Millions of Americans gathered in front of their TV’s this week to see who would be crowned top dog. Rumor, a German Shepherd, won best in show at the Westminster Kennel Club dog show.
But really, what has Rumor won? Do you think the dog knows the difference? Of course the dog doesn’t. Actually, it’s what makes them the wonderful creatures that they are- Their happiness is dependent on health, the ability to function/play, and the love of a family. None of the superficial stuff really matters to them. And if it were up to the dog, do you think they’d pick longevity and comfort or a title that comes along with painful arthritis?
So what would you say about a club that places all of its emphasis on conforming to “breed standards?” Standards that have been deemed “desirable” physical traits that make the dog less functional, prone to pain and poor health. You’d call it abuse, right?
We have the biggest animal welfare scandal on our hands to date, and America continues to turn a blind eye.
The Kennel Club has a long held tradition of upholding what is known as the “breed standard.” Breed standards are a set of rigorous qualifications a specific breed should meet- a list of physical features a dog should possess per say. But what’s health got to do with the breed standards set? Nothing.
Dogs are judged on how well they conform to the judges idea of what the breed “should look like.” Even if said traits are detrimental to a dog’s health.
According to the AKC’s German Shepherd breed standards, “The whole assembly of the thigh, viewed from the side is broad, with both upper and lower thigh, well-muscled, forming as nearly as possible a right angle.”
To the left you see the classically bred German Shepherd Dog. To the right is Rumor.
There’s a reason why the GSD’s used by security and police forces look nothing like the dog to the right- because the dog to the right is not functional. The build is detrimental, impairing mobility, and is one of the major reasons that the GSD suffers disproportionately from orthopedic problems. The dog to the left appears athletic, agile, and quick on its feet. The new GSD sports a “sloped back”, resulting in a dog that walks on its hocks. The differences in appearance between the dogs bred for function and those bred for the showroom are becoming more striking everyday.
The excessive downward angling of the lumbar spine has greatly impacted the pelvis, hips, and knees. The bend in the spine is now greatly exaggerated and thus the angle of the pelvis is greater. In turn, the hip and knee are closer to the ground. As a result, the hindquarters are more angulated.
Evolution (Devolution) of the German Shepherd
The German Shepherd didn’t always look like Rumor. In fact, for most of history, the back of the GSD was actually straight.
Take a look at how the German Shepherd has changed through the years…
What’s locomotion got to do with it?
Professor Dr. Martin Fischer, a canine locomotion expert and author of Dogs in Motion, has been an outspoken advocate against current breeding practices. He doesn’t have money to be made, and he’s not a part of any large club- just a man who has felt compelled to start speaking out.
NBC National Dog Show- Best of Breed 2015
When asked about the German Shepherd Best of Breed winner in 2015 (who looks a lot like Rumor by the way), Fischer said this- this winner is “among the worst I have seen.”
He went on to say this of this dog, “His movement hurts almost all biomechanical principles of dog locomotion. It is not only the almost plantigrade position of the hind foot but – as we know from the hundreds of dogs we have studied- it is also the position of the thigh. The hind foot and femur move in matched motion, which means that the femur in this dog is placed in a most unfavorable, almost horizontal, position at touchdown.”
“Moreover, it is almost certain that any kind of storage of elastic energy in the hindlimb is gone with such a plantigrade position. I cannot definitively understand how such a dog could have been selected best in breed.”
Another bone I have to pick with Westminster
If you couldn’t tell, I’m no fan of Westminster or the American Kennel Club for that matter. I think they have a huge platform that could be utilized to promote the health and well being of animals. But instead, they hurt the same dogs that they continue to profit from. I believe they have continued to promote, or at the very least, condone irresponsible breeding practices.
There are certain pluses to getting a “pure bred”- the benefit of knowing the background/family line, predictable phenotypes and behavioral traits (typically). And despite what some may accuse me of, I don’t want all breeders to just go away.
But as dog lovers, I think there are some common goals we should all share:
- Celebration of dogs as a species; recognition of the numerous ways they serve us and enhance our lives on a day to day basis.
- Promoting the health and welfare of our animals- which includes enforcement of responsible breeding practices and an emphasis on the breeding of appropriately screened and genetically diverse dogs
- Increase awareness of homeless animals and promote adoption campaigns that seek to eliminate the need for euthanasia
- Raise public awareness of breed specific issues and breed specific needs in order to optimally match dogs with potential adopters
Breeding practices across the board
It’s not just the German Shepherd at risk. Plenty of other dogs we have grown to love are being corrupted by breed standards and unethical breeding practices. If you’re not convinced now, you will be- read Designer Dogs: Irresponsible Breeding is Killing Our Best Friends.
The Pekingese has a face so flat that it interferes with breathing. Recent winners of shows have been photographed sitting on ice blocks to avoid overheating. The Cavalier Spaniel has been bred to have such a small, narrow skull, that it is now plagued by a condition known a Syringomyelia, resulting in intractable seizures. Largely due to inbreeding and lack of genetic diversity, the beloved Golden Retriever is plagued by various cancers, and the Boxer is disproportionately affected by life threatening Cardiomyopathies.
If you haven’t seen the documentary Pedigree Dogs Exposed, you absolutely should. It’s frightening. We can’t pretend unethical breeding practices aren’t a problem.
Now go hug Spike and tell him you’re sorry for our kind. We can do better than this.