When buying a puppy it is essential that you read about the many different dog breeds and select one which is best suited to you and your lifestyle. It is also important to know the problems with buying a particular breed dog. The below was an assignment I completed in argument for the case that breeding pedigree dogs is a welfare issue. I have posted this to make people aware of some of the issues if they are thinking of buying a pedigree puppy.

While acknowledging the major contribution made by dog breeders and dog-breeding organizations in fulfilling the important need of humans for animal companions, breeders and scientists have long been aware that all is not well in the world of companion animal breeding (McGreevy and Nicholas 1999).

Almost every animal that has ever lived has carried at least one deleterious recessive gene, and the average carried by an individual dog can be as high as 20 (McGreevy & Nicholas 1999). Therefore, even without pressure from breed standards, many breeders would still find themselves producing animals with serious defects as a consequence of closed studbooks (McGreevy 2007).

The dog is currently the ‘‘leading species’’ in terms of the number of genetic disorders or traits (Arendonk and Liinamo 2005). Today, dogs are increasingly being bred for their looks and are required to conform to an ideal ‘breed standard’ of appearance. Such breed standards often involve exaggerated and unnatural physical characteristics that are detrimental to the dogs’ health and welfare. These include extremes of size, backs that are too long in proportion to the legs, flattened faces and abnormally short jaws and noses, loose skin and skin folds and bulging eyes (Advocates for Animals, 2006).

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In the show ring dogs are judged almost exclusively on their morphological qualities. It seems short-sighted to allow this sole emphasis to persist. This is critical since, in essence, the only temperament test show dogs have to pass is not biting the judge (McGreevy 2007). Breeders compete with one another to see how well they can produce phenotypes that conform to a written standard including traits that have questionable welfare benefits (McGreevy and Nicholas 1999). Many breeds of companion animals have inherited disorders that may impair quality of life (QoL) to the extent that it is unkind to keep them alive (McGreevy 2007).

Serious welfare problems in commercial agriculture are the outcome of a lack of balance in genetic selection in conventional livestock breeding programmes. Breeding resulted in Belgian Blue cattle unable to reproduce naturally without an unacceptable degree of pain resulting in many requiring a caesarean (FAWC Report 2004).

Horse breed genetic disorders some of which are fatal include hyperkalemic periodic paralysis (HYPP) in Quarter Horses, traceable back to the stallion Impressive (St.Martin 1997). Leathal white foal syndrome (congenital intestinal aganglionosis) mostly affects Paint horses although Quarter Horse, Thoroughbred, half- Arabian, and Miniature Horse foals have also been affected. Lavender foal syndrome a lethal syndrome affecting Arabian foals. Junctional epidermolysis bullosa affects Belgian draft horses causing erosions and ulceration of the skin and mucous membranes (Schott et. al 2005).

Canine inherited disorders range from orthopaedic problems that expose dogs to arthritic pain and possibly the distress of corrective surgery, to compromised airways in brachiocephalics that may create frustration by reducing their ability to play (McGreevy 2007). It has been argued (McGreevy & Nicolas 1999) that pedigree dog breeding faces five major problems:

1. Some breed standards and selection practices run counter to dog welfare.
2. Insufficient selection pressure seems to be exerted on some traits that would improve animal well-being and produce dogs better suited to modern environments.
3. The incidence of certain inherited defects in some breeds is unacceptably high.
4. The dearth of registered animals of certain breeds in particular countries makes it extremely difficult for breeders to avoid mating close relatives.
5. There may be financial disincentives for veterinarians to reduce the incidence of inherited diseases because they are paid to diagnose and treat them (McGreevy 2007).

Common diseases pedigree dogs suffer from include:
• Hereditary hip and elbow dysplasia e.g. German Shepherd Dog, Golden Retriever
• Inherited eye diseases e.g. Pekinese, Basset Hound
• Heart and respiratory disease e.g. Pug, Cavalier King Charles Spaniel
• Breed-related skin diseases e.g. West Highland White Terrier, Cocker Spaniel
• Inherited skeletal problems of small and long-backed breeds e.g. Dachshund, Chihuahua
• Bone tumours in large and giant dog breeds e.g. Rottweiler, Great Dane
• Hereditary deafness e.g. Doberman, Border Collie
(Advocates for Animals, 2006).

A high frequency of elbow arthrosis (54.2%) exists in the German Rottweiler population (Beuing et. al. 2000). There appears to be an association between coat colour and aggression in selfcoloured (McGreevy and Nicholas 1999). In cocker Spaniels (Podberscek & Serpell 1996); there definitely an association between pigmentation and neurological defects, eg deafness and eye disorders in merle dogs (McGreevy and Nicholas 1999).

Motor patterns that are favoured can sometimes be over-selected resulting in compulsive tendencies. Border Collies have been selected to ‘show eye’ (stare) and many now demonstrate a fixed stare at blank walls (McGreevy and Nicholas 1999).

Selection for a combination of morphological traits has potentially compromised some of the standard means of canine communication. Old English Sheepdogs have difficulties raising their hackles, displaying bared teeth, delivering fixed stares and wagging their tails (McGreevy and Nicholas 1999). This may be associated with problems related to socialization.
Dog fanciers are showing an interest in having dingoes appear in shows. The creation of a written breed standard for animals that have succeeded in a hostile environment for thousands of yearrs speaks of either considerable naivety or arrogance (McGreevy and Nicholas 1999).

