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Understanding Pedigree dog breeding

Pedigree refers to a modern dog breed that closely resembles other dogs of the same breed, with ancestry documented in a stud book and registered with one of the major dog registries. There are currently (approximately) five million pure bred dogs in the UK, representing 75% of the overall dog population (source: PFMA 2008)

Many different breeds experience compromised welfare due to the effects of selective breeding practices.  Some pedigree breeds are selected for specific physical attributes rather than health, temperament, welfare and functionality. These trends created in the show dog population have penetrated the pet dog population. Some pedigree breeds have anatomical features which can result in disability, pain, behavioral problems and hereditary disease. There are breeds that are bred with such poor conformation that it affects their breathing, natural birth and ability to exercise.

The breeding to accentuate specific physical traits would be unlikely to cause major problems if done so in moderation however breeders that have emphasized these traits to the extreme will have done so at a compromise to the dog’s welfare. Physical features have been exaggerated to such an extent that they have caused pain and suffering to the animal and limited his natural behavior and quality of life.  The Kennel Club has recognised these dangers and is working on a number of new initiatives to promote the dog’s health, temperament and welfare in breeding programs.

Selective breeding for improved appearance has reduced genetic diversity, thereby indirectly resulting in elevated prevalence of breed specific diseases, many of which are painful or debilitating. The breeding of similar dogs to accentuate traits has meant that dog breeds each represent a closed gene pool in which dog populations have a low and declining amount of genetic diversity.

In most dog breeds, any two individuals in the breed are related to some degree at the genetic level which creates an increased chance of inherited disorders being manifest in their offspring when compared to un-related dogs. This also creates almost complete uniformity within the breed making it difficult to eliminate problem s and diseases without introducing the breeding to another breed. Many breeders are aware they must not breed to close relatives but often find it difficult  to research common ancestry and have added pressures to achieve specific features as laid down in the in the breed standards. Popular show dog champions sire many offspring resulting in the rapid widespread of genetic diseases.

There are currently no regulations or legislation controlling these practices in the UK, also limited record keeping, a lack of transparency and insufficient research, which makes the problem very difficult to fully assess.  Problems associated with pedigree dog breeding have identified welfare concerns such as; a reduction in the animals quality of life, suffering of discomfort, prevention from behaving normally and high risk of disease which can lead to pain, fear and distress, much of which could be avoided with revised breeding practices.

Hip and elbow dysplasia has affected a large proportion of the dog population and as a result many efforts have been driven towards countering these problems. The Kennel club has been working closely with vets to develop breeding programs to assist breeders in identifying dogs at risk and to reduce the amount of inherited disease. DNA based tests have been developed for many inherited diseases but are currently open to abuse by dishonest owners. As the UK dog breeding industry is self regulated it is very difficult to implement these initiatives as many breed societies still fail to acknowledge the common problems of their breed.

The welfare of pedigree dogs could be greatly improved with the adoption of compulsory testing and review of breed specific problems.  There also needs to be more of an open policy with the stud books to increase genetic diversity within the breeds. The introduction of codes of practice to encourage breeders to hold more regard and emphasis over health, temperament and welfare than specific aesthetic traits would also be beneficial to the breeds. To safeguard the future of pedigree dogs, changes in breeding practices are urgently required.