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Dog

Altered Breeds

Val Cairney June 24, 2022 162


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Hi everyone and welcome to this episode of Val Talk’s Pets.  On this episode I am going to explore how some breeds of dogs have been altered in physical appearance or temperament over time.  What some breeds originally looked like and what they look like now from breeding modification, is quite significant.  Why do they fool around with a dog’s genes?  Are these aesthetic changes really necessary and do they present health issues?  Well let’s go exploring.

I’d like to start with the German shepherd.  Have you noticed that many German shepherds have that slant in the back end so the dogs seem to walk on a slope?  So, the backline as it is called is slanted with angulated hindquarters.  According to Little Happy Paw, German Shepherds have been modified by breeders ever since they were introduced to America.  The sloped back vs. straight back has been a real bone of contention between owners and breeders for a long time.  Shepherds with a straight back or working line are the closest to the original wolf crossbreed created by Captain Max Von Stephanitz back in the late 19th century.  Straight back shepherds are agile and vigilant.  A sloped back shepherd is a cross breed of the straight back shepherd.  They have curved backs along with knees and hips that are closer to the ground.  The sloping back and hindquarters were intended for cosmetic purposes only.  These dogs were acclaimed in the show ring so breeders began populating the variety in the early 90’s.  Although some love the look of the slanted shepherd or show line, they are prone to health issues and are less agile.  The issues include hip dysplasia, cartilage distress and osteoarthritis among others.  

So how did they modify the skeletal structure of these dogs?  Breeders have modified the genetics of German shepherds for over a century by cross breeding to get the sloped backline.  No one really knows who started the sloped back breeding but once it was seen, there was a real surge towards its aesthetics and a lot of breeders jumped on the bandwagon.  Somewhere along the line someone had a shepherd with this propensity and then bred it with another dog and hoped for two with the propensity and they got bred together and so one.  That’s how a trait or aberration gets bred into a breed.  Slant backed breeders and sloped back breeders can get really nasty with each other and even call the straight backed shepherds “old fashioned”.  Now that just kills me!  There is no doubt that the health issues for a sloped back shepherd are more significant and their agility is not as good as the straight backed for obvious reasons.  Personally, I’m curious as to why someone thought this was a good idea?  You take this agile, strong and devoted dog and then deliberately slope its back and hindquarters to accomplish… what? Bottom line here is that the German Shepherd is one of the dogs that has been altered to look different from the original stock.  Luckily there are breeders of both looks and the original has not disappeared.   For me, if I want a German Shepherd as a pet and protector, well I guess I’m old fashioned, because that’s the one I’ll take. 

Let’s now take a look at the Bull Terrier.  When I think of the Bull Terrier I think of a former Canadian sport’s broadcaster’s dog named Blue, and in the old Oliver  movie, Bill Sykes had Bullseye his Bull Terrier.  Bull Terriers have an egg shaped head with small slanting eyes, but that is not what the Bull Terrier originally looked like.  The original “Bull Terrier” or the combination of terrier and bulldog looks almost nowhere near what they look like now.  The original head and face was very normal dog looking with small eyes.  And the ears were down.  The body was very terrier-like with proportionate legs and a sleek torso.   These terriers were bred for blood sports and it has been thought that one of the reasons for altering their appearance had to do with making them look friendlier.  The unshaped face that has become the signature feature of a bull terrier has been developed over time with extensive selective breeding.  Unfortunately they do experience genetic issues with luxating patellas and deafness as well as OCD.  

From the Bull Terrier let’s move to the English Bulldog.  According to newdoggy.com, the original English Bulldogs had more in common with Mastiffs and pitbull terriers.  And like Bull Terriers they too were bred for blood sports.  The first breed club was incorporated in 1875 and they sought to moderate the size of the bulldog.  With the influence of the Pug the English Bulldog took on a more rounded head and shorter muzzle, curly tail and shorter wider body.  Becoming less athletic was also part of the change.  The favour to the shorter muzzle continued to morph and now breathing difficulties are part of the breed creating quite a snoring and snorting dog.  As well, joint problems have become an issue and difficulty giving birth.  It is important to look for a breeder that has maintained some semblance of a snout to avoid teeth crowding and jaw misalignments.  

