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?

Review: The Perfect Match

The Perfect Match, by Chris Walkowicz

I think this was another book that I read when I was a child, trying to decide what kind of dog my family should get. The book was written by former breeder and dog show judge Chris Walkowicz in 1992. I picked it up again because I saw it at the library and wanted something to thumb through while we were at the beach.

The Perfect Match delivers breed-by-breed profiles within each AKC category, providing a brief description of temperament and basic facts about the breed’s average size, lifespan, health issues, and shedding potential. Honestly, I didn’t really learn anything new from this book, but I think it would be helpful to someone who wasn’t at all familiar with the AKC-recognized breeds.

What I do like about the book is that Walkowicz seems to have done her research with the different breeds listed here. For instance, she doesn’t just say the same thing about all of the terrier breeds; “they tend to be snappy and independent; they have lots of energy and tend to bark a lot.” Rather, the book makes an effort to differentiate between breed temperaments. The descriptions of life with each breed is relatively brief. The Perfect Match may be a good starting place for someone who doesn’t know much at all about purebreds and the generalized differences between them.

Pup links!

Two classy broads. Source: Miss Moss

Interesting pup-related links from around the web…

A retriever in the lake. These photos are so gorgeous and peaceful. I love Shirley Bittner’s work. (My Everyday Life, Shirley Bittner)

Farnham Park Flyball. I always love a good series of photos of herding dogs in action. (An English Shepherd)

Honoring Animal Heroes. Every year, Purina nominates some dogs and cats to go in their Animal Hall of Fame. These pets are pretty awesome and, I admit, their heroic stories made me tear up a little. (Rescuing Insanity)

Causes of Death Vary by Breed. This shouldn’t be too surprising to anyone who’s read about the dangerous genetics of purebred dogs, but it is an interesting and helpful study to be aware of. (The Bark)

Top 5 Myths about Dog Behavior and Children. A helpful overview of the myths that people perpetuate about the interactions between dogs and children. (The Dog Training Secret)

Artist Anna Dibble and Her Unforgettable Dogs. Anna Dibble makes lovely–and un-tacky!–paintings of pooches. (City Dog/Country Dog)

Peonies and Rain Don’t Mix. Martha Stewart’s team writes a blog from the perspective of her French bulldogs, Francesca and Sharky, and, I have to admit, it’s pretty adorable. (The Daily Wag)

DIY Pet ID Tags. Speaking of Martha Stewart, check out this great template for making pet ID tags at home! She’s the best. (Martha Stewart)

Puppy’s First Year: Time-Lapse Video. OK, this is a cool idea. Watch this German shepherd puppy grow up! (Paw Nation)

How to Run with a Dog. Tips from a pro about running with your dog. (That Mutt)

Pup Links!

Dachshund carefully helps adjust bathing cap. Via Wanderlusted, from the Life magazine archives.

Interesting dog-related things I’ve dug up on the Interwebs this week…

What Your Dog Doesn’t Tell You. Cute but helpful drawings about how NOT to greet a dog and how to read dog body language. (News for a Dog Day Afternoon)

Top 15 Exercises for You and Your Dog. Yet another reason to get a dog: They’re good for your health! This is a great collection of articles from around the Web about how you and your dogs can keep each other healthy. (Fido Friendly)

Celebrities and Dogs. A great collection of photos from the Life magazine archives. (Wanderlusted)

Dogs + Fonts. Assigning different breeds to different typefaces. (Pawsh)

Review: Why We Love the Dogs We Do

Why We Love the Dogs We Do, by Stanley Coren

Another book from the dog pop psychologist Stanley Coren! And this book is especially “pop-py.” I read this one because I’ve owned it since I was about 12 and I found it while rummaging through my parent’s attic on a recent visit home. I thought I’d try it out again and see if I learned anything new.

Verdict: Not really. It’s a cute book, especially if you like stories about celebrities and their dogs. Coren certainly did a lot of research on that. But I’m not sure how valid the rest of his “science” is. In Why We Love the Dogs We Do, Coren attempts to provide readers with a personality test that will tell you what type of dog you should get.

He rejects the AKC categories of dogs and instead creates seven new groups of breeds based on the breeds’ typical temperaments:

  1. Friendly (e.g., golden retrievers, labs)
  2. Protective (e.g., akitas, rottweilers)
  3. Independent (e.g., greyhounds, huskies)
  4. Self-assured (e.g., all terriers)
  5. Consistent (e.g., most toy breeds, weirdly)
  6. Steady (e.g., scent hounds, newfoundlands)
  7. Clever (e.g., herding breeds)

Coren then creates a little quiz for his readers to take. After you score your results, you can group yourself into ranges (high, medium, low) on scales of extroversion, dominance, and warmth. From these “scores,” Coren will tell you which of his new breed groups you’ll be most likely to fall in love with. Throughout the book, he gives examples of celebrities and tries to decipher their personalities and evaluate why they loved the dogs they did. For example, Queen Elizabeth II, like myself apparently, scored medium on all of the ranges, which means that she’ll prefer dogs from the Clever group. Her beloved corgis just happen to fall in that group.

I took the quiz and my results recommended that I will love breeds from the Clever group. This turns out to be true for me: Australian shepherds, German shepherds, and border collies are members of this category. I love almost all of the dogs in the Clever or herding group. However, Coren’s quiz also told me that I would like dogs from the Consistent group. In Coren’s schema, Consistent dogs are almost exclusively toy breeds. I turned up my nose at this. I know I wouldn’t enjoy life with a chihuahua or a dachshund.

So, take it with a grain of salt. I don’t think it’s scientific at all, but it is a fun diversion. Kind of like the personality quizzes you’d take in Cosmo or something. If you are absolutely clueless about what type of dog you might like, Coren’s book may be helpful to you. But if you’re already pretty sure what you want, Why We Love the Dogs We Do might just tell you a lot of stuff that you already know.

Review: How to Speak Dog

How to Speak Dog

Stanley Coren has written a handful of popular books about dogs. He is probably most well known for his famous (and occasionally controversial) ranking of dog breeds according to intelligence. Coren is a psychology professor at the University of British Columbia but he seems to prefer the psychology of dogs to the psychology of people. One can’t blame him.

I started reading Coren’s books when I was in late middle school, right before we got our first family dog, but I had never read this particular title before. How to Speak Dog fit well with my current interest in dog behavior and animal psychology.

Coren is first and foremost a psychologist and this background plays heavily into this book. I appreciated his generous explanations of science and scientific history and his various chapters on the messages dogs convey in each of their primary appendages (signals through ears, tails, eyes, mouth, tongue, etc.). Overall, I do find myself watching dogs a bit more closely to try to read the signals they’re sending.

The book is a helpful primer for anyone who is generally unfamiliar with dogs and canine body language. I won’t say that I learned a ton of new information, since I felt like I was already pretty adept at distinguishing between an anxious, shy dog and a friendly, attentive one. I’m also not hugely impressed with Coren’s skill as a writer; the book does seem to jump around in places and provide occasionally unhelpful or superfluous information.

All that said, I’d recommend this book to anyone who was having trouble reading his or her dog. Coren’s thorough chapters would give you plenty of fodder to re-energize your canine conversations.