Breeding dogs with reduced stamina, energy or mobility: is it right?

Dog breeding can be a contentious subject. Most breeders care deeply about their dogs,  but have some lost the plot?

“The wonderful thing about dogs is that there is something for everyone, including a twenty-minute walk on urban pavement.. or a ten-mile run on the plains. One suit does not fit all people, which is a blessing.”

“At the end of the day, most bulldog owners don’t want that level of energy; like I said, my husband is in a wheelchair, and that is why we got our first bulldog.”

These are two comments I read online recently. These people were talking about the fact that different breeds of dogs have different energy levels and felt that this variety benefits people, providing dogs to suit a range of different needs and requirements.

Breeding dogs with reduced stamina, energy or mobility: is it right? - dogs, breeding -

Disabled dogs for disabled people

When I read the second comment, it brought to mind a lovely cocker spaniel bitch I parted with about seven years ago.  I keep a kennel of working gundogs, and this particular dog was diagnosed with a most severe case of hip dysplasia at the heartbreakingly young age of 10 months. So powerful was her condition that not only would she be unable to work, she needed to have her exercise severely restricted for the rest of her life. She had no hip sockets and required a home where she would be loved and confined to minimize her activities.

I eventually found her a home as a companion to a lovely gentleman with severe arthritis. Together, he and the little cocker could keep one another company while away the days without putting strain on their damaged joints.

It did not occur to me to breed more dogs without hip sockets as companions for disabled people,  and I do not believe any disabled person would ever wish to see such a thing happening. I retained the dog’s pedigree papers and knew that her new owners would never dream of breeding from her.

There will always be disabled dogs,  and there will always be disabled people. These things happen. And if we can put the two of them together,  a disabled dog (i.e., one with limited mobility) can be a great companion and solace to a disabled person; that is fantastic.

But to deliberately create disability? That is a very different matter. Yet, isn’t this essentially what some breeders of brachycephalic dogs and other breeds with reduced abilities are doing?

Stamina and mobility are average for dogs.

The person who made the first comment in this article was referring to the fact that Jemima Harrison’s dog regularly runs for ten miles or more on Salisbury Plain. Jemima is fighting for improved health in pedigree dogs through her Pedigree Dogs Exposed campaign. Some opposing Jemima,  presumably owners of brachycephalic dogs,  were incredulous at the thought of a dog running ten miles in an hour. One even claimed that it was an act of cruelty to let this occur!

Of course,  nothing could be further from the truth. The fact is that stamina and mobility are average for dogs.  Fitness, running, swimming, speed, and agility are all characteristics of the dog.  We can if we choose to ‘breed out’  some of those characteristics to suit our purposes. But is it right for us to do so?

As someone whose dogs regularly work for hours on shoots,  hunting through cover and probably traveling 30 or 40 miles daily, I find it hard to understand that anyone can see a dog with terribly limited stamina as usual.  But it is clear that these people exist and are very angry that the limitations of their dogs are being exposed for all to see.

Justifying limitations

To justify those limitations, they are even pointing out the suitability of their dogs as companions for people with limited mobility or those who want to walk no further than ‘twenty minutes on a pavement.’

Is it acceptable to deliberately breed dogs with reduced abilities to suit those who prefer them?  Genetically modifying a fit and healthy animal to make it ‘slower’ or more ‘manageable’ is certainly possible, and several breeds fit this description.  At one time, no one questioned whether or not this was right.  Dogs were considered to have been put on this earth for man to use as he saw fit.

But times change,  and many people feel that modifying dogs to induce disability or maintaining a breeding program using disabled dogs is wrong. Especially if the ‘fallout’ from that ‘modification’  means ill health, pain, and discomfort.

They are not bad people.

Some people feel that breeders of brachycephalic dogs are wicked.  I am not one of them. I know many are surprised at the rudeness of those attempting to justify the breeding practices we are now questioning. Still, these breeders feel abused and threatened and have no evidence or logic to defend themselves. So, anger is a natural reaction.

I am also convinced that those breeding brachycephalic dogs do not believe they are deliberately breeding disabled dogs; they have not taken that ‘mental step.’ They are not bad people.  They just don’t yet see the problems in their breed as being a disability. To them, it is a natural characteristic of the species.  Something ordinary and inevitable.

It is accessible for the rest of us to say, “Hang on a minute,  this isn’t right.” We haven’t invested a lifetime’s love and work into the breed. We don’t socialize with and share our lives with others who live for and love the breed.

It is challenging to recognize that something you have done or have been doing for a long time must be corrected. Especially when many of your friends are also doing the same thing.

They are not stopping anytime soon.

It takes a considerable, unusual person to reverse their beliefs to make that leap. Most people who have invested a lifetime into a particular breed of dog are simply not going to accept that that was the wrong thing to have done,  that they have even been the cause of suffering.  It would be too much for almost any well-intentioned dog lover to take on board.

Logic states that breeders of brachycephalic dogs are likely to continue to believe what they are doing is okay, that it is all right,  and that it is morally acceptable.  The alternative is too unpleasant to contemplate.

And the rest of us must accept that they will not stop breeding these dogs soon. So, if we want to see change,  we have to act.

We need to act.

This is why it is vital that we put pressure on our Kennel Clubs to enforce their new breed standards to ensure all dogs have the right to a muzzle, for example. And it is why we should let the public know there is an alternative to buying brachycephalic dogs and other breeds that have been ‘designed’ with disabilities.

It is why it is so vital that we support Jemima Harrison’s campaign to improve the health of pedigree dogs and help her stand up to the severe opposition that she faces from the many breeders of disabled dogs.

Let’s promote able-bodied dogs.

There are hundreds of wonderful able-bodied breeds of dog to choose from. Dogs with muzzles, dogs that can run all day,  swim, give birth naturally, cool themselves, and breathe.

Let’s promote them.

You can help by encouraging anyone looking for a puppy to buy a healthy breed and not promoting the trade in deliberately disabled dogs.

If you would like to comment on Jemima’s blog, I am sure she would appreciate your support for her campaign to improve the health of our dogs.

What about you? What do you think of breeding practices that involve dogs with reduced abilities?

Jennifer Barker

I'm Jennifer. My passion for dogs lead to this blog's creation in 2014. I share tales of life with my pups and insights on natural dog care so fellow pet parents can nurture the joy and wellbeing of their furry friends.

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