Pedigree, cross-breed or indeterminate?

It’s spring, and a time for new beginnings, which for some people will be a new addition to the family in the form of a puppy!

It’s also time for Crufts, the famous dog show which has courted controversy in previous years due to the focus on pedigree dogs. The reason for the controversy is down to the way that pedigree dogs have been bred over the years to exaggerate certain physical and behavioural traits. This has caused both intended and unintended changes to the health of the dogs in various ways.

For example, let’s take a much-loved breed, the pug. A flattened muzzle and large eyes is the “breed standard” for the pug. A snub nose and big eyes means dogs look puppy-like, which makes dogs with this type of face (known as brachycephalic) a popular choice for companion and lap-dogs. Unfortunately, selectively breeding to favour a shortened muzzle means that the full complement of canine teeth and the other normal anatomy of the dog are crammed into a much smaller space. The respiratory system is then compromised by the narrowed nostrils, long soft palate and shortened trachea that come with brachycephalic syndrome.

It is one of my pet hates when an owner with a brachycephalic dog thinks that their snoring, snorting and sneezing is cute, when all I can see is the dog struggling to breathe. Thankfully, the Kennel Club has responded to the public backlash on the suffering and lowered quality of life that some breeds are facing, and has updated its breed standards to address some of the issues. For example, the pug breed standard  emphasises that the eyes and nose should not be obscured by the “over nose wrinkle”, and pinched nostril and heavy over nose wrinkle is unacceptable.

For almost every breed that exists there is either a physical trait that makes the dog’s life more difficult, such as the shortened airway of the pug or narrowed ear canals in the sharpei, or a pre-disposition to a health condition such as urinary stones, hip dysplasia, or cancer. In answer to this, some people have turned to “designer breeds” – for example the labradoodle (labrador x poodle) and puggle (pug x beagle). Their reasoning is that the dogs will be healthier because they are not purebred (as purebreeding often involves undesirable tactics to get the desired traits, such as interfamily breeding like father-daughter), and that they will get the desirable characteristics of each breed. However people tend to conveniently forget that they could equally get the undesirable traits. Poodles are often mated with other breeds to try and get their hypo-allergenic wool passed to their offspring, but the poodle cross puppies can easily inherit the hair coat from the other parent. There are no guarantees!

So if you are thinking of a new puppy, what do you go for? Many prospective owners choose breeds because, in general, a breed of dog will have certain characteristics, and people like to know what they are getting. I can understand this, but I would also urge people to consider obtaining a dog from a rescue centre before making their decision. And in my opinion you’re wasting your money if you pay what most “designer” dog breeders ask for their puppies!

What do you think?

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  1. Our present dog came from a rescue centre.He’s a short haired lurcher and someone who breeds Rhodesian Ridgebacks examined him and told us he was a cross between a greyhound and a Ridgeback. I think I would agree. He is a much heavier dog than a greyhound, his muzzle very slightly shorter, he has powerful but not massive muscles at the top of his back legs and he has coarser, thicker hair along his spine. All in all he’s an exceptlonally elegant animal and causes a stir wherever he goes. He has inherited some of the traits of both breeds, some good, some bad. However, overall he is a superb dog so we have been lucky. My friend, however, has a longhaired lurcher but, unfortunately, he has inherited a thin skin which is so bad that he can’t run and play with other dogs because the slightest scratch can rip his side open.

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