"What a beautiful stud - bred by me"

I am happy to report that you would never see a Bulldog this extreme in a UK show-ring today.

Unfortunately, you still find them in many other parts of the world.

This dog was bred by South African show breeder Este Dessels (Esmari Bulldogs) and the quote above is what she thinks of him.

No one should be breeding dogs that look like this. No one. Anywhere.

Pied pipers and the blot on the fancy's landscape

The painting above shows a piebald ("pied") Mastiff by Gilpin, dated 1780.  Pied Mastiffs were common at the time and, indeed, the colour featured in the first, 1880 breed standard for the Mastiff (or what's known as the English Mastiff outside of the UK).

But the colour was dropped with the formation of the Old English Mastiff Club in 1883, just three years later. Today, the only admissible colours are apricot, fawn and brindle.

The "problem", however, is that pied Mastiffs have continued to be born, despite breeders' best efforts to get rid of them. For years, these pied pariahs have been quietly culled or sold off to pet homes; same as so many other "mismarks" in so many other breeds.

But now there's a campaign to have piebald re-admitted into the Mastiff breed standard. It is being led by Simon and Jen Willshire of Gammonwood Mastiffs in New South Wales, who believe it is a madness to continue to deny - and decry-  their existence.

It has, predictably, prompted a storm of protest within the breed.

Here are some of the comments out there on Mastiff internet groups.
"The breeders of the past were much more responsible.  They were put down at birth.   Many breeds are put down at birth when they are not correct."  
"The pied 'mastiff' is nothing more than a mongrel with a designer price tag. They are nothing more than the offspring of BYBs."  
"I have never had a pied and never want it to happen.  Breeders today are too soft in the heart, they want to save everything. Are we that sure that these genes just mutated on pieds or could a fox have gotten in the Hen House ...so to speak."
No one knows exactly why pied was dropped from the breed standard. It might have been that it was an attempt to differentiate the breed from the St Bernard. Or it's possible it was connected to an awareness that white is linked with deafness in some breeds (not, of course, that this prevented the embracing of very white dogs in other breeds). But there may have been something else at work too. And that's because piebald/parti-coloured* dogs began to disappear from other breeds (and art) in the late 1800s/early 1990s, possibly fuelled by a belief that solid colours were somehow "stronger" and "more pure".

Note the wording in the excerpt from the 1880 breed standard above..."pieds are admissible and equal for purity".  It was clearly designed to reassure that pied mastiffs were, indeed, purebred.  And that's because at the time "piebald" didn't just refer to a colour - it was a term widely used to describe mongrels (etymology here).

The Mastiff wasn't the only breed to lose its piebalds around this time. Until 1880, Irish Setters comprised both solid red dogs and red-and-whites. They were considered all one breed and were shown in the same ring. But the founding of the Irish Red Setter Club in 1880 specifically excluded red-and-whites. Segregated from the rest of the breed, the IRWS very nearly died out.

Gordon Setters too, often black + white, or tricolour  in the 19th century, became solid black with tan points - somewhat ironically given that the Duke of Gordon favoured the parti-coloured dogs. Interestingly black, white + tan is still considered a registerable colour by the Kennel Club and they do appear in litters from time to time. This picture is of an accomplished working tricolour Gordon Setter, but you would never see one in the showring. Today, the breed standard demands that Gordons are black and tan.

FTCH Freebirch Vincent with Bob Truman, circa 1980
The same happened with parti-coloured Poodles - once widely celebrated in art; ostracised around the turn of the 20th century; today viewed with horror by many Poodle purists.

Of course, piebald/parti-colour dogs remain an integral and valued part of other breeds but it should be remembered that the late 1800s/early 1900s was a time when much of the (white) world was being swept up in unapologetic and unfettered racism; when any hint of "mongrelisation" was viewed with revulsion. The term "piebald" was often used pejoratively.

Look at this reference from Genocide and Settler Society: Frontier Violence and Stolen Indigenous Children in Australian History by Dirk Moses.

And I found this, also from Australia,  dated 1909.

And how about this, from the same period?

We still have some of this prejudice in the horse world. Piebald/painted/pinto ("coloured") horses are considered inferior by many - often dismissed as "gypsy" horses. It is easy to understand how it could have informed dog-breeding. Indeed, many breed standards limit the amount of white admissible. A little bit of white on a dog's chest or foot is often a fault, deemed evidence of impurity.

In Mastiffs, the piebald gene is recessive and can be passed down silently for generations. And so pied dogs continue to be born - and show breeders continue to cast them out, very often dismissed as evidence of crossbreeding back in the pedigree. (This despite, of course, their apricot, fawn or brindle siblings being accepted as purebred Mastiffs). Some kennel clubs won't allow them at all; others only allow pieds limited registration or with their true colour mis-described. You will certainly never see one in the show-ring. The UK Kennel Club standard effectively bans pied dogs by stating: "Excessive white on body, chest or feet is unacceptable."

But this is being challenged by Jennifer and Simon Willshire, of Gammonwood Mastiffs, who were startled when one of their Mastiffs (a brindle bitch mated to a fawn) unexpectedly gave birth to these three pied pups in June 2012.

The Willshires already knew that the recessive piebald gene - although rare - has always been in the breed. Long before their own pieds were born, they had made a film which explored the issue. See here (about 26 minutes in).

Consequently, the Willshires felt that their pied pups had every right to be recognised as Mastiffs. As the Wisdom Panel result below shows, their pups were indubitably purebred. So instead of culling them, as some suggested, they have started a campaign to have the colour accepted in the breed.

