Breeding for appearance

There has been a lot of coverage lately about trends in dog breeding, the “new standards” that are being established for the aesthetics for certain dog breeds inside and outside of the show community.

Some of these new standards are great. The elimination of cropped tails and docked ears in breeds like Doberman’s and Great Danes is wonderful, these operations on young puppies can be painful and traumatic and the “training” of cropped ears is a lengthy and uncomfortable procedure.

I witnessed this first hand about 30 years ago when my then boss bought a Great Dane and had its ears cropped. For weeks after, it was a daily task to re-tape the ears into the desired position to make them “heal” into the sharply pointed up stance that was long associated with the breed. Using rolls and rolls of medical tape and assorted props like Styrofoam cups (between the ears to make them stand up) to tampons or pool noodle cores (inside the ears to make them cylindrical), this was a procedure the pup did not appreciate, but like a good dog, sat through it obediently. In the end, the ears did not heal right (none of us doing the taping were trained or qualified, and there was no Youtube to show us how), and it was obvious.

Surgically altering a dog to make it cosmetically appealing was normal back in the day, thankfully it is banned now in most places, and breed standards for show do not penalize non altered dogs (at least not officially).

Unfortunately, a new scourge is upon the dog breeding community, and that is overbreeding for certain physical appearance. Yes, this is generally what dog breeding is all about, there is a breed standard, and breeders select dogs to breed that will produce pups that try to fit that standard perfectly. The problem is, these standards are not defined like you would define the legal measurements for a racing car, where an inch out here or there disqualifies you. So, judges are free to interpret the standard, and can influence what breeders produce as well. A dog that wins in America might not do well in Europe, or even in a different show in the same city, depending on how each judge interprets the standard.

Here is an excerpt from the AKC standards for a French Bulldog’s nose: The muzzle broad, deep and well laid back; the muscles of the cheeks well developed. The stop well defined, causing a hollow groove between the eyes with heavy wrinkles forming a soft roll over the extremely short nose; nostrils broad with a well-defined line between them., the judges are judging based on their personal interpretation of the breed standards. Most breeders are interested in breeding dogs that meet the breed standard, and are also healthy and suited to long lives of making more puppies to follow in their champion pawprints. Also, champion breeders will usually inject new blood into their programmes, other champion stock with fresh genetics.

But now, we are seeing breeders who are not interested in showing, but in some cases, interested in creating new caricatures of that breed standard, coming up with cute names or titles for the creations they come up with. And, while they obviously want to breed healthy puppies, in many cases that is secondary to achieving the look they are trying for. That special look is something they will be able to market, and will command top dollar. Many do not track genetics, or freshen their lines with new stock.

We have seen it with the doodle craze, with some “designer dogs” selling for more than purebreds. Fortunately most of those are crosses tend to invigorate the gene pool, unless its cross x cross, which can get back to inbreeding. This newer trend is bending breeds into a new shape, by inbreeding dogs that have what would be disqualifying traits by breed standard, strictly for a unique appearance.

Unfortunately, inbreeding for appearance, either for show or for marketing, not only creates the desired appearance, but can also re-enforce underlying issues associated with a breed. Our current Frenchie Leia has had multiple operations to address issues with her breathing, our previous Frenchie Stitch had to be put down at 4 years old due to issues with her neck/spine related to how the breed gets its look.

The “Adopt, don’t shop” mantra has been used for many years by rescues, and I agree wholeheartedly with that sentiment, where it is possible for the adopter. In some cases, though, a specific breed may address a need or desire of a pet owner, and they will shop. My hope is that when people shop, they look for quality breeders, interested in health ahead of appearance, and put the pup ahead of the fashion or trend.

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