I want to spend some time now looking at the specific situation with the Pekingese standard, because the changes made to it are the distillation of the new direction the Kennel Club has decided to take in its (regrettable, in my opinion) response to the concerns raised in the Pedigree Dogs Exposed program.
Pekingese were the first to fall in what is going to be a wholesale razing of standards because they have the misfortune of combining all of the mutations (and they are mutations, that much is true) that the program highlighted.
Pekes have a brachycephalic face, they are achondroplastic, they are often gotten pregnant via AI and given c-sections, they have great quantity of coat, they have a tail up over the back, they have long spines in proportion to their height, they have heavy shoulders and forequarters, and (let’s face it) they walk funny. For an agenda that focuses on appearance as an indicator of health, they’re walking around with big red targets on their backs.
What I want to do first is explore exactly how tortured a typical Peke’s life is, and then move on to what the implications of this move are going to be for all registered dogs. I don’t think I’m exaggerating or overreacting when I say that this will have very profound and very far-reaching effects throughout dogdom.
Pedigree Dogs Exposed made so many terrible assertions about Pekingese dogs that many viewers probably wondered how on earth the dogs could even make it through the day. But the Peke is actually, in the grand scheme of things, a pretty hardy little dog. They run like crazy-yes, even the ones with the show-quality faces-they jump, they play fight, and they live terribly long lives, well into their teens. You need to stop and realize what that means-they have a lifespan between four and six years longer than the average Golden Retriever. Four to six years longer than Flat-coats. Six years longer than the average Great Dane. They are stubborn, charming, demanding dogs with a fiercely devoted following, and if you buy one you are much more likely to have it die of old age than anything else.
The health problems that occur in Pekingese dogs do relate to the dog’s face. A proportion of the dogs will need soft palate surgery, and probably more should get it than currently do. The poorly bred dogs, whose breeders are not paying attention to this issue, can also have stenotic nares, where the nostrils curl inward and restrict free breathing. Labored breathing affects the health adversely, (eventually) causing tracheal problems and heart problems.
The question is Does this need disqualify the Peke from existing? I would strongly argue that the answer is no.
Palate surgery is one day in the life of the dog; it is not a risky surgery and when done with a small laser does not even require stitches. Stenotic nares surgery, where it is necessary, requires only two sutures. These procedures, alone or in combination, totally solve the breathing issue and resolve any discomfort.
What the Kennel Club should have done, in my opinion, is immediately respond to criticism about SHAPE by emphasizing QUALITY OF LIFE. Pekes generally have an extremely high one. This is not a breed in crisis.
What needs to be changed, I would argue, is that breeders should stop any form of insisting that the face is not an issue. They must instead fully acknowledge it and take responsibility for making sure it never affects the dogs’ quality of life. If breeders established as a standard best practice that puppies be kept until the palate could be evaluated, and that any puppy or young dog receive any needed surgery before being placed, without exception, they would do a great deal of good for the individual dogs and for the image of the breed.
This would almost certainly necessitate a longer period of time before the puppies could go to homes; a possible “fix” could be the use of a palate deposit or similar, where part of the purchase price could be held in anticipation of the surgery. If the dog needs the surgery, it is “free” or at a much reduced cost to the owner; if the dog does not need the surgery everyone goes on his or her way with a happy and healthy dog.
Why is this so terribly important, and why should every breed club take notice and strongly consider allying with the Pekingese contingent to fight this?
Let’s look at the mutations that were targeted in the television program, and look at how the Kennel Club changed the standard to move toward erasing exaggerations in EACH area. Most people think that the face is the only thing the KC cares about. This is entirely false and you’re asking to have your standard changed underneath you if you don’t pay attention. Complacency is a VERY BAD IDEA.
Face: If we take the necessity for soft palate resection or stenotic nares to be criteria for a needed change in the standard, EVERY brachycephalic breed is in danger. Every single one of them, even those with as much muzzle as a Boxer or American Cocker, needs tracheal surgery on a more or less regular basis. LENGTHENING THE PEKE MUZZLE WILL NOT FIX THIS. This is SO IMPORTANT to understand! Let me say it again:
If the necessity for palate surgery is the criterion, nothing less than a full (same length as backskull) muzzle will suffice.