My next dog is the Shar Pei.  According to thehappypuppysite.com originally it was thought that the wrinkles on a Shar Pei enabled the dog to keep fighting even if another animal grabbed a fold of their skin. But, these wrinkles were not the same as seen today, especially in the face. These dogs were also more athletic.  The original Shar Pei had a narrower head and their eyes were not obstructed.  When the breed first became popular in America, inexperienced breeders focused on making the dogs as wrinkly as possible rather than concentrating on the dog’s quality of life.  According to the site, this condition causes up to one in five dogs to develop kidney, liver, spleen and/or intestinal problems.  And with quote unquote selective breeding, the breeder often goes for “best” physical characteristic not breeding a different dog who in fact could be the healthier dog.  If you hear the term “bone-mouth” Shar Pei this is referencing a dog that looks more like the original.  Because of the significant alteration of the breed, they are prone to a wide variety of health problems and I would say this is not the breed for an inexperienced new dog parent.  

Alright!  Up next is the Pug.  So as we can see as we look at some of the breed alterations small changes can have a big impact.  Let’s take a look at what they have to say about all this on puggingabout.com.  Interesting that before selective breeding, Pugs looked more like a Pekingese.  They were small to medium, had a stubby tail and were fluffy.  Because pugs were bred significantly, extensive inbreeding has resulted in the variety of health problems the breed faces.  The modern pug is a lot smaller and has a curled tail as well as a larger body fat percentage.  We often see Pugs that look like a loaf of bread or a potato, so gaining weight is a downfall.  As puggingabout.com points out, the degree of exaggerated shortness of the Pug’s muzzle has evolved and today the breed can be found with almost flat faces and very narrow nostrils.  “In an effort to breed a more compressed muzzle, pug breeders have attempted to limit the physical development of the skull.  In order to do this, the Pug’s nasal cartilage has been bred down.  The result is a much smaller muzzle than that of their ancestor.”  “This has led to the breed being more delicate and fragile, as well as more susceptible to health problems.”  And as we have seen in the German Shepherds, there is debate within the pug community as to what is attractive and what should be considered a deviation.  And as pointed out, “while we like the idea of being able to breed the perfect pug, it’s also important to understand that the very smallest of changes within a dog’s DNA  can have a huge impact on their overall health.”

All right.  Let’s move on to the Boston Terrier.  Boston Terriers have seen quite a rise in popularity, so let’s take a look.  Boston terriers like a lot of the terriers were originally bred for fighting.  It’s hard to believe when engaging with a Boston these days that they were once in the dog fighting rings.  So, lots has changed with Boston’s and so much so that I can reserve the Boston for a spotlight episode.  But let’s look at the actual skeleton or physique of the Boston now and then.  Selective breeding for Boston’s has changed size and temperament.  Because they were originally a fighting dog, selective breeding in this case has replaced that fighting temperament with a happier, playful personality.  Modern Boston’s are smaller than their ancestors, weighing no more than 25 pounds.  The Boston is well known for being a short-nosed dog and breathing issues can be a problem.  So it is best to make sure if you choose a Boston that they have not had their nose bred too short or flat.  But, other than that, not too much tampering has gone on with the Boston.  

Let’s look now at the French Bulldog or often called the Frenchie.  The French Bulldog originated with a cross breeding of toy bulldogs (what is that??) and local Parisian ratter dogs.  Originally Frenchie’s had rose shaped ears like  English bulldogs.  But, American breeders preferred a more bat-like ear shape and so the breeding took off to breed in the bat-like ear and that is what you see today.  Frenchie’s also have a condition known as obstructive airway syndrome specific to brachycephalic dogs or dogs with pushed in or flat faces.   Selective breeding has taken the short snout or nose and pushed in into a flat face so far that a skull malformation occurred.  The nostril openings are too narrow and the pallet is soft so this leads to severe breathing problems.  The elongated soft palate often has to be repaired surgically to help the dog’s breath.  A look at the original skull skeleton in photos shows how the jaw has been pushed and under bites are resulting as well as the extreme breathing issues that do create a snorting, snoring and flatulent dog.  

Now although there are many breeds of dogs that have undergone changes I’d like to finish off this little journey with the Pomeranian.  The Pomeranian is a member of the Spitz breed, so it is fluffy and has a signature curled tail.  The Pomeranian originally was quite a larger dog.  In the late 1800’s it became more pleasing to have the Pom’s smaller than their original size.  Different colours were also introduced.  Today the Canadian Kennel Club breed standard has Pom’s at 3 to 7 pounds with 4 to 5 pounds ideal.  Well that is significant in size from the original Pomeranians who were in actuality working dogs.  

