On the eve of Crufts 2019 (7th-10th March), a panel of leading pet experts, including TV vets and other influencers in the companion animal industry, has called for a championing of health over breeder-led ‘perfect looks’.
The six-strong ‘Dog Breed Standards Panel’, which is chaired by Lars B. Andersen, CEO of Arty Lobster, a company specialising in the creation of 3D pet sculptures, discussed two breed profiles for a Pug and a German Shepherd dog; one profile of each dog dated back 100 years or more, while the other was of the modern-day variety.
The experts, including TV vet and author Emma Goodman Milne, vet and Daily Telegraph’s pet commentator Pete Wedderburn, homeopathic vet Vince McNally, veterinary speaker and professional Mark Hedberg, ‘dog listener’ Tony Knight, unanimously condemned today’s unhealthy dog breed types that are still so beloved of dog breeders.
The panel discussed two photos of a Pug and slated the newer flat faced or brachycephalyic profile now in favour while the sloped back ‘frog-like’ appearance of today’s German Shepherd dog was condemned when compared with the healthier straight-backed profile of the older variation of the breed.
As Pete Wedderburn, author and influencer, explains, while examining a photo of a modern Pug next to the same breed from 100 years ago: “This (older-type) animal will clearly suffer from fewer health issues, for instance better breathing, no skin folds that get infected, no corneal ulcers due to bulging eyes, and better dentition due to a less crowded mouth.”
Holistic vet ‘Vince the Vet’ McNally, explained that the original Pug with a longer muzzle has “a much healthier upper respiratory tract (nares, nasal chambers, sinuses and nasopharynx / pharynx). Therefore, breathing will be easier and the respiratory system far less prone to infections and the signs and / or complications associated with Brachycephalic Obstructive Airway Syndrome.”
Turning to the image of a German Shepherd dog from around a century ago, Pete Wedderburn says: “The posture is a far more natural position, with a straight back, vertical hind legs, and probably far healthier spine and hips.”
“Breeding for looks by definition puts health in second or third place.” – TV Vet Emma Goodman Milne
Vet Emma Goodman Milne, author and animal welfare campaigner, said: “While it is clear that some breeders are striving for health over looks there are very many breed standards that simply do not conform to health because of either closed gene pools with high levels of inherited disease or, more recently, more and more extreme conformation. Breeding for looks by definition puts health in second or third place.”
Echoing Emma, vet and veterinary speaker Mark Hedberg, says: “Current dog breeding standards still focus overwhelmingly on appearance, rather than health, and while it’s encouraging to see more requirements for health testing in at-risk breeds, people still prioritize looks over long term health, and even quality of life. As long as health is second to looks, this problem will persist.
“The ‘modern’ pug has thick folds of skin that can get inflamed and infected when wet, and the nasal passages are so constricted it’s constantly fighting to breath. The soft palate is squashed in the back of the throat as well, so many of the ‘modern’ dogs require surgery just to live a relatively quality life.
“Don’t believe me? Put two drinking straws in your mouth from a children’s drink box, and breath through those. You can just about manage that, can’t you? Now go for a walk, or a jog, or maybe even a walk up the stairs. No cheating now – all the air needs to come through those two tiny drinking straws. Let me know how long you can make it before your tongue turns the same faintly blue that you see on some ‘modern’ pugs!”
So, what can be done?
Lars B Andersen, CEO of 3D pet sculpture company Arty Lobster, who is exhibiting at this year’s Crufts, says: “How can we stand by when some breeders are still putting perceived ‘good looks’ over health in their dogs? Whether it causes pain or leaves a dog literally struggling to breathe like a Pug or unable to give birth naturally like an English Bulldog, we all need to take a stand against irresponsible breeding practices. This can start at Crufts where the world looks on as the ‘ideal’ examples of dog breeds strut their stuff.”
Holistic vet Vince McNally ‘Vince the Vet’, says: “Excluding dogs who have ‘unhealthy’ characteristics from Shows, would be a step in the right direction. To work however this would require all judges to be willing to implement an agreed set of new standards, which would be quite an undertaking.”
Tony Knight says: “Making the new, healthier breed standards the benchmark for success in competitions is a quick way to encourage this change. People will soon make changes if it means their dog wins at the big shows.”
Mark Hedberg: “Give pugs their noses back, and don’t be afraid to breed Great Danes a little smaller. Cavalier King Charles Spaniels are lovely dogs, and their hearts let them down far too soon. Let’s get some of those breed standards toughened up, or enforced – an unhealthy dog shouldn’t be illegal to own, but it certainly shouldn’t be winning any prizes!”
Arty Lobster has an exhibition stand with a large selection of 3D pet sculptures at Crufts 2019 – they are in Hall 2, Stand 1.