I wanted to post about choosing a dog, since that’s something that’s been on my mind quite a bit lately.
There are a lot of things to consider when choosing your next dog. Do I want an adult or a puppy? Purebred or mixed? Long or short haired, big or small, active or couch potato?
Everyone has a certain ‘type’ of dog that attracts them. I’m attracted to muscular, smooth-coated dogs. Pit Bulls, Whippets, and Patterdale Terriers top my list. I also like Pharoah Hounds (or their smaller cousins, Cirneco dell’Etna), Dobermans, Staffordshire Bull Terriers, Azawakhs, Italian Greyhounds, Basenjis, Jack Russell Terriers (not Parsons), and Vizslas.
But there’s a problem with looking for a specific “breed”.
The idea of breeding for specific looks didn’t come into fashion until fairly recently, in the 1800’s. Before then, dogs were bred solely for function. Dogs were bred for herding, pulling loads, guarding, hunting, or even companionship. “Breeds” came into style at the same time that eugenics became wildly popular. The idea at that time was that by selective breeding, all of the “bad” traits could be bred out, and a certain “type” could be fixed. By breeding selectively, you could create the perfect ______ (person, dog, cow, corn plant).
But there’s a problem with this type of selective breeding. To fix a type, like needs to be bred to like. The fastest way to fix type is to inbreed or line breed. We now know that this type of breeding sets you up for problems.
State fair competitions for the “fitter family” (in which four generations competed against other families for prizes) quickly fell out out style after the world learned about the atrocities committed by one of eugenic’s strongest supporters, Adolf Hitler. However, it took a little longer for the movement to slow down in the animal world.
The kicker became productivity. Farmers discovered that when their animals became too inbred, they didn’t produce as well. A COI (Coefficient of Inbreeding) score tells the casual observer how inbred an animal is. The higher the score, the more inbred the animal. A 12.5% score would result from a half brother to half sister mating, or grandparent to grandchild. A 25% score would result from a parent to child mating. The famers discovered that scores above 5% resulted in lowered productivity. With each percent increase, a cow’s milk production drops and the age at which she freshens (becomes able to give milk) rises. Chickens produce fewer eggs. Racehorses become slower.
Where do dogs fit in? Most purebred dogs are very heavily inbred. The Jack Russell Terrier club, which does NOT have a closed stud book and which is the only club I’ve heard of that has a rule regarding how inbred a dog can be, does not register dogs with a COI of above 16%. Dogs with COI of 12% are common, and it is exceedingly rare to find a purebred dog with a COI lower than the 5% cutoff common in the livestock world. The majority of registries have closed stud books and do not allow outcrosses, which means that with each generation the COI becomes higher since not every dog in each generation is bred. This is further helped along by the “popular sire effect,” in which a champion dog covers as many bitches as possible.
Health and temperament problems have become a real problem in the dog world. Boxers have hearth problems. Labs have hip dysplasia. Bull Terriers (which just 100 years ago still had normal skulls) are prone to obsessive compulsive disorder. Dobermans suck their flanks, creating open wounds. Pugs can’t breathe. Corgis and Dachshunds have back problems. Even supposedly “healthy” breeds have a laundry list of genetic tests that responsible breeders must run before allowing their dogs to mate, since in such very inbred animals a 100% healthy animal can be the exception rather than the rule. Many dogs carry one recessive gene for some disorder, and responsible breeders must take care to not cross a carrier with another carrier.
So, if one can’t rely on choosing a breed, how do you go about choosing a dog? I plan to explore this topic more, including what the Kennel Clubs need to do to save dogs and reverse the damage we’ve done to them, how to choose a good breeder, how to choose a good shelter or rescue dog, and more about my own plans for my next dog. I promise a Layla update soon as well! In the meantime, I’m curious to hear from you. How did you choose your current dog(s)? Why did you choose the dog you did, and did you research the breeder or rescue group prior to getting your dog? Do you know anything about your dog’s lines (bonus credit for purebred dog owners if you can tell me your dog’s COI!)?
(all photos borrowed from the United Kennel Club breed standards)