A question on docking and breed changes that was too good to lose in the comments

From Marie: Check out this link on a breeding program that produces naturally short tailed boxers:


If the AKC would agree to open the books for some breeds then breeding for naturally short tails would be possible thus negating docking. But that would entail some actual logic on their part. (and we also know a few breeds could use a larger gene pool to help out with erradicating specific health defects, but I digress)

I had to listen to a litter of yorkies be docked just the other day. We have them take the mother OFF the premises because of their crying. And we use anestetic. Yeah sure it doesn’t hurt.

As a trainer with a heavy interest in dog behavior I think leaving tails and ears alone better helps them communicate with their body. Sure not having tails or standing their ears up doesn’t mean they can’t communicate at all, I just think it changes it to a degree. Plus having a tail for the other dog (and their people) to see can be very helpful. So why mess with it?

Of course I am also for letting brachycephelic breeds have more nose as well. Kinda like they looked when they were developed in the first place. We have morphed some of them way to extreme.


My answer:

I’ve known about the Boxer/Corgi crosses for a lot of years; it IS very interesting, both from a tail and a color genetics standpoint. I think some of his naturally bobtailed Boxers are over in Australia right now as they consider using the genetics on another breed, so I’ll be keeping an eye on that too.

However, he’s using the Pembroke tail gene, which is the same one as exists in many other breeds. That means that it will never breed “true” – litters will always be a mixture of tailed and tailless – and it’s a lethal trait. Puppies that get two doses of the tailless gene die in utero. The only way to avoid prenatal death is to only breed tailless to tailed, and since the whole point of the project is to have consistently tailless dogs out there winning, there won’t be those pairing lining up. As soon as people realize how the gene works, the efforts to breed a naturally bobbed breed will be even LESS acceptable than docking.

So I think the Steynmere Boxers will remain a very interesting project but I doubt they’ll change the course of life for the currently docked breeds.

AKC DOES allow a breed club to open the studbooks, by the way; the Basenji book is open right now as far as I know (to bring in African imports) and the Saluki club has a mechanism for keeping the books continually open for desert-bred dogs. It’s the BREED CLUB that decides, not the AKC; there are a huge number of misconceptions about how “the AKC” works and one of the biggest is that there’s some kind of big monolithic organization. Not so at all. The AKC board (not the delegate board, which is made up of the parent clubs for each breed) only VERY rarely goes against the will of the parent clubs and when they do there’s a substantial brouhaha.

The AKC is not at all like the UK Kennel Club in that regard; the KC owns the standards and owns lots of other rights and pressures on the breeders, while the AKC functions pretty much like a giant file cabinet and makes virtually no normative or standard-based or even registry-based decisions. It disciplines solely those who use the file cabinet incorrectly (who do not keep records accurately) or who abuse dogs. Every code of ethics violation, the decisions about whether the stud book should be opened to certain dogs, etc., are all the breed clubs’ job.

And the breed clubs are VERY penetrable. You can go in and get on the Board and change whatever rule it is that is so bad, which is why it does tick me off a little to have people (and I do mean that collectively, not trying to pick on you) say that they can’t believe that “the AKC” made this decision or that decision when they’re not involved in the AKC or even that breed, period. You should get involved, breed, show, understand what the issues are in the breed, and THEN get on the breed club’s board and push for a vote! It’s doable; boards are made up of people who love dogs, and who are swayed by good, passionate arguments by people who are in the trenches with them.

The “the way they were when they were developed” is a very seductive argument, isn’t it? How about this – you find me the long-faced pugs that the Chinese breed founders were thrilled to have in 1400 AD, and I’ll concede the point.

The fact is that brachycephalic dogs were developed to a VERY high degree of “extreme,” probably even more than we have them today, hundreds if not more than a thousand years ago. The dogs they’d consider “show quality” or imperial quality or however they would have put it had completely flat faces AND bowed legs and so on. There were a very, very few “good” pugs or pekes or chin or what have you coming into Europe; you can see them in paintings at least as early as the mid-1800s (long before the AKC existed). A bunch of the dogs that ended up in early engravings and so on were poorly bred and were leggy and had more foreface, just the way I could go find a million pictures and pieces of art featuring leggy, long-faced pugs (or Pekes or fill in the blank) that were born in the last five years. Poor breeding (and artists who are not dog fanciers) has always been around.

There are very few breeds that have legitimately changed in the way that has been implied by those who are anti-KC or anti-AKC. Those who want to comment critically like to go find pictures of poorly bred dogs from whatever era they think will sound impressive, and compare those to the most extreme versions (often just as poorly bred) of today. What you have to do is compare the best-bred dogs of the time to the best-bred dogs of today – when you do, you’ll see breeds from 70 or 90 or 150 years ago that are VERY recognizable and many would be perfectly at home in the show rings of today.