The Willshires have been in the breed for 20 years and are active members of the Mastiff community in Australia. Jen Willshire is English - her grandfather was a Major in the British Army, her great grandfather was Rear Admiral in the Royal Navy and served as a Gentleman Usher to four reigning monarchs (including our current Queen) between 1927 and 1961.

In short, they are educated, articulate, passionate, persuasive - and unlikely to be fobbed off by lingering prejudice and arbitrary rules that make no good scientific sense.

They are  supported in the UK by the great canine historian, Colonel David Hancock - a Mastiff man himself:  Hancock maintains: "The exclusion of pieds wholly on colour grounds is irrational, unscientific and harmful to the breed."

But for pied to be fully-recognised, the two Mastiff clubs here in the UK would have to give their approval.  Recently, the Willshires wrote to the Old English Mastiff Club with this plea:
"We know our piebald Mastiffs to be true Mastiffs, no matter their coat colours. They show this in character, form, mannerism and everything they do. They are kind, loyal,courageous friends. They are not the results of crossbreeding and they are able to produce solid standard coloured fawn, apricot and brindle offspring. We ask why should they not deserve the same recognition and acceptance as their parents and siblings?"
They continued:
"We hope the OEMC will take a stand for piebald and provide registry departments with the necessary consent to record their colours accurately. We hope the club will review its stipulation that piebalds may not be bred from, shown or exported. Their genes are useful, their looks are beautiful and they deserve the opportunity to go to the very best homes possible, regardless of where they are on the globe."
And here - brace yourself - is the response from Club Chairman Sian Hall, published in the OEMC Autumn/Winter newsletter.
"Some minor Antipodean breeder, whether by accident or design, have landed themselves with pied dogs and seeks to change our Breed standard to legitimise and justify their actions. Reliable sources say these dogs are being sold as "rare" Mastiffs. Is this to inflate the price? Our breed standard, drawn up by the greast Mastiff experts; Dr Sidney Turner, Mr Mark Beaufoy MP, Dr Forbes Winslow and Walter K Taunton in 1883, when they founded the OEMC, has been our lodestar in definiting the Mastiff is its grandest form. The black mask is indispensable. A white face or part coloured face doesn't bear thinking about. I know retro is cool, but not when it applies to our dogs!!"
So where to now?

It is of course ludicrous to have a colour bar like this still in effect today now that we better understand the genetics. There is no evidence that pied Mastiffs carry a greater risk of deafness that can be associated with too much white (although this has been intimated by some).  And it makes no sense to forbid breeding from dogs that may be superb examples of their breed, just the wrong colour.

At the end of the day, no one would be forced to breed or buy a pied mastiff - there's a DNA test available to identify carriers.  The Clubs worry about Pieds becoming "fashionable" - but what was it other than fashion that led to them being dropped from the breed standard in the first place?

I hope that in my lifetime we will see this kind of discrimination end - and not least because some dogs continue to be killed just because they are born the wrong colour. It is a blot on the fancy's landscape; something has no place in a modern, welfare-savvy society.

But I confess I don't hold out much hope for the Mastiffs. The Old English Mastiff Club is still seething about the fact that they lost a 10-year battle with the Kennel Club to have a dog called Jengren Mr Milligan, born in 1999, struck from the register - something it felt so strongly about that it spent an estimated £18,000 in legal fees. The reason? Mr Milligan's pedigree lists his dam as "unknown". (Report here.) The Club claimed - and continues to intimate - that his dam wasn't a Mastiff. And never matter than Mr Milligan's sire was the Champion Jengren Pluto, that Mr Milligan himself did well in the show-ring and that he went on to sire the breed's record holder, Ch Lady Lavinia.

A current link on the OEMC website states:
"Due to the upsurge of interest and disbelief generated by the emergence and proliferation of an influx of 'mastiff dam unknown' lines and to fulfil our fundamental obligation to protect our noble breed, we are showing the following pedigree as guidance for the unwary and unknowledgeable."
In the same newsletter that trashes the Willshire's plea for pieds, Chairman Sian Hall laments that 32 of the 50 Mastiffs registered in the third quarter of 2013 originate from the "dam unknown" line and concludes:
"All this, together with the farcical strictures imposed on us by the powers-that-be are the slow death knell of the Mastiff that you and I went out and bought, shared our lives with and shed copious tears over when that awful day arrived. Remember what it was that first attracted you to the Mastiff, hold on to it and fight for it. 
"Our footprint in the history of our breed is not one to be proud of. Future generations of Mastiff fanciers may well look back and wonder we we did so little, and cared even less."
The message is clear: the threat of pieds and a drop of mongrel blood will be the ruin of the breed.

The reality of course, is that it more likely to be its salvation.

Please sign the Willshire's petition.

The Gammonwod Pied Mastiffs  Facebook page is here.

* pied/parti-colour means different things in different breeds - but essentially refers to white dogs with spots/slabs/patches of one or more colours.

Pets as gifts: should we trust adopters?

A few days ago I tweeted a link to a blog post by the ASPCA’s Dr. Emily Weiss questioning the shelter dogma that animals should not be given as gifts. In this and an earlier post, Weiss describes her research which suggests that animals given as gifts are no more likely to be given up than animals not given as gifts. That article is open access, so you can read it and judge for yourself. It is a retrospective survey, so there is room for more rigorous science about this topic, but the paper definitely opens up interesting space for discussion and further investigation.

My bosom buddy Julie Hecht posted her thoughtful response on her Dog Spies blog and then ruminated more in a letter to her blogging pen pal Mia. Julie and I got into a conversation about it on Twitter, which unfortunately led to me ranting a bit (not in a hostile way, just in a “I thought about this all so much during my shelter medicine internship and I must let you all know everything I learned!” way). I’ve been thinking since then that 140 character spurts is not the best way to get across what I was trying to say.

