Saturday, 27 August 2016

Two minutes to save a breed - here's how

I've documented the hideous drift in type in European Great Danes here many times. And, sadly, this mastinoid creep is spreading like some virus. Even in those countries where Dane bodies still remain lean and graceful, such as the US, we are seeing heavier and heavier heads.

1903 breed standard  illustrations compared to today's 'hypertype' Danes

UK Danes
Now Dane campaigner Maria Gkinala is petitioning the FCI to do something about the physical degradation of this beautiful breed - which has suffered, sadly, in many ways from not having a working job to keep it sound.

Please sign the petition here and help stop this before it is too late. It will take just two minutes of your time.  Petitions really do work if enough people sign them as they pressure organisations into engaging with the critics. This is the first step to reform.

I had Danes as a kid (galumphy boy Dougal just a pup here), so this one matters to me.

Further reading:

The demise of the Great Dane

More French Great Danes

Maria's excellent Great Dane Gnosis blog

Sunday, 14 August 2016


Because what the world needs right now is a brachycephalic Rottweiler. :-(

These Rottweilers are from a top Serbian Kennel owned by Darko Veselic. This picture on his Facebook page has prompted a torrent of comments from all over the world - with much of the criticism raising concern about introducing breathing problems into the breed.

And, of course, these dogs' heads are asking for trouble - domed, with an exaggerated stop, and a crania-facial ratio (CFR) of under 0.5  (i.e. the muzzle is less than half the length of the cranium). It is below 0.5 that we start to see respiratory issues. They do, at least, have good open nostrils.

Their breeder Darko Veselic is a charming chap. After one female commenter on his Facebook page criticised his dogs, he came back with this - which was then endorsed by several women.  They should be ashamed of themselves.

But I want to leave you with this thought. 

There are dozens of breeds with far shorter muzzles than these Rottweilers and it causes little or no outrage. I'm sure that many of the critics on Darko Vesilsc's page will pass a Pug or a Frenchie with a smile and may even have short-faced dogs in their own homes.

It's a shock when you see a dog that normally has a decent muzzle suddenly robbed of it, isn't it?  But sadly, most of us do not have the same visceral response when we see this. 

But we should. It makes absolutely no difference to the dog if it was acquired over 100s of years or just a few.

It is an aberration and a burden.

Wednesday, 10 August 2016

Help this little chap get a decent night's sleep

As I hope most who read this blog now know, many flat-faced dogs try to sleep sitting or even standing up because their airways block when they drop their heads.  It means that some brachycephalics are chronically sleep-deprived.

This particular video is on Facebook here where it has been viewed by a quarter of a million people and received over 12,000 likes.

It originates from the @meroglichar Instagram account which features many videos of the owner's dog trying to sleep, including this one. He is clearly much loved by his owner and I thought at first she was just clueless, but she continues to post them despite people pointing out their concern.

Please help inform owners and the public by leaving comments on these and any other similar video on social media pointing out that what they're seeing is tragic, not cute.

Hell, if you have a spare hour and would really like to help, please search YouTube for "[brachy] sleeping sitting/standing up" and post the #dontignorethesnore video in Comments.

Here's the link:

Sunday, 7 August 2016

Best book ever on pedigree dogs - available in the UK this week

Buy it on Amazon here.


For a taster, check out this piece by Brandow for Dogs Today Magazine - he's a very sharp and witty writer.

The reviews:

'An essential and incredibly well documented read for those who want to know more about how we have strongly, selfishly and negatively affected the awesome beings whom many call their BFF, the very beings who depend on us to have their best interests in heart and mind. Agree or not, Mr. Brandow's book is a serious, significant and most timely message that deserves a global audience. It really is that good' 
Marc Bekoff, Huffington Post

'A must-read for all dog lovers' 

'An often biting social critique of people, their dogs, and the world they have made for each other' Mark Derr, author of How the Dog Became the Dog

'A no-holds-barred defense of dogs that are the hapless victims of their clueless owners' 