Okay, so the dogs have been bred smaller.  Now they are toy dogs and meant as companion animals.  And just remember, that teacup is not an acceptable size by any organization, but I hear it all the time with teacup Yorkies or even teacup poodles or Chihuahua’s,  as if they need to be smaller and on and on it goes.  So I wanted to finish with Pomeranians as I wanted to bring to attention this idea of shrinking dogs in size and what this means in the larger picture.  In order to get these dogs to be smaller, the breeder has to breed a small dog to another small dog and then the next smallest dog and so on.  Often quote unquote “runts” have health issues and we have to be aware that these issues can easily be bred into the smaller forms.  I think of the internet sensation Bertram.  He is a Pomeranian who looks just like Paddington Bear when he is dressed in his blue coat and red hat.  Bertram discarded, abandoned, by the breeder because he was too big to sell.  So basically he was not useful and if it hadn’t been for Kathy Grayson who found him on Petfinder Bertram’s fate would have been, well I don’t want to speculate.  So, I think this is a good place to move into my pet peeves section. 

Pet Peeves

So selective breeding is extremely prevalent in the purebred dog world and the non-purebred dog world.  The idea of selective breeding can help take out undesirable traits or physical features or add traits and physical features.  A lot of the terriers were originally bred for fighting and through selective breeding this aggressive nature has been altered to create a more docile family friendly dog.  I remember years ago I read an article on the Pitbull.  The Staffordshire Terrier was the original base to the Pitbull and the article said that it took 100 years to breed into the Pitbull the aggressive fighting nature that was wanted and it would take another 100 years to breed it out.  I don’t know about that timeline, but the point is that through selective breeding a lovely dog like the Staffordshire terrier was used and abused and morphed into something that was nowhere near the original temperament.  Don’t get me wrong here, there are some wonderful Pitbull’s that are amazing family pets.  I’m talking about the disgusting world of dog fighting that has used selective breeding in the most heinous way.  In this case the breeder will only breed a dog to another dog that shows aggression and most often the others are killed.  Michael Vick and his dog fighting ring were practising this.  Dogs that underperformed in fights at his dog fighting ring were put to death by such means as drowning, electrocution and hanging.  Vick was sentenced to 23 months in prison.  Big deal right!! Anyway, the idea of breeding only for aggression is and can be part of the selective breeding.

The idea of altering a dog’s appearance is also selective breeding.  When taking a short snouted dog and turning it into a flat faced dog, the question begs, why?  Why breed respiratory and breathing issues into a perfectly fine dog?  Size.  Why is it something to breed dog’s smaller?  As I mentioned, this teacup idea is really concerning as runts are bred to runts and so the health issues just follow that line.

In and off itself the wording “selective breeding” makes you think that only the best selection of a breed is bred.  And with reputable registered breeders, this is the case as they perpetuate the best example of the breed.  Those that are not kept for breeding are sold by the breeder through their program as a breeder.  But, we do have to ask why do certain dogs need to have a pushed in face, or a sloping back or be smaller and smaller?  Why is it necessary to change the natural look?  And who decided that this change was aesthetically for the better?  In the case where a dog is now in distress with breathy difficulties, I don’t see how that in any way is an improvement.  Some vets are even imploring people to stop buying brachycephalic dogs so that the demand will begin to dry up and breeders will stop playing Frankenstein.  So, I would say when looking for a certain breed, along with all the research, make sure to do a good search of the history as well.  Ask yourself if you are comfortable with a breed of dog that has been altered to the point of health issues.  On the flip side, perhaps there have been some positive changes as well that can help with the decision making.  Or you can just go to a good rescue and find a loving, cute dog or puppy of whatever breeds, that needs a home and your love and care.  Either way, history research in this case is quite important because as I say, knowing is caring.    

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Val Cairney

Hi everyone, and welcome to Val Talk’s Pets, the forum for pet parents and enthusiasts alike. So, I have been working in the pet industry now for almost 10 years and, on a daily basis, I handle a lot of issues and questions arising from pet parents. I am not a veterinarian but I do have certifications in Canine, Feline, Small Animal, Fish and Herptile and Avian Health and Nutrition from the University of California, Davis Extension, the Vet College.

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