The emotional side of dog breeding

by Sandra LindbergJanuary 25, 2023

The human side of pedigree dog breeding is an aspect that is increasingly being described in breeding literature and represents a not inconsiderable problem. And years ago, before I started to deal more intensively with the subject of breeding and read about this subject in various books and other publications, I was already familiar with the mechanisms from conversations with different breeders.

This usually highly emotional side of pedigree dog breeding is understandable for us from the human aspect, because when it comes to dogs, we all tend to react emotionally and can often understand this aspect very well. However, it is precisely this emotionality that prevents objective, scientific and neutral cooperation in the field of breeding and often makes us forget the actual important breeding goal, healthy dogs, free of known hereditary diseases typical of the breed.

Why is that? The majority of breeders only have a few dogs and from our own point of view our dogs are always the best, they have the most solid character, they look the most beautiful and we are proud of them. And that's a good thing, because every dog deserves a home where they are valued and treated well. If it turns out that your own dog has a genetic disposition for a breed-typical disease, then this is often a problem for a breeder, because every failure to breed is an emotional dilemma.

I was first confronted with this problem a few years ago as an outside observer. As part of a research project, the Institute for Animal Breeding and Heredity Research at the University of Veterinary Medicine Hanover identified a genetic cause for SPAID in Shar-Pei. Shar Pei breeders and owners had supported this project with samples of their dogs, among other things. When the results, especially the test results of the individual dogs, became known, a breeder said to me with a laugh that the current breeding stock was actually not suitable for breeding and asked me whether I thought that anyone would draw any conclusions from it.

At that time I was still naive in the field of purebred dog breeding and really believed that breeders focus on health, welcome new scientific findings and initiate consistent changes in order to achieve this goal. A lot of what I experienced in the following time in personal conversations with one or the other was mutual finger pointing, which sometimes took on almost spiteful traits. At that time I realized for the first time that it is not primarily about the breed and its health, but about individual emotions. That although there is a lot of talk about health, it is often only used as an alibi. That some breeders' own status is more important than the catastrophic overall condition of the breed. Individual justifications, whitewashing and problems that are sometimes swept under the carpet are more widespread than the will to efficiently and effectively develop new breeding strategies together and to pursue them consistently.

A point that has always interested me since then is the question of what will happen if individual breeders rethink and are no longer willing to swim with this current. What happens when individual breeders want to break out, openly address issues, and openly advocate for change?

They are excluded from the already small breeder community, they are accused of ignorance and they are portrayed as "nest fouler". A phenomenon that is presented in breeders of almost all dog breeds in a similar way. Those who go quiet after that continue to be tolerated, albeit closely watched. These breeders then try to go their own way.

A breeder who continues to loudly point out grievances often experiences a lot that has nothing to do with his breeding work on the one hand and on the other hand reveals a much more frightening face on the part of his fellow breeders. Personal slurs against a "troublemaker" on social media are now the norm rather than the exception. Various "nest foulers" of different breeds told me about other harassment they were subjected to with the aim of wearing them down and finally calming them down. Anonymous complaints against these "querulants" were and are often submitted to their breeding clubs or veterinary offices. Some "nest foulers" have also had to deal with reports to the building authorities and even the tax authorities.

Conditions that are difficult for many individual breeders to endure as they are socially isolated from the breeder community and completely unsupported in this area. And these breeders are the ones who have my utmost respect, because not only do they put up with it all, they rarely give up. These breeders care so much about the welfare of their breed that they cannot remain silent, although they often have to be disillusioned to realize that there is nothing they can do to improve the condition of their breed.

It is these breeders who can give each other support and advice and support one another and from whom one can learn a lot. It is also these breeders who can achieve something together. While not primarily in their own breed, as a community they can address larger issues.

For years the issue of torturous breeding has been on the table along with the poor general health of many breeds including mine, the Shar Pei. In various European countries there have been animal welfare laws for years that should have counteracted this. But the topic has only been discussed more intensively by breeders for almost a year. They couldn't keep ignoring it as some countries, to varying degrees, started enforcing these animal welfare laws. And even if most of the official efforts initially focus primarily on the brachycephalic dog breeds, breeders of other breeds who are also suspected of being torture breeds began to look for a way out.

I suddenly found myself in an interesting position, because I welcomed the fact that these different countries were starting to implement their animal protection laws, even if the way was poorly thought out, not uniform and very much in need of improvement. All in all, a start that I saw very positively in terms of animal welfare. What really annoyed me about that? The "Controlled pedigree dog breeding is not torture breeding" campaign. Because I actually thought that many more breeders would welcome the implementation of animal welfare laws, since breeders always publicly declare the health of their breed as their highest goal. The strategy of pointing the finger at others shows commitment, but is not effective in the end. Because in the end we are all responsible for our breed.

A year ago I started writing an article on the subject of torturous Shar Pei breeding. This article has given me a stomach ache more than once. On the one hand, because I knew that if this article is going to be published, I would be able to go directly to the community of "nest foulers" and face reprisals. I admit, this is not a situation to go into happily elated. On the other hand, because I had to do much more in-depth and time-consuming research in the areas of law, ethics, genetics and veterinary medicine.

During this time I got to know some very committed people who are all trying to pursue a similar goal and who contribute to it with a wide variety of expertise. The performance of these people, who, despite some of the worst hostilities, especially in social media, do not allow themselves to be deterred and continue to consistently go their own way for the benefit of the dogs, gave me the courage not only to write my article, but also to publish it in a dog magazine that likes to address the subject of torture breeding.

The human side of pedigree dog breeding is not always a nice one, especially when you leave the beaten track and break new ground. Unfortunately, this emotional side makes so many forget what it's really about and that's actually the tragic thing about the whole situation.