The Problem with Dog Breeding

I am, to put it mildly, an “animal person.” As I write this, one of my cats is asleep on my desk beside my laptop, and my dog is asleep at my feet. I find them endlessly fascinating. As someone deeply devoted to rescue, I often find myself in heated discussions with people who think breeders are the best (or only) option. This is a pretty common divide among dog people. Amy Schumer knows this.

For me, though, it’s not even really about rescue vs. breeders (though buying a dog is not an option in my book). I find breeding for the sake of it to be downright unethical. It leads to unhealthy dogs, even when they conform to so-called “breed standards.” Even “responsible breeders” are often producing dogs that are inherently less healthy simply for being a good specimen of its breed.

In my personal life, I am Team Mutt all the way. Though I understand why a sheep farmer might need a border collie, and why police departments need a well-bred German Shepherd (though, I will point out that the Shepherds bred to work, and Shepherds bred for the show ring look a lot different), I see no reason why I (or you, the average person with a family pet) needs a purebred dog.

“Oh but I want a Golden Retriever because they’re good with kids,” or “I just love the wrinkles of a bull dog,” some might say. I understand the urge. I grew up with German shepherds. There was a lot to love about them. They were smart and loyal beyond all measure. You never felt unsafe with one of them around. Our older dog had a relatively long life, though he did suffer from a weakening of the hind end in his last years. Our younger dog, however, suddenly stopped walking before his tenth birthday. By the end of the day, we had to put him down. I was devastated.

But spinal problems are fairly common in Shepherds, and big dogs in general. I still love herding breeds for their intelligence, but when it came time to adopt a dog I had reservations about taking on a German shepherd. I went to my local Humane Society where they had an all black shepherd (they said it was a mix, but I doubt that) and what appeared to be a shepherd-lab cross. They were both bouncing off the walls. Sitting between them was a dog half their size, sitting calmly against the bars of her kennel, just waiting for someone to pet her. Within a few hours, she was at home with me.

In the wild, dogs don't usually have backpacks.

In the wild, dogs don’t usually have backpacks.

Maybelle is an Australian cattle dog mixed with–I think–some kind of hound. She is incredibly smart, obedient, and generally well-adjusted. She also follows her nose when it suits her. She loves people, is good with kids, and even likes the vet. She gets along well enough with other dogs to go to doggy daycare, but is a bit leash reactive when encountering new dogs. Other than some teeth issues–which probably could have been prevented if caught earlier–she has been remarkably healthy (*knock on wood*). At seven years old, she is probably about half way through her life (where as a German shepherd would be closing in on his final years), assuming the years she spent popping out puppies don’t come back to haunt her (*fingers crossed*). In fact, an ACD holds the record for the world’s longest lived dog–living to a whopping 29-years-old (though a terrier mix is giving Bluey a run for his money). It’s no coincidence that dogs like greyhounds, border collies, beagles, and ACDs have the fewest health problems. They have long been bred for performance, not looks (or even temperament). It’s more important to have a fast greyhound, or a collie that can do its job than one that looks a certain way.

Dingoes

Dogs in the wild look a lot like Maybelle–which is no surprise, considering cattle dogs descend from dingoes. They are medium sized, have upright ears, and short dense coats. This is the kind of dog natural selection will produce because it is the most conducive to overall health and survival. It’s only when humans get involved and start breeding dogs for our own fanciful purposes that we get chihuahuas, great danes, and everything in between.

African Wild Dog

Dogs–and animals in general–are not accessories. No one likes it when some self-proclaimed tough guy walks around with a pit bull on the end of a chain, or Paris Hilton debuts the latest in her endless stream of purse dogs. So why is it OK when anyone else decides they need a certain kind of dog based solely on looks –or assumes they can only get a calm, friendly family dog if they go buy a labrador? Really it’s all about aesthetics and preconceived notions that may or may not make any sense. Mixed breeds are as varied in personality as they are in looks, offering something for everyone. Chances are, if you just pick a dog based on its temperament (is the calm, cuddly puppy in the litter or the go-go dog ready to hit the trail right for you?) you will love it just as much, if not more, than you would if you choose it based on assumptions made about it based solely on breed standards.

Is it OK to create a dog who can’t breathe, or whose skulls are too small for their brains just because they look cuter that way? No, it’s not. And it isn’t OK to continue to breed dogs that are prone to cancer, bad backs, or other genetic disorders to conform to meaningless breed standards. Let’s be real: You aren’t using your dachshund to hunt badgers, and even if you were, he’d be useless with his tiny little legs and slipped discs.

Dog breeding isn’t going anywhere. I don’t expect that my little tirade will suddenly change the mind of, say, the Rhodesian Ridgeback breeder in the BBC’s Pedigree Dogs Exposed who happily admits to putting down healthy puppies who happen to be born without the ridge (which is a mutation that can cause dermoid sinus that has nothing to do with the dog’s original hunting purpose but is nonetheless part of the breed standard). Nor do I think dog breeding has to disappear entirely. I just wish it would recede to its pre-Victorian era purpose, when people bred dogs to do a job, not for their own entertainment. And when that job is “family pet”, let’s concentrate less on any particular breed and more on healthy, happy dogs.

I would love it if even just one person read this and decided to go to Petfinder.com and find a mixed-breed dog instead of a purebred. Believe me, there are plenty of lab mixes to go around.

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