Soundness in Pedigree Dogs

Animal Care College – caring for people caring for animals
The key components of soundness which I have stated on many occasions goes back to the Judging Diploma Course which I wrote (with a great deal of advice from Les Crawley, Pamela Cross Stern, Peter Larkin and Wendy Boorer) back in 1980.  Not that the concept was new: I wrote about the book Conformation and Soundness in Animals published in the 1960s by the Veterinary Surgeon RH Smythe recently but I think my phraseology summarising those ideas, was concise and has stood the test of time.  It is that in any species subject to selective breeding, any departure in conformation or characteristics from the ‘norm’ is acceptable so long as the animal can eat, move, breathe, mate (and whelp and suckle so far as females are concerned) naturally and effectively.   Once you have to restrict exercise, mash food, have generalised and persistent back or joint problems to give just three examples, then the exaggeration selectively bred for has exceeded what is tolerable.
Wendy Boorer used to use the example of a breed of pigeon which had such a distorted beak that it could no longer release its chicks from the egg and I know a few years ago a food company produced a specially shaped kibble which allowed very short-faced cats to pick it up easily.  This is not a criticism of the food company (they were only responding to customer demand) but is a criticism of the breeders who felt that such short-faced cats were acceptable.
Now apply the same arguments to dogs and you can see where I am coming from.
I think none of these criteria need any further explanation but in recent years I have come to the conclusion that we should add a further requirement: that a healthy dog will have a length of life within the longevity spread of the ‘bell’ curve for the species as a whole.  Let me explain for those, like me, who have forgotten all that stuff about graphs and statistics they learned at school.  A bell curve is a graph which looks just as it says – roughly the shape of the sort of bell used in church steeples or in a hand bell.  The graph expresses two factors being measured.  They can be anything but in this instance it is ‘age’ with the length of the curve (the X axis) showing the length of life in years and the height (the Y axis) showing the number that die at any given time.  In statistics it is usual for the very first and the very last readings to be omitted so this would eliminate still born puppies and those dying within a few days of birth and the exceptionally old.  What is left in this instance is an indication of the population longevity of a given species. At the beginning of the curve few die young and at the end, few become very old so the height of the curve is low at the beginning and tails right off at the end when all are dead.  The high point is when the maximum number of animals die.  There are what are called ‘normal’ curves for, say, intelligence and these look very much the correct ‘bell’ shape but those showing longevity are distorted, for the highest point will be well over half way along the X axis.  In humans that highest point is gradually moving further along as, in most populations at least, stay healthier so more of us die at an older age.  In dogs, the same applies, the curve rises until between nine and twelve it is at its highest and then drops away again as by, say, fourteen, most dogs have died and fewer and fewer live longer lives.   If we draw a graph showing the longevity of breeds we have a very different story.  Those closest to the ‘norm’ would fit neatly on the curve for dogs as whole but for some the rise and fall of the line would start earlier and fall away sooner. What we would see is the curve for breeds much larger than the ‘norm’, although approximately the same shape, is ‘shifted’ markedly towards shorter life spans.  I have not carried out any research into the specific breeds listed in the Kennels Club’s ‘fourteen highlighted breeds’ about which they have expressed particular concerns, but I suspect that they would all, whatever their size, show that ‘shift to the left’ described above.  (If breeders in those breeds can show that this is not the case, please contact me direct at so that I can bring it the attention of readers).
However, extremes of type which affect general health and welfare (which are the result of breeders choosing certain characteristics) are dissimilar to genetic health and many people make the mistake of confusing one with the other although there are some generalised genetic conditions which are the result of extreme characteristics.  Entropion is one example and the breathing difficulties which some breeds’ exhibit is another.  However, these are not the same as, say, Progressive Retinal Atrophy, Mitral Valve Diseas or Syringomyelia which develop unseen.  These and many other conditions may certainly be the result of selective breeding but they are involuntary on the part of the breeder and for a wide variety of reasons difficult to eradicate.  However with understanding, knowledge and commitment they can be reduced and eventually eliminated.  This may require considerable investment in research, expense on the part of the breeder to run the various tests required and the involvement of other, allied breeds (cf Dalmatians) but it can be done.
Conditions directly and voluntarily caused by selective breeding such as entropion are much easier to deal with and this is why the KC is forcing changes in the Standards.  Chows have successfully greatly reduced entropion simply by focusing on breeding dogs with larger, less deeply set and therefore healthier eyes.  Breeding for a longer muzzle can eliminate breathing difficulties: if the dog’s mouth cavity has enough room for its tongue and its nasal cavity enough room for air flow then there is no need for it to ‘snuffel’.  The difference does not need to be great – Shih Tzu have relatively short muzzles but I have come across few with breathing problems.   As far as longevity is concerned, breeders can increase it simply by breeding smaller (or less extreme) dogs – none of this is rocket science once one’s head has been raised from the sand.
David Cavill
Explore posts in the same categories: pedigree dogs, pets and animals, showing dogs

35 Comments on “Soundness in Pedigree Dogs”

  1. kate price Says:

    can you tell me why there has been little change to the PUG breed standard?

