Why I would never get a bulldog, and other thoughts on eugenics

Source: Wikimedia Commons

In my months of dog study, I’ve learned a lot about how modern dog breeds are predominantly the story of a massive eugenics program. Earlier dog breeds were selectively bred for working purposes. You have two dogs who are good at herding sheep? You breed those dogs together, regardless of appearance, and get a litter of pups who are probably pretty attentive to livestock. But with the advent of the Victorian era and the Western world’s obsession with perfection, we started getting the first “designer” dog breeds. We started to create dogs purely based on looks–to be beautiful or, as in the case of the English bulldog, to be kind of funny- and ferocious-looking.

I think the English bulldog is an unfortunately strong example of eugenics gone awry. I’ve come to believe that it’s abusive to breed animals who look like this. Why?

Here are a few reasons. We have been intentionally breeding these dogs with malformed skulls. We’ve pushed their noses in so far that they can hardly breathe properly. Brachycephalic breeds like bulldogs and pugs are known to die in heat and humidity because they cannot breathe and pant like normal dogs are supposed to. This is absurd. We are risking the life of animal–and for what? Because its funny face amuses us.

Source: Wikimedia Commons

Dogs from this group have very shallow eye sockets and are therefore prone to more eye problems than other breeds. If you’re unfortunate enough to be born a pug, your eyes are continuously bulging out of your head and susceptible to debris and injury. If your eyes bulge out too much, your eyelid might not be able to close completely, which means your eyes will be perpetually dry and infected. Why is this happening to you, poor little pug? Because that’s the way the humans want you to look. Sorry, dude. (The bulging eyes of breeds like pugs and bulldogs have been known to pop out if they are pulled too harshly by the neck. That is one of the most terrible things I have ever read.)

Breeding brachycephalic dogs has also deprived them of a dog’s greatest sense: Smell. Brachycephalic breeds cannot use their noses as well as dogs with more normal, elongated snouts. Eugenics has stripped these dogs of one of the qualities that makes them the most “dog”! This is terrible to me. Brachycephalic dogs are also more susceptible to skin infections in the folds of their face and heart disease than other breeds.

Many English bulldogs have to have caesarean sections to give birth because we’ve repeatedly bred these dogs to have excessively large skulls. That is criminal. No dog should be forced to undergo a serious operation to give birth. And that’s what we are doing by repeatedly breeding these unfortunate animals. For what reason? Because we like the way they look. We force these dogs to suffer innumerable health problems purely because their appearance pleases us.

In short, I would never buy a puppy from anyone who bred brachycephalic dogs. I think it’s an abusive way to breed an animal.

This same argument could be extended beyond brachycephalic dogs, though. Any dog that we repeatedly breed, regardless of genetic conditions, is susceptible to being tortured by our desire for physical beauty. I’ve seen a gorgeous German shepherd only a year old who could not walk because idiotic, cruel breeders bred from dogs with severe hip dysplasia.

All dog breeds could benefit from more responsible, conscientious breeding. We ought to take more seriously our responsibility for the well-being of these animals that we repeatedly breed for our own purpose and pleasure. It it is ungenerous of us to knowingly bring them into the world with substandard health.

What are your thoughts on this issue? Do you agree, disagree?

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35 thoughts on “Why I would never get a bulldog, and other thoughts on eugenics

  1. As far as I know, no pure bred English Bulldog can be born by anything other than C-section. Their skulls are too big for the birth canal. I completely agree with you, and, in fact, wrote a very similar post back in February (What I don’t Like about the AKC).
    However, I understand that people love some breeds, and every English Bulldog I’ve ever met had a great personality. Humans “ruined” these breeds, and we could save them. In May, we met a cross-breed that could very well be the clue to Saving the English Bulldog.
    And regardless of what the AKC/breed purists try to tell you, all pure bred dogs are designer dogs. If they weren’t, there could be no breed standard.

  2. Several of the guide dog training programs have started crossing Golden Retrievers and Labrador Retrievers to ensure better health (from a larger gene pool) while getting the temperament they need for the work. And search and rescue programs are increasingly using shelter dogs. It looks like mutts will save the day!

