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What can breeders do to avoid exaggerated physical features that compromise dog welfare?

Every breeder has an important responsibility to ensure their dogs live a healthy, happy and long life.

A number of dog breeds have exaggerated physical features that cause pain and suffering and compromise dog welfare, leading to a poor quality of life. Some examples of exaggerated physical features include flat faces, excessively wrinkled skin, disproportionately short legs and abnormally large heads and eyes. These features often prevent dogs from breathing, walking or giving birth normally. They also often result in painful and chronic eye, skin and ear problems.

Exaggerated features exist as a result of breeders conforming to the pedigree ‘breed standards’. A breed standard is a set of strict and narrow guidelines describing the way a particular breed must look. The breed standards focus primarily on appearance rather than requiring features that ensure good health and good welfare. Breeders use the breed standard when selecting breeding animals and they are also used as the basis for judging at dog shows. Unfortunately some breed standards require dogs to have exaggerated physical traits.

The positive news is that exaggerated features and the serious health problems they cause are preventable. If breeders avoid selecting for exaggerated features, they will avoid perpetuating the welfare problems caused by them.

If you’re a dog breeder who wants to proactively prevent health and welfare problems caused by exaggerated features, you can do this in a number of ways:

  • Ensuring you do not select for exaggerated features that compromise welfare. For example, avoiding selection for flat faces thereby preventing breathing distress.
  • Ensuring you do not breed from dogs with exaggerated features by choosing parent dogs that have more normal and moderate physical features.
  • Considering outcrossing with other dog breeds. This may be necessary to effectively moderate exaggerated features and restore breeds to a physical type that is healthy. Outcrossing may also confer hybrid vigour (vitality and health) in the puppies.
  • Asking buyers for feedback about the health of your puppies so you can use that important information to inform future breeding practices and improve your selection choices over time.
  • Calling for urgent changes to the breed standards so that exaggerated features are no longer required and each breed standard is consistent with good health and welfare.
  • Calling for urgent changes to judging criteria in the show ring, such as rewarding for health as the priority (rather than rewarding for physical appearance) and new rules to ensure dogs with exaggerated features cannot be shown.
  • Calling for changes to litter registrations such as mandatory veterinary health certificates for both parent dogs prior to being able to breed with them.

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Updated on June 24, 2021
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