    • davidcavill Says:

      Thank you for reading the articles and for your comment

      Few of the standards have changed dramatically. The changes in the Pug standard relate mainly to the size of the head (no longer to be ‘massive’ but now ‘in proportion’) the muzzle (now to be ‘relatively’ short rather than ‘short’) and the eyes (‘large’ rather than ‘very large’). If breeders take on these changes the pug will have more space of its tongue and air passages and its eye will be better protected. The idea of the changes is to ensure the animal’s health and welfare – not to change it so that it no longer looks like its breed. Most of the Pugs I know are great little characters and are healthy and long lived but there will always be a proportion any breed which is bred thoughtlessly, In some breeds it does not make much difference but in others, and the Pug is one, thoughtless breeding can lead to the dog being less healthy and more prone to disease than it need be.

      It is all down to the breeder in the final analysis and good breeders are already breeding sound, healthy dogs. I sometimes despair of getting through to the others and, of course, a large proportion of the popular breeds are produced by those considered to be puppy farmers. There is legislation to deal with them but considerable reluctance on the part of local authorities to use it.

  2. kate price Says:

    Hi David
    thank you for replying.
    Can you explain to me what “relatively” means? Surely this is open to personal opinion?
    The same with the eyes; very large/ large?
    These poor dogs are still going to suffer from brachycephalic obstructive airway syndrome and eye injuries until more drastic amendments are made.
    The new standard also mentions “wide open nostrils” which is a start. However, the problem with brachycephalic dogs with regards to respiratory problems is purely down to conformation and it is as much an intranasal problem as one to do with the size of their nostrils.
    you say “not to change it so it no longer looks like the breed”. Why not? If it benefits the breed to have a much longer muzzle then why not? Who are we trying to please? The breeders or the dogs?
    The pug certainly looked different many years ago so why not go back to the way it used to look?

  3. davidcavill Says:

    Dear Kate,

    I appreciate you thoughtful responses – they are a breath of fresh air. You are quite right – it is a matter of personal opinion but a small change have have considerable effect in these matters. In fact, most Pugs lead pretty long an healthy lives therefore the standard does not have to change much and, as you have recognised, large nostrils are one of the reasons why they are comfortable even in very warm weather. In term of ‘why they have to look like their breed’ we go into a philosophical discussions which have endless ramifications. I might be the subject of a future (long) article here. Are you going to Discover Dogs at the weekend – I will be there on Saturday and would be delighted to have a chat

    Best wishes


  4. kate price Says:

    Hi David
    as far as I am aware there has not been any proper surveys into pug health (actually collating data from veterinary surgeries) so it is open to opinion whether pugs lead “healthy” lives.
    The problem in todays society is that people are accepting what is actually abnormal as normal. In my opinion its not normal for a dog to be unable to cope in warm weather. Its not normal for a dog to be unable to play safely with other dogs due to the risk of eye injuries. Its not normal for a dog to sniff in the grass without putting it eyes at risk of injury.
    With regards to the breed standard amendments if the changes are so small and open to opinion, it does in other words mean that very little has actually changed.
    With regards to nostril size, this alone will not help with their breathing as I said above, its an intranasal problem due to the sqaushed bones in the skull.
    As an analogy; if you have a small cupboard crammed full of furniture, there is little room for airflow. You can open the door to the cupboard to let more air in (ie bigger nostrils), but you wont get better airflow in the cupboard until you remove some of the furniture.
    Did you know that in the USA, pugs are routinely having their airways opened up by surgery at the same time as being booked in for neutering?
    Surely that is not normal?


  5. davidcavill Says:

    You are quite right, Kate and it is true that in that States many breeds are bred less well than they are in the UK. This does not mean we have problems but if you compare the Chows in USA, Central Europe and in Russia you will see immediately that they are very different. Because the PDE programme focused on the UK everyone seems to think that we are the problem. This is not the case. We have the problems, to be sure, but it is world wide. Pugs are not one of my specialist breeds but I have judged them and found them, overall, pretty good. I do not have figures for Pug disabilities in the UK (and there are sure to be some) but there are more serious problems in other breeds. We need a fundamental reappraisal about breeding pet animals (not just) dog but this does not mean the re-education of breeders – it mean the re-education of the public which engenders the demand for extreme type. Put in as many regulations and laws as you like. The responsible breeders will comply (as some are doing already in the UK) but backyard breeders will just set up to produce the dogs the public demands.

  6. kate price Says:

    Hi David,
    the great thing about PDE is that it highlighted many flaws in the present system of buying and breeding puppies, leading to many welfare reports such as the APGAW report today.
    Re-education plays an important role indeed but not just with the public. Many breeders are still in denial (ignoring) that many breeds are suffering from conformational and genetic illnesses and diseases. There are MANY good breeders out there that are spending alot of money doing the appropriate tests etc, finding good knowledgeable homes for their dogs. However, there are also many that aren’t, and sadly use the “kennel club registered” as a stamp of approval. The kennel club seems to run a two tier system of registration, the general (open to just about anyone), and the accredited system. However when anyone has a problem with a pup that they find via the KC, the KC are not ready to help unless they are from accredited breeders. So why do the KC still take registration money from potentially byb’s and puppy farmers?
    As to the seriousness of pug conditions compared to other breeds, I would say life threatening airway problems are quite serious and so is pug dog encephalitis. In fact there are numerous congenital and hereditary conditions pugs suffer from. Why do the kennel club list no recommended tests for pugs? That makes it alot easier for pug accredited breeders to sell on untested puppies, contracts or not?
    I know the KC put ALOT of money into health tests and research which is great, but please start looking into pug problems and a better conformation which could well reduce many of their problems.

