NEWS AND OPINION: The pressure is on The Kennel Club and their dog breeders to genuinely change their ways and deal with this flat-faced dog problem. This is a problem which has bedevilled The Kennel Club for many years. And I think the problem has been highlighted by the fact that in the last 10 years the popularity of certain flat-face breeds such as the English bulldog, French bulldog and pug have exploded.
This has resulted in the inherent health issues of these animals coming to the fore. And the reason why their popularity and adoptions have exploded is because of Covid-19. There was a rush to adopt dogs during those long lockdowns.
The Kennel Club organises and manages the world’s biggest and most popular dog show, Crufts. This year’s competition begins on March 9. An opportune moment for PETA, the animal rights charity, to intensify their campaign against flat-face breeds.
The charity has urged Crufts to ban flat-faced dogs. This is in line with the Royal Veterinary College (RVC) which has urged people to think twice before buying brachycephalic dog breeds. This means flat-based round-headed dog breeds which are inherently unhealthy.
Kate Werner, the senior campaigns manager at PETA, wrote to The Kennel Club asking for breeds such as the English bulldog, Cavalier King Charles spaniel and the French bulldog to be removed from this year’s competition.
“Because humans have bred these dogs to have extreme and unnatural flat faces, many bulldogs, pugs, Pekinese and other flat-based breeds can barely breathe let alone go for a walk or chase a ball without gasping for air.”
They struggle to breathe under certain conditions because of their flat-faces. The anatomy has been distorted because of selective breeding over many years. But they are attractive to people.
This has been highlighted by Eric the Pekinese who stole the nation’s heart at Crufts last year. He is an extraordinary-looking dog (see photo). And it is no wonder he attracted attention but behind that interesting and magnetic appearance is an inherently unhealthy dog. Health is more important than appearance.
The ironic thing is that The Kennel Club writes the breed standards for these dogs. They provide the guidelines and these guidelines insist that these dogs have flat-faces in a roundabout way (see below). But this goes against the policy of The Kennel Club to only breed healthy dogs. So, for years, The Kennel Club has been in denial about conflicting objectives.
Werner added: “As the world’s largest dog show, Crufts can help by refusing to celebrate and promote dogs with these unnatural features.”
Dr. Dan O’Neill, the associate professor in companion animal epidemiology at the RVC told The Times last year that the public had a “huge role to play” by adopting only dogs that were healthy which means dogs with moderate and more natural features.
Bill Lambert, a spokesperson for The Kennel Club said that improving the health of brachycephalic dogs is a priority, but is it?
“Breed standards, which are a description of characteristics that dogs are judged to at Crufts, make it explicitly clear that unhealthy exaggerations are not acceptable and there are additional vet checks at Crufts to look for visible signs.”
Yes, the breed standard say that selective breeding should not breed to extreme but the breed standard also provides guidelines on how the head and face of a pug or Pekinese should look.
Here is part of the standard for the French bulldog. I have capitalized the words concerning the muzzle. The are subtle words which have probably been modified to try and get breeders to move away from extreme breeding after years of being pressured to change standards.
“Well defined muzzle, that can clearly be viewed in profile, broad, deep and SET BACK, muscles of cheeks well developed. Stop well defined. Lower jaw deep, square, broad, slightly undershot and turned up. Nose black and wide, RELATIVELY SHORT, with visibly open nostrils and line between well define.”
The Times states that people who want to adopt a flat-faced dog should check that the breeder uses a grading scheme which checks for the likelihood of breathing difficulties. It was introduced in 2019. Adopters should check that the parents of puppies have no exaggerated features. To be frank, I think this is simply not going to work. These dogs are based upon exaggerated features. And the breeders will not stop producing dogs with exaggerated features because they are popular as highlighted by Eric in the photograph on this page.
It seems that The Kennel Club do not have control over their breeders because the attitude of producing extreme features is deeply embedded in breeder culture.