Here is the story we tell ourselves about animal sheltering: there are irresponsible people out there. Lots of them. And they have animals, which they don’t value as animals deserve to be valued. They bring the animals to shelters, where people who care more and know more do their best to find the animals good homes. It is the job of the shelters to place these animals in the best homes possible, and to that end they should be very careful about every placement, because animals who have been abandoned once deserve never to be abandoned again.

There is a lot that is true in this story, mainly that animals do get the short end of the stick way too often and that, once abandoned, they absolutely deserve for the rest of their lives to be catnip and sunny couches or steaks and tennis balls. What I question is whether the shelter system that we are able to provide today is equipped to manage them well for long enough to find those homes, and whether shelter workers have the information necessary to predict what kind of home a particular adopter is actually able to provide.

Many, in fact most, shelters in this country are overwhelmed and are still euthanizing adoptable animals to provide space for more animals to come in. There are shelters for which this is not true, more and more of them every year. But they are the exception, and they tend to cluster in particular parts of the country. My friends in New England were shocked when I told them that during my internship I saw shelters where euthanizing healthy kittens for space was common. So given this situation, is it better to hold on to animals until you can find them the home that you think is perfect? Or is it better to take a chance and hope that you can get that animal out of a shelter which may have a 50% kill rate?

That leads us to the question of these lovely shelters which are able to place every medically and behaviorally healthy animal, and often even some not so healthy ones. These days there are plenty of those out there too. What should they think about animals as gifts?

I think that Dr. Weiss’s article makes the point that we aren’t really sure that we have all the information necessary to judge a particular adopter. I don’t think that this particular study makes an open and shut case. But I do think it provides evidence that this is a question worth asking. What do we really know about the home any adopter is going to provide? Is it worth denying an animal a potentially loving home because you don’t trust the word of the adopter?

In her post, Julie argued that there are some cases in which animals as gifts are particularly bad ideas, giving the example of bringing a puppy home to your grandmother who does not have the energy to deal with it. I agree. My suggestion is that shelters should consider moving to more case by case evaluations of particular adoptions, rather than operating on policies alone. If an adopter makes a good case, consider the adoption, even if they are planning to do something like give the animal as a gift. Keep an open mind about what constitutes a good home. But in the case where the adoption is patently a bad idea, then yes, talk the adopter through making a better decision, and refuse the adoption if need be.

In academic shelter medicine, where we like to think about changing everything about shelters because we don’t have to actually operate shelters, there has been a lot of discussion about this kind of change. Outdoor cats? No home visit prior to adoption? No adoption fee at all? Maybe those things are all good ideas. Maybe we really don’t know much about what makes a good adoption or a good home. We guessed, for years, and that was all we could do. But there is more and more research in the shelter community these days. We are starting to apply science (SCIENCE!) to these questions. I hope we can all both keep our minds open and evaluate the incoming research rigorously. It is a fascinating time for shelter medicine and shelter research; as one academic shelter veterinary specialist said to me, when I expressed shock at the overturning of some old principle or other, “Everything is on the table.”

Happy holidays to you and your animals from me and mine!

New research on dog bite fatalities

We’ve known for a while what kinds of dogs are at risk of biting humans: not any particular breed, but dogs who are not well socialized and not well cared for. Dogs living in houses with people are much less likely to bite than dogs living outside in yards or on chains.[1, 2] So why is this new paper about dog bite fatalities important?

Patronek G.J., Sacks J.J., Delise K.M., Cleary D.V. & Marder A.R. (2013). Co-occurrence of potentially preventable factors in 256 dog bite–related fatalities in the United States (2000–2009), Journal of the American Veterinary Medical Association, 243 (12) 1726-1736. DOI:
Unlike previous researchers, who mostly approached the question of who gets bitten and what kinds of dogs bite by combing through old records, these authors monitored current events and followed up on every dog bite related fatality that was reported, for ten years (2000-2011). They interviewed law enforcement officers who were involved with these cases. They interviewed medical examiners and coroners. They followed current news articles about cases. This is all information that becomes very difficult to find when you’re trying to learn about a dog bite fatality years after the fact. As the authors write:

In our opinion, the present study represents the most comprehensive analysis of factors...associated with dog bites to date. Personal interviews with credible investigators were successfully conducted in 221 of 256 (86.3%) cases... Law enforcement personnel provide first-hand information not reported in the media and often identified errors of fact in the media reports.

Some information was still very difficult to obtain, and the most interesting part of the paper for me may have been the description of the lengths the investigators went to in their attempts to ascertain the reliability of reports of what breed some of these dogs were. They note that “the source of breed descriptors in media reports is usually unknown” and therefore not trustworthy. Interestingly, this paper never put that comment into context, but it is hard to read it without thinking about how challenging it can be to visually identify the heritage of a mixed-breed dogs, and all the implications that this has for news stories which seem to reflexively identify aggressive mixed-breed dogs as “pit bulls.”

In the context of the debate about whether pits get disproportionately named in media reports about dog aggression, this paper provides some interesting fodder. The authors calculated how often media reports contradicted each other: 21.6% of the time in reports about incidents involving single dogs, 36.4% in incidents involving multiple dogs. How often media reports differed from the animal control officer’s report: 34.9% in incidents involving single dogs, 43.3% in incidents involving multiple dogs. In the rare cases when a pedigree or DNA testing was available, that data disagreed with media reports in 7/19 cases for single dog incidents and 7/28 cases for multiple dog incidents.

