Matching your pooch to your Prada certainly isn’t a new trend, but has over-breeding dogs gone too far?
Long gone are the days of Paris Hilton appearing on MTV, strutting around her mansion with her designer pooch of the month nestled safely in her highly-sought after handbag. Whilst Paris Hilton’s days of fame may be firmly planted in the past (sorry Paris), the trend of designer pups is not. Everywhere you look, you can see hundreds of -oodles or -poos; yorkiepoos, labradoodles, cockapoos, aussiedoodles, pekapoos, and goldendoodles. Before you know it, you feel like Dr. Seuss is going to jump out and serve you green eggs and ham. Designer dogs have been a hot trend for many years, which is reflected in the influx of these dogs at shelters. The RSPCA has seen a 700% increase in chihuahua rescues, a 600% increase in dachshund rescues, a 440% increase in Pomeranian rescues, and a 236% increase in French bulldog rescues over the last seven years.
Recently, the labradoodle’s creator, Wally Conronm, announced that bringing the labradoodle into existence was his “life’s regret”, and that he had “opened a Pandora’s box and released a Frankenstein’s monster.” With their bouncy curls, big brown eyes, and playful personalities, how could someone ever call these bundles of joy a monster? In short, it’s all down to a lack of care surrounding their genetics. After going to the press with the promise of a new “hybrid” breed (a much more appetising way of saying mutt), which promised to be hypoallergenic, labradoodles started popping up all over the world. Except, puppy breeders didn’t have the time to consider the delicacies of genetics, and they started mating dogs like rabbits.
The beauty of breeding the poodle and the labrador together was that the genetics were so detached that there was no danger of creating the monster Conron references. However, breeding two dogs who are too closely related to one another creates a plethora of issues, leaving the resulting animal scarred with both mental and physical problems. This is because most genes that cause these problems are recessive, and when we breed two dogs together who are too closely related, we risk the litter having two copies of the recessive gene, increasing their chances of a genetic disease. Cases of increased rates of genetic diseases amongst designer dogs is due to the small pool of dogs to breed from.
“Inbreeding”, the production of offspring from mating two genetically extremely similar individuals, isn’t just limited to designer dogs. Show-standard pedigree purebreds face the danger of inheriting these dreadful genetics too. For years, the primary concern of a breeder was to create dogs that looked like the breed standard, and the easy way to achieve that is through inbreeding. Cavalier King Charles spaniels are one of the most inbred breeds, and by age five, most of these dogs will have developed mitral valve disease, a severe heart condition causing the deterioration of one of the heart’s four valves. By age six, 70% of the breed will have developed syringomyelia, where too much fluid fills the cavities in the spinal cord of the neck, causing intense neck pain, with severe damage to the spinal cord. Cavalier King Charles spaniels are far from the only victims of inbreeding, with the bulldog, pug, and German shepherds all also paying the price.
Outwith the creme de la creme of Crufts and pampered hounds of Louis Vuitton handbags lies a different kind of breeding, the kind you might find had produced the pooch in your back garden: puppy farm breeders. Puppy farming is breeding an intensive volume of puppies with little to no regard for the dogs’ welfare or health and safety. The Scotsman reports that the puppy trade in Scotland is currently estimated at £13m, with only 24% of Scots buying their dogs from an approved breeder, and one in four Scots saying they would consider buying their pup from an online ad or social media. Following a recent raid of an illegal puppy farm in Moray, the Scottish SPCA has been left to care for the health of what were initially 60 puppies, with the number now having leapt to 78, since two litters were born after the first raid. A puppy farm’s primary focus is profit, so they have no care for the animal that they’re breeding, nevermind their genetics. Research from the Kennel Club has found that one in three puppies bought online will get sick or die within their first year. In an attempt to tackle these shameful breeding tactics, the Scottish Government plans to limit the annual number of puppies a breeder can produce, and limit the number of litters a dog can birth in their lifetime.
However, not all parties agree with the flack designer dogs receive. Following his purchase of two Savannah cats costing $35,000, Justin Bieber faced criticism from PETA about his new felines. Bieber responded, in true Bieber fashion, telling PETA to “suck it” asking why they were “tripping” because he wanted a specific type of cat. He concluded with “I believe in adopting rescues but also think there are preferences and that’s what breeders are for.” Owning non-rescues or designer pets doesn’t make you guilty, but improperly checking your breeder’s breeding procedures does. Making sure you are buying from a reputable breeder not only ensures that you are buying a healthier dog at the time, but can save you any nasty surprises in the future too. And, of course, adopting a rescue should always be considered too.
While Conron calling the labradoodle his “life’s regret” does seem a little dramatic, it does pose the question of how far we are willing to take genetic engineering. Society has played a part in bringing these new breeds into the world, but with all their complications due to poor breeding tactics, how much longer do these pups have left if we don’t change our breeding methods?