Dr Desmond Morris makes a very good point. He says that in the history of the development of the domestication of the dog it has come to pass that pedigree dogs are looked after better than random bred dogs because they are more valuable. This is a recommendation for pedigree dogs.
150 years ago there probably weren’t many pedigree dogs. They were mainly random bred and dog owners simply wanted a faithful friend and companion. Dog breeding became popular and nowadays there are far more pedigree dogs. Proportionally there are more pedigree dogs than cats.
In almost seems that the default position in the developed world is the purebred, pedigree dog. Purists who are more interested in animal welfare tend to scorn the breeding of dogs. They are bred to extremes inline with the breed standards but breeders tend to want to constantly enhance the dog in respect of the breed standard and end up going too far. The dog breeders’ counterargument is that mongrel-keepers (as Dr Morris calls them) “are the thin end of the wedge that leads to dog neglect, to uncared-for-strays, to fouling public places and giving dogs a bad name”.
Dog breeders and pedigree dog owners might argue that if all dogs were born hi-bred and classy looking, anti-dog sentiments would vanish. Society would value their dogs more highly and therefore care for them better.
There is some value in both viewpoints. As is the case in purebred cats, some dog breeds have been bred too far. It is extreme breeding called “torture breeding” in Germany where it is forbidden. It a natural consequence of a constant refinement as breeders refer to it. “Refinement” is selective breeding in reference to the breed standard. But over the years they have tended to go too far in meeting this objective; creating health problems in dogs.
For example, dogs with very short legs and long bodies are prone to slipped discs. The current trend for French bulldogs is somewhat disturbing for a purist because their flat faces predispose them to breathing difficulties. Other breeds have eye troubles or hip problems. Breeders keep quiet about this. And so do the dog associations. They don’t want their breed to lose popularity.
But if you look back 100 years you will see quite a stark difference between the Bulldogs of today and yesteryear, and the same goes for the Dachshund. One-hundred years ago they had a much shorter bodies and Bulldogs were quite a long legged animal.
Refinement has ended up causing some dog breeds serious trouble. This has been pointed out often recently to the point where the BBC dropped their coverage of Crufts. The Kennel Club made the right noises in response and tried to tighten up breed standards making them less extreme but I see little difference and extreme breeding continues.
It would take relatively little effort to put a halt to extreme breeding and turn the clock back a little bit to create dogs that resemble those of 100 years ago. They would still be beautiful, pedigree and purebred but they would be healthier. It would be a public relations success. More dogs would be sold by breeders.
There is a problem with this proposal. It is possible, and I have no evidence of it, that veterinarians would be reluctant for dog breeders to create dogs that are more healthy. It would undermine their business model. We mustn’t forget that veterinarians are private practices. They do not provide a public service funded by the taxpayer. They must make a profit and the more unhealthy dogs and cats there are in society the more money they make.
The mongrel dog has its own problems. The vast majority of mongrel-owners treat their pets with enormous care and respect but their dogs have almost no value as is the case with random bred cats. This, it is argued, leads to their abuse. Informal breeding takes place and the puppies are valueless, sold cheaply or given away and then maltreated or abandoned.
Too many unwanted dogs are euthanised annually in the developed world – another reason to criticise breeders for creating more. In the developing world there is mass abuse of the millions of dogs who are not cared for by a respectful owner. They become free livestock in places like southern China where they are slaughtered for food. No farming is required. All they have to do is pluck them off the streets and stick them in lorries in small cages and transport them south to the dog meat markets.
There is an ongoing mass slaughter of unwanted dogs at shelters, and of course cats, in America and other developed countries. It isn’t announced or talked about that much but it is a symptom of a failure in dog domestication.
The answer is to breed purebred dogs in a less extreme manner, to turn the clock back somewhat. As for mongrels, the only answer there is education. Dog abuse comes down to a lack of education. It is about ignorance. The more refined the person, the more refined their behaviour towards animals. It is not 100% guaranteed, far from it. But the route to respecting valueless dogs is by respecting their sentience, their feelings, their pain and the unwritten contract that humankind has with them. It requires empathy which can be attained through education.
Note: Kennel Club: the UK’s largest organisation dedicated to protecting and promoting the health and welfare of all dogs.