What this paper found overall was mostly a vindication of what we already believed: there is no single factor that leads a dog to bite a human. But one very important factor is whether the dog is a “family” dog or a “resident” dog. The paper provides some lovely verbiage on the difference:

A resident dog was a dog, whether confined within the dwelling or otherwise, whose owners isolated them from regular, positive human interactions. A family dog was a dog whose owners kept them in or near the home and also integrated them into the family unit, so that the dogs learned appropriate behavior through interaction with humans on a regular basis in positive and humane ways.

Later in the paper, they add:

Dogs that are deprived of human interaction or direction are denied access to accurate information about appropriate behaviors with humans. Consequently, dogs in stressful, potentially dangerous situations or when maltreated may behave in ways primarily to protect themselves.
In other words, dogs who are not given a chance to learn how to interact appropriately with humans may not act appropriately with humans.

The rest of the paper is packed with nice statistics which I am not going to try to reproduce here. Suffice to say I expect to see excerpts from it on slides in presentations about canine aggression for years to come. I do want to explicitly point out that this paper only covered dog bite fatalities, not dog bites alone; fatalities due to dog bites are extremely rare (this paper found 256 in the United States over a 10 year period), whereas dog bites alone are quite common. I think it’s easy when reading this paper to want to extrapolate all this lovely data about the causes of fatal dog bites out to the causes of non-fatal dog bites. That’s understandable but a little dangerous: it usually requires repeated bites to kill a human, so I imagine such an attack to be different from the more common single bite. But I still believe all this data is very relevant to how we keep our dogs and how to prevent bites. The message the authors give is: be responsible with dogs and they will treat you well. Don’t, and you might be on dangerous ground.

[1] Patronek, Gary J., et al. "A community approach to dog bite prevention." Journal of the American Veterinary Medical Association 218.11 (2001): 1732-1749. http://avmajournals.avma.org/doi/pdf/10.2460/javma.2001.218.1732

[2] CDC. Home and recreational safety. Dog bites. http://www.cdc.gov/homeandrecreationalsafety/dog-bites/index.html

KC admits: ABS breeders in Frenchie cruelty case "never inspected"

Today the Kennel Club has finally admitted that breeders Sue and Sarah Stacey - who had been members of the Assured Breeder Scheme since 2008 - had never been inspected. The mother and daughter breeders were found guilty of cruelty and banned from keeping dogs for 10 years.

See the story here and here:

In its defence, the KC says the Staceys had only registered four puppies in that time so were very low volume breeders.

Nevertheless, the RSPCA found 13 dogs in a poor state on the premises when they went in, following a tip-off, in January.  One had to be PTS.

Lower-volume does not automatically mean lower-risk. And while there may be fewer dogs suffering, it is no comfort to those individual dogs having to endure conditions like this.

There is some better news, however. As predicted, it would seem that the KC is about to announce improvements to the Assured Breeder Scheme - including that every breeder will have to be inspected before they can advertise puppies as an Assured Breeder.

The statement in full from the Kennel Club:
"We are deeply concerned by the incident with the French bulldog breeder, who was immediately removed from the Assured Breeder Scheme when the matter was brought to our attention. To our knowledge this was an isolated incident and processes are being put in place to ensure that it remains so, as the Assured Breeder Scheme is the only scheme in the country where puppy buyers can find breeders who are inspected and monitored to ensure that their pups’ health and welfare come first and foremost and therefore has an important role to play in improving dog health in this country. 
"Most importantly the Kennel Club was recently granted UKAS accreditation to certify Kennel Club Assured Breeders, which means that the government’s only accreditation body is satisfied that it is a robust and impartial assessor of those on the scheme. Whilst all breeders who breed two or more litters the previous 12 months are currently inspected prior to acceptance, in addition to random spot checks and the follow up of complaints, the launch of UKAS certification to Assured Breeders in the near future will mean that every member will be inspected prior to any puppies being registered within the scheme, even if they are low volume breeders, as in this case. 
 "Of course a number of other processes are in place to ensure the quality of Assured Breeders, which include proof that the required health tests for the breed have been undertaken and feedback from puppy buying customers, which will continue. In this incident the breeder was low volume and to our knowledge had sold just four puppies since 2008 and so had not been inspected and there had been no negative feedback from puppy buyers. The increased inspections that will begin when UKAS certification is officially launched will help to make the scheme even more robust and immediate action will always be taken if somebody is found to be acting against scheme rules."
Watch this space...

Frenchie cruelty case - the full picture

Here is the full photo-set of pictures taken by the RSPCA when they went into breeders Sue and Sarah Stacey in January 2013 following a tip-off by a member of the public.

I highlighted the case a few days ago here, when I discovered the Staceys were KC Assured Breeders (and on Saturday still up on the KC website as being so).

There will always be bad pennies and no inspection scheme will catch everyone who abuses their dogs. But this kind of neglect does not happen overnight.  So as soon as I heard about the case, I emailed the KC's Bill Lambert to ask if they had inspected the Staceys and if so when.  I didn't get a reply.

Or rather, I did, but it wasn't meant for me. Lambert sent the following to me in error.

Here's my original email and what he inadvertently sent to me:

Sent: 13 December 2013 22:03
To: Bill Lambert
Subject: Sue+ Sarah Stacey - French Bulldogs
Dear Bill
Could you tell me if the above breeders have been checked, please - and if so when?
Many thanks.

From: "Bill Lambert" 
Subject: RE: Sue+ Sarah Stacey - French Bulldogs
Date: 17 December 2013 13:20:23 GMT
To: "Jemima Harrison" 

2nd mail which I did not respond to. At the same time I received this mail (Saturday night)  I received one from Penny Rankine-Parsons and immediately suspended the breeders
Oops.  And not the first time that fat-finger syndrome has got Lambert into trouble.