That means the Kennel Club can be expected to target the following breeds:
American Cocker Spaniel
English Toy Spaniel (what the UK calls the King Charles Spaniel)
Legs: The Kennel Club specifically changed the leg length on the Peke. The Pedigree Dogs Exposed program called for an end to the breeding of achondroplastic dogs (who are “mutated” and “deformed”).
This means you will see pressure on, if not changes to the standard for,
Basset Bleu De Gascogne
Basset Fauve De Bretagne
Basset Griffon Vendeen
Dachshund (all six varieties)
Glen of Imaal Terrier
Pembroke Welsh Corgi
Cardigan Welsh Corgi
Wrinkle: This was specifically mentioned as a problematic mutation. Look for targets painted on these breeds:
Dogue De Bordeaux
Coat: is already being radically changed in the Pekingese standard. Others that share the excessive coat mutation:
The Bichon group: Bichon, Havanese, Bolognese, Maltese, Coton
The hairless breeds: Chinese Crested, Mexican Hairless
Eye size: The large round eye is being changed. Other breeds with similar eyes (that are not already targeted under the anti-brachycephalic language):
Cavalier King Charles Spaniel
Thick bone/heavy forefront: Most affected breeds are already noted here under another mutation, but I think the Clumber Spaniel could fall into this category
Commonly bred by AI/commonly delivered by c-section: Because it is not recognized that these decisions are made by breeders who are nervous about disease, need to get a breeding done in a short amount of time, and won’t tolerate losing puppies, this will also be perceived as a health issue. Expect most of the toy breeds, the short-bodied muscular dogs, and many of the very large breeds to be blamed.
Common congenital issues: Now here’s where we’re going to really get in trouble – as if we haven’t already. The RSPCA has already made the case that deliberately breeding ANY dog with a congenital issue or with the possibility of passing along a congenital issue is “pain-breeding.” Think about this very carefully. Is your breed currently fighting an issue? Goldens and Flatcoats and Rotties and Boxers and Bernese and Danes with cancers and heart problems; Collies with CEA; Poodles with SA; breeds with storage diseases, breeds with low puppy vitality, breeds with Addisons and Cushings. Let’s make the pile higher: Dalmatians with deafness; Keeshonds with thyroid disorders; Dobermans with von Willebrands and color dilution alopedia; the fifty breeds at increased risk for bloat.
I know of very few, if any, breeds that do not have one or two issues that are more common than in the background population.
Unless we are very clear on the benefits that deliberate purebred development brings – that yes, your Smooth Fox Terrier is more likely to have patellar problems than average, but is healthier and more predictable in these other four ways – we are going to find ourselves playing a very uncomfortable game of defense against people who do not like us, who do not think dogs ought to be deliberately bred at all, and who view purpose-breeding that changes body types as immoral and quite possibly illegal.
The other thing nobody’s talking about is what this decision and the changes in the standard are going to do with the UK Pekingese. The United Kingdom has historically been a repository of some of the very best genes in purebred dogs. They REALLY know how to breed dogs. For such a small country, they have an incredibly huge number of dogs being exported to all corners of the world to enrich and better the gene pools and conformation of many breeds. The herding dogs, of course; the Labrador and Sussex and Clumber and other sporting dogs; many of the giants (I absolutely love the UK Danes; they have the fronts and shoulders that put the US dogs to shame); etc.– all of them exist there in an excellence of form and function that exist very few other places.
The changing of these standards is going to effectively rip these breeds out of international consideration, and vice versa. Crufts, which has been the show against which all other shows are compared, will no longer be allowed to use the standards that draw breeders from the US and all over the Western and Eastern Hemispheres. That means that it will no longer be a meeting of the best of the best. The UK will no longer be the arbiter of quality.
And there is a very real danger that the FCI (the standards-keeping body for most of the world except the US, Canada, UK, and Australia) will throw the UK Pekingese out if it physically changes. This has already happened with the US Akita when the US decided the breed should be larger and stockier and be many different colors; the FCI split the breed into two (the American Akita and the Japanese Akita) to indicate that the US Akitas had indeed become a different breed. Accordingly, the two are no longer allowed to be bred together.
If this is what happens to the UK Pekingese, the breed will effectively be stranded in one country, unable to contribute to or access the gene pools of other countries, or to be shown against the Pekingese in other countries.