Thursday, December 28, 2006

Breeding dogs for looks has consequences

There's a good article in today's New York Times about how dog "fads" in Japan have led to a huge increase in crippling and fatal genetic defects including "puppies born with missing paws or faces lacking eyes and a nose" or "dogs with brain disorders so severe that they spent all day running in circles, and others with bones so frail they dissolved in their bodies."

Although the article makes it sound like The American Kennel Club has "rules" that prevent anything of the sort from ever happening here, the truth is that they are not, nor do they claim to be, a regulatory organization. The AKC is merely one of several breed registries through which breeders can register puppies as "purebred," and they only enforce their own definitions and standards of "purity." The NYT aricle cites an AKC "rule" that dogs must conform to a list of acceptable colors for each breed, but these rules really only apply to dogs who compete in AKC show rings. Any breeder can take two AKC-registered dogs of a particular breed, regardless of their genetics, and breed a litter of puppies who are themselves then eligible for AKC registration. All AKC registration means is that the parent dogs were registered, period. Registration itself is not a guarantee or indication of quality, health or genetic soundness. Although the AKC does contribute a money toward genetic research and encourages dog buyers to find breeders who test for genetic problems, they do not enforce any standards of genetic health on breeders. And the truth is, one doesn't have to look very far in most contemporary breeds to find genetically transmitted health problems

The issue of rampant genetic problems in purebred dogs is too complex to dissect in a simple blog entry, but I think much of it can be attributed to the "fancy" of breeding dogs solely for looks--which is what conformation shows are all about. Aficionados of working and sporting dogs have long held that breeding for physical traits results in dogs that can't do the work they were once bred for. It's why some working-dog breed clubs, most notably the American Border Collie Association and the Jack Russell Terrier Club of America prohibit dogs in their registries from being registered with the AKC. In fact, the JRTCA was so successful in preventing the AKC from recognizing their breed that the AKC had to make up a new name for the little JRT-like terrier it recognizes, calling it the "Parson Russell Terrier" instead. I predict that in 10 years or so, the Parson Russells will be quite noticeably different from JRTs as various fads in the show ring entice breeders to emphasize one physical trait or another. Quite likely the result will be a little dog that's afraid of rats rather than one willing to go-to-ground after its quarry.

As I said, one blog entry isn't sufficient for a thorough discussion of my views on this topic, so I'll just leave you with a few links I like in case you'd like to read more:
Breeding Frenzy: Why "pure breed" dogs can't fetch: An interview with James Serpell.
Purebred Dog Breeds into the Twenty-First Century: Achieving Genetic Health for Our Dogs by Jeffrey Bragg
The Price of Popularity: Popular Sires and Population Genetics by C.A. Sharp
Population Genetics And Breeding by John Armstrong
Westminster Eugenics Show: Repugnant thinking that’s died out for humans is thriving at the Westminster Kennel Club by Jonah Goldberg

Wednesday, December 13, 2006

A quick agility recap ...

OK, so I've been a combination of lazy/busy, and even though I've been dying to blather on about our agility weekend almost two weeks ago, I just haven't done it. But in a luck coincidence, I just happened to get my three favorite runs on video, so I'll just share the highlights.

First, Mr. Gomez had one qualifying run out of four which, considering that he can be such a goofball, is fine with me. It was in P1 standard, and even though I had to fix his weaves (he pooped out before the last pole) and take three tries to get him through the tire, we were still almost two seconds under time (hooray for the USDAA's Performance option--we would not have qualified in Starters!):


Second, Lucy qualified in three runs (Advanced Gamblers, Grand Prix and Masters Jumpers, of which my favorite was the Gamblers run because she really rocked the joker and we won first place (out of 8 dogs). The one mistake was that she didn't take the first jump I asked her to, but since it was Gamblers, it didn't really matter much:


My third favortie run wasn't a Q, but I'm very proud of it nonetheless because it was the hardest course we have ever run (a Masters Standard course by Janet Gauntt), yet our only fault was the table. I wish I could post a course map, because the video doesn't really illustrate how tough the course was--even seasoned masters-level competitors told me they thought it was very difficult. So for our only problem to be at the table felt pretty good to me (and I think Lucy's behavior was a stress reaction from just having had three very quick and slightly confusing lead changes.) My favorite bit was at the end when I counter-hand turned her out of the weaves to the tire--it worked way better than I expected it to:


So now we have a break in showing until the end of February. I've got lots to work on in the meantime ...

Thursday, December 07, 2006

Another reminder: Unplug that shredder!

This one happened in the UK.

And I'm behind on posting an update about our agility adventures last weekend. The short story is: win some, lose some ...

Friday, December 01, 2006

More agility! (Or: this dog goes up to 11!)

This weekend will be my last agility trial of the "season," which really doesn't mean much because around here the season is pretty much year-round, although the only trial I know of within easy driving distance in January is an AKC trial, and my dogs, being mixes, aren't allowed to compete there (we'd kick some purebred butt if we were, heh heh!). There is a NADAC Toys for Tots benefit trial next weekend that could extend my season one more week, but I decided not to enter.

This weekend's trial is USDAA in Fletcher, NC, and hosted by the Blue Ridge Agility Club, who are known for their well-run trials. The site is fantastic--an indoor horse arena at the Western NC Agricultural Center, and the trial attracts a lot of the "big name" competitors so there's plenty of great agility to watch.

I won't have a lot of time to spectate, since between my two dogs I'll be competing in both rings at all levels (Lucy is in Advanced in some events, Masters in others, plus Grand Prix and Steeplechase; Mr. Gomez is in Performance 1), on Saturday. On Sunday Mr. Gomez gets to go hiking with his dad and I'll just be running Lucy. Both dogs are looking good in practice--sticking their contacts (it's a long standing problem with Lucy!), finding their weave entries from all angles, getting fast table downs, etc., so I'm feeling really good about the whole thing. Hopefully I can stay relaxed enough to have some really fun runs. We'll see, and of course I'll write all about it when I'm back.