This is Durango. He is a rescue that I adopted at approximately 1 year of age. He’s got a lot of terrier in him, but I don’t really know what else. No, he cannot participate in dog shows, but that’s ok. He wins first place in my heart. No, I don’t have a fancy name to tell people that discloses his genetic history. That’s ok too. I have just as much fun telling people how I came up with the name Durango. What’s more, I am perfectly happy with a mixed breed dog that is healthy and happy to have a fur-ever home with me!
As a behavior professional, I often encourage folks to consider adoption rather than purchasing an animal from a breeder. I get a variety of reactions — some folks that will seriously consider the option, and others that won’t. For those that don’t, it seems that they view adoption as a more risky option. They view the adopted pet as they might think of a vehicle on a questionable used car lot. The former owner didn’t want the animal…so there must be something wrong with it. This could not be further from the truth!
Yet, the myth prevails that purchasing a dog from a breeder is a superior option to adoption. So what is the truth?
In an attempt to educate the public on breeding issues, the AKC has put forth some information on their web page. The article presents some discussion on genetics and breeding, most notably discussing genetic defects and how they are passed on. They state that diseases that are dominant (for the breed) need only one single abnormal gene and even if only the sire or dam has the gene, it will continue to show up in successive generations. Devoting a brief paragraph to this and a brief paragraph to a recessive genetic abnormality, the article barely touches on other types of genetically inbred conditions that can be the cause of serious illness in a dog. The question I am left with is whether the AKC and other organizations of its kind are really concerned about genetic inbreeding as it pertains to the health of the individual dog.
In fact, this piece states that selecting a mate for your dog should be “based on an understanding of how the animal’s genes contributed to its looks and of how those genes are passed on and expressed.” And the article continues to make the point of knowing the pedigree in order to “..produce a litter with the qualities you desire.” The implication is that the look of the dog (according to the AKC standards) should be as much considered as the possibility of genetic abnormalities. Unfortunately, this is a double message. If the concern is not to inbreed debilitating genetic traits, then the AKC must consider reforming their pedigree requirements. Additionally, if a dog is completely healthy, lacking genetic defects, why is the AKC not promoting that over the breed specific requirements for show and for AKC certification?
It is sad that this article is nothing but a glossing over of an extremely important topic. It is all too sad that an organization which is able to have great influence upon breeding is not fully disclosing the measure of genetic problems within [particular] breeds! Admittedly, I have not read their entire breeder’s guide and have not fully scoured the AKC website, so to be fair, there may be more information than I am giving them credit for. However, it would seem to me that on the web page called “A Guide to Breeding Your Dog – Step 5: Know Your Genetics” this information should be more than cursory. I would argue that THIS is the page upon which many warnings and stringent guidelines should be posted for potential breeders.
Breeders are generally looking to produce dogs that follow AKC guidelines. Unfortunately, guidelines that consider looks over healthy genetics are not good for the animal. Consider this: brachycephalic breeds can experience great difficulty breathing (eg. pugs), short-legged breeds can experience painful back conditions (eg. dachshunds), and other breeds such as labrador retrievers are quite prone to hip dysplasia. In fact, certain breeds are known to be at high risk for health problems. This is often due to inbreeding that occurs in order to create pups with certain and exaggerated characteristics. Unfortunately, this practice is not only unhealthy for the dog, it can be costly to owners.
So, it is my recommendation that prospective pet owners strongly consider the option of adoption. Mongrels and mixed breeds are often healthier overall. However, not only is their health a consideration. It is important to have a pet that meets the needs of the family. Shelter workers and rescue organizations are more than happy to help you find a pet for your specific needs. They have a vested interest in making sure that the homeless pet finds a forever home — and that means making the right “match” between owner and pet. Besides, wouldn’t it be great to give a home to a pet that needs one?
A Guide to Breeding Your Dog – Step 5: Know Your Genetics. (2014). American Kennel Club. Retrieved from: https://www.akc.org/breeders/resources/guide_to_breeding_your_dog/step_5.cfm