Are we 'fiddling' too much with dog breeds?

Humans and dogs have been companions for at least 14,000 years – and perhaps as many as 30,000 – and during that time, we’ve become very good at selective breeding of our canine friends. But a litter of hairless French bulldogs born recently in the UK has veterinarians questioning whether  ‘beauty’ is being put ahead of health.

The new litter, possibly the first hairless French bulldogs in Britain, are believed to have been bred in Scotland, as a result of crosses between French bulldogs, pugs and Chinese crested dogs.

A hairless dog may have its advantages for humans, particularly those with allergies, but is it good for the dog itself? Justine Shotton, president of the British Veterinary Association, fears not.

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“I’m just really disappointed when I see things like this and I wish that we can get potential owners to understand how much some of this extreme breeding really does affect the day-to-day welfare of these dogs,” she said.

Ms Shotton is particularly concerned about breeding traits purely for ‘fashion’.

“Just because people like things to look a certain way, it shouldn’t justify people being able to do things to these dogs that we know is going to cause potential harm and suffering and welfare issues.”

In the case of the hairless French bulldogs, the concern is that they could end up with many problems, including a susceptibility to sunburn and heat stress, as well as breathing difficulties.

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Bulldogs and flat-faced dog breeds in general are particularly susceptible to breathing difficulties. Such issues may not have been front of mind for prospective dog owners in previous generations, but times and attitudes have changed.

A Norway court recently banned the breeding of Cavalier King Charles spaniels and British bulldogs, on the grounds that it inflicts harm on them, in violation of Norwegian animal protection laws.

By way of personal example, in the early 1990s my brother-in-law owned a purebred boxer, whose tail had been docked days after birth, for no other reason than he was a boxer, and it was fashionable for the breed to have nothing more than a ‘stump’. Less than 15 years later, in 2004, tail-docking of dogs was banned across Australia.

Around that time, my wife and I were interested in getting a dog. She wanted a labrador and I, for no other reason than being a fan of the AFL Bulldogs, wanted a bulldog. By pure fluke, we found a litter of accidentally crossbred bulldogs and labradors and bought one.

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When we took him for his first vaccinations, the vet remarked that it was fortunate that Wilbur (as we had named him) had inherited a nose that was more labrador than bulldog. When I asked why, he explained the breathing problems that plague bulldogs and other flat-nosed breeds.

It was not something I had even considered. As much as I still love the AFL Bulldogs, I will never seek to buy a purebred bulldog, knowing now what I do about those potential breathing problems.

Should you buy a crossbreed instead?

Crossbreed dogs have developed a reputation for being healthier than purebreds, but that’s not always so. Unfortunately, in some of the crosses, vets are seeing a multiplication of problems – a ‘worst of both worlds’ scenario.

For those looking for a new canine companion, chat to your trusted local vet. The RSPCA also has guidelines to help you select a pet that will give the dog and its human family the best chance of a happy, healthy life.

Have you recently bought a dog? How did you go about selecting the breed? Why not share your experience in the comments section below?

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Written by Andrew Gigacz

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