  7. davidcavill Says:

    Unless legislation is introduced the KC have to work within what they can persuade people to do – hence their decision to launch the ABS scheme. You can only do what the public will allow – and many like Pugs, Pekes, Cavaliers (although this is a very different problem) and Bulldogs just as they are. The APWGA has just reported – nothing unexpected since it is funded by the RSPCA – but it emphasises the important of legislation and also says that it would be difficult to frame and enforce. However, the problems have been recognised by the KC (and me) for many years and PDE has provided an impetus but things still cannot happen overnight. You might write direct to the KC re Pugs – or the the Editor at Our Dogs


  8. Philippa Says:

    David you really are a likeable likeable man. But oh what a silly ~~~~~ you can be at times.

    So now it is all the public’s fault? No it is the show ring’s fault for year on year on year deludedly holding up canine specimens that really are just genetic and conformational crocks as the most “desirable” and peddling them to the public.

    Thankfully with more truly courageous people like Kate speaking out (well done Kate by the way on your piece in today’s times) and reports such as the APGAW one (with Bateson more to follow) the public will be educated to understand that showing has seriously harmed our dogs. Breeders are in my opinion in the main blind to the atrocities they have brought about. A point well made in the parliamentary report. They all not only need re-educating they need re-programming to get them to see what harm they have done over the years. They collectively lack understanding, insight and sensitivity. You do not lack those David so it is up to people like you to lead breeders to a better and less deleterious approach to breeding dogs.

  9. davidcavill Says:

    This pie in the sky, Phillippa. You cannot ‘re-programme’ people. It would take us to 1984 land. You can cajole and persuade (working from their base as I do) or you can scream at them as being monsters and uncaring (deluded they may be but they do not think they are uncaring) which will just put their backs up. And it is not question of fault. We are where are we are and we must do the best we can to make things better and that applies to driving cars too fast, people drinking too much and eating too much, hunting, crime, education, healthy living (for humans, much less dogs), Afghanistan to child abuse – everything. Ladies, get real. There is not point going on at me – I am on your side. I am only trying to help you understand that that there is a) another side of the story which is about pleasure and companionship through pet animals with many (pedigree) dogs being involved and b) explaining that Rome was not built in a day. Tarring all pedigree dogs (and pedigree dog breeders) with the same brush does nothing more than build up resentment and will, in my opinion, slow things down, I suggest you wait for the Bateson Report – genuinely independent and, I hope, balanced and sensible. You will not be surprised to learn that although the APWGA report made some perfectly sound and sensible comments, it was funded by the RSPCA and did recognise that solving the problems would be difficult. I know – I have tried to help solve them without putting myself at odds with those I am trying to persuade to change.

    • Marisa Says:

      Hi David and Kate,

      A good discussion here but just to clarify : The APGAW report WAS NOT funded by the RSPCA. It was funded by APGAW from the money it collects through membership. £30 a year is taken from Associate members which pays for any reports to be published, receptions to be held and any works to be done on the website or printing and sending out of member’s campaigns. I have a full record of everything for the report being paid out by APGAW. Members who pay the £30 include the Kennel Club, Dog’s Trust, WSPA, IFAW, Animal Aid, UFAW and many others not always included on the website list.

      Yes outside of the report. the RSPCA do fund the APGAW to employ a secretariat but Eric Martlew MP chose me and I answer to him and other political members only. Mr Martlew is very careful to ensure there is no influence by any one member.

      The RSPCA did not have any sway in the report and in fact they have stated in their press release that they don’t think it goes far enough. The report makes clear that we understand the relevance of the KC and some of the positive things they have done. I believe it is a fair and balanced report but then of course having been involved it would be true to say I am biased in that way!

      The absolute truth will be seen when Professor Bateson publishes his report in the new year and that will come with more scientific evidence. If that follows the same lines as the CAWC report and APGAW then it will become very difficult to argue that this is not a very serious problem.



      • davidcavill Says:

        Hello Marisa

        Thank you for your contribution and your comments. I am very happy to accept your assurances. It would be wonderful all branches of government were so responsive and open.

        Actually, I also thought that the report was fair. However, my concern is always that many of the conclusions reached are founded on opinion rather than fact, that many of the figures bandied about in these circumstances are often wildly inaccurate* and the real problems (that of the mass puppy producers) are largely ignored. I also look forward to the Bateson Report. Thank you all for a stimulating and, I think, fair and balanced discussion

        *Until a few years ago the National Dog Wardens Association produced an annual report about strays. They stopped doing it because they said it was impossible (that’s ‘impossible‘ to get anywhere near a figure that was even reasonably accurate. I am a great supported of Dogs Trust (Clarissa is a long time personal friend as well a colleague in the animal care sector) and they now produce a stray dogs report each year. I have shown that is it all but meaningless. The number of dogs in the community? The PFMA changed their mechanism for collecting statistics the year before last and the the difference in the total was over 30%. On examination I believe the change gave a less accurate figure – and it was not defendable before. The proportion of pedigree dogs? How do you define a pedigree dog? Whose definition is valid? What about created, designed breeds – they have a ‘pedigree’ – how valid is it? What about Patterdale Terriers. The Eurasier has become very popular in Europe and we have a good few in the UK (145 puppies registered last year) – it did not exist a few years ago it was invented! Just some random thoughts

  10. kate price Says:

