Should you get a pug? Or a bulldog?

English bulldog. Creative Commons license.
English bulldog. Creative Commons license.

Short answer: No. Please don’t.

Long answer:

Let’s have a brief and simplistic history lesson of the purebred dog, shall we?

Dogs have been around for a long time. When they were bred in the past, they were bred for function. Dogs that were good at herding were bred to other good herders; dogs that were good at hunting were bred to other good hunting dogs. And then you had sheepdogs and hounds. Their appearance probably varied greatly, but they were prized because they could get the job done.

But around the turn of the century, eugenics started to become popular. Maintaining the “purity” of races was all the rage (and we remember how that turned out, in the form of Nazi Germany). Victorian England decided to turn its racial purity sights onto their beloved dogs, and they created the Kennel Club in 1873 and with it, the notion of a “pure”-bred dog. Dog shows and an invented breed standard allowed wealthy dog owners to breed their pets into status symbols.

Kennel clubs exist all around the world today, and the typical purebred dog is bred to meet a breed standard, determined by a kennel club. This breed standard is determined by the breed clubs, and it is based on a somewhat mythical (and changeable) notion of what the “perfect” example of its breed should look like. Dog shows are strictly beauty pageants. Dogs have to meet an arbitrary, human-defined standard of beauty to be declared fit to be bred. And therein lies the problem.

When we make appearance the primary criteria for choosing a dog, we do a great disservice to the health and welfare of dogs everywhere.

These are the two main problems with making beauty the only thing that counts when breeding dogs:

  • Genetic diseases skyrocket. Among humans, it’d be gross/totally taboo for a grandfather to procreate with his granddaughter. But in the purebred dog world, this is completely common and even encouraged, especially if that sire is a ribbon winner. Naturally, this makes inherited disease vastly more common. As a weird/gross factoid of how far we’ve taken this, Imperial College London found that the approximately 10,000 pugs in the United Kingdom are equivalent to only 50 genetic individuals.
  • Anatomy gets screwed up to meet a capricious breed standard. Again, the breed standard is completely invented. There is no good reason for dachshunds to have one-inch-long legs anymore. There is no good reason for German shepherds to have back hocks that almost touch the ground. There is no good reason for bulldogs to be unable to respirate normally because of their squashed snouts. The dogs are bred this way to meet a breed standard, which is completely made up. And we are destroying their bodies in the process.
Pug. Creative Commons license.
Pug. Creative Commons license.

Didn’t your mother ever tell you looks don’t matter? It’s what’s on the inside that counts? And what’s on the inside of many purebreds, especially snub-nosed (brachycephalic), breeds is royally effed up, thanks to kennel clubs and breed standards.

I always get a lot of hate mail/negative comments when I express this opinion—that bulldogs and pugs are desperately unhealthy and over-bred—but I feel so strongly about this issue that it rolls off my back like water. I also have science on my side, so that helps.

Here’s a great summation of many of the physical problems with pedigree dogs, via following infographic from the RSPCA:

Dogs-deserve-better-infographic

If you have a pug, French bulldog, English bulldog, or pekingese, or any extremely over-bred/deformed purebred, I know you love your dog. I know your dog loves you. They’re little fighters. They suffer and they don’t complain.

I know it’s not directly your fault that your dog can’t breathe or reproduce naturally. It’s the fault of generations of eugenics inflicted on canines to fit a wholly arbitrary breed standard.

French bulldogs. Creative Commons license.
French bulldogs. Creative Commons license.

But what is terrifying and depressing now is how registrations of brachycephalic dogs have soared over the past decade. Pugs and bulldogs are extremely trendy right now. They appear in tons of marketing and ad campaigns, and it’s “hip” to have a dog with a squashed face, especially in big cities. French bulldogs and pugs are small and relatively “lazy” (largely because they are incapable of too much exertion because of their anatomy), and so they appeal to many city dwellers.

I see so many pugs and bulldogs on the street, and I feel crushed a little every time I do. If you even know the slightest bit about canine anatomy, you can observe how much these dogs labor and struggle to even walk or trot short distances, especially on hot days. My hair stylist’s 5-year-old English bulldog dropped dead in the park one summer day because his heart simply gave out. Her vet said she’d seen it happen multiple times with bulldogs. I grow sad when I hear owners laughing about how their pugs or bulldogs “snore” or grunt so much. It isn’t really funny; your dog snores so loudly because she actually can’t get enough air. It’s heartbreaking. Dogs deserve better than this. 

So, what are you to do, if you really like the look of pugs or French bulldogs? Here are a few ideas.

