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.

Keep reading

Little company in all the world

tartt.jpg
Donna Tartt and her pug, Pongo. (c) Jill Krementz.

“My dog has a number of acquaintances of his own species — as do I — but it is abundantly clear to both of us that there is little company in all the world which we enjoy so much as each other’s.”

— Donna Tartt

. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .

Happy weekend, everyone!

Speaking of Donna Tartt, has anyone read The Goldfinch? If so, what did you think of it? My thoughts about it are on Goodreads, the website that I am most deeply obsessed with…

Reflecting on Westminster

Westminster winner, Banana Joe the affenpinscher.

Banana Joe the affenpinscher took the Westminster cup last night, and I’ve been thinking about dog shows again.

As a child, I always loved watching Westminster on TV, mainly to parade my knowledge of all the obscure dog breeds (I was a pretentious little kid, primarily about dogs). My goal was to name the breed before the announcer did. But, in truth, I found dog shows pretty boring. Because, let’s face it: They are. Watching well-coiffed dogs trot in a circle for a few hours? Not exactly my idea of a good time.

But I remain peripherally interested in dog shows, if only because they tend to be a good indicator of how dog breeding practices are trending right now. (And because it is still at least fun to look at all the pretty dogs.)

In general, the trends disappoint me.

The United States has so far to go still in terms of prioritizing health over looks—but then again, health has never been the point of dog shows. Look at the X-ray of a winning Pekingese. That is not a healthy animal. Look at the back legs of this year’s German shepherd who took best of breed; they touch the ground, warping the spine and hips, and for no other reason than “that’s how they’re supposed to look.” It breaks my heart. The winning bulldog and winning pug have such an extremely squashed faces; they both look like they’re laboring to breathe just for the photo shoot. Don’t even get me started on the Neapolitan mastiff.

I like to dream of a world in which competing dogs have to pass a health and fitness test before they can be allowed to show for confirmation. Can the bulldog run the length of the ring without collapsing? Can the German shepherd pass a hip exam? The United Kingdom is moving toward such protocols, with great controversy, and the UKC is contemplating such tests itself. There’s a reason why the breeds that still have a working function—many of the scent hounds, for example—are healthy and look like they did in the 1800s. Accordingly, it makes sense that dogs that do not “need” to be healthy—toy breeds, brachycephalic breeds—have seen their breed standards fall to extremes to support the whims of human vanity.

My complaining about this, obviously, isn’t going to change anything. But I still like to dream of a better world for purebred dogs. Breeding animals like this, purely to suit our tastes, is nothing short of animal cruelty.

Pup links!

A young Brooke Shields cuddles with a dachshund. Source: LIFE Magazine.

Can the Bulldog Be Saved? As with many of you, I was very pleased to see this comprehensive article published last week in the New York Times Magazine. I’ve already shared some of my thoughts on why I feel that breeding bulldogs is unethical and inhumane, but this article really takes it to the next level. An illuminating quote from the article:

“The bulldog is unique for the sheer breadth of its health problems,” says Brian Adams, formerly the head of media-relations at M.S.P.C.A.-Angell Animal Medical Center in Boston. “A typical breed will have one or two common problem areas. The bulldog has so many. When I first started working at Angell, the joke was that these dogs are a $5,000 check just waiting to happen. But the joke gets old fast, because many of these dogs are suffering.”

Or this:

[Dr. Sandra] Sawchuk is the rare veterinarian who owns a bulldog. “I should know better, but I’m a sucker for this breed,” she told me. “I’m also a vet, so I feel I can handle any problems that come up. But if anyone else tells me they want a bulldog, my immediate response is, ‘No, you don’t.’ ”

This piece also highlights the considerable villainy of the AKC, which refuses to ask the Bulldog Club of America to revise its standard for the breed. Why? Because bulldogs are popular these days, having skyrocketed to the no. 6 most popular purebreed in the United States. It’s all about the money and the registrations for them. Who cares if we’re killing these dogs by insane breeding practices? I’m just hopeful that many people–aside from those of us who already believe that breeding the modern bulldog is inhumane–will read this article and reconsider bringing a bulldog puppy home. (NYT Magazine)

The Art and Science of Naming a Dog. I love meeting well-named dogs and I think names are very important. Stanley Coren reflects on the psychological aspects of naming our canines. (Psychology Today)

Pretty Fluffy Gift Guide for Dogs. It’s that time of the year! Let the shopping madness begin. (Pretty Fluffy)

The Scoop: Gemma Correll and Mr. Norman Pickles. A fun interview with one of my favorite illustrators Gemma Correll, and her pug, Mr. Norman Pickles. (Dog Milk)

Five Training Tips for First-Time Dog Trainers. A basic but sincerely helpful list of reminders for people like me! (The Three Dog Blog)

A Different Kind of Dog Rescue. This place looks magical. This is definitely what I would do with my life if my husband weren’t around to keep me from being a borderline animal hoarder. (Although this woman sounds amazing and is not a hoarder.) (Love and a Leash)

Three Levels of Pet Safety. Engraved tag, BlanketID, and microchip! I didn’t know how BlanketID worked, but it sounds like a pretty cool device. Does anyone have one for their dogs? (Go Pet Friendly)

Corgi Owners. A funny note with regard to the blessedness of being a corgi person. (Dogblog)

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?

Not so much breed love

dachshund
This is Katie, my Denver landlord's anxious dachshund. Source: Me

As I’m thinking about the dogs that I’d love to have one day, I’m also making a mental list of the dogs I know I wouldn’t enjoy living with. As Stanley Coren points out in his book Why We Love the Dogs We Do, not every human personality is suited to every breed personality. There does seem to be a innate, temperamental reason why some people keep buying golden retrievers or Boston terriers or akitas again and again.

I don’t make this list to say that certain breeds are bad or unlovable, but rather that my personality is not especially keen on their personalities–and I just don’t think we’d live well together.

Yorkshire terrier ♥
A Yorkshire terrier. I add them noting an exception, my friend Emily's giant Yorkie, Oscar, who is precious. Source: Flickr, click photo to see user page.

That said, here is a list of the breeds I’m fairly certain I have no interest in ever owning…

  • Dachshunds.
  • All terriers. Yes, all.
  • Almost all toy breeds (Exceptions: papillon, pomeranian, Cavalier King Charles spaniel).
  • All brachycephalic breeds (pugs, bulldogs, pekingese, etc.).
  • All scent hounds.
  • Dalmatians.
  • Chows.
  • Labs. I KNOW. So un-American! I just don’t love labs. There it is.

What about you? Any breeds you’re pretty sure you don’t want?

A good day at work

This isn't Sparky, but this dude looks pretty close. Source: Oahu Pet

My boss called me on the phone this morning.

“Hey, you want to come down and meet Sparky?”

She had her 1-year-old pug in the parking lot and knew that I’d love nothing more than an excuse to escape my cube and snuggle with a puppy.

I ran downstairs to meet her and Sparky, who was adorable. He had the most impressive corkscrew tail I’ve ever seen. I also had no idea that pugs could be that soft. He was like a cuddly little piggy. I could have romped in the grass with him all day.

As this little story proves, my boss is great. She’s a fellow dog enthusiast and has three dogs of her own. She indulges me on slow afternoons and will talk to me for half an hour about dog shows, breeders, training, and the complications of a multi-dog household. I love it. I’ll be grateful to have her around for advice and wisdom when we finally get a puppy of our own!