    Dear David
    there are many pedigree dog breeders out there who do everything they can with regards to health testing, and finding sensible homes etc for their pups. The APGAW report mentions contacts, and I know many breeders already do this. So therefore I am not tarnishing “all breeders” with the same brush. As I also said I am well aware of the money that the KC for years has been putting into research and many other good causes to do with dogs.
    My main concern from the start here has been to do with those at the top (kennel club/breed clubs/pug breeders) actually recognising that many of the problems with the breed are purely down to the way they look.
    No one can expect the way a dog looks to change overnight, but even the breed clubs of many brachycephalic dogs are still in denial that conformation is a major contributing factor. You only have to look at paintings from years ago to see how much the pugs face has been flattened and flattened over time. That is not down to “natural” selection but human selfish intervention. So lets give some helpful intervention to reverse what we have done.
    Since its the KC and breed clubs that set the standards, and both that seem to deny that its a conformational problem, where is the hope for this breed.
    The fact that there is a study to “try and find a gene responsible” for respiratory problems in flat faced breeds, to me, highlights again that people that can are still denying the basics problem.
    Its been 24 hrs since the APGAW report and so far as I can see, yourself and many breeders (on certain well respected dog forums) are already not taking it seriously because of which organisation funded it. How many reports need to be done before anyone listens?
    The other main problem I can see is that people like myself who have written to the KC with our genuine concerns and worries just get the door shut in our faces, and what we have to say isn’t taken seriously at all. Thats where things also need to change.
    Thankyou for listening

    • davidcavill Says:

      Kate, we are on the same side.

      I would appreciate knowing who on earth said that there was a study to ‘find the gene responsible for respiratory problems in the short muzzled breeds’. It is a ludicrous suggestion and typifies the ignorance of genetics and selective breeding that seems to permeate all these discussions.

      Please supply me with the evidence of the KC door being shut in your face by the KC. They are, understandable cautious about the media as a whole after Jemima’s mauling last year but that should mean you are fobbed off. The problems, which I pleased to see you seem to realise are complex – I mean really complex and there is not even a slow fix much less a quick one. This is not to say that we should not be trying – and many of us are trying – or that we will not succeed but only in the long term. Legislation is not the answer – there is plenty of that and were it enforced change would quickly follow. This is not to say the KC is right either – there is much on which we disagree.

      Actually, I take the report very seriously. There are some useful comments – but I knew all that anyway (this is not arrogance – I have been thinking and writing about these difficulties for 30 years) but it is littered with inaccuracies and admits on several pages that ‘facts/figures are difficult to come by’. The reason for that is that there are no reliable facts and figures and to try and write a report like this without them wastes much space. I do not disagree with many of the conclusions. I just recognise that the suggestions as to how these problems could be solved are naive, partly because they are toocomplicated, partly because many will not work but mainly because no government will go to the expanse of putting them in place at a level that has a cat in Hades chance that they will be effective

      Come to lunch with me at Clarges Street and we can discuss it properly

  11. David, the APGAW report was NOT funded by the RSPCA. The RSPCA pays the admin costs of running APGAW but this does not give the RSPCA input. The cross-party MPs and peers would be horrified at your implication of bias.

  12. davidcavill Says:

    Thanks for that Jemima – Who did fund it?

    I quote

    ‘The funding for the enquiry was received from the APGWA who paid for the transcribing and production of the report’

    This may not mean it was biased but it is hardly transparent in this day and age


    • Kimberly Says:

      Thought all of you might find this interesting.
      From the APGAW website:
      “The Society[RSPCA] has employed staff in Wales to liaise with the Assembly since its inception, working with AMs to set up APGAW Wales and provide the secretariat. The RSPCA political affairs and campaigning wing works with all levels of Government ranging from the Assembly to Local Government, Central Government, MPs, Peers and MEPs. Over its 180 years the RSPCA has been instrumental in achieving substantial improvements to legislation and regulation.”

      • davidcavill Says:

        There is no doubt that the RSPCA has done some excellent work in the protection of animals for very many years and continues to do so in some ways – this may be one of them.

        However, in my view, it is now more focused on maintaining its income stream by keeping its profile raised in any way it can. This has led to serious errors of judgement and has done the organisation no favours. It has been (and maybe still is) infiltrated by animal rights activists who have their own agenda which is significantly at variance with the RSPCA’s objectives as understood by the general public. Treat with caution. Money left in wills to ‘The RSPCA’ does not reach the small hard working charities which have been established under the RSPCA umbrella – it all goes to ‘Headquarters’ which doles out a few pounds occasionally for ‘training’. See my full article on this web site

  13. kate price Says:

    Hi David
    you must have heard of pekeprogress and the brachycephalic open group that includes many from breed clubs of brachy breeds including pugs?
    Ive also been told by the pug dog club that they are looking into this too.
    As for the door being shut in my face, well Ive exchanged emails with the KC re my pug who I purchased in 2003 from a reputable breeder and one who the KC recommends as a judge too. Sadly your ABS didnt exist then, but this breeder registers her pups with the KC. All I got back was “we are sorry” and basically that there was nothing that could be done as they are non accredited breeders. I know of others with similar stories.

    • davidcavill Says:

      Actually, I had not and in my view it is an excellent example of what we have been talking about. I wonder who provided the advice (and is taking the money) for th research into a gene for BAC. By definition a ‘syndrome’ is usually condition with a number of interrelated causes. If the breeds were just prepared to put up with a (slightly) longer muzzle (Tibetan Spaniels are a good example) the ‘condition’ would almost certainly disappear.