    1. Sorry, but there is no scientific evidence supporting this…mixed breed dogs are not healthier than purebreds and in fact can often be less healthy. Golden Retrievers are the focus breed of a cancer study with Morris Animal Foundation…thinking that’s not genetically ideal.

  3. So you have months of knowledge about dog breeding? Wow, that is an impressive resume (NOT) to be dissing an entire breed of dog. All purebred dogs have issues, so to pointedly single out bulldogs, is not fair.

    You had another post about Dobermans. Do you not think it is cruel that their ears are cropped and their tails are docked strictly for appearance purposes? Neither of these practices are needed accept to meet the vanity standards.

    Perhaps your time would be better spent on trying to expose those breeders (of any dog breed) who breed indiscriminately just to make money. Those that do not care if they inbreed dogs, resulting in increased genetic disease and poor temperaments. Take on the puppy mills, not reputable dog breeders.

    1. Cindy, I am guessing you breed bulldogs? Maybe you own a bulldog? What qualitifcations do you have to be “dissing” her opinion?

      How can you compaire a doberman to a bulldog? A doberman can still hear without an ear crop. Where-as many a buldog cannot give birth without a c-section. They cannot even mate without assistance be it someone’s knee to prop the bitch up, a breeding rack, or AI.
      All in all, the breed would die out on it’s own without human assistance. Does that seem normal to you?

      Almost all purebred dogs have some genetic problem, but the fact the bulldog cannot even reproduce on it’s own should be quite the indicator something is wrong.

      The term “reputable dog breeders” should not cover breeders of the deformity that is the bulldog.

    2. I have adored every English Bulldog I have ever met. They tend to have a sweet gentle temperment and are just loves. That said, they really need to stop being a breed in their current form.
      As pennyup points out, English Bulldogs can’t even breed without help. Once you’re at that point, you no longer have a natural creature. You have a man made one. We have interfered with the English Bulldog, in the name of breed purity and the desire to meet breed standards, to the point that we have harmed the dogs.
      We have HARMED the dogs.
      That needs to stop.

      Docking tails and cropping ears are also aethetic fixes, but they are essentially after market issues. They are an easy fix. We simply stop letting it happen to puppies. (I believe CA has passed laws about this, as has most of Europe.) It’s easy to then change the breed standards to say this is no longer acceptable.

      What has been done to English Bulldogs is NOT aftermarket. We can’t simply stop doing it one dog at a time. We have done this to the entire breed and the only way to fix it is to stop breeding them as they are- to introduce new characteristics to the genetic material.

      Its easy to point the finger at puppy mills and back yard breeders, and they are worthy foes. But just because the BIG BADS exist doesn’t mean that we should ignore the well intentioned people who are harming dogs all in the name of “breed purity”

  4. Thanks for this thought-provoking article… The comments certainly continue the debate! I agree that it’s ridiculous and cruel to breed dogs that are so much at-risk, genetically speaking. Bulldogs are one sad example of too many animals bred for their looks…

    1. Our daughter and her husband have just lost their puppy British Bull dog, The vet was sure the cause was a Brachycephalic cause following
      a short walk with their son but which was possibly too long for her. It wouldn’t have happened to a dog without the problems which bulldogs and similar breeds have ie:- skull, trachea, nose and pallette problems. Our daughter and her husband are devastated naturally. She was a lovely pup but what a tragic end to her short life. These breeds should be allowed to ‘die out’ in the name of animal welfare, but you cannot simply blame the breeders, at the end of the day if the demand for them is there, it will be met by someone, (for money of course).
      Amber

  5. I work at a petshop that does not sell dogs, but regurarily works with rescue groups. One is a bulldog rescue. Although these dogs are friendly, to the extreme, I have learned enough to believe that all English Bulldogs should be spayed or neutered, and the breed ended. Breeding defects into animals is selfis h cruelty. These dogs have a low quality of life, and many require many surgeries at great expense, just to function in a substandard life.

