Tuesday, 9 February 2016

Boston boogie - the bottom line

Click to enlarge

A few days ago on a Boston FB page, owner Amy Charlesworth posted a video of her Boston Terrier rubbing her bum on the carpet.

You see this very commonly in Pugs and Frenchies whose stocky bodies, thick necks and short faces make it impossible to turn round to clean themselves/ease an irritation.

I think this is what we're seeing in this Boston, too. You could clearly hear the dog whimper in the original video.

As you can see from the screen grab above, several commenters advised the owner to seek veterinary advice as it could be a sign of serious infection.  (Rear-end problems, from compacted anal glands to perianal fistulas are common in Bostons.)

So what did the dog's owner do?

Hell, she added some house music to it and peddled it to the viral video sites.


But there is a bit of good news. The video has now been removed after complaints - from those who had seen the original video and thought it wasn't right to promote as entertainment a dog in obvious discomfort .

My Pug Boo - loved to death

This vid landed in my inbox today. It is an upsetting video of a morbidly obese Pug called Boo sleeping. He has - wait for it - over 20,000 followers on Instagram (see here). There is the occasional comment about Boo being too fat, but most of those who comment think he's cute. They love his chubby wrinkles.

Boo's nose roll almost obscures his nostrils. What with this and the blubber, it is hard to comprehend how he is still alive.But he won't be for much longer. His owner is killing him. Being a Pug is hard enough without this

This is as cruel as beating a dog with a stick. 

There will be some who defend her, saying perhaps she doesn't know this is wrong. But it's impossible that Boo's veterinarian has not told her that this is a problem for the dog. 

No doubt she will insist she loves him to bits. But this is not love.  The dogs we own and the shape they're in are a pretty good reflection of our own psychological health. There is something terribly, terribly wrong here.

Wednesday, 3 February 2016

Swedish vets call for a ban of certain breeds

The Swedes as a nation are a nice bunch and the veterinary profession is, in the main, a conservative one.

So in many ways it is unexpected that Swedish vets are leading the world in demanding change for short-nosed breeds.  But perhaps we shouldn't be totally surprised given that Sweden has a strong record in animal welfare and a Kennel Club that has been more proactive than most in trying to tackle genetic and conformation issues.

In recent months, Swedish vets have become increasingly outspoken.  Following a petition signed by hundreds of Swedish vets last year, brachycephalic dogs are a hot topic in Sweden, with literature/campaigning material such as this video trending under the hashtag #ogulligt. It means "not sweet" (cute).

In one Swedish newspaper today, two Swedish veterinary opthamologists have called publicly for an outright ban of certain breeds. They rather politely don't name the breeds, but an article highlighting their concerns features a Pug and a Peke.

The original report is in Swedish, but you can read Google Translate's stab at translating it here.

Brachycephalic Obstructive Research Syndrome

I try not to piss off scientists. They are, in the main, friends of Pedigree Dogs Exposed. That's because the science supports the central tenets here (if not always the sledgehammerly way they are delivered.)

I confess I feel a bit bad about having a go at the chap on the right above - Dr David Sargan, senior lecturer in molecular pathology at Cambridge Vet School.  David is a nice man; our paths have crossed several times; he co-authored one of the key reports into dog-breeding following Pedigree Dogs Exposed, and he is now quite widely involved in the issues. There is much that we agree on.

David's team is also doing some really useful work at Cambridge - both in elucidating the extent of breathing problems in brachycephalic dogs and in finding an objective,  non-invasive way to measure them.

But I'm afraid I watched this video this morning and wanted to shake him warmly by the neck. (NB to the crazies out there... this is a figure of speech.)

In this clip above, Sargan starts off by telling John Bradshaw (author of the excellent In Defence of Dogs) that the Cambridge research reveals that half of all French Bulldogs suffer from respiratory distress - and that, actually, none of them breath totally normally. 