      I am really sorry about the problems with you dog – but please do not call the ABS ‘my’ scheme. I have studied it and written extensively about it and it has too many failings for me to give it support I would like to. I like the principle but the practice leaves much to be desired. Improvements are being made but there is a long way to go. Tis is not the fault of the KC – they are doing their best – but they should not have started from where they did and getting back on track is hard. It could have been done had it been thought through. This is not sour grape – hindsight is a wonderful thing and as the advantage of having no responsibility for outcomes

      The key element in the ABS working – and in any form of genetic/health testing is identification. DNA records of all those dogs in the pedigree register would be a good start. The important thing NOW is that it would prevent fraud and in the future it would provide an increasingly important foundation for future research. But even implementing that seemingly simple measure is fraught with problems. The AKC to their credit, tried it and nearly went bankrupt as a result. The legislation required to enforce such a measure would be unwieldy and draconian. Many councils (and it would be down to them) cannot even protect families and children. It would no more effective the the Breeding of Dogs (Welfare) Act. Not because it does not/ could not work but because their is no effective mechanism to enforce it.

  14. The report was funded by APGAW who charge membership from Associate Members including the RSPCA, Kennel Club, Dog’s Trust, IFAW, WSPA and others. The Secretariat is funded by the RSPCA but is fully independent of it. Marisa Heath does not work for the RSPCA – she answers to the political members. All this info is available on the APGAW website.

    Really, David, it’s time to tackle the message, not the messengers and stop inventing reds-under-the-bed paranoia about agenda and bias.


    • davidcavill Says:

      Oh Jemima – so naive.

      Have you ever been to an RSPCA reception at the House?
      Do you know the proportions of the member fees ( as distinct from associates)?
      Anyone can be an associate member for £30 (actually £10 at the moment) and it is true the KC is an ‘associate’ member.
      Web sites? They are all about advertising and PR. There are very few of the organisations listed who are not just trying to raise their profile and of course, it is important for members of the House/s to keep themselves in the public eye – it is what is expected of them.

      This does not mean that the objectives of those organisations or those people are not worthy. Of course they are, but please be realistic. Pushing your agenda costs and as far as the organisations are concerned, if the legacies are to keep rolling in then profiles must be raised. Some organisations (and some people for that matter), sometimes inadvertently but often deliberately, distort and invent invent ‘facts’ to make their point. I try not to do that.

      The message is clear enough but tackling the problem is embedded in our society and is complicated because it is a ‘syndrome’ (see other posts here) not a specific problem (like smoking in a public place) with a solution

      Just to take one example – the Bedlington Terrier people have spend many years and thousands of pounds seeking the source of a problem they have in the breed. They thought they had solved it but last year it turned out that they had not and have to start again. That is one specific problem in one specific breed with dedicated breeders making an enormous effort and raising a great deal of money to solve it.

  15. I see Marisa Heath has posted. David, I hope you now accept that you were wrong to imply undue RSPCA influence. Perhaps you might take the opportunity to reassure the messenger-shooters on the Our Dogs message board who are accusing APGAW of bias.

  16. davidcavill Says:

    Jemima – I refer you to the press releases by major organisation on the report. Without exception they use it to highlight their own interests. Of course they do. The RSPCA has said that the report does not go far enough. Of course they would.

    But there is more to it than that. To influence a report such as this you do not have to ‘fix’ the committee. What you do is to produce your own ‘independent’ report and submit that as your ‘evidence’, If it is packed with researchers, professors and the like, such a document is very impressive – but also very intimidating to your average MP (Eric Martlew is standing down at the next election having had what one newspaper has described as ‘an unremarkable parliamentary career’. Now I know some of those involved in the RSPCA submission personally and despite their undoubted qualifications, many have little or no experience of the world of dogs.

    I was a member of the Bow Group for many years and worked with the people who set out to influence our parliamentarians – and I have worked with charities who want to make their influence felt so I know what the objectives are, how its done and which buttons to press. And so do you Jemima. I respect you for you do it very effectively. But being effective does not make you (or me) ‘right’.

  17. Philippa Says:


    Just admit that in truth you are just a little peeved that the evidence you submitted has been totally overshadowed by the compelling evidence from so many who really care about the health status (or rather lack of it) of our pedigree dogs. David I suggest that at heart your main agenda remains the safeguarding of your precious preoccupation – dog showing. You dismiss on a daily basis the very real suffering caused by breeding practices aligned to dog showing and you are beginning to sound like you don’t care tuppence about the “collateral damage” brought about by inbreeding, popular sires, and worse the persistent and wicked ignoring of inherited problems by show breeders. As a vociferous pet owner who has expressed my views publicly I receive many an account on a daily basis of yet more suffering caused by such poor breeding. Very often in relation to not just show breeders but accredited breeders and this must STOP. You should also bear in mind David that the next tranche of pet owners with affected dogs will become increasingly more angry and more vehement about the issues when they realise that people like you even in the face of the facts have deliberately chosen to a)ignore the compelling evidence and b) make continual attempts to mischieviously discredit the messengers. We will simply grow in our determination to rid our society of poor breeding, stubborn breeders and the inert KC. You say you are on the side of the sick pets – can we see some clear action and leadership from you on this matter? Please. Instead of your tiresome filibustering.

