WE KNOW SOME DOG BREEDS SUFFER. SO WHY DO WE KEEP BUYING THEM?

Source: ABC News (Extract)
Posted: Jan 7, 2020

We dote on dogs, refer to them as our best mates and sometimes even let them share our beds.

So why, when it comes to certain breeds, do we make decisions that perpetuate their suffering?

“It’s one of those ironies,” says Mia Cobb, research fellow at the University of Melbourne’s Animal Welfare Science Centre.

“We love our dogs and we want them to live with us for as long as possible and, you would assume, living the most healthy and happy life possible. And yet, at the same time, we’ve been selecting them for features in how they look that is doing the exact opposite.”

Dr Cobb says many dogs live with pain as a result of their breeding, something that has been normalised among owners and breeders, and is too readily ignored.

“We need to acknowledge that it’s gone too far,” she says.

‘Narcissistic’ dog breeding

Alexandra Horowitz, an American cognitive scientist and author of “Our Dogs, Ourselves”, agrees we can do better by dogs.

To start, she suggests we drop our narcissism.

Some breeds, like bulldogs, Pekingese and pugs, have been bred to more closely resemble a human being, she says.

“I think there’s a good reason to believe that one of the things we like about a shorter-nosed dog is that they more resemble a human primate face,” Dr Horowitz tells RN’s Life Matters.

“These dogs often have eyes that are a little more in the front of the face, just like ours, instead of more lateral, like a wolf, which has eyes a little bit to the sides of its face.

“So essentially we are breeding dogs to look a little bit more like ourselves.”

Breeding for these facial features can also lead to significant health problems for the dog, Dr Horowitz says.

Some dogs, she says, need surgery just so they can breathe properly, others need dental work or help with skin conditions that come with their “extra folds”.

She cites the bulldog as an example of a suffering breed.

“Bulldogs of 150 years ago looked like perfectly reasonable dogs, somewhat familiar as a bulldog, and then you fast-forward to today and it looks like that dog has been in a horrible car collision,” Dr Horowitz says.

“Their eyes get ulcerated. They can’t even be birthed naturally. They’ve been bred to have a large head relative to their bodies, so they mostly can’t go out the birth canal. They have to be delivered by caesarean.”

Dr Cobb says pug breeding is another “really good illustration of the extremity of what we’ve done”.

“You can search ‘snoring pug’ on YouTube and you’ll find a million videos of people saying, ‘It’s so cute, my pug sleeps sitting up’,” she says.

“And it’s actually because the dog can’t breathe lying down.

“The snoring or weird ways they might eat or drink that we think is a cute idiosyncrasy, is actually the dog struggling to do basic things.

“Our perception is really mismatched with the reality for the dog.”

Why do we do it?

Dr Cobb says both ignorance and wilful ignorance perpetuate these problems in dog breeding.

She says we’ve developed a “normative belief system” in which we believe certain traits and conditions are “just normal for the breed”.

“People are so good at justifying our behaviours, particularly when there’s new information that makes us feel uncomfortable,” Dr Cobb says.

She says for animal experts like her, the task of shifting attitudes is significant.

“We know that what we’ve been doing isn’t great for dogs and we understand that people will go to extreme lengths to continue the practices,” Dr Cobb says.

The challenge is to encourage a “cultural change to select for healthier, happier dogs”.

Tips for choosing a dog

Dr Cobb recommends animal rescue groups, shelters and pounds as good sources of dogs alternative to breeders.

And for people looking to buy from breeders, she recommends avoiding any “extreme body type”.

“Particularly the flat-faced breeds, because we know that they are having a really tough time, and they struggle to breathe,” Dr Cobb says.

“The little teeny-tiny tea-cup breeds are also really sick and the really big giants also have a lot of health issues.

“Things like German shepherds that have been selected for a sloping back, we now see dogs with really poor hips that can barely walk.

“Those things will have consequences for their health and also the behaviour of the dog, because we know that looks and behaviour are linked.”

Dr Cobb advises meeting a puppy’s parents where possible, and learning about where the dog has been raised and socialised, “so that you’re not unwittingly supporting a puppy farm”.

And no matter where you get your dog from, Dr Cobb wants you to remember that looks aren’t everything.

“For the dog that you live with, what’s really important is its personality,” she says.

“Things like its activity level, and how much grooming it’s going to require — these are the things that are going to impact on how much you enjoy spending time with your dog.

“What it looks like shouldn’t really factor into it.”

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