Pedigree Dogs Exposed Exposed

Animal Care College – caring for people caring for animals


This talk appears on You Tube at

My name is David Cavill. I have bred pedigree dogs for over thirty years and I judge many breeds both in Britain and all over the world. I have also worked extensively with rescue dogs too.

In my lectures on breeding and judging dogs there is a major section at the beginning of my talk about how dogs came to be as they are and it might help those who have assumed that everything in the recent television programme Pedigree Dogs Exposed was ‘gospel’ that there is another side to the claims which it made: another side which shows that many of the statements made were seriously distorted and designed just to grab headlines. ‘Headlines’, of course create a bandwagon and many individuals and organisation have jumped on board. In this the producers were extraordinarily successful.

Firstly a few facts: a groomer friend of mind sees dozens of Cavalier Charles Spaniels every month and has never seen a dog with the symptoms described in Pedigree Dogs Exposed – which is not surprising as the incidence is estimated to be about 2%. The programme stated that the incidence was ‘up to 30%’. This is not, in itself, untrue but implies a proportion which is it approximately fifteen times the correct figure!

Several people have called for the Boxer shown in the programme to be put to sleep and even for the owners to be prosecuted for cruelty in that they are keeping an epileptic dog alive. The truth is that the dog is under successful medication and fits ‘about once a month’.

The statement by the RSPCA Vet has been criticised by senior members of his own profession. It is inaccurate and untrue and the RSPCA has since had to withdraw support for it.

The incident of dogs with an inbreeding coefficient of 50% (that is mother to son or vice versa or father to daughter or vice versa) is less than one percent. The average inbreeding coefficient of pedigree dogs on the Kennel Club registry is less than 5%. To put this in perspective, if someone marries their cousin (a very common occurrence in many human societies) the inbreeding coefficient is just 6.25%

There are many other examples of the way in which statements have been taken out of context to ‘prove’ the allegations made in the programme. Beverly Cuddy is a past master of the technique. She is a friend of mine, incidentally but with a long history of prejudice against pedigree dogs for personal and political reasons despite the fact that she is, herself a championship show judge of Bearded Collies. She says in the programme ‘ pedigree dogs are falling apart’. I suspect that this quote was taken out of context for it is demonstrably not true as anyone who goes to a dog show can see for themselves and I delighted to say that she, like the RSPCA and Dogs Trust, has found it necessary to publicly modify their stance.

This is not to say that there are no serious problems within the world of pedigree dog breeding: there are and they must be addresses. But the truth is very different to the message which Pedigree Dogs Exposed tried to deliver which was that all dogs were damaged or crippled. Firstly, though let us see if we can understand the way in which ‘the normal’ translates to ‘the exaggerated’ and, finally to the ‘deformed’ in the breeding of animals.

In my lectures I begin with a picture of a mongrel, which I describe as an unexaggerated dog. It is about 14 inches high at the shoulder, a little longer than it is high, neither heavy or thin and with a medium length single coat similar to that which might find on a working Irish Setter. When I was one of the senior managers at Battersea this was typical of hundreds of dogs we were asked to re-home (times have changed but that is anther and longer story). Whether it is typical of the dogs that hung around human encampments in the days when most of us were nomadic travellers I do not know. I suspect that semi wild dogs then were leaner and ‘racier’ but what I am sure of is that if you left a thousand of our 21st Century pedigree dog and bitches together in and enormous enclosed game park and let them loose, a large proportion of dogs similar to the one I have described would be the result after four or five generations of breeding,

Why should this be? Firstly some of the breeds would not survive into the second generation because they would not be fast enough to catch game or get to ‘kills’ in time so would not be able to hunt and feed themselves while others would not be able to mate or whelp naturally so there would be no puppies from these breeds. Of the rest some would be more adept at foraging for food than others and, if the space were varied enough, it would not be long before the dogs most adapted to specific environments would migrate to those areas where they would have the best chance of survival. So you would have some variety in size, weight and conformation (and temperament, too, of course) but a sizeable number would be like my Battersea mongrel: perfectly adapted for the widest type of terrain. Of the more specialist types you would see some leaner, with longer legs and deeper chests, others, probably fewer, would be thicker set and be heavy enough to bring down slower but bigger animals: our mongrel would do well from the scraps left by those other groups as well as being fast enough to catch small (and often elderly or ill) game.