The 1st email, btw, was one asking for the total number of current ABS breeders that had been inspected.

I do understand that I drive them bonkers.  But let me state again if it's needed: the reason I am a thorn in the KC's side is because I want it to be better... to be transparent and accountable.  Then they would not have to run scared of questions asked by me.

Prediction: announcements about improvements to the ABS in the New Year.

The Discredited Breeder Scheme - a Kennel Club disgrace

In 2004, the Kennel Club launched its Accredited Breeder Scheme, promising a quality assurance scheme that would take the guesswork out of buying a happy, healthy puppy.

The Scheme - now the Assured Breeder Scheme - has been plagued by stories of accredited status being given to puppy farmers... of health-test demands being inadequate... of setting the bar so low that the crappiest breeder can join.

But over and over again in the past 10 years, the Kennel Club has reassured us that it's doing all it can to ensure the integrity of the Scheme -  via laying down minimum standards, checking breeder records - and, critically, through physical inspections done by a network of regional breed assessors.

And although the suspicion has always been that the KC is accrediting a huge number of breeders without inspecting them, it's been hard to check as the KC hasn't released detailed information.

In 2011, the KC assured me that "it is their intention to inspect every new breeder at the point of entry to the scheme". They said the same to me a week ago. Every impression has been given that it is well on the way to achieving this - but no way of checking because inspection data has not been made public.

In January 2013, though, the scheme became accredited by UKAS and UKAS  demanded that the KC lists its breeder inspections. So it is now possible to check.

And a Pedigree Dogs Exposed audit of the scheme reveals the shocking truth.

According to the information available on the KC website:
• the Kennel Club has admitted 1058 members into the scheme in 2013 - and inspected just 39 of them (3.7%) 
• hundreds of puppies are currently being advertised on the KC Puppy Finder, bred by breeders awarded the "Accredited" stamp who have never been inspected. 
• 90% of the new ABS breeders who have previously registered 5 or more litters with the Kennel Club have not been inspected (this despite KC assurances that volume breeders are a priority).
Here is our audit for the Top 20 breeds  - which comprise about half of all ABS breeders.

Our audit for every KC breed is available on request - please email jem[at]pedigreedogsexposed.com

 It shows that so far in 2013:
• of the 7844 assuredd breeders listed, only 287 have been inspected in 2013 - 3.6% (despite the KC saying its aim is to inspect all breeders at least once every three years)
• half of all breeds have not been inspected at all (97 of the 199 breeds that have ABS breeders)
• 96% per cent of all new ABS breeders have not been inspected (only 39 of 1058) 
The KC's Bill Lambert maintains that they will have done 800 inspections this year by Christmas. He also says that there can be 200-300 in process at any one time and that breeders are given up to 60 days to provide all the paperwork/make improvements.

From that we can assume that the 287 inspections listed on the KC website are correct for the first three quarters of 2013.

Even if we are generous and assume that there are 300 inspections in process (although that is way over the pro rata rate), it still doesn't get anywhere near the 800 inspections claimed.

(I have asked the KC for an explanation and will add/edit when I get it.)

So where does this leave the Kennel Club?

You tell me.

PS: if, like me, you feel that UKAS should never have accredited such a scheme, you can complain by writing to: customerfeedback@ukas.com

Many thanks to Nicola, Georgina, Corina and Hermina for their help in compiling these figures.

A Golden Retriever... apparently...

UK-bred; French-owned. The lowdown here.

Here's one from 1927 to compare - Ch Haulstone Dan.

Puppy-buyers "being conned" by Kennel Club breeder scheme

Despite recent improvements to the Kennel Club's Assured Breeder Scheme, almost 10 years after it launched, the KC is still bestowing Assured status on many breeders without inspecting them. And even when a breeder has been inspected, years may pass before they are checked again.

This week, ABS breeders Sue and Sarah Stacey, from Great Yarmouth in Norfolk, were banned from keeping dogs for 10 years after 13 dogs, including the French Bulldog above, were found living in squalor (full story here).