    1. Thanks for your comment, Toni. I certainly agree with you. It’s not bulldogs I’m upset with; it’s the people who continue to breed them in this abusive way. One can only hope for an end to these practices.

  6. I do agree to some extent. I own 3 English Bulldogs. Two male and one female. We do not breed our bulldogs. Our second male was a rescue but came from a loving home.

    I have a page on facebook that is dedicated to raising awareness for the English Bulldog breed. I do believe that they need to be bred for health and not for looks. I find the breed standards and practices of some breeders abhorrent.

    However I do not believe in doingaway with the breed. I believe in promoting healthier breed standards. We need to address the breathing issues and other health issues by going back to a healthier “breed standard”.

    The United Kingdom even pondered on going back to an older standard.
    In recent years with documentaries like Pedigree Dogs Exposed this issue is finally getting some attention. However some countries are considering imposing breed bans on breeds like the bulldog instead of regulating breeders and demanding healthier breed standards.

    So don’t write of the bulldog just yet. They are the most wonderful loving and loyal dogs I hve ever owned. They are wondeful with kids and they have made our faily complete. It saddes me when I see people write off the breed completely instead of taking a stand and pushing for better breed standards. It is time we bred for health and not looks. This type of practice is no different that what Hitler was into when trying to create the perfect line of humans. It is barbaric. But these dogs do deserve achance. Our female has more snout and does not have breathing issues but has hd entropian surgery and has allergies. We keep all of our dogs on wellness plans through their vet. Educating the public about the bulldog breeds health problems and how they all go bac to breed standards and practices is crucial for the survival and welfare of the bulldog breed.

    1. Thanks so much for your kind and thoughtful comment, Angela. I certainly agree with you that the bulldog should not be eliminated by bred to a better, healthier standards. They are such loving animals. I just hate seeing what’s continuing to be done to them by the “breed standard” of kennel clubs, which to me is nothing short of criminal. I appreciate you sharing your thoughts! Thank you for your advocacy on behalf of the bulldog! Here’s to hoping that there will be great progress for them going forward.

  7. My husband and I fostered, and ultimately adopted an English Bulldog December 2013. She belonged to a dear friend who could not be home enough to take optimum care of her. Our little female’s name is London. We didn’t know all the the physical predispositions that plague this breed prior to agreeing to bring her into our home and hearts.

    Everything you stated is stressed in my research of this bread. It scares me to death she is so delicate. London had been bred to be of smaller size ( Miniature English Bulldog) , helping to reduce the negative side effects if extreme breeding London has less problems than other E. Bullies I’ve met.

    We love our little girl with all our heart, but would never buy, or choose to have another E. Bulldog in the future for all the reasons stated in you article.
    Her original owner paid $3,000, due to artificial insemination, and C section delivery. HOLY COW!

    London will not have puppies. We worry every day the temperature exceeds 80 degrees, and care for her tail and wrinkles are always a concern.

    On a last note, she is the most darling, sweet dog ever, our one and only bulldog 🙂

    1. Thanks for your thoughtful comment, Mary, and for welcoming London into your home. She sounds like a sweet girl who is lucky to be with you all!

  8. I read this article that sounded interesting.

    Repairing the English Bulldog: The Renaissance Bulldog, a Superior Bulldog to Bulldog Outcross
    (photo: Hugo, Gargoyle Bulldogs)

    The English Bulldog, when bred pure to another English Bulldog, has a relatively high likelihood of Congenital Heart Disease, Brachycephalic Upper-Airway Syndrome, and a host of other serious problems. BUT if an English Bulldog is bred to an American Bulldog, resulting in a new, emerging breed known as a Renaissance Bulldog, the odds of the puppies having Congenital Heart Disease or Brachycephalic Upper-Airway Syndrome is dramatically lowered, as are the likelihood of most other known English Bulldog diseases. Why? Because the American Bulldog has a much lower likelihood of these diseases than the English Bulldog; thus, when bred, the puppies have lower mathematical odds of inheriting such diseases. This practice, coupled with genetic testing, could conceivably almost entirely eliminate such diseases from a particular bloodline. We know it in this day and age, and yet, few breeders make the effort, preferring instead to breed “healthy,” versions of the English Bulldog, as if the supposed “healthy dog” is not nonetheless likely to carry the trait recessively and pass it on to its pups. Further, such crossbred dogs typically exhibit hybrid vigor or heterosis, the dramatically more healthful and vigorous quality of crossbred animals, obtained exclusively by the crossing of dogs of two different breeds.