The top trace here is of a Beagle and it shows normal breathing - a smooth, undulating rise and fall.   The two traces underneath show a "normal" French Bulldog - much shallower. These dogs never experience the joy of a truly deep, unhindered breath of air into their lungs.

And here's what the breath traces look like for 50 per cent of French Bulldogs who suffer from Brachycephalic Obstructed Airway Syndrome (BOAS):

What does that feel and sound like? Something like this.

It's hideous, isn't it?  

John Bradshaw, on the left in the video above, says: "The obvious thing to do is to breed the dog with a long-nosed dog and to get rid of the face shape."

You got it!

But no. Instead of Sargan throwing his scientific weight and compelling research behind a campaign to argue for immediate change, he says:

"The problem is that the general public doesn't want a dog with a long face so what we've been looking at are the dogs with short faces that breathe well and can we find genetic differences between those and dogs that breathe badly."

Yep, Sargan wants to spend money trying to find specific mutations that code for bad breathing which, once found, would allow breeders to select against them, thus allowing breeders/owners to have the flat faces but without the problems.

Perhaps you think that makes sense? After all, half of all Frenchies breathe OK (ish) and the Cambridge research has also found  that there isn't an absolute correlation between muzzle length and affectedness (i.e. some dogs with shorter muzzles breath better than those with longer muzzles).

Certainly, the breed clubs for Frenchies, Pugs, Bulldogs, Pekes and other brachycephalic breeds love this idea. It allows them to congratulate themselves for donating money and DNA samples to researchers while continuing to breed dogs with very flat faces.

Let me see if I can convince you that it's a fool's errand.

• first and foremost, the clue is in the name - BOAS is a syndrome. It comprises stenotic (pinched) nostrils, an elongated soft palate and everted laryngeal saccules - all associated with a short muzzle/skull. Recent research from Dr Rowena Packer et al at the Royal Veterinary College found that thick necks are a contributory factor too (see here).  These are features that will be governed by hundreds, possibly thousands, of genes. We do not yet have a single useful genetic test for conditions that are controlled by multiple genes and the chances of developing one in the near future are extremely slim.

• Even in the very unlikely event that a useful genetic test could be developed before another 10, 15, 20 generations of Pugs, Frenchies and Bulldogs are born to to live compromised lives, that still leaves another problem that manifests as a result of breeding for a flat face:  brachycephalic ocular syndrome. This comprises the near-endemic chronic and acute eye issues that occur as a result of shallow ocular orbits. (Quite apart from the fact that dogs with very flat faces do not have the natural buffer of a muzzle to protect their eyes from injury).

• Short muzzles in Pugs, Frenchies and Bulldogs have resulted in the bunching up of skin/flesh on the outside. The wrinkling/rolls are a hotbed for chronic yeast and bacterial infections. 

• short muzzles cause the bunching up/overcrowding of teeth and the roof of the mouth, too, leading to mouth and teeth infections/disease. This is an area often overlooked in brachycephalics but is likely to cause many dogs chronic, life-long pain. 

• while there isn't an absolute correlation between muzzle length within a breed and the extent of breathing problems, a paper published last year very clearly found that the shorter you go, the more likely it is to cause problems:

"The research, which was co-funded by Dogs Trust, the UK’s largest dog welfare charity, and the Universities Federation for Animal Welfare (UFAW), involved two studies including over 850 dogs of over 100 breeds. The findings were reported in a paper by Drs Rowena Packer, Anke Hendricks, Michael Tivers and Charlotte Burn and published in the journal PLOS ONE. The researchers found that as muzzle length becomes shorter, risk of BOAS becomes ever higher, with over 90% of dogs being affected at the shortest extreme. This quality-of-life limiting disorder was only seen in dogs whose muzzles were less than half the length of the domed part of the skull." (Source)
Ergo, the longer you go, the less likely you are to condemn dogs to a lifetime fighting for air.

