There is an accepted, imagined superiority when it comes to purebred dogs – perhaps because of completions like the Westminster dog show and the science that goes into pedigree breeding.
Alternatively, there is a stigma attached to “mutts,” or dogs who were born as the (possibly) unintentional mating between dogs of different breeds. For some reason, these dogs’ unknown lineage and lack of uniform physical traits is unattractive to many people.
The American Kennel Club was established in 1884, and set down the rules for which breeds are real and what their characteristics are and must be. However, what many people don’t realize is that the breeds we accept as “standard” today were invented by men, not nature. Furthermore, pedigree breeding methods, focused on outer appearances, have actually affected canine health in the years since.
Purebred breeding has drastically reduced the gene pool for the dog breeds considered “real” by various kennel clubs. A 2008 study conducted at London’s Imperial College found that the 10,000 pugs in the United Kingdom have the gene pool variance of 50 distinct individuals. This is a result of intentional, systematic breeding for generations.
This type of breeding causes the expression of recessive genetic disorders in a dog that carries two defective copies of the gene. If a dog were to be crossbred, the likelihood would be that it would only carry just one copy and have perfectly normal health. The more generations of inbreeding that occur, the more puppies will be handed down two copies of the faulty gene and express unhealthy symptoms.For example, Dalmatians have been known to carry a gene that causes “urate urolithiasis,” an excessive production of uric acid that leads to kidney stones.
However, Dalmatian enthusiasts bred a female Dalmatian to a male Pointer in 1973 in order to bring new, healthy genes into the population. The offspring of this mating were then purposefully dispersed for mating into the purebred Dalmatian community – to increase genetic diversity. This effort resulted in the breeding of “low uric acid” (LUA) Dalmatians, who carry 99.8 percent the same DNA as “purebreds,” minus the health issues.
Purebred breeding to maintain and enhance certain “cute” physiological traits has also resulted in certain awful health issues for the dogs in question. For example, pugs have been bred to have such large “apple” heads that most females are unable to give birth except by c-section. Meanwhile, the coveted slope in the spine of purebred German Shepherds causes them to be plagued with painful hip dysplasia.
It is time to re-evaluate the effects of purebred breeding on the dogs themselves and the inherent value of the practice. Perhaps dogs should be left to reproduce as they would in nature, without the meddlesome hand of mankind – a dog’s supposed best friend.