    Renaissance Bulldogs (also sometimes spelled Renascence Bulldogges), though very rare, are now being developed by conscienteous breeders who love the English Bulldog and wish to address its many problems. Anyone also loving the English Bulldog, but having previously been concerned about the associated health costs, should give this dog serious consideration. The Renaissance Bulldog, especially if finding a true, first generation, F1 hybrid, is a dramatically healthier, more robust and capable dog than the English Bulldog, yet still retains much of the English Bulldog’s characteristic look.

    Renaissance Bulldogs are only free breeders, which is by itself a big deal over its typically English Bulldog father, who was very likely “birthed” from his mother through surgical intervention. Add to that 20 to 30 pounds or more, and a dramatically reduced risk of genetic diseases, plus the fact that they also tend to be clear breathers (with a nasal cavity that no longer opens directly onto their brains), and what you have is yet another example of highly successful “hybrid breeding.” The first example for many of us is that mutt we had as kids, who never ran out of energy, was never sick, and whom we remember being so special. The mutt that many of us remember was a dog likely exhibiting heterosis, the hybrid vigor typified by mixed-breed dogs.

    🙂

  9. Great article!! The english bulldog has truly become a mess of a breed. Have you heard of the Olde English Bulldogge aka Victorian Bulldogs?
    although the historical Bulldog is extinct, all the bully breeds that derived from it were used to recreate the historical bulldog of the Elizabethan Era.
    the purpose of the breed is to recreate the historical look, working ability, and health while breeding away from the vicious temperament that was used to fight bulls.
    Check out my sire, we also have a rescue http://www.BulldoggeRescues.com
    Also, if you like history, we have a bulldog history page on facebook, real cool stuff http://www.facebook.com/thebulldoghistory

  10. We have a beautiful two year old Aussie Bulldog, we went with an Aussie Bulldog instead of an English because they are trying to breed the short nose and legs out. We have had Bells since 8 weeks and she has never had any problems, she has longer legs and snout so no probs with breathing but she still has the wonderful personaility of a bulldog that we adore. I would hate for people to have bulldogs die out but instead work on this breed to make them healthly and more natural, it would take a very long time but it would be worth it. She is desexed and just a member of the family.

    1. That’s great to hear, Ali! I agree that it would be so wonderful to see bulldogs return to their former state (longer legs, snouts, etc.). Best wishes to you and Bells!

  11. I have had bulldogs for about 8 years now (all rescues)and believe it or not my old English bulldogge died after a short life of two from cancer…we spent about 10,000 trying to save her…I was surprised that she got sick and passed like she did because accord to the numbers she was not a purebred and didn’t get sick like the English Bulldogs now I have a little angel her name is George and she is a pure bread she’s around five and aside from an ear infection once a year she never gets sick hasn’t had the “problems ” they are known for I think the standards for breeding need to be regulated to breed healthy dogs…my bulldogs have been some of the best dogs Ive had…my lab has had more issues than my bully I don think it has a lot to do with the breeders but also when you get a bulldog (or any dog ) you can’t get one because its a cute puppy you have to get one because you want a friend and you have to know how to take care of them…summertime I don let her go outside in the heat of the day but I don’t let my lab go outside in the heat of the day…I clean her eyes everyday my lab to…I stay on top of her vet stuff I take her in to get a check up every 6 months and I play with her but we take brakes to keep her from getting to hot….but I do my lab the same…it has a lot to do with how you care for the dogs to…not just their breed you have to know what your getting into and a lot of the dogs suffer because people get a cute puppy and they don’t know or are to lazy to do what it takes to take care of an adult dog

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