'Brandow not only unearths the status-driven history of so-called 'purebreds' but exhorts us to love all dogs regardless of breed' 
Betsy Banks Saul, founder of

'Incredibly important... a delightful read with fascinating insights into the history and psychology of the purebred-dog world' 
Alan M. Beck, ScD, professor and director of the Center for the Human-Animal Bond, Purdue University

'If you're considering welcoming a dog (or two) into your family, read Michael Brandow's fascinating and eye-opening book... A dog is a living, loving creature, not an accessory item, and Brandow makes his case persuasively and with wit.' 
Betsy Banks Saul, founder of

'Brandow's A Matter of Breeding is at once a keenly observed memoir of his days as a New York City dog walker, a thoroughly researched history of purebred dogs, and an often biting social critique of people, their dogs, and the world they have made for each other.' 
Mark Derr, author of How the Dog Became the Dog

Saturday, 6 August 2016

Science versus Bulldog bullshit

Yesterday, the public radio show Science Friday featured a segment on the Bulldog in response to the publication last week of a paper which detailed the lack of genetic diversity in English Bulldogs. (See last week's blog on this here)

The show pitches the paper's lead author Professor Niels Pedersen against another scientist, Peter Photos.

Photos is scientific advisor to the Bulldog Club of America and he has a PhD in biomolecular engineering, so it should have been lively. 

Instead, Photos clings to the old mantra that the breed standard is a template for good health when adhered to by responsible breeders and blamed ill-health in Bulldogs on irresponsible breeders.

No, says Pedersen... the Bulldog's ill health is due to simply being a Bulldog. Dogs, he says, were never meant to be flat-faced dwarves with deep wrinkles and a genetically-compromised immune system.

Photos also claims that Pedersen's own work shows that Bulldogs are not that badly off in terms of genetic health compared to others.

No, says Pedersen, the UC Davis team has only found one other (as yet unnamed) breed with less diversity than the Bulldog.

Have a listen here. It's fab.

By the way, whenever I hear scientists sounding like they've drunk kennel club kool-aid,  I always go hunting for their kennel name.

And it is no surprise to learn that Peter Photos, along with his partner Blake Hamman, is a breeder of French Bulldogs

But, boy, I'm so sick of this. Do dog breeders and kennel clubs have any idea what it looks like to an outside world when the default response to research findings they find uncomfortable is to go into full-on-denial... to challenge peer-reviewed science ... to accuse the researchers of some kind of anti-purebred dog bias?  (There has, sadly, been plenty of that on bulldog social media in the past week.)

If you are truly dog lovers please embrace the science - it is you and your dogs' friend.

There has, by way of example, been a good response from Poodle breeders following Professor Pedersen and his team's analysis of the genetic diversity of that breed (see here). They are using the UC Davis Veterinary Genetics Lab's test to breed Poodles with stronger immune systems and less chance of disease. 

The correct response from the Bulldog breeders isn't to retreat behind a wall and wail that its not fair. It is to pull together internationally and submit swabs to UC Davis's VGL to get a broader picture of the genetic diversity in the breed; perhaps also bring on board a population geneticist to advise the breed. This might give you some more wiggle room. And if it doesn't then you need to do what's right by your dogs - outcross to a different breed to enable you to build better Bulldogs.

You love your dogs enough to do right by them - don't you?

Wednesday, 3 August 2016

Got an oldie? The Royal Veterinary College needs you!

The Royal Veterinary College is looking for older dogs to take part in a survey that is exploring the impact of health and training on behaviour.

They've had a fantastic response (almost 5000 so far!) but they are short of dogs eight years or older. So if you have an oldie - purebred or cross and wherever in the world you are - they would be very grateful if you could find a few minutes to complete the survey.

You can find the Mature Dog Survey here.

I've already submitted info on my amazing oldster, Jake.  This video comprises footage of him shot in the past few weeks. He is 14 years old - a GSD/Dobermann x with a sprinkling of English Setter.

