What makes a dog a particular breed, meaning we can tell the difference between a Doberman and a Dachshund, or a Collie and a Chihuahua. Why to Bassett Hounds have those wonderful ears and why does the poodle have their famous coat, and why has the media lately been using the words Pit Bull type. All of these questions are wrapped up in an answer that involves those immortal breed standards. These are what the ideal dog of that breed would look like. A list of physical characteristics and some behavioural ideals that a breeder should aim for with all their dogs. When I set out to write this I was thinking mostly about dogs, but in my world of fish breeding we also have ideal standards that we attempt to keep to whilst breeding our fish. Every pet in the world that has recognised breeds, and especially those that may be shown in a competitive way, has these breed standards to define each breed, what it looks like, and when you buy a young pet, what it should be when it grows up. Also what we are not allowed to own, here I'm thinking of the banned 'types' of dogs, the difference between a pet, and an exotic breed. DNA testing today is not yet reliable enough to test for a dog's specific breed. Whilst it can be used for an indication, we still look for the physical characteristics to tell what breed the dog is. In the UK the Kennel Club are the first point of enquiry to find out about a specific dogs breed standards, and it would be more than this article could contain to list them, all. But are these breed standards a good or a bad thing. Recent headlines and TV programmes have begun to highlight the problems that some breeds now suffer from, with the breeding for specific traits carrying with it a host of problems. Firstly genetics come down from the parents in neatly packaged bundles, 39 chromosomes from each parent for dogs, meaning that whilst you may be selecting for a particular desired trait, other traits come packaged along with that desired characteristic. A simple example comes from the Angelfish, the wild type has those wonderful black stripes on a silver background, but one desired strain has an all black, or a close to all black body. But the same gene that codes for that black body also holds a code for aggression, meaning the closer to that all black fish the breeder desires, the more aggressive the fish becomes. White coats in cats and dogs in some breeds increase the chances of being deaf. Dalmatians have a white coat with black spots and for many years were known for a higher than average number of deaf dogs. The list gets gradually worse, Cone-Rod Dystrophy in Springer Spaniels, long and smooth haired Dachshunds can lead to blindness; Cyclic Neutropenia of Gray Collie Disease, causes not only the lighter coat in affected collies, but also a lowered immune system, and often a young death; Fucosidosis in English Springer Spaniels leads to aggression, depression and forgetfulness, and only gets worse with time. But it's not all bad news, genetic tests are now available for many of these conditions. Reputable breeders now commonly test for known conditions, such as hip testing breeds prone to hip dysplasia, e.g. Alsatians. Puppies purchased from good breeders can come with a genetic family tree, and good breeders don't need to have a huge facility. For many years my family had three bitches, and good contacts with local stud males, there are still show quality dogs that can trace their lines to a kitchen in Liverpool, and a family that cared for the health of the puppies, both in the short term and for the rest of their lives. I can hear you thinking, pedigree pups cost a whole lot more than ones without paperwork, well this dog is going to be with you for years, and years to come, and spending a few hundred more to get that puppy with a great genetic start may save you thousands in vets fees in the long term, and even possibly the heart break of losing them due to a faulty pair of genes. Let's look at that emotive subject, breed type, specifically pit bull type. Dogs up and down the country are measured and judged against a breed type that means the difference between a banned breed and possibly put to sleep, or a pet, returned to the family. The idea behind this is that a pit bull terrier is a breed of dog, and just like any breed has a set of characteristics that are breed for, other breeds can be bred to have the look of this banned dog. A breed is judged, and defined by its looks, and so by definition, a dog that looks like a pit bull is a pit bull. Now personally I'm not a fan of choosing a dog that looks like a pit bull dog, not that I have any issues with the dogs themselves, instead I follow the deed not breed line of thought. But the law is the law as it stands today, and there are thousands of breeds you can choose that will never be judged to be close to a banned breed. Won't have those jaw muscles that can close on a bite and refuse to let go, won't have that stature that is useful for fighting, just like we judge people by what they wear, how they look, we judge a dog by how it looks, and now we see these status dogs as meaning the owner cares little for the type of dog, but wants it as a weapon of war against people they may dislike. We don't need that breed in this country until the law changes. So what can you do, well do your research. Visit the breeder, they do this because they love dogs, I promise there isn't that much profit in puppies unless they are really negligent. Check out the web, see what other people are saying. Ask your vet, they'll be the ones treating the problems, they should know what to look out for, and don't be afraid to ask, have your pups parents been genetically tested. If no, and there is something common in the breed, well it's like buying a car without an inspection or an MOT. Except, you'll never fall in love with your car like you will your dog.