The truth about pedigree dogs

I found an article in The Guardian this morning and it has motivated me to finally write about purebred dogs and the breeding industry. The article from this morning discussed the health risks associated with brachycephalic breeds (i.e flat-faced dogs like pugs), and I for one am glad more people are finally talking about this because I am so goddamn sick of hearing people go on about how 'cute' these breeds are without knowing or caring how much the particular dogs suffer. Since watching Jemima Harrison's documentary 'Pedigree Dogs Exposed' a few years ago I've become really disturbed by what we, as humans, have done to these poor creatures. Jemima referred to modern breeding standards as 'the greatest animal welfare scandal of our time', and hopefully by the end of this article you'll see why.

You don't need to be a dog expert or a geneticist to see that there is something unnatural about pugs and other flat-faced dogs. Take a look at this picture for a moment.

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Now take a look at this.

You can see that pugs have changed quite a lot in the past 100+ years. Whilst both these dogs can be recognised as the same breed, you can see that the modern pug has a noticeably squashed, shrunken face and prominent bug eyes whereas the pug from the 1880s has a larger face and a less flat nose, both of which would've made it easier for the pug from the 1880s to breathe. I personally cannot understand why people think the pugs we have today are so cute because you can tell just from looking at them that they aren't healthy. Purebred pugs are prone to a huge number of health problems including trouble breathing (which makes sense when you look at how tiny their noses and how squashed their faces are), high blood pressure, overheating and heart problems.  

Credit for these images goes to , for more info go here:
This time I want you to look at the pugs body. The older image shows a leaner body and longer legs, whereas the modern version has shorter legs and a larger body. From looking at these images what you'll hopefully notice is that over the years we have effectively shrunk the pug. We have shortened their legs and we have shrunk their faces, and none of these things do anything for the pugs health or quality of life. In a very short space of time we have altered these dogs to suit our arbitrary beauty standards and even now people ignore what is literally right in front of them in the hopes of winning a Crufts trophy and living up to the Kennel clubs anti-scientific standards. Did you know that the pugs double curl tails are actually a genetic defect, one which could lead to paralysis in extreme cases?

Pug's aren't the only breed to suffer as a result of human interference. Cavelier King Charles Spaniels are popular family dogs with lovely long ears and adorable little faces. I mean just look at this one. 

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What you may not know about this breed is that over 1/3rd of Cavelier King Charles Spaniels are known to suffer from  syringomyelia. Syringomyelia is an incredibly painful condition and it basically means that the dog's skull is too small for its brain, which in humans is one of the most painful conditions you could ever have. Heart conditions are also more common in Cavaliers than in other breeds, and this breed is generally one of the sickest breeds that currently exists.

Are you a fan of Bull Terriers? Take a look at these images.

As you can see, the shape of the Bull Terriers head has completely changed, the legs have been shortened and the torso is wider and less defined. It doesn't take an expert to compare the heads of these two dogs and see which one looks more natural. I mean no disrespect to the breed, clearly it's not the dog's fault that humans have decided to breed them that way, but seriously. Just look at their heads. Do you really think that looks normal and attractive? Can't you see that there's something very dodgy going on here?

The English Bulldog has also drastically changed over the years, and the results are quite alarming.

People tend to find the wrinkles on these dogs attractive and the weight problem makes them 'cute' and 'chubby', but do you seriously think these dogs look natural? That this is what they are meant to look like?

You might not think the German Shepherd fits in with these other breeds, but take a look at this.

You can see that even here the body has been severely altered.

What's going on with these dogs?!

So what on earth has happened to these dogs? Where did things go wrong? Humans have been keeping dogs as pets and breeding them for thousands of years, so why do all these changes seem so recent? If it was just breeding that was the problem surely these problems would have started centuries ago. The answers to these questions are pretty simple and you've probably already guessed, but just in case I'll spell it out.

Dog shows. Eugenics. And incest.

Before dog shows became popular dogs were still bred by humans. But back then humans wanted healthy, strong and agile dogs. Dogs that could work, or dogs that could play. Functioning dogs who mimicked natural selection. So whilst selective breeding was still happening, the dogs were bred to a fairly healthy standard and the strongest dogs rather than the most 'attractive' dogs were bred with other healthy dogs.

This started to change when dog shows started to become popular in the 1850s. Suddenly dogs were being bred for their appearance rather than their health, and it seems humans had some pretty weird ideas about what made a dog attractive. After the Kennel Club was set up in 1873 these made up beauty standards were perpetuated more and more, and that is why this is what we have today.


