Every breeder has an important responsibility to ensure their dogs are able to live a healthy, happy and long life.
Some 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 very flat faces, excessively wrinkled skin, disproportionately short legs and abnormally large heads and eyes, and “corkscrew tails” (deformed vertebrae resulting in a twisted tail with reduced length, which is associated with a high incidence of abnormalities in the vertebral bodies of the spinal column). These features negatively affect dogs’ ability to breathe, exercise, regulate their temperature, sleep, play, and undertake other normal behaviours and can also result in painful and chronic eye, skin, ear, and nerve problems and prevent dogs from giving birth normally.
Often, these exaggerated features are part of the pedigree ‘breed standards’ for that dog breed, despite these exaggerated features causing health and welfare problems. 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.
The positive news is that breeders have the power to improve their dogs welfare by proactively working to avoid exaggerated features and the serious health problems they cause . 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 to reduce associated problems such as which affect the dogs’ ability to breathe, exercise, regulate their temperature, sleep, play, and undertake other normal behaviours.
- Ensuring you do not breed from dogs with exaggerated features by choosing parent dogs that have more normal and moderate physical features and using screening tests where available to assist in selecting parent dogs without abnormalities.
- 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.
- Asking puppies’ new families for feedback about the health of your puppies so you can use that important information to inform future breeding practices and improve your selection of dogs to breed from 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 (including screening tests, where appropriate and available) for both parent dogs prior to being able to breed with them.
- Fully informing perspective buyers of the health and welfare implications of the exaggerated physical features of the breed they are considering, including the potential costs associated with managing these disorders.
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