Tuesday, February 28, 2012

Pure Breeding Is Destroying Our Dogs

We know a lot more about genetics and inheritance than we used to 150 years ago. But, people still breed dogs as if none of that science ever happened. The current registry system for pure breeding needs to change, or we will see all our favorite breeds wrecked.

It is stupid to keep breeding the same dogs, and their relatives, to the same dogs and relatives. Such practices increase neonatal genetic mortality; reduce fertility in the adult dogs; cements genetic flaws throughout a breed; reduces immunity; perpetuates birth defects; causes unnecessary suffering; causes desirable traits to sometimes be lost; increases injurious and lethal mutations; increases the costs of dog ownership; and ultimately is transferred into heartache as people's pets suffer behavioral and medical problems.

I have no idea how to fix this problem. You'd think the AKC (American Kennel Club) would take steps to preserve its reason to exist, by promoting modern genetics to improve the lot of all purebred dogs. The primary value of pure breeding is to create a predictable dog that people want, and would spend extra to purchase, and make extra efforts to preserve and care for. But, they don't. 

Why don't the breed clubs get together and hire geneticists to devise healthy breeding programs? Every breed could benefit from this. Bad traits could be eliminated. Good temperament and health could be infused. And the resulting dogs would be better dogs. 

One reason we have so many unwanted dogs is because they don't live up to the ideal descriptions we read about. Dogs that should be healthy... are not. Dogs that are supposed to be good with kids, highly trainable, willing to please, and able to do useful tasks... are not. And there is less and less difference between the capabilities of pure bred dogs and mixed bred dogs. Human nature is such that if something is considered highly valuable, they will take greater efforts to protect that thing, whether it is a prized home, collector car, winning race horse... or dog. In my world, dog training, I find that people tend to spend more on training with pure bred dogs than mixed bred dogs. That, I believe, proves my point. Mixed bred dogs fill the shelters, seen as dogs that can be thrown away. It may not be morally right, or objectively true, but it is what people do.

I have believed for a long time that part of the solution to reducing the number of abandoned dogs is to increase the value and utility of the dogs that are bred. You don't toss away something valuable. And people desire things that are valuable, too, and don't leave them to go to waste. No race horse owner lets a million dollar horse wander the streets, get picked up by animal control to be put in a filthy shelter, to then be put down on Monday morning at 5 am.

Somehow there needs to be a change. Dog owners need to be educated to take a stand, and breeders and their organizations need to be proactive to protect the desirable traits of domestication. We give animal rights organizations and dog haters more reason to put restrictions on the ownership of dogs by allowing this mess to continue. Their arguments that too many dogs suffer are valid. Their arguments that yippy, biting, vicious, annoying dogs are making people's lives miserable are valid, too. It is too hard to find a great dog these days. It really doesn't need to be this way. 

No law will solve this problem. Not licensing laws, breeding laws, bans on pit bulls, dog bite laws, or any other thing. We need to be breeding better dogs so people will see the difference, spend more, care more, and there is once again prestige for owning a certain type of dog. All of that is being lost, and our dogs are suffering.

Domestication can be lost through random breeding, letting dogs breed unrestricted in the streets. Domestication can also be lost by the current system of pure breeding, which is slowly eliminating all the desirable traits of the dog.

Something's got to change... 

"Again, the kingdom of heaven is like unto a merchant man, seeking goodly pearls: Who, when he had found one pearl of great price, went and sold all that he had, and bought it."

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