    Do you know by the way David why you were asigned the radio debate on five live the other night and Caroline Kisko did not take that opportunity? She seems to have been strangely silent recently on live media.

    • davidcavill Says:

      Philippa, I am not peeved at all – I don’t do ‘peeved’ as I should hope you would know. Neither do I defend dogs not well breed, nor extremes of type and am very sympathetic to those owners of dogs (and cats and rabbits) who have the pain and costs for caring for an animal which is not healthy. As it happens, and as I have said repeatedly, there is much in this report with which I agree (and some of those points were made by me in my own submission).

      So I am not defending the bad – but the good that people do and are doing is getting lost in the hysteria being whipped up through the media by those who are using (selectively) the conclusions for their own ends – just read the press releases.

      What I am saying is that the way forward is better breeding. And I am saying that it easy. However, convincing people to take those very reasonable steps is hard and I spend a lot of my time trying to do so and so does the Kennel Club – who are getting a great deal of ‘stick’ from those it is trying to work with. Dealing with people who are passionate (which they – as are you ) is hard for those of us who try to see both sides of the problem.

      I am saying that the people who have to be convinced are those breeders who still believe that extremes of type are acceptable because they sell the puppies (and although there are certainly some established breeders who do, the majority are sold by those whose only consideration is to fulfil a demand). I am saying that legislation and regulation are not the answers. I am saying pedigree dogs are an intrinsic element of the cultural fabric of our society and changing attitudes is very difficult. I am saying that there are solutions but that heavy handed regulation is unlikely to be the answer – because the regulation is already in place and what there is is not enforced – except by one large charity which more often than not uses it for minor and publicity purposes and even then gets it wrong (see details on the Self Help Group site). I am saying that bringing all the problems to the public attention is good but that we should keep a sense of proportion. The vast majority of pedigree dogs are not subject to extremes of type and do not have genetic defects which affect their and their owners lives.

      And you accuse me of filibustering! Philippa – I have spent 30 years on this – my book on breeding which emphasises exactly those characteristics requires for healthy dogs was published over 20 years ago. I created Dog Directory exactly for this reason nearly 30 years ago – please don’t tell me that that I have not taken action or that I am not concerned. I deal in the art of the possible.

      As far as invitations to take part in radio programmes go – what has that got to do with anything? The invitation went to Our Dogs and might well have come from the KC if Caroline was not available. At least the programme had the sense to develop a balanced discussion the issue.

      Think about it – I accept much of what Jemima, you and others say about this issue. Why will not you accept at least some of the things I say? The APGAW report had some sensible conclusions with which I have no problem and will support. I make what I consider sensible comments and I get hammered for not caring. Who is not being fair here? You make is sound as if I defend bad breeding. I do not and never have. Please try and take off the blinkers and take some of what I say on board

  18. kate price Says:

    Hi David,
    to clarify, I do not write for the Times as you have suggested on your forum.
    Im just your average “pet owner” who in 2003 (before the ABS) went to a “reputable” breeder, one that has a good reputation, judges the breed under the KC’s approval and who’s kennel name I see continuously used by breeders of pugs, in a way that implies its a good thing. They also still register their pups under the kennel club.
    So my dog has has a terrible life so far and I was not willing to sit back and be told that she is just unlucky or a one off. I approach the kennel club and the breed club. All I get from the KC (like many in the same situation) is a nice but very disheartening “sorry for your dog” and “most pugs are healthy”. But the biggest and most hurtful thing is when the kennel club come up with the blanket response “these breeders are non accredited”. I got my dog before the scheme started. I’d be interested to know what response they would have given to someone in 2002.
    Some might say to get rid of the two tier system of registration and go for just one big ABS. As far as I can tell the KC are unable to do this because they are worried this will push away all breeders to other registers. Ive also heard the KC say this would mean they would be unable to keep an eye on these non accredited breeders and thus the welfare of the dogs they produce.
    The KC certainly were not interested in keeping an eye on the breeder I used because they “were not accredited” yet they were/are still willing to register their pups (oh and approve them as a judge for the breed).
    Your posts above (to me) somewhat confuse me. I think you are agreement with me that as the pug stands at the moment it is need of help particularly with regards to the way it looks. I put to you that the breed clubs were in denial that conformation was a major issue and were trying to find a gene responsible for breathing issues, which in my opinion is a way to delay any further changes to the standard (as this would take years), and just won’t face up to the common sense fact that the majority of the pugs problems are caused by the manmade standard. On the one hand you agree and call it a ludicrous idea, then you say its a good idea.
    I am beginning to believe those responsible for setting the breeds standards have absolutely no basic knowledge of animal anatomy and physiology or should maybe go back to college and do NVQ level 1 in such subject as is doesn’t take a PHD to recognise the basics.
    Because of this, it leads me to believe that somethings not right. Who is responsible for setting the standards? Please correct me but I thought it was between the breed clubs and the KC. Why are the standards set and for what purpose? Is it to represent the ideal shape of the dog? Is this for the dogs benefit or other interested parties?
    David Ive asked and asked the KC and breed club why there are no recommended health tests in pugs. I still haven’t been given a sensible answer. In fact the reply I got was
    ” Regarding health tests, there are no regulations yet saying that
    breeders should have all tests carried out before breeding, however all
    responsible breeders do the tests. Only Kennel Club Accredited Breeders
    are required to carry out the tests for their breeds.”
    There simply aren’t any tests recommended!
    In fact I see you have invited me to KC headquarters for lunch? I would certainly like to do this if it was still possible.
    David I really hope you do not think this is a personal attack on you. Far from it, as you have been opened and honest in your answers which is very helpful.