For some wonderful prints, look here: http://www.wesseloconnor.com/exhibits/morgan/morgan1.php and pay attention to faces, size, width, coat, etc. These are VERY similar to what you’d see now.


10 thoughts on “A question on docking and breed changes that was too good to lose in the comments

  1. I don’t understand why a prenatal lethal gene combination would make people more hostile to breeding for bobtails than they would be for docking. No ‘puppies’ die from it, you have early-stage fetuses getting reabsorbed into the womb. You really believe that knowledge would appall most people? Chinese Cresteds are doomed then, because that’s exactly how the hairless gene works. 25% of Crestie zygotes never develop into pups. I don’t see how that’s horrifying, they’re aren’t conscious beings at that stage, nor is the lack of HH individuals being born an obvious loss. It took years for people to even realize that HH pups didn’t exist in the first place.

    I find it strange that people would be more strongly upset by ‘potential puppies’ never developing in the first place than by the act of cutting pieces off of actual -born puppies-.

    • I am not talking about dog people – I mean the people who make up the political will that tends to get docking bans passed. One “documentary” about how all these puppies die, and there you go.

      I am absolutely sure that the Pedigree Dogs Exposed people didn’t have anyone “researching” Cresteds, or they would have been a major feature of the program. The teeth, the lethality of the gene, they’re a poster breed for strange mutations that only exist because show people want them to exist. You’d have Cresteds featured in every anti-AKC/KC blog in the world, just like the poor Peke people have had to deal with.

      I don’t think, personally, that there’s any contest between the two (docking puppies and breeding a lethal gene) but I do know what happens whenever anyone publicly says “yes” to the question, “So a quarter of all your puppies die when you breed this way?”

      • See, I don’t understand how that would even be possible. There are no health disorders linked to their hairlessness (unless you count zits). They have the same patella/eye issues that many toy breeds share regardless of their physiology.

        You can point to them and say ‘No dog should be bald!’ but there isn’t a disease or disorder that you can use to justify why their baldness is anything other than a cosmetic ‘fault’. The missing premolars are another thing that’s so minor I don’t understand how anyone could say it damages their health. There’s a reason you see mostly those deformed/geriatric little dogs at the Ugliest Dog Show with their tongue hanging out… and it’s not because of the -hairless gene-.

        There’s no medical or scientific basis that anyone could use to claim they were suffering because of their hairless mutation. Perhaps I expect too much to believe people would actually do their research before they’d go on a crusade against them.

        • P.S. Terrierman made a horrifically ignorant post about them on his blog several months back. Didn’t have a shred of evidence to back up his claim they were ‘diseased’ or ‘deformed’. His post actually scared me a bit, because a lot of people read his blog and expect him to have facts supporting his opinions, and would assume that he had actual understanding of the breed’s genetics before going off on them. I really wish people would actually research things before accepting others’ statements as gospel. =/

        • But it’s not just the missing premolars, is it? As I understand it the canines and incisors are frequently affected (not missing, but “weird”). All it would take is a vet holding open a Crested’s mouth and saying “See how terrible this is? Breeders actually create this on purpose!” and you’re on the BBC. Programs like PDE, and bloggers like Terrierman, do not care even a tiny bit about actual quality of life; they don’t want to hear anybody talk about how happy and healthy the dogs are and how long they live their joyful little lives. They only want to point out the “mutations” and how “deformed” and weird the dogs are.

        • Yeah, they often have forward-pointing peglike canines. Incisors are there or not there, but there are many Cresties out there with complete front dentition.

          I dunno, if people want to point out ‘deviations from the natural state’ (which would be a dingo or something, I suppose) as evidence of a ‘deformity’ that needs to be ended in dogs, you’d end up eliminating pretty much every dog breed in existence. =/

  2. When I said more nose I didn’t mean like a regular dog, just one that can breath well. (not like this poor pug in this photo for instance: http://k-9solutionsdogtraininginc.blogspot.com/2009/06/odds-and-ends.html#links ) Sorry I don’t know how to add just the photo here. Excuse the rest of the post. (I am learning as I go.)

    You have to admit that face is to extreme.

    I also assumed that back when some of the big headed breeds were developed they didn’t do c-sections routinely hence the lesser head on the dogs so they could survive the birth. Aren’t they bigger now? Or is it just that breeders are jumping the gun and doing the sections “to be safe”.