Friday, 29 July 2016

Death of the Bulldog

It's not a good day for Bulldog breeders and owners - but it might just be a good day for Bulldogs.  A new paper in Canine Genetics and Epidemiology from a team at UC Davis documents the eye-watering lack of genetic diversity in the Bulldog - or English Bulldog as the breed is known globally.

The conclusion? The Bulldog is in big trouble because it does not have enough genetic diversity to allow breeders to breed away from the health problems known to plague the breed.

The story is all over the media here in the UK and internationally - with the above headline in the Independent particularly blunt.

The Indy piece also contains this very strong quote from lead author Professor Niels Pedersen.

“The English bulldog has reached the point where popularity can no longer excuse the health problems that the average bulldog endures in its often brief lifetime."

I think it's fair to say that there has been some small improvements in health, at least in the UK, in recent years. But big problems persist - include breathing issues, an inability to cool themselves, skin, eye and joint problems and an inability, often, to mate or whelp naturally.

Bulldogs are also dead, typically, by the age of six (KC 2014 health survey).

The researchers' aim was to assess if the breed retains enough genetic diversity to correct the genotypic and phenotypic abnormalities associated with its poor health.  The answer? Probably not.

To put it very simply: even if there was a will to breed only from the very healthiest, most moderate dogs (and I'm afraid there isn't because, mostly, people like their Bulldogs just the way they are), you'd only wreck the breed further because it would result in even less of the genetic diversity needed to ensure a healthy life. 

The study found many sections of the Bulldog genome that were identical in every dog they looked at. In particular, they found very little variation in the parts of the genome that code for immune function - very likely the reason the breed suffers a number of immune-mediated issues.

Where does the breed go from here given the increasing pressure on breeders to do more to tackle health problems in the breed

The quickest and simplest option is to outcross - and indeed there are now several varieties of outcrossed Bulldogs (none recognised by the Kennel Club) that can boast a more moderate phenotype and improved health (notably the Leavitt Bulldog which sets a particularly high bar health-wise).

Leavitt Bulldogs     ©Jessica Gilmour/Lonsdale Bulldogs

But of course traditional breeders would rather stick pins in their eyes than cross-breed - and the two dogs above would be considered mongrels by many; no matter that they can run and breathe freely.

Another option could be to... nope, can't think of one. If there isn't enough genetic variety within the breed, outcrossing is actually the only solution.

Leading brachycephalic researcher Dr Rowena Packer (Royal Veterinary College) says the study is a game-changer.

"Our previous research at RVC found that several morphological traits that are actively selected for in this and other breeds, including short muzzles and wrinkled skin, are associated with quality of life limiting health conditions. These problems include lifelong respiratory difficulties and painful corneal ulcers.

"We recommended that breeders should move away from extreme body shapes, and instead select for 'moderate' dogs (with longer muzzles, smaller eyes and less wrinkled skin) within their own breed to avoid associated breathing, skin, eye, reproductive and dental problems.

"However, this recommendation was with the proviso that there was sufficient phenotypic and genetic diversity in the breed, that these new selective pressures would not lead to more problems. This study has demonstrated that the required genetic diversity is unfortunately not present, and thus to obtain healthier body shapes we should strongly consider outcrossing with another, less extreme breed.

"These reforms could allow the Bulldog to see, breathe, eat, birth and move freely, uninhibited by the body shape that we have chosen for them. We need to put health before looks or breed 'purity' to protect the welfare of these dogs. Members of the public who are particularly interested in buying a Bulldog should consider the health problems associated with this breed in its current form, and explore other less extreme breeds with fewer health problems."

I fear, however, that Bulldog breeders will stick their heels in, claiming that their beloved breed is sacrosanct and that everyone is ganging up on them. The researchers will be accused of being secretly funded by PETA; any Kennel Club that acts will be deemed overtaken by animal rights activists and any vet that joins in the cry for reform will be an unreasonable militant who has "got it in for Bulldogs". BVA President Sean Wensley, who appeared on BBC Breakfast this morning highlighting the issues is being widely slated on one Bulldog Facebook group. "He is an ill-informed moron" wrote one commenter. "He needs a good slap" wrote another.

