The documentary exposé Pedigree Dogs Exposed aired ten years ago in 2008, and led to a huge outcry among dog lovers and the general public about the breed standards, showing practices, and general welfare of pedigree dogs in the UK.
In the decade since the documentary aired, The Kennel Club has worked hard to introduce positive changes to improve the health and welfare of pedigree dogs, and has taken steps to moderate showing practices and judging activities that result in awards going to overexaggerated or unhealthy dogs.
You can find out more about the positive changes that have come about in the decade since Pedigree Dogs Exposed aired within our separate article, and in this post, we’ll look at the problems that are still prevalent despite these changes, and what happens next. Read on to learn more.
The prevalence of conformation exaggerations across many pedigree dog breeds and how these can negatively impact upon a dog’s health was one of the main themes within the Pedigree Dogs Exposed documentary, and one that received a huge amount of attention.
Facial exaggerations in brachycephalic dogs like the English bulldog were particularly highlighted, with the most extreme examples of breeds of this type having a virtually flat face, incredibly narrow nostrils, prominent eyes, and poor dentition.
Whilst there has been a lot of pushback against overexaggerated dogs winning prizes at shows, there is still a huge degree of public demand for dogs with very flat faces, which come with the added risk of a whole host of health problems such as BOAS, overheating, eye problems and much more.
Not all prospective puppy buyers do enough research into the breed they are considering buying in order to find out about their health and the impact of exaggerations – and some choose their dogs on the basis of looks alone. The level of demand for exaggerated brachycephalic dogs has of course led to an increase in the number of people breeding them with little to no attention paid to their health and wellness.
The health and wellness of dogs awarded places in high calibre breed shows is one of the main bones of contention that remain after Pedigree Dogs Exposed, and tackling this is something that The Kennel Club took a long time to action.
Whilst it is true that there has been a lot of attention placed on big show winners since Pedigree Dogs Exposed aired and outcry and bad publicity generated over unhealthy dogs winning places, unhealthy dogs can and do still win shows in practice.
Jemima Harrison, the journalist behind Pedigree Dogs Exposed posted within her own blog on the documentary’s 10-year anniversary that the trend for awarding places to unhealthy dogs has begun to creep back into showing circles, both within and outside of the UK.
Inbreeding can help to strengthen a breed line and the uniformity of certain desirable traits in litters, but it can also increase the prevalence of hereditary health issues, defects, and problems in dogs that result from the mating of closely related dogs.
The Kennel Club’s efforts to educate dog breeders on the parameters of safe inbreeding and the provision of tools to allow breeders to calculate the coefficient of inbreeding for any given mating match have gone some way towards reducing incidences of inbreeding, but the practice is still common.
Even though litters produced through dam and son or sire and daughter matings are ineligible for registration (as are litters produced by mating full siblings) other close mating matches are still permitted, such as mating grandparents with their own grand-puppies.
Outcrossing to unrelated breeds to increase a breed’s genetic diversity and reduce hereditary health problems is still widely frowned upon, and generally means that the litter cannot be registered as pedigrees, although some individual breeders have fought hard to have certain matches permitted in the best interests of the breed in question.
The general public and their buying power dictates to a large extent what sort of dogs breeders breed, and how they choose to do so. Whilst responsible breeders won’t cater to what is trendy or popular at the cost of health and wellness, there are always plenty of unscrupulous breeders out there waiting to provide what the public wants.
Unfortunately, a significant number of puppy buyers want to get a dog that looks a certain way, and brachycephalic dog breeds today are right at the top of the popularity rankings in the UK, with a greater level of demand than supply in many cases.
A lack of research on the part of puppy buyers, the widespread use of dogs with very flat faces or other conformation exaggerations in the media, and the high profile of certain dog breeds with celebrities and the media mean that positive changes when it comes to reducing breed exaggerations can only go so far.
Dog lovers and prospective puppy buyers have the power to demand and drive positive change for dogs – or to prevent it, by making poor choices and buying dogs with exaggerations and health issues.
Whilst the general dog-loving public is fairly well informed on conformation and hereditary health problems in dogs and a lot of information can be found with ease to help with education, not all puppy buyers do their due diligence. Not realising that a certain appearance can come accompanied by health problems or simply helping that you’ll get lucky with your purchase is not enough.
If you are considering buying a puppy, it is vital to do your research first, and find out about the conformation norms and health challenges that can accompany different dog breeds.
Choose a health tested puppy from healthy parents, and beware of breeders selling dogs in non-breed standard colours, without registration papers for apparent pedigrees, or whose dogs have extreme exaggerations.
Only when the general public says no to poor breeding practices and speaks out against breeders and dog show judges that award the results of such breeding practices in the ring will the tide really turn – and a large part of this is on The Kennel Club itself.
However, this is something that all dog lovers and advocates have a part to play in too, and it is one that you can begin with your own buying decisions when you choose your next dog.