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"Pedigree Dogs Exposed” in the U.K. and The Today Show attacked purebred dogs with Animal Rights rhetoric and totally without science or genetic basis.

Read and decide who knows dogs, TV’s talking heads or purebreed dog breeders and geneticists with clinical experience?

Donna Noland The Dog Press 01|12|10 / In December 2009, NBC’s Today Show aired a segment on the British production of “Pedigree Dogs Exposed”, the documentary which aired in the UK in August 2008. BBC America aired the piece that same night. The basic premise was that the majority of purebred dogs are diseased and full of genetic problems that create heartbreak and financial ruin for their owners. Even worse, the broadcast insinuated that the majority of dog breeders knowingly and deliberately breed this type of animal for nothing more than a hand full of brightly colored ribbons

Not to be outdone, The Today Show interviewed Dr. James Serpell, a humane ethicist from the University of Pennsylvania. Their segment opened with the comment that dogs were being bred to death in the quest for the perfect purebred dog. To his credit, at one point Dr. Serpell made the astute observation that “of course, [there are] many dogs that are perfectly fine” but that avenue of inquiry was not further explored by the host as it was not in keeping with the charges made by the British documentary.

Purebred dog breeders refute “Pedigree Dogs Exposed”

Comments ranged from “this is the toughest thing I’ve ever had to watch…..if we don’t move away from our shallow standards by which we judge everything, including our furry friends, we will all share a special place in hell and deservedly so….always pound puppies!” to this: “I have owned many dogs over the years, starting with dogs that belonged to my family when I was a small child. Every purebred dog that I purchased from responsible breeders has been a healthy, trainable, long-lived companion. I did careful research, selected a knowledgeable breeder, and paid for the type of dog that best fit my lifestyle…”

Purebred dogs are genetically superior to mixed breed dogs with unpredictable health and personality genesAnd therein lays the tale (tail).

Are there people out there breeding unhealthy dogs? Yes. Are they doing it deliberately to make money or win ribbons? Yes, some are. Does the dog fancy recognize this? Yes. So much so that almost every club of every breed has a written code of ethics for its breeders. That’s why hundreds of thousands of dollars are donated every year by reputable breeders and responsible pet owners to breed health committees to research the origins of particular health problems and eradicate them.

Hands-on dog people know what John Q doesn’t: breeding animals is a science, but it’s not exact; and, it’s also an art. Any domestic animal, or plant for that matter, is selectively bred for particular genetic traits. Good breeders try their best to only get the “good stuff” from their litters: better conformation, better temperament, better health, better brain, a better TOTAL DOG. Genes being what they are – which is to say still a mystery to even the most brilliant geneticists – that doesn’t always happen. Still, they soldier on, ever mindful that the object is to establish and maintain stable traits that can be passed on to succeeding generations; breeding “the best to the best” to develop and enhance their chosen breed. Do they know that the gene pool is limited in size and therefore poses certain health risks? Sure they do. That is why they spend so much money on health screenings for each dog in their breeding programs.

What about “hybrid vigor” health?

This is one of the main arguments against purebred dogs. (Cattle, chickens, horses are never mentioned.) Proponents of “hybrid vigor” maintain that a crossbred dog will always be healthier than a purebred dog and therefore there should be no breeding of purebred animals. There are two problems with this:

  1. In order to be a hybrid, an animal must be the product of two different SPECIES of animals; for example, a donkey and a horse produce a mule. All domestic dogs are the same species ((Canis familiaris). Crossing BREEDS of dogs does not produce a hybrid animal, so there is no such thing as “hybrid vigor” in dogs
  2. Crossing two breeds can give you more than one outcome. You may produce the best traits of both breeds, but you may produce the worst, or something in between the two. And there’s no way to tell beforehand. Any breeding has a chance of producing undesirable and/or unhealthy traits, whether it’s a planned breeding between 2 top ranked show dogs or the two backyard dogs down the street.

Mixed breed dogs have more varied genetic make up than do purebred dogs, but this in no way signifies greater health. That Labradoodle designer dog you’re looking at may be cute, but he’s not necessarily healthier than a well-bred Labrador or Poodle. He’s really just a mutt that was produced by two purebreds whose ancestries you might be able to verify, for a price... As Dr. George A. Padgett, the well-respected veterinary pathologist and canine geneticist from Michigan State University, pointed out in his 1997 articles in “Dog World” magazine, there are over 102 genetic issues that cross bred dogs can have. So, while it may appear to casual observers that purebred dogs have more health problems, that’s because purebred dog breeders focus on health matters in their respective breeds. Therefore more problems are publicly recognized and fought. Mixed breed dogs have plenty of health problems too but nobody recognizes them for what they are because nobody’s really looking or keeping track of them. As the American Kennel Club states on its online Canine Health Resource Center:

“It is important to note there is no comprehensive study of genetic diseases in the general population of dogs. Thus, while the purebred community diligently and scientifically monitors canine health issues, there is no such corresponding or comparative effort concerning mixed breeds or dogs in general. Therefore there is no definitive evidence of the superior health of mixed breed dogs.”

Perhaps the next time the Today Show wants to talk about the art and science of breeding dogs, it should talk to the people who actually do it. They should interview purebred dog breeders who eat, sleep and live in their whelping boxes and kennels; the ones who cry when that perfectly formed newborn puppy doesn’t make it despite all attempts to keep it alive. These are the people who are walking the talk. I wonder if Professor Serpell has birthed any puppies lately?

Donna Noland’s blog #122


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What do COWBOY ETHICS have to do with politics, animal welfare vs. animal rights, and standing up for our rights as dog owners? Noland’s heroes will get your attention!


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