  19. davidcavill Says:

    Dear Kate,

    I am sorry for the confusion. You make some very good points.

    First: the likelihood that there one gene which would solve the breathing problems in Pugs is very, very remote. There is not usually a problem in tracking down one gene. Quite a lot of genetic conditions are ‘one gene’ related (and can affect all dogs like Irish Setters and others who could not be described as ‘extreme’ in type), but most of the ones we have been talking about are multi-faceted and solving the problem is not related to genetics but to selective breeding. So the first thing to do is to separate ‘problems’ in to the various types. I should say that the following is an oversimplification but I hope it established the principles

    1 A random genetic condition caused by mating two dogs which have, coincidentally, a DNA profile which allows the condition to be expressed – they do not have to be pedigree dogs, it can happen in any mating. The answer is that the breeder should ‘move away’ taking great care in using the sire and dam (and their ancestors) when breeding

    2 If you continue to use those dogs and the progeny and ancestors of those dogs you narrow the gene pool and and more and more dogs will be affected – and may pick up other problems along the way. You quickly get to the stage where it might be impossible to breed at at all without the condition/s being expressed. This can happen even in a large breed where one sire or a small group of sires, which carry the condition can effect many litters as as happened in Cavaliers. In some breeds, Norwegian Buhunds, for instance, you virtually have to start again with imports which are known not to be affected. The result is sometimes (as in that breed) the resulting dogs are different in type. Although it might not affect the pet owner because only an expert would notice it is the ‘experts’ which do the breeding and they are usually genuinely passionate about ‘their’ type and do not want it to change. Herein lies the nub of the problem!

    You could stop breeding the breed altogether and some would have this as the answer. However, that would leave a gap in the lives of many hundreds of thousands of people to whom they appeal and this seems harsh to me.

    Most of these conditions are complex – polygenic – (Hip dysplasia, miral valve disease and syringomyelia, for instance, all of which affect dogs of ‘normal’ confirmation) and a ‘test’ may indicate that they are present – but that does not mean that there is an answer or a cure.

    On the other hand, because they are polygenic they result in a ‘range’ of symptoms from very mild to very serious. In many cases the condition can be managed. I am short sighted and so have to wear glasses and if I was mildly arthritic I would take less exercise and move more slowly -I take steps to ‘manage’ the condition. At the other end of the scale I could be almost blind or crippled by the condition. This does not make it easier for those in that position but the proportion is small and for most people they are inconveniences.

    The solution is, again, to move away from the lines in which the disease is established. It is not something that can be done overnight and with a group of problems you may have to tackle one at a time but it can (and is being done) in many breeds and Chows and Norwegian Buhunds are good examples of the successful implementation of this strategy.

    3. Related (because the breeding of dogs of extreme type tends to increase the likelihood of the problems described above) is the selective breeding for specific characteristics desired by the public (breeders were members of the general public before they became breeders). You like Pugs and so do many thousands of others. Breeders do too and will try to breed what they (and you) like. Because they like them there is a tendency to try and ‘improve’ them and this usually means ‘enhancing’ the characteristics. There is nothing wrong with this so long as the dogs have a normal life span for the species and can breath, eat, move and mate and whelp, naturally (see my article above). Although there may be genetic condition side effects from such breeding programmes (as there are in any breeding programs as describer in (2)) the good thing about this is that if you can persuade people to go for a less extreme type the problem simply disappears. Dachshunds with shorter backs will have fewer back problems and Pugs with longer muzzles will be able to breath properly and if the giant breeds were smaller they would live longer lives.

    But persuading people to do this is the problem. There are no laws about it so no one, the KC included, can insist that breeders do it. The KC has taken the view that they must do the best they can to change breeder (and public) perception about the fundamental health and welfare of dogs and they are doing a great deal. But to do this they must have money!

    The government will not give them any and neither will the big charities (which have got plenty) who make so much fuss about the problem – mainly, cynic though I am, to raise their own profiles so the legacies keep rolling in. The KC’s only source of income is breed registrations and if they become too demanding of the breeders who pay those fees in the first place and then encourage owners to transfer dogs, that income would just dry up.

    The American Kennel Club tried it and it brought them to the brink of bankruptcy!

    So the KC is between a rock and a hard place – struggling to meet the expectations of breeder who supply the cash and the public who are concerned and who are, like yourself, affected. They have introduced many changes to the breed standards and have introduced many changes to the regulations and monitoring of judges to make sure those changes are implemented but I am afraid it is a very slow process.

    If you go to you will see the attempts which I have been making over thirty years to educate both the public and the specialist dog breeders and carers. But it is not ignorance that is the barrier- it is passion and, in some cases, obsession. You are quite right – many will just not face up to the problem but neither you nor I, nor the KC for that matter, can do anything other than persuade, cajole and encourage.

    There is certainly some milage in some of the APGWA suggestions and the veterinary checking of animals used for breeding would be a good start – and of course good breeders already do that. But ‘your’ breeder, it sounds to me, probably would not. But if you brought in a law – how would it be applied? Most matings are between healthy dogs and are fine. What about mis-matings (you have no idea how many mis-matings there would be if you brought such a law in). What about ‘designed’ breeds. Those who sell them say that the out crossing solves the problems. I can assure you that it does not

    For myself, I do not think that more regulation is the answer. There are dozens of laws related to animal welfare already in place – and most are just ignored by the authorities.

