lifelong respiratory problems due to the highly brachecephalic (pushed in) noses.  They’re prone to frequent eye infections, and their eyeballs can actually pop out unexpectedly. 

    There are others; Great Danes are vulnerable to every form of cancer (except lung) and live an average of 5-8 years.  Chihuahuas have developed neurological disorders and bad joints.  As a general rule, the more extreme a breed’s appearance, the more likely it is that its genetic integrity has been damaged by selective breeding.

    The happy ending to this story is that a new kind of dog breeder has come into the game.  They are generally known as heritage breeders, and they have taken on the responsibility of restoring these breeds to good health through genetic diversity.  The goal is to retain the best characteristics of these dogs while breeding out the extremes that shorten their lives.  It’s vital that we support the efforts of such breeders by seeking them out when the time comes for a new puppy.  For the sake of the pets we love, it’s time to put just a little wolf back into our lives.

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