Alternatives to a pug/French bulldog/English bulldog

Puggle. Creative Commons license.
Puggle. Creative Commons license.
  • Puggle. Pug + beagle = dog who can breathe!
  • Pit bull or pit-type dogs. Still the squashed face that may appeal to you, but a much healthier build. And there are TONS of wonderful, happy pitties in shelters all around the country who are desperate to find happy homes.
  • Any mixed breed! Really. Breed is not a great determinant for personality. And modern purebreds, especially brachycephalic purebreds, tend to be genetic disasters.
A pit bull-type dog. Creative Commons license.
A pit bull-type dog. Creative Commons license.

But it’s time we spoke up for purebred dogs, who can’t speak up for themselves. Start demanding better breed standards from local breed clubs. Urge the kennel club in your country to take stronger measures to ensure that dogs are healthy and free of genetic disease.

The most important thing is to resist the urge to buy a puppy that’s bred to extremes. If we stop demanding snub-nosed breeds, the supply will decrease. Just say no to pugs and bulldogs. After all they give us, dogs deserve better, healthier, longer lives. And we have the power to give it to them.

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The intrigue of the impeccably mannered London dog

Camden and Regent's Park area
This vicious, vicious guard dog at a pub in our neighborhood.

As I mentioned, we are living in London for the summer and the girls are enjoying summer camp at my parents’ house. (I don’t think they’re going to want to come home with us in August. They like it there more than their normal life with us, I think.)

Deprived of my two misbehaving monsters, I have become unaccountably dog crazy here in London, and I am particularly intrigued by the observation that 90%* of these city dogs are unbelievably well behaved. Like, stunning composure.

Field notes on the London dog

  • They spend a lot of time off leash in the giant, gorgeous parks. Most amazingly, to me, the vast majority of them exhibit almost NO interest in other people. I kept waiting, desperately, for an unmanned dog to come running up to me, seeking pets, but
  • Despite all this off-leash time in parks, I have yet to see a dog fight. I am sure they occur, but partly because the dogs get to be off leash, all of that leash tension is absent.
  • They exhibit a great degree of patience. Tethering dogs outside stores seems like common behavior here, and the dogs are amazingly self-controlled and quiet while they wait for their people. They also continue to show no interest in people walking past them (again, to my personal/selfish chagrin).
  • They are very quiet. Much like their British owners, I suppose, these London dogs have assumed that stiff upper lip and seem to always be full of decorum and composure.
  • Popular breeds, according to wholly anecdotal observation: Long-haired chihuahuas, border terriers, Jack Russell terriers, English cocker spaniels, long-haired dachshunds, French bulldogs, and miniature schnauzers. (I have seen exactly two Alsatians, both long-haired, and they were so beautiful I kind of wanted to cry. The trend for long-haired dogs seems quite pronounced here.)

I saw a French bulldog on the Tube the other day. His owner deposited him under her seat and he just put his head down and didn’t move for 15 minutes, until she told him it was time to get off. A marvel!

While walking in Hyde Park, this whippet and border terrier, below, were tearing around and playing with each other. They were so engaged that they actually collided with my husband’s legs but didn’t give him a moment’s thought.

Hyde Park and Kensington

(I have also never seen a whippet off leash before, in an unfenced area, so this was interesting. He did seem to be wearing some kind of shock collar, however.)

Along with making me miss my boorish American dogs, I continue to be enchanted by these London pups and their good manners. I keep wishing that we could have raised Pyrrha and Eden here, but I’m sure it has as much to do with the place as it does with the standards society sets for dog owners. For example: In London, you best have a well-behaved dog if you want to bring it out in public, else it disrupts the sanctity and composure of the urban space and brings shame on your good name. In America, caution to the wind! Let dogs be dogs. And don’t let anyone tell you what to do; land of the free, home of the brave, et hoc genus omne.

(*The sole example of a badly behaved dog I have seen was a leash-reactive miniature schnauzer outside our local pharmacy. He was straining on his leash, aggressively, toward a little cockapoo, and his middle-aged owner was yelling, “NICE! NICE! BE NICE!” Which was somewhat sadly/hilariously ineffective, of course. She let the schnauzer rush up to the cockapoo and in a split second, he tried to snap at the cockapoo’s face. She jerked him back on the leash and yelled, “BAD BOY! NOT NICE!” And they continued on their way. So, not every  London dog/dog owner is perfect.)

Hyde Park and Kensington

Have you observed dogs in other countries? What do you think? Are there cultural standards for dog raising? Is there any chance Pyrrha and Eden could one day be as polite as an English dog?

Pup links!

Black labs go with everything. Click for source.