A statement in response to the new study from the UK Kennel Club's Aimee Llewellyn-Zaidi is predictably within the box. First, she suggests that a bigger study is needed in order to get a true picture, saying:

“It would be very interesting to use genomic tools to investigate the bulldog breed on a global level, as it is well-established that breeds that have developed in isolation over time can be utilised to improve over-all genetic diversity and selection for positive characteristics, on a global level.
She goes on to suggest there might be sufficient genetic diversity in the breed in the UK:
"In 2015, a paper published in Canine Genetics and Epidemiology summarised the research undertaken using Kennel Club registered dogs, that estimated the rate of loss of genetic diversity within all 215 breeds of pedigree dog over a 35 year period, and provided information to guide a future sustainable breeding strategy. Latterly in the individual report for the Bulldog the rate of inbreeding declined, implying a slowdown in the rate of loss of diversity, and modest replenishment of genetic diversity which may be through the use of imported animals."

There's a problem with this. All the Bulldogs in the world descend from a small handful of UK founders - and not that long ago either. While it is true that different geographical populations, through a process known as genetic drift, can be a little different genetically it is unlikely to offer much hope in this case. Although most of the dogs sampled in the new study were American, the study did include a handful of dogs from elsewhere (Finland, Canada, Austria, Czechoslovakia, Hungary and Argentina) and found no significant genetic difference.

That said, I can see nothing to be lost by the Bulldog peeps in the UK getting together to donate blood to a further study to see if there is any more genetic diversity in the UK population. Perhaps this is something the KC could help fund?

Professor Pedersen is doubtful that there is much more diversity to be found - but says he would welcome such a move.

"We have done genetic diversity testing on a number of other breeds and have found in every instance that we could identify over 90% of the known diversity with as few as 50-150 dogs," he says. "The more genetically diverse a breed, the more individuals that have to be tested to encompass the existing diversity and the less diverse a breed, the fewer individuals that need to be tested. We are confident that we have identified most of the existing genetic diversity of the English bulldog, but welcome a much wider screening of dogs around the world to identify small bits of diversity that might remain to be discovered.

However, Professor Pedersen disputes the KC's claims that its research showed that Bulldog might be seeing a "modest replenishment of genetic diversity which may be through the use of imported animals"...

He says:

"The [2015 paper by Tom Lewis] confused inbreeding with genetic diversity. The author concluded that dog breeders in the UK have been doing less inbreeding over the last two decades than in the previous decades. The conclusion was that this caused an increase in genetic diversity, when all that it said was that breeders were being more careful in selecting sires and dams that were as unrelated as possible. You cannot increase genetic diversity across a breed by stopping inbreeding because the amount of genetic diversity in any breed is fixed at the time the registry is closed to outside dogs. Therefore, every breed starts with a known amount of diversity and that diversity will either be maintained or diminished by artificial genetic bottlenecks such as inbreeding to a popular show winning sire. You cannot increase diversity of a closed breed without outcrossing. [Prof Pedersen's emphasis] Therefore, dog breeders in the UK are doing a better job maintaining the genetic diversity that currently exists in their breed by avoiding inbreeding, but they are certainly not increasing genetic diversity."

Indeed. And if the KC data shows otherwise it's likely because it only records 3-5 generations of pedigree info for imports, giving a false impression of unrelatedness.

Tom Lewis is a geneticist working with the Kennel Club. He was interviewed today by the BBC's World Service and, encouragingly, did not dismiss outcrossing out of hand. Have a listen here.

Will add more info/statements/responses as I get them so please keep checking back.

In the meantime, here's a clip from the discussion on BBC breakfast in the UK this morning accompanied with an ever-growing number of angry comments from Bulldog breeders and owners defending their breed. Just posted there is this comment from Dr David Sargan and the "brachy" research team at Cambridge University.