A quick check reveals that Sarah Stacey has been an ABS breeders since October 2008.
In a statement RSPCA inspector Amy Collingsworth said: “I attended the property in January 2013 following an anonymous complaint from a member of the public. I was let into the living room to assess some of the dogs and was shocked to see that the floor was completely soiled with faeces and urine and the stench of ammonia was overpowering.
“I could see two emaciated dogs with overgrown claws sitting in a cage with a thick layer of faeces underneath them and two puppies, called by the owners Pup 1 and Pup 2, who were huddled together in a pen, subdued and lethargic.
"This was a shocking case of neglect from people who claimed to be registered dog breeders.”
So how could this happen?
Here's the KC boast about the scheme:
The Kennel Club Assured Breeder Scheme (ABS) is the only scheme in the UK that monitors breeders in order to protect the welfare of puppies and breeding bitches. The Kennel Club has recently received formal accreditation by the United Kingdom Accreditation Service (UKAS) to certify dog breeders under the Assured Breeder Scheme.
Sounds great, doesn't it? And, wow, UKAS accredited? That must mean that the scheme is robust, no?
Well no, it doesn't.
Astonishingly, breeders can join by signing a piece of paper promising to abide by the rules of the scheme - even since the scheme was beefed up with UKAS accreditation in January 2013. 
New members must agree to the possibility of a visit by an Assessor, but it is not a condition of joining. Additionally,  there is evidence to suggest that many if not most ABS breeders have never been inspected.
Here's what the FAQ for the scheme says:
"Names of new members are published in the Kennel Gazette and effectively 'policed' by breed clubs who report names that are, in their opinion, inappropriate candidates to us. If this happens then the Kennel Club investigates carefully."
This is clearly ridiculous. Breed clubs may know about shoddy big producers that have been operating for some time, but how can they be expected to know every new or small breeder? 
As it happens, Sarah Stacey, who neglected the Frenchie in the picture above, is a member of the French Bulldog Club and no one reported her. She and her mother run - rather terrifyingly - a cattery and dog grooming business in Great Yarmouth called Bright Eyes.  This listing on the PetPlan website promises:
Family home run cattery where we personally look after your precious pets in a quiet setting. Cattery inspections always welcome.
New for 2009 Fully qualified City & Guilds
Dog Grooming Salon opened by Sarah Stacey.
Dog training and behavioural corrections undertaken in our secure back field. We have over 30 years experience with all breeds of dogs.
Here's the full low-down on how the KC polices the Assured Breeder Scheme:
  • All applicants' records are checked prior to acceptance on the scheme
  • Check of the health screening records for a member's breed is required
  • All members agree to be spot checked by the Kennel Club throughout their membership of the scheme, in order to ensure our standards are maintained
  • The Kennel Club has recently added even more Regional Breeder Assessors to its national team to ensure that, as the Scheme grows in size, it can continue to monitor the standards of its members
  • The Kennel Club encourages feedback from the dog-owning community and future members' names are published in the monthly Kennel Club publication, the Kennel Gazette, to enable breed clubs to comment on names that they believe to be inappropriate
  • All new puppy buyers are given feedback forms by Assured Breeders that they return to us and if this does not happen then we look into the reason why. The Kennel Club receives hundreds of feedback forms from new puppy buyers each month; most of the feedback is positively glowing. However, if any complaints are made the Kennel Club investigates fully and takes the appropriate action which might include removal from the scheme
So the scheme is mostly reactive, not proactive. One would hope that bad breeders will be picked up sometime down the line. But there are no guarantees. In other words, a puppy you buy from an ABS breeders may not be any better than one produced in the most squalid puppy farm.
And don't be fooled by the promise of a "spot check". Unlike local authority inspectors, the KC has to give advance notice of a visit. 
Interesting too that the Kennel Club claims that it has "recently added even more Regional Breeder Assessors to its national team to ensure that, as the Scheme grows in size, it can continue to monitor the standards of its members."
In fact, this time two years ago, the KC had 23 regional breed assessors. They now have 13 (plus a further three full-time KC staff who are trained to do visits if needed). For the whole country.
At the end of 2011, I asked the Kennel Club for some stats on the Scheme. 
At that point, they had just over 6133 active (and 1189 inactive) members, so 7300 members in total. They admitted they had inspected just 15 per cent of them. ("Inactive" is defined as a breeder who hasn't registered a litter in the last three years - but who could, of course, register one at any time.)
Two years on, the Kennel Club now says it has 6457 active members and has done "around 5000" inspections. This sounds quite impressive. Clearly, there has been a big increase in the number of inspections done. But you need to bear the following in mind:
• some of these visits may be repeat inspections 
• close on 2000 breeders have left the scheme (either resigned or suspended for breaches). 
• the KC has not supplied the current number of inactive breeders. There will probably be about 1500 of them. And it is right to include them as they would have been active previously - and could become so again.
Add all that up and those "5000 inspections" relates to a total of around 10,000 breeders.
And so my guess is that the KC has, at best, still only inspected less than 50 per cent of its current ABS breeders. That's better than it was - but still not good enough.
(I have asked the KC for more detailed figures and will amend if I get them.)
Particularly worrying is that so many new breeders are still being endorsed by the Kennel Club as an Assured Breeder without being inspected. 
In 2011, the KC told me: "It is the intention that all members will be visited at some point and all new applicants will be visited either prior to acceptance or when most appropriate."
"At some point".
Last week, I asked the same question and got this back from the KC's Bill Lambert: "It is the intention that every active member of the scheme will be visited. We will only issue UKAS certificates to members that have been visited. Whilst it is still possible for low volume breeders to join prior to being inspected at some point we will require all new applicants to be visited prior to joining and in that respect all I can say at the moment is “watch this space”.
"At some point".
And nowhere, incidentally, on the KC website does it advise puppy buyers that only ABS breeders who have been inspected will be issued with a UKAS certificate.
So, two years on from the original reassurance and with no future date given for compliance, the KC is still endorsing breeders without sending anyone to check on them. 
And the stats are truly shocking.
The KC now (post UKAS accreditation ie from Jan 2013) lists the dates of its breeder inspections.
Here's what I found:
Of the 34 French Bulldog breeders awarded ABS status this year, only two have been inspected according to the Kennel Club website. Six of these, all marked as uninspected, are currently advertising litters on the KC Puppy Finder.
Of the 42 new Pug breeders awarded ABS status in 2013, only one of them has been inspected. Five of these new uninspected breeders are currently advertising litters on the KC's Puppy Finder.

Several of the above new Frenchie and Pug breeders have registered five or more litters with the KC and still haven't been inspected.

When I put the figures to the Kennel Club, it maintained that there were always around 200-300 applications "in process" - in other words, that more of the new members above could have been inspected; it's just not showing yet on the KC website. But it wouldn't have been hard to give me the actual figures and when the KC fudges it like this, it is usually a sign that the KC doesn't want the world to know the full extent of its shortcomings.  Don't forget, too, that "200-300 applications in process" doesn't just relate to Pugs and Frenchies - it's across all 200-odd breeds registered by the KC.