Dog-related links from around the Web this past week:

Are All Dogs Monsters? Kristine sagely reminds us that all dogs can bite and we should never take that fact for granted. (Rescued Insanity)

Preventing Dog Bites. Patricia McConnell throws in her two cents about how to prevent dog bites. Reading body language is key! (The Other End of the Leash)

Dog’s First Camping Trip. This post caught my eye, because we’ve discussed taking Pyrrha camping with us in the coming months. Anyone go camping with their dog? Any tips we should know about beforehand? (Go Pet Friendly)

How to Teach Children to Get Along with Dogs from an Early Age. A very thorough and thoughtful article on training your kids to treat dogs with gentleness and respect. (Whole Dog Journal)

Elderly Dogs and Babies: A Primer. This is a funny (and sad?) piece on what a baby does to your elderly dog, by one of my favorite online writers, Nicole Cliffe. (The Hairpin)

Seven Steps to Off-Leash Reliability. Ian Dunbar’s progression of training elements that lead you to having a dog who is trustworthy off lead. (Some Thoughts about Dogs)

Dogs Make Weddings Look Good. This is too cute: Jenny trained a pair of French bulldogs to participate in their humans’ wedding. Adorable. (Of Pit Bulls & Patience)

Emmanuelle Walker. Fun, mod illustrations of dogs riding in cars. (Gems)

Dog jobs I daydream about

Me in my daydream day job... Click for source.

When I’m sitting in my gray cubicle, staring at a computer screen, I can’t help but daydream about what I’d rather be doing instead. Those daydreams usually involve me frolicking in a field with my future dog, or a whole pack of my future dogs. These are some quasi “jobs” that I often daydream about having, even though I’m sure they’re all far less glamorous than they are in my imagination:

  • Reinforcement trainer, a la Patricia McConnell, Pat Miller, or Karen Pryor. I daydream about this a lot. I’ve even sporadically browse the CCPDT website to read about their testing requirements, recommended reading, and timeline for becoming a certified trainer. I love watching dogs learn and teaching them–and especially their humans–how to shape appropriate or desirable behavior. I still have so much to learn in this area, but I’m looking forward to the trial-by-fire that will be coming our way this summer.
  • Full-time dog walker/runner, a la Lindsey Stordahl. That is one fit and adventurous woman! I say I want this job now, but in reality, I’m not sure how long I would love it, since it calls for being outside regardless of the weather (I can’t believe she does it in Fargo). Mostly, though, I’m up for it, because hardly anything brings me as much joy as walking dogs.
  • Agility trainer/co-competitor. (What do people who do agility with their dogs call themselves?) I am probably not as competitive as most of these people are, but everyone looks like they are having such a darn good time! I love watching agility trials and it’s a nice daydream to entertain, raising up an agility champion…
  • Shepherd. Or a farmer with lots of dogs, I guess. But having a team of dedicated herders at my disposal is also a nice dream.
  • Volunteer in some dog-based therapy program. Dog-assisted therapy is so moving and meaningful to me. I am especially fond of the programs in elementary schools, whether teaching kids how to behave around dogs or being reading partners. I also love the idea of visiting nursing homes. I wonder if I’ll ever have a dog calm enough to do either of those things…
  • Writing the daily blog from the perspective of Martha Stewart’s French bulldogs. OK, maybe not really, but whatever intern has that job has it made! Just hanging out around her estate, photographing the dogs doing silly things, and then writing about it? Yes, please. I’ll take that job.

Do you entertain any dog job daydreams? Or do you actually HAVE one of these jobs? If so, I envy you… in my imagination…

Pup links!

Frenchie and her fashionista. Source: fashionsalade.com

Dog-related links from around the Web this week!

In Defense of Rescue Dogs. A short but strong list of answers to the common objections raised by people who don’t want rescue dogs. (I also strongly join her objections to “designer dog breeds” like cockapoos and labradoodles.)  (Pretty Fluffy)

Top 10 Tips for Hiking the Green Dog Way. Eco-friendly advice for hiking with your dog. (Raise a Green Dog)

SCAMPER: A Problem-Solving Tool. A useful acronym to help you sort through a behavioral or training issue. (A Frame of Mind)

The No. 1 Answer to Your Dog’s No. 2’s. These Dicky Bags look like a useful and convenient method of carrying poo bags. I particularly like them because the zipper would let me stuff it with re-used grocery bags, rather than having to buy those rolls of blue bags at the pet store. (Under the Blanket)

Photo Shoot Time. Setting up a photo shoot with Martha Stewart’s French bulldogs, Sharky and Francesca, who are kind enough to narrate the experience. (The Daily Wag)

One in Four Dogs Will Develop Cancer. A sobering look at the rates and incidences of cancer among dogs today. This report also lists the most common types of cancers that dogs will develop. (The Bark)

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)