Now bring in a human dimension, To begin with ‘man’ refines and improves what he has, but essentially, dogs that can be helpful survive and those that cannot are rejected and either are killed or become household pets and children’s’ playthings. Remember the same process was also going on with other domestic animals – cows were being bred that would give more milk for longer, sheep for thicker coats to give more wool, pigs for more piglets in a litter which would grow to maturity with more lean meat and less fat – the process was not confined to dogs.

As far as dogs are concerned a few types were developed for more specialist uses over the millennia. Dogs for herding, dogs for war and dogs for hunting (for fun rather than for food) but eventually people began to use the extraordinarily flexible chromosomes of the canine genome to produce animals radically different to ‘the norm’ in just the same way as breeders of cats, horses, budgerigars, pigeons  and roses for that matter have done for centuries.

Dogs became longer, shorter, taller, thicker set, shorter muzzled and lower to ground in terms of conformation, and hairier, smoother or slacker skinned, wrinkled, double coated, fancy tailed, fancy eared and multi-coloured in terms of their individual characteristics.

I emphasise that I have no problem with any of this but there is a point when the changes introduced militate against the best interests of the dog in terms of its health and welfare. My talk asks the deceptively simple question ‘Where is that point?

I hope I have shown that it is not unreasonable to breed specialist dogs for our own pleasure and/or for the pet owning public so long as they are well cared for and remain fit and healthy.

A breeder may feel, aesthetically, that they would prefer their dog’s ears to be a little more upright, longer or better set; they might want the eyes darker or the coat longer; they might want more or less of a stop or a broader or narrower width of skull – all of these characteristics are ones which are peripheral and acceptable. Coats can be washed and groomed easily so they are not an issue whatever you think of Poodle cuts of the length of the coat on a Yorkshire Terrier, but under normal circumstances, skulls cannot be enlarged, bones cannot be lengthened or shortened, livers and lungs, hearts and throats and eyes and noses cannot be replaced so these are the physical characteristics where ‘the question’ becomes important.

I offer you this definition: as soon as an animal is finds it difficult to eat or chew ‘normal’ food, has difficulty in breathing under all normal circumstance, finds it difficult to keep up with its owner at a brisk walk, cannot under normal circumstances mate or whelp naturally or they die well below the average age one expects a dog to die, then it is important that breeders take a long, hard look at what they are doing.

This has already happened in many breeds and the Kennel Club has put pressure on many others to take action. The Chow Chow is an excellent example: from being a dog with real problems with its conformation, eyes and muzzle it is now, in the UK at least, a pleasure to judge. And in terms of temperament, the Kennel Club brought in a regulation almost fifteen years ago that if any dog bit within a dog show the dog would be banned permanently from showing and all its progeny banned permanently too. The effect was immediate and the incidence of dogs biting people or other dogs at a show is now very rare.

Pedigree Dogs Exposed has forced the hand of the Kennel Club and I know the Chairman and others, including Kennel Club staff, are actually pleased to be given this lever to force through further improvements.

But it must be made clear that the proportion of dogs affected in these ways is relatively small. The vast majority of pedigree dogs live long healthy lives and, in fact, there is no statistical difference in the life span of pedigree dogs and mongrels. If you go to any veterinary surgery the number of pedigree dogs and mongrels you will see are equally balance – about 50/50 – the same as the proportions as in the population as a whole!

Go to a dog show: see for yourself.

2 Comments on “Pedigree Dogs Exposed Exposed”

  1. Cindy Says:

    “Firstly a few facts: a groomer friend of mind sees dozens of Cavalier Charles Spaniels every month and has never seen a dog with the symptoms described in Pedigree Dogs Exposed – which is not surprising as the incidence is estimated to be about 2%. The programme stated that the incidence was ‘up to 30%’. This is not, in itself, untrue but implies a proportion which is it approximately fifteen times the correct figure!”

    Your statistics are at odds with those of

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