Pedigree dogs today are generally bred to fit a certain physical 'standard'. These dogs are all bred to look a certain way, and any dogs that don't fit this standard are not seen as fit to breed. These dog standards were examined in 'Pedigree Dogs Exposed' from looking at the Kennel Club's breed standard publication, which has very specific requirements for each breed. Dog standards were definitely influenced by the eugenics movement, a movement which among humans resulted in sterilization, murder, and the holocaust. This movement (which originated in the U.K) grew in popularity during the early 20th century and whilst it was condemned in humans after the second world war, its practices have survived in dog breeding.

Breeding the defect

One of the problems with breeding dogs for their appearance and disregarding dogs that don't meet this standard is that it can actually encourage us to breed for deformities. You have already seen this in the images above, but another good example is the case of the Rhodesian Ridgeback. These dogs have been specifically bred to have the 'ridgeback' that goes along with their name, but the ridgeback is itself a deformity which can actually lead to health problems. In Pedigree Dogs Exposed they go into this in quite a lot of detail, and they show that some breeders will actually kill the healthy puppies who are born without the ridge so that all dogs continue to meet the standard.

Image result for rhodesian ridgeback

I'm not sure when people decided that the smaller the face the more attractive a dog was, but does this really look normal to you?

Incest is wrong

Another reason that pedigree dogs are prone to illness and can look rather strange is that some breeders are still perfectly happy to incestually breed dogs, sometimes as close as brother and sister or grandfather and granddaughter. We know that incest can have terrible consequences to the offspring and future generations, that incest comes with a whole range of physical problems and that creatures that have become severely inbred can become infertile. We know that throughout history incest has led to severe deformity and that it has generally (although of course not always) been condemned throughout human history. And yet Pedigree Dogs Exposed interviewed breeders who did not seem to understand why breeding closely related dogs wasn't a good idea. When a prominent organiser for the Kennel Club at the time of filming was asked if he would have a baby with his daughter he was obviously greatly insulted, and yet when he was asked whether the Kennel Club would change it's breeding regulations to outlaw father-daughter matings he said that it 'depended on the father and daughter'.

The ever shrinking gene pool

The trouble with breeding animals solely for their appearance is that the dogs that are seen as the 'best', i.e the dogs that win the most prizes, are seen as the most valuable dogs with the best genes and thus the dogs that will be bred the most. If all or even most of these dogs have certain genes that can heighten the risk of illness and if these are the only dogs you allow to breed then not only will the gene pool become smaller (which has its own range of health concerns) but these illnesses will thrive and become more prominent. To counter that you need to breed more dogs with more partners and create more genetic diversity, not keep breeding closer and closer unions until the entire breed goes extinct.

Image result for dog family


The aftermath of Pedigree Dogs Exposed

Since 'Pedigree Dog's Exposed' was first broadcast in 2008 public awareness has grown and standards have improved. After the show was aired three separate inquiries were launched which looked at some of the issues raised by the film. There was a tremendous public backlash against the Kennel Club as a result of seeing the realities that Pedigree Dogs Exposed highlighted, and although the Kennel Club itself rejected the films findings they were forced to review their breeding standards.

They now forbid the culling of healthy puppies, they reviewed their breed standards to accept less exaggerated characteristics, and they banned close incestual matings such as brother and sister or father and daughter. Dogs that are entered into Crufts must now also pass a simple health check, which is crucial as in previous years dogs with an array of physical conditions were allowed to win best in show, and thus perpetuate the idea that these dogs are something to aspire for. Some breeders have also become more open to allowing outside genes into the breeds gene pool and thus allowing for greater diversity, but unfortunately when so many breeders remain resistant to trying anything new progress is still slow.

The follow-up documentary Pedigree Dogs Exposed-three years on'  found that things were still far from resolved and ignorance still endures.  Even with improved these improved standards, some dog breeders refuse to see sense and continue to breed for appearance and reject healthy unions because they are seen as 'impure'. Jemima has continued to fight for dog welfare since the Pedigree Dog's Exposed films, and she continues the fight today via her not-for-profit blog which can be found here.

I hope that as the years go on breeders will strive for health rather than appearance and opening up the gene pull rather than making it even smaller will become the goal, but I fear we still have a while to go.




Published by Sophia Moss


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