Frenchies and Pugs  have exploded in popularity in recent years. There are loads of breeders cashing in on them. Additionally, are no mandatory health tests for either breed under the ABS, despite both breeds having a holy host of health problems. (The KC does list that an annual eye test and a DNA test for hereditary cataracts is recommended but ABS breeders are not obliged to do them.)

The upshot is that anyone who goes to an ABS breeder for two of today's hottest breeds is in danger of being conned.  These breeders may be selling you rubbish pups raised in squalor, like the poor French Bulldogs above. After all, even the shittiest breeder has a half-decent front room into which pups and an adult female (which may or not be the pups real mum) can be brought in for your perusal.

Here's what we need to know about every ABS breeder in addition to what's already listed on the KC website.

• dates of all inspections - inc prior to UKAS accreditation (currently, you have to contact the KC to ask for details on any inspections prior to 2013)
• the number of litters/pups in total they have registered with the KC (a useful way of identifying volume breeders posing as hobby breeders).
• percentage of feedback forms returned by puppy-buyers
• feedback rating from puppy-buyers

And, of course, we need every breeder inspected prior to acceptance on the scheme - or clearly identified as provisional members only, pending an inspection. Anything else is just a nonsense.

Research appeal
I have only had time to go through Pugs and French Bulldogs and would like to put together some stats for the other Top 20 KC-registered breeds.  Could you help?

A list of ABS breeders for every breed can be found here. If it's a breed with a large number of breeders, they will be broken down by county. Pick any county and near the top of the page you'll find a link from which to download a pdf of every ABS breeder for that breed.

The KC Puppy Finder is here - ABS breeders are marked and always at the top of the list.

The information I am looking for per breed is:

• number of new ABS breeders for 2013
• number of these new breeders marked as inspected (NB the KC only lists inspections done since Jan 2013)
• number of these new breeders (uninspected/inspected) currently advertising litters on the KC Puppy Finder
• number of these new breeders (uninspected/inspected) listed with a triangle containing the letter B (which means they have registered five or more litters with the KC).

If you are willing to take on a breed, please state below to avoid a duplicated effort - and then ideally please send the actual figures to me: jem[AT]pedigreedogsexposed.com.

Thank you! 

La Grande Meute - the staghounds of Fontainebleau

The forest of Fontainebleu lies 60km south east of Paris and encompasses 110 square miles. Once a royal hunting preserve, it is now a national park.

There has been a hunt here since the twelfth century.

Beautiful dogs. Beautifully filmed.

100 years of breed improvement - the real story

The world and his mother has forwarded to me the above article from yesterday's Daily Mail (see the whole thing here). It's a steal from this post in July by blogger Mus Musculus, which features the following comparisons between dogs of old and now.

The article, and the blogpost before it, has generated a lot of traffic. Mus Musculus has done a great job of finding comparisons which match in terms of the dogs' stance.

But in doing so, punches have been pulled.  And that's because, in several breeds, the reality is far worse, excepting perhaps in the Bulldog. 

The modern example of the Bulldog above is really bad - and, actually, you'd be very unlikely to see such an extreme beast in the UK show-ring today. Equally, the bulldog-of-yore ain't much to be proud of - less wrinkled, longer-faced but that front frame is awful - a recipe for severe, debilitating joint pain. You have to go further back in time to find a more normal-looking Bulldog. 

I also don't see that much wrong with the modern Boxer (their main issues being ones you cannot see).

But let's have a look at some of the others.

The modern Basset here has much longer ears, is fleshier and a little lower to the ground, but this is the Basset that won Crufts in 2012 - way, way worse.

Then there's the GSD.

The modern counterpart featured in this comparison is an American-line dog. These are awful, but much worse to look at are the cripples favoured in the German and UK showring:

And, finally, there's the Dachshund... 

Compared to, say, this champion miniature Dachsund widely advertised in the UK dog press last year:

Or this Standard dog, which won Best of Breed at Westminster in 2011.

To come shortly... a reminder that in a sea of freaks, you can still find moderate versions of many breeds - if you know where to look. 

The epigenetics of fear

I learned something new today about fearfulness, which it turns out has an even more complicated set of causes than I had previously known. And I had previously thought that fearfulness (made up of a whole lot of little genetic causes as well as almost impossible to fully comprehend environmental causes) was pretty damn complicated. The findings I’m going to describe are in mice, but this stuff is totally relevant to fearful dogs, at least in the opinion of this dog zombie.

My story begins earlier today when I received email from an ex asking if a recently published study is too crazy to be for real. (I do actually enjoy being the translator of Nature Neuroscience articles for the ex-boyfriends of the world.) My ex had encountered a National Geographic Phenomena article which covers the Nature Neuroscience article “Parental olfactory experience influences behavior and neural structure in subsequent generations." That is quite a title — let’s try it again. “When mice are trained to fear a particular smell, the brains and behavior of their offspring are affected.” (The Phenomena article, by the way, is detailed and provides some nice snippets of interviews with the researchers who did this study, but misses some of the nuances of the experimental setup. So while I do recommend you read it if you’re interested in this study, you should probably take it with a grain of salt.)

Dias B.G. & Ressler K.J. (2013). Parental olfactory experience influences behavior and neural structure in subsequent generations, Nature Neuroscience, DOI:

These researchers took a group of mice and fear conditioned them to the smell of a chemical called acetophenone. Then they bred them and tested their offspring. The offspring could detect acetophenone at lower concentrations than other mice; they had more receptors in their nose for detecting acetophenone than other mice did; and they were more reactive to loud noises after having been exposed to acetophenone. The smell was inherently scary to these offspring mice, even though they had not previously encountered it.