"My colleagues Jane Ladlow, Lajos Kalmar, Nai-chieh Liu, I myself, and others at the University of Cambridge have been working with breeders of UK bulldogs and other short faced breeds, doing both genetic and clinical analyses related to one specific problem, the respiratory distress that many of these dogs, (and dogs of other short-faced breeds) suffer from. Our findings agree with those published by Prof Pedersen and his colleagues in that there is little scope for breeding back to a less extreme skull shape whilst staying within the registered population. This is likely to be true of many other aspects of conformation and temperament as well, as we also find large regions without genetic variation in all dogs of the breed. We would agree that the extreme changes in the conformation and appearance (such as the excessive skin rolls in these breeds) do account for many of their disease problems. 

"Fortunately despite the similarities of appearance, not all dogs suffer from the respiratory disorder and although our studies are not yet complete we now have pretty strong evidence that there are still multiple genetic variations between those that do and those that don’t suffer from the disease. But we do not know whether this is also true for other aspects of conformation and appearance related diseases.  

"In summary, I believe that the swiftest way to remove these diseases would be to outbreed to a dog type that does not have to the same degree the conformational features that cause the health problems referred to in this programme. This would certainly be our group’s preferred option. But over the last few years there has been a lot of advice available directed at these health problems and attemting to reduce the popularity of these dogs. What there has not been is the expensive advertising campaign that could bring these problems to public notice. Without it the advice has not got through to the public. We are therefore looking at how we might reduce the problem more slowly by offering advice on how to breed for healthier dogs using the remaining genetic variation within the breed."

All well and good but the problem remains that brachycepahlia doesn't just result in respiratory problems.  There is a huge number of other consequences, including eye injuries, skin-fold issues and a mouth full of crowded, misaligned teeth that is a veterinary dentist's nightmare. Extremely unpleasant for the dogs, too. At the end of the day... we need dogs with longer muzzles.

• 14:30pm: strong press release from the British Veterinary Association.

Vets urge revision of breed standards to protect animal welfare

Following the release of new research data by Niels Pedersen from the Centre of Companion Animal Health, University of California, into breed health of the English bulldog, the British Veterinary Association (BVA) has issued the following statement:

Sean Wensley, President of the British Veterinary Association, said:
“The research released today reflects the seriousness of the health problems associated with English bulldogs that our members are seeing in practice. Revision of breed standards, to include evidence-based limits on physical features such as muzzle shortness, and full consideration of other approaches such as outcrossing, are now needed to ensure high risk breeds, such as the English bulldog, do not continue to suffer unnecessarily.

“Vets are reporting concerning trends in dog health and welfare linked to the rise in ownership of brachycephalic breeds, such as bulldogs, and we are unequivocal in the need for all those with roles to play – including vets, breeders, breed societies, the pet-buying public as well as others – to take action to combat the health problems that brachycephalic breeds experience due to extreme conformation. These issues include severe lifelong breathing difficulties, corneal ulcers, skin disease, a screw-shaped tail which is linked to painful spine abnormalities, and the inability to give birth naturally. As part of their pre-purchase research, prospective dog owners should consider the health harms perpetuated in dogs by purchasing brachycephalic breeds and choose a healthier alternative breed, or crossbreed, instead, and local veterinary practices are ideally placed to give this advice. Brachycephalic dogs should not be seen as cute or desirable, rather as dogs predisposed to a lifetime of poor health, and English bulldogs should not be hailed as a national symbol for the UK where animal welfare is strongly valued.

“Vets have a duty to always prioritise the best interests of their pet patients, which, for affected animals, can involve performing surgical procedures to correct conformational disorders.  They have a concurrent duty to be part of initiatives that aim to address the health and welfare of a breed beyond the individual affected animal. This is why BVA promotes the importance of vets submitting data on caesarean sections and conformation-altering surgery to the Kennel Club, to improve the future of dog health and welfare. We recognise and take seriously vets’ responsibility to develop and contribute to all such initiatives that aim to address the health and welfare of these animals and we will continue to work with all stakeholders who can positively influence and improve the health and welfare of brachycephalic breeds”