Selection for what humans regard as desirable traits has repeatedly involved the retention of juvenile morphological and behavioural characteristics in adult examples of a breed. We have made them dependent then left them in isolation and so they vocalize when left alone. The use of anti-bark collars in such dogs seems to represent a real threat to welfare (McGreevy and Nicholas 1999).

Where genes can be passed from one generation to the next only with the intervention of a veterinarian who performs a caesarean section to overcome relative foetal oversize, it can be argued that both dam and offspring have failed an essential performance test. Unfortunately, there appear to be no market forces to discourage canine caesarean births. On the contrary, it is common for both breeder and veterinarian to benefit financially from this practice, because the price of the surgery is passed onto the purchasers of the pups (McGreevy and Nicholas 1999).


Irresponsible and unethical practices in breeding emphasise the need for better regulation of the pedigree breeding business and showing standards.

The work for which many breeds were intended has all but disappeared, replaced by restricted exercise in inner cities with owners present for brief parts of their life. However, selecting against problems such as separation related distress could mean selecting for reduced dependence or even augmented self-confidence leading to dominance problems for pet owners (McGreevy and Nicholas 1999).

After breeders have taken into account the many traits incorporated into breed standards, there is very little selection pressure remaining to be devoted to traits that are directly related to welfare and adaptability to modem environments (McGreevy and Nicholas 1999).


Advocates for Animals Statement and Press Release (2006) The Price of a Pedigree, (Online) Available from http://www.advocatesforanimals.org/press/2006/060309A.html (Accessed 10th March 2008)

Arendonk J.A.M. and Liinamo A.E. (2005) Animal breeding and genomics: Perspectives for dog breeding, The Veterinary Journal, 170, pp. 3–5

Beuging, R. Mues, C.H. Tellhem, B. Erhardt, (2000) Prevalence and inheritance of canine elbow dysplasia in German Rottweiler, J. Anim. Breed. Genet. 117, pp. 375–383

FAWC Report on the Welfare Implications of Animal Breeding and Breeding Technologies in Commercial Agriculture. June 2004

McGreevy, P. D. (2007) Breeding for quality of life, Animal Welfare, 16, pp.125-128

McGreevy, P.D. and Nicholas. F.W. (1999) SOME PRACTICAL SOLUTIONS TO WELFARE PROBLEMS IN DOG BREEDING, Animal Welfare, 8, pp. 329-341

Schott, H.C. and Petersen, A.D. (2005) Cutaneous Markers of Disorders Affecting Young Horses, Clin Tech Equine Pract 4, pp. 314-323

St.Martin, K. (1997) GENETIC ROULETTE – CHANCE OR CHOICE? (Online) Available from
http://www.equine-reproduction.com/articles/genetic.shtml (Accessed 10th March 2008)

Appendix A:

Pedigree Dog Breed Current Breed Standard Breed Problems
Pug Eyes that are ‘very large, globular in shape’ (Kennel Club, London 1994; FCI Standard No 253) Exophthalmosis and exposure keratitis
British Bulldog ‘skull should be very large – the larger the better’ (Pre-1987 Kennel Club, London Large foetal head size commonly leads to dystocia (difficulties in birthing)
British Bulldog curved ‘roach’ backs Sometimes born with twisted spines, ie hemivertebrae.
Dachshunds (Wire-haired), ‘the whole trunk should be long’ (Pre-1987 Kennel Club, London) prevalence of prolapsed intervertebral discs
Shar Pei (Kennel Club, London 1994; FCI Standard No 309) ‘loose skin’ and a ‘frowning expression’, but the ‘function of the eyeball or lid [should] in no way [be] disturbed by surrounding skin, folds and hair’, and dogs should be ‘free from entropion’ (rolled-in eyelids). The combination of loose skin and a frowning expression is likely to predispose to entropion.
Puli ‘long hair [that] overshadows [the] eyes like an umbrella’ (Kennel Club, London 1987), the same breed standard describes a temperament that is ‘wary of strangers’ Cutting the hair that obstructs a dog’s vision can improve its temperament (Houpt 1991).
Cocker Spaniels (American), (American Kennel Club 1992; FCI Standard No 167) a skull that is ’rounded but not exaggerated with no tendency toward flatness; the eyebrows are clearly defined with a pronounced stop’ (ie a pronounced junction between the nasal planum and frontal bone). Scott and Fuller (1965) cranial morphology has a direct relationship with brain dysfunction. Citing post-mortem evidence of mild hydrocephaly in Cocker Spaniels (American), they conjectured that, ‘in selecting for skull shape, the breeders accidentally selected for a brain defect’.
Boston Terrier (American Kennel Club 1990; FCI Standard No 140) ‘short headed’ and to possess a ‘square head and jaw’ with a muzzle that ‘is short, square, wide and deep, shorter in length than in depth; not exceeding in length approximately one-third of the length of the skull’ . Brachiocephaly is prompted by the standard traits that are best regarded as defects have actually been included in breed standards.
Miniature Poodle and Italian Greyhound fine legs Susceptible to fracture as a sequel to jumping. The unusual conformation of their radii relative to the mass of their bodies, increases the risk that these dogs will damage themselves while performing an innate behaviour (jumping).