For the record, I am totally down with the first few changes. Offspring are adapted to the parent's environment by being better at smelling a relevant smell? Freaky as hell, but that is what epigenetics is and why we all find it so fascinating. But a change in behavior? That is beyond the usual freakiness of epigenetics. That's not just passing along more scent receptors for a particular smell. That's passing along the emotional content of the parent's experience with the smell. How is it possible!

Well, first, some details about the experiment:

How severe was the fear conditioning? Not all that severe, it turns out (which makes the results even more surprising to me). Mice were only trained over three days, with only five trials each day. A trial consisted of exposure to the odor, followed by a “mild” foot shock. I don't have a feel for how traumatic this experience was for the mice, and I'd be curious to know more. Was the shock really “mild”? You know, according to the mice, not according to the researchers, because we have all seen instances in which the animal's perception differs from the human's. Was being in the training chamber itself somewhat traumatic? Maybe the animals hadn’t been out of their home cages before. And so forth. But it was certainly a short period of training.

To test the startle response, the researchers put offspring mice into a startle chamber. The mice were habituated to the chamber for a few days before testing began. Then a few startle trials were run, in which the mice were exposed to sudden loud noises, and their responses were recorded. Next the mice were exposed to acetophenone, and then some more startling noises. The difference in their response was what was important: how much more did they startle after having been exposed to the smell, as compared to before exposure to it? Note that the mice were not actually startling just after exposure to the smell; there was a loud noise which triggered the startle. But they seem to have been primed by their reaction to acetophenone to startle more at subsequent noises.

Now, there are a zillion different possible explanations for why these mice could have appeared to be afraid of a smell that they had never encountered before. "Because my dad was afraid of it” is not the first thing that comes to mind, and the researchers tested a whole lot of other possibilities.

Were these mice particularly reactive to all smells? The researchers actually tested two groups of mice on two different smells. The group which was descended from mice trained on smell A reacted to smell A and not smell B. And vice versa for the other group. It really was just that particular smell.

Were these mice more anxious over all, possibly due to their father’s experience, having nothing to do with acetophenone? We might already have rejected this idea as the mice only reacted to the relevant smell, not the control smell. But the researchers also performed a test to see if the mice were particularly anxious over all, by examining the mice's fear of open spaces. The mice were no more afraid of open spaces than average, suggesting that they were not particularly anxious individuals in general.

Was there some social influence passed down from the fathers? The researchers had begun by fear conditioning male mice, who never had direct contact with their offspring, but did have direct contact with the mothers. It was possible that the fathers had somehow taught the mothers to fear the smell of acetophenone, and the mothers had passed this down to the offspring. To control for this, the researchers artificially inseminated some mice so that the females never interacted with the males, and had the offspring raised at an entirely different lab. They also fear conditioned mothers, and then fostered the offspring to mothers who had not been fear conditioned (and fostered offspring from normal mothers onto fear conditioned mothers). None of this changed the findings: the phenomenon appeared to be genetic, not social.

The researchers had chosen this particular smell because they knew what gene controlled the receptor for it. So they looked at the mice’s brains, and indeed the offspring of fear-conditioned mice did have more of the receptors for the relevant smell, which is why the mice were able to detect it at lower concentrations, even though they had never been exposed to the smell previously. Looking at the DNA for the gene controlling this receptor, they found epigenetic changes, specifically less methylation — basically, less stuff on the DNA, making it easier to express genes from. This is a plausible explanation for how the receptor changes happened.

Which means the story goes like this: mouse is trained to fear a smell; there are changes to the mouse’s DNA, marking a particular gene as one that should be expressed more often; these epigenetic changes are passed on to the mouse's offspring; that offspring generates more of a particular kind of smell receptor, because that gene is marked as “important, make lots!” And I am okay with that, as far as it goes. But how do we get from “make lots of receptors for this smell” to “when you smell this smell, be prepared for Bad Things to Happen”?

There is some precedent for this sort of thing, although it's limited. Primates are known to be primed to recognize snakes, although it's less clear if we are primed to fear them. Mice fed acetophenone while pregnant produced offspring who preferred the smell. Neither of these phenomena are epigenetic, which makes them inherently less freaky. It's particularly interesting to me that mice will “prefer” acetophenone if their mothers have eaten it: another case of inherited emotional content or salience, although in this case due to the in utero environement, not to epigenetics.

But in the end we don't really know how the salience of the smell was transmitted. More receptors for the smell don’t cause salience: just because you can smell it better doesn’t mean you’ll like or fear it. The researchers don't try to make a guess at how this happens, but they do comment on its importance for future research: “Such a phenomenon may contribute to the etiology and potential intergenerational transmission of risk for neuropsychiatric disorders, such as phobias, anxiety and post-traumatic stress disorder.” And dogs! Mice are actually probably a better model for dogs than for humans in this case, because dogs are so much more scent-oriented than we are.

So what does this mean for fearful dogs? We all want to know what makes a fearful dog fearful. How much of it is environment (poor socialization) versus genetics (starting life having been dealt a bad hand)? Well, first of all, remember that this was a very simple stimulus — a very specific smell and very straightforward classical conditioning. That’s why the researchers chose it. Could fear of the mailman be passed on as well? It would be harder, since there is not a single receptor to recognize the mailman, controlled by a single gene which can be expressed more frequently. (I love the idea of a mailman receptor, though.) So I wouldn't extrapolate these findings to non-scent stimuli quite yet. But that doesn't mean that this weird epigenetic force is not out there, interacting with the other poorly-understood forces of environment and genetics, in a crazy storm of things we can't separate out