For the past couple of decades, David Sargan has been looking for the gene/genes for cancer in Flatcoated Retrievers. Flatcoat breeders have raised and donated thousands of pounds to facilitate this - and while they've been doing that (with no genetic test on the horizon yet), breeders have not explored other measures that could have helped - such as outcrossing to other breeds to dilute the poison (over 50 per cent of Flatcoats die of cancer by the age of 8/9 - and many far younger). 

Sargan is a gene hunter. It's what he does. His whole world is skewed to that perspective.  So of course he's going to focus on genetic solutions. 

My stance, however, is that it is morally and ethically questionable to give breeders this get-out clause when we know that simply selecting for longer muzzles, more open nostrils, slimmer necks, less wrinkling and a less extreme head shape would be the simplest and quickest fix. 

So, sure, hunt for genes. But not without insisting in the meantime that:

• breed standards need to change to introduce minimum/maximum measurements/ratios
• judges must start selecting for much healthier phenotypes
• the current level of suffering in pursuit of "cute" is unacceptable.

This is so important because registrations for these flat-faced breeds have gone through the roof and because the Kennel Club and breeders will wiggle and worm for as long as they can. Indeed, the KC's response to the recent peer-reviewed research which shows so clearly how much suffering is caused by short muzzles (which, let's face it, comes after decades of other research saying essentially the same thing) has been to dispute that the dogs in the studies were KC-registered and to maintain that the research, while "interesting", does not involve enough numbers to be in any way conclusive.

Here's how the KC sells itself these days:
"We are the largest organisation in the UK devoted to dog health, welfare and training. Our objective is to ensure that dogs live healthy, happy lives with responsible owners."
But this is palpably not true when it comes to the brachycephalics.  Because if it was really the organisation it wants us to believe it is; if it really wanted to ensure that dogs life healthy, happy lives it would do so much more to prevent the suffering endured by Pugs, Frenchies and Bulldogs.

In Sweden recently hundreds of vets signed a petition demanding change for brachycephalic dogs. The Swedish KC and breeders didn't like it much, but it's working. There is a key brachycephalic conference in Sweden at the end of February and significant changes in the breeding of short-faced dogs in Sweden looks likely as a result.

Actually, David Sargan is speaking at this conference... an opportunity, perhaps, for him to support the Swedish researchers and vets in their call for urgent action to address the problems.

Watch this space.

Monday, 4 January 2016

GSDs: the enduring tragedy

I was sent this video today. It is of a Finnish dog and it dates from 2012.

But on this day, this 3.5yr old bitch won best female - VA1. Solholmens Jafri was the Finnish Siegerin (the top honour) in Finland in 2012.

I often advise PDE supporters that it is counter-productive to call show-dogs cripples. But I can't find any other word to describe what we see here. According to his listing, her hips have been graded B/C (only borderline/mild HD) but she looks so much worse.

If you saw any other breed walk like this, you'd take them to a vet, not run them in a courage test.  That's leaving aside how very poorly this dog performs and yet has still been awarded Schutzhund titles. As my correspondent said in her email:  "When looking at the courage tests here in Finland, many dogs have problems with their structure: it clearly prevents them from galloping and even jumping/charging in some cases. Even if the head wants to go fast and bite the sleeve, they cannot do it."

I am sad to see that this dog has been bred twice - once in 2011 and once in 2014. Her record on the Finnish KC database, shows that of her offspring to have been tested, all have hip grades of C/C - not great.

Hopefully this dog is not truly representative of the show dogs in Finland. Hopefully things have improved since 2012. Hopefully there are some better dogs in Finland still flying the flag for what a good GSD should be.

Because this? This has to stop.

Tuesday, 22 December 2015

GSD history buffs - can you solve this mystery?

My last post on Ch Kysarah's Pot of Gold has become the blog's most viewed post of all time with over 50k views in just 24hrs. So now I have the attention of the GSD community could anyone help solve this mystery?

The above photo was sent to me two days ago by an American called Dave Thorpe.