    I hope this helps to explain the complexity of the subject. I am sorry you feel ‘fobbed off’ by the KC – can you get to Discover Dogs this coming Saturday. If you can, ring me on 07860 591 881 when you get there and we will have that lunch.

  20. kate price Says:

    Hi David
    a very informative reply thank you.
    The pugs problems such as brachycephalic airway sydrome are indeed multi factorial and indeed there will not be “one gene” responsible. It’ll be the genes responsible for skull shape, length of tongue, length of soft palate, which as it stands at the moment are a complete mismatch causing such breathing problems. ie…….conformation
    Conformation is down to breed standards. As the pug breed standard stands at the moment, these conditions are not going to go away.
    I ask again; who sets the breed standards?
    I do see the complexity but I feel it is partly complex because no body is taking responsibility. So maybe legislation is the answer.
    I cannot make Discover Dogs as I work 2 in 3 weekends nursing animals of the flippered, feathered and spikey variety, but would at some point like to meet to discuss things further, maybe at KC HQ.

  21. davidcavill Says:

    Dear Kate,

    I think it would be true to say the KC as taken responsibility overall and I think the standard is fine – it is the breeders who have not taken it into consideration,

    Head and Skull
    Head relatively large and in proportion to body, round, not apple-headed, with no indentation of skull. Muzzle relatively short, blunt, square, not upfaced. Nose black, fairly large with well open nostrils. Wrinkles on forehead clearly defined without exaggeration. Eyes or nose never adversely affected or obscured by over nose wrinkle. Pinched nostrils and heavy over nose wrinkle is unacceptable and should be heavily penalised.

    Dark, relatively large, round in shape, soft and solicitous in expression, very lustrous, and when excited, full of fire. Never protruding, exaggerated or showing white when looking straight ahead. Free from obvious eye problems.

    The uses of ‘relatively’, the sentence re both wrinkles and nose and ‘never protruding, exaggerated or showing white’ all indicate characteristics which would not be of concern without the over exaggerations which have been introduced. As I have said it is convincing the breeders which is the problem. How would you frame a law which says that breeds must not be over-exaggerated?

    If you will forgive me you once again fall into the trap that so many do. Things like skull shape and the rest are polygenic. Indeed, the groups of genes responsible may be scattered over several chromosomes. WE have to persuade enthusiasts that a longer muzzle is a good thing. If we can achieve that improvement will be rapid 0 a couple of generations – three at the most. It is not, as I have said before, rocket science. I will let you know when I am next in London so we could meet up if you are free


    PS I have used our conversation as the basis for an article in a forthcoming Our Dogs. It will give your views coverage in the specialist press for you make some sensible points and it is the effect that breeding practices have on pet owners which may, eventually, have an impact on breeders.

  22. kate price Says:

    Hi David
    we will have to agree to disagree on the changes to the standard. Too vague and open to opinion.
    I take my hats off to Germany and a group of breeders (many) who recognise the health implications of the present standard in Germany which is based on the UK standard.The Pug – Dog and Pekingese – Union, shortly MPRV.
    If you google it you will see their amazing dogs (with muzzles).
    I am glad you recognise the importance that pet owners have on breeders, since they after all create the demand.
    Its just a huge shame that Mrs Kisko in her interview about the APGAW report, that can be heard on their website, dismisses such owners.
    Many “pet owners” submitted their evidence and views to the report along with breeders, breed clubs and scientists.
    To quote her on the pet owners that submitted,
    ” just individuals who don’t necessarily have any experience at all getting the same profile as breed clubs who genuinely know what they are talking about”.
    She then goes on to say “one bad experience does not make someone an expert”.
    Thats appalling.
    Individuals that submitted are living in the real world with real experiences of poor breeding practices. Representing the KC. she has simply dismissed the experiences and pain “pet owners” have gone through. Why should they have been less important than for example the breed clubs. By including them it gives a wider range of views and experiences. If the KC wants to educate those that demand then they need to start listening to those that demand.
    I am looking forward to reading your article, but if your quoting me, Id like if poss to see what you have written first?


    • davidcavill Says:

      Dear Kate,

      I have talked to the team at the KC. Please ask you vet to make a report on your Pug’s specific condition and send it, with a copy of the pedigree and the name and contact details of the breeds to Jeff Samson at the Kennel Club. Please tell me if you do not receive a response within 14 days – they have promised they will get in touch with you if they have those details


  23. kate price Says:

    Hi David
    thankyou for doing this but I have already told Bill Lambert the breeders names. I do not have a copy of her pedigree, and when I called the breeder and asked, she told me she would not have given me a copy if Olive was only 500 pounds. Originally she told me she was that price because she had white on her. I know she keeps a log book and record of all her pups etc but funnily enough she could not find record of Olives parents.
    I will try to get letters from the opthamologist, Cambridge and the RVC with her diagnoses.
    She is now possibly going for MRI scan and spinal tap as she is having mini fits.
    What exactly will the KC do if I do all this?
    many thanks

  24. Interesting that you liken these tests on the Myers Briggs tests, Kerry MB are
    beloved by HR departments, but not precisely nicely rated
    by academics and qualified psychologists.

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