    I had no idea about the lethal gene that was at work in the tail breeding program. That is to bad. Once upon a time I (briefly) showed mini-rex rabbits and they also had a lethal gene connected to them.

    Is the UK club and the differences between them and the AKC why the “Exposed” documentary was such a big deal when it came out? I suppose people like me just don’t know those differences hence my comments about them.

    So I guess the ire needs to be directed at the parent clubs for a breed. Thanks for the info.

    • The thing about lethal genes, is that there are ‘semi-lethal’ (also called ‘congenital lethal’) and ‘prenatal lethal’ genes. One of them creates stillborn/deformed babies, and the other -prevents a baby from being formed at all-.

      Needless to say, it’s VERY important that people know the difference!

    • Well, that pug is a puppy, who is being propped up in a funny way – I have no idea what his face really looks like. http://www.dognews.com/doglinks/riande/index.html Tucker is what is winning. Pugs are supposed to have a flat face, and have for hundreds of years, but they are not supposed to have bulgy eyes and the face should be both pretty and symetrical. They should breathe easily with a closed mouth.

      The whole c-section thing is a complete misunderstanding of what has happened. Breeds have not changed to meet the c-section; the c-section has changed. It’s now much, much safer and easier than it ever was before, so it is widely used as a default. Cardigans certainly don’t have a crazy heavy head and body, but a TON of breeders are sectioning every bitch. It’s a change in attitude, where breeders are no longer willing to accept any puppy deaths, and also because so few vets know how to manage a bitch in labor. If there’s a real crisis in the veterinary management of breeding over the last 20 years, it’s the fact that so many vets no longer have any clue about breeding. The stuff that I’ve seen done to my own bitches, the stories I’ve heard from others… we have a vet right now who is a breeder herself, and whenever we’ve considered moving to a lower cost of living area one of the main things that stops me is that I don’t want to be more than 30 minutes from my vet!

      If you look at the Bulldogs from the Morris and Essex show, the heads and shoulders are huge; if anything, they’re bigger (especially in the shoulder) than they would be today. Bulldogs CAN free-whelp. But they have very small litters and lots of things can go wrong during the labor, so (as with most breeds where the litter size is very small) it has become normal to section them so every puppy lives.

      The artificial insemination line is also a critical misunderstanding of what is actually happening. EVERY breed is now being bred via AI; there are many breeders who don’t do ANY natural breeding anymore. They collect the male and inseminate the female as she stands there. It’s done to prevent the transmission of disease, to avoid injury (my boy Mitch was injured during a natural breeding, so I know this happens), and to make sure the breeding takes place. So, yes, the smaller/larger/heavier breeds are now virtually always bred by AI by everybody, whereas the middle-range breeds are AId when the boy can’t get the job done or the breeder prefers it, but it’s an across-the-board CHOICE by breeders, not something that’s been mandated by the shape of the dogs’ bodies. Bulldogs, Frenchies, etc. – they can all get tab A into slot B, and they will tie and breed on their own if allowed. But almost nobody allows it anymore.

      The Pedigree Dogs Exposed furor was so huge for a bunch of reasons: the British attitude about dogs (they are not only incredible dog lovers, they developed tons of breeds and remain the repository of some of the best genetics on earth), the much smaller population size there (it’s a nation the size of New Jersey, with – if I am remembering correctly – 1/15 the number of dogs we have in the US) the fact that the ownership patterns in Europe are very different than they are over here (there are several countries where there literally are almost no mixed-breed dogs and almost every single dog in the country is a registered purebred), the power of Crufts, etc. It became such a huge international deal (in the dog world) because the KC responded to the program by changing the code of ethics that every breeder must follow and by changing (sometimes radically) a whole bunch of standards. It did this without consulting the parent breeds and it made some appalling errors that showed that whoever was writing it didn’t understand the breed in question at ALL. For example, they had to go back in and re-write the Peke standard three days after releasing the “new” one because they had forgotten to mention the fact that the dog was supposed to have a TAIL.

      Nobody knows whether the standard changes will in fact change the shape of the breeds over there; whether the Peke will turn into a Tibetan Spaniel (which is basically what the new standard mandates) or whether judges will continue to reward the classical type. I suppose five or ten years will tell the tale. If it DOES change the breeds, it will have the very unfortunate effect of changing the UK from one of the most exported-from countries (which allows their dogs to enlarge gene pools all over the world) to one that breeds dogs in complete isolation. Nobody will want the “new” UK type and they won’t be able to use international bloodlines either. So inbreeding will become worse than it already is. The law of unintended consequences is very real.

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