"This was my grandfather’s dog named Asta," says Dave. "She was one of the first three dogs to come across the ocean. Notice the horizontal back. Finding the history of Asta has been elusive. All that I know is that she was one of the first three dogs to come to America. I don’t have any info other that this story from my parents. My grandfather was Albert Hergott and all my relatives have passed. I have spent hours searching and have come up empty. I wish I had better pictures but they have been lost. Early 1900s is all I know."

A quick Google throws up this:

The Complete German Shepherd, Milo G Delinger , 1952 third Edition, page 28 

"The first recorded reference to a GSD in America was when Mira of Dalmore (never registered) Property of Dalmore Kennels of H.A. Dalrymple, of Port Allegheny, Pennsylvania, was Exhibited. She was first Open Class, at Newcastle,  and first open, Philadelphia. These awards were probably in the miscellaneous Classes at those shows, for we find the same bitch appearing and winning the miscellaneous Class at New York in 1907. entered as a Belgium ( sic. ) sheepdog. 
"The bitch's real name was Mira von Offingen and was imported in 1906 by Otto H. Gross along with two others. How she came to be shown in Dalrymple's name is not known. After finding nobody in America was interested in the breed, Gross took Mira back to Germany.  Mira of Dalmore was never registered in the American Kennel Club Stud Book. 
"In 1908 she was again exhibited in the miscellaneous Class at New York in 1908, this time entered as a German Sheepdog. In this Class she had competition, another German Sheepdog known simply as Queen being exhibited by Adolph Vogt, who won first in her class, defeating Mira. This Queen, was in all probability, in fact Queen of Switzerland(115006), of Largely Krone blood. The first GSD to be registered in the Studbook of the American Kennel Club."


Sunday, 20 December 2015

GSD winner "among the worst I have ever seen" says world's leading locomotion expert

This is Ch Kysarah's Pot of Gold. Despite the fact that his hock is on the floor, he was awarded Best of Breed at the National Dog Show in the US three weeks ago.

This winner is "among the worst I have ever seen," says one of the world's leading canine locomotion expert, Professor Dr Martin Fischer, author of Dogs in Motion, published by the VDH (German Kennel Club).

There has been quite a lot of chatter about this dog on social media - some saying the dog is awful; others maintaining that he is an improvement on other American showline GSDs. You can see his pedigree here.

Here's a video of him in the ring at the NBC-televised National Dog Show.

If you don't look too closely at him on the move, he looks OK - and the American show dogs don't have the hinged backs you see in GSD showline dogs in Germany, UK and elsewhere.  But they do have paddling-fronts and unstable rear ends which become all too obvious if you freeze the action. Have a look at these frames from this video.*

"His movement hurts almost all biomechanical principles of dog locomotion," says Professor Fischer. "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 [thigh bone] move in matched motion, which means that the femur in this dog is placed in a most unfavourable, 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 not understand how such a dog could have been selected Best of Breed."

These are strong words from Professor Fischer, who is Director of the Institute of Systematic Zoology and Evolutionary Biology at the University of Jena. But I thank him for speaking out because show breeders of the German Shepherd - in the show-ring on both sides of the Atlantic - must reconsider what they are doing to this incredible breed.

The saddest thing is that this dog is by no means the worst - although perhaps the worst actually awarded Best of Breed at a flagship show.

No other breed of dog walks on its metatarsals. A dog's hock should never hit the deck when it runs in a straight line. Moreover, it has been proven to make the dog mechanically less-efficient - by Professor Fischer and others - even in the less extreme dogs.

The problem is, of course, that it is so very difficult to convince GSD show-breeders that the way they're breeding the dogs is wrong, as anyone who has ever tried can testify.

What we need is a cohort of experts with real standing, such as Professor Fischer, to lobby kennel clubs and breeders for change.

These pictures landed in my inbox this week, btw - the collateral damage to breeding extreme dogs. This is a 7-mth-old show-bred youngster handed into a GSD rescue in Los Angeles last year; presumably because the breeder couldn't find a buyer for him. (Source here.)

Beautiful dogs, failed by the humans who purport to love them the most. 

* thank you to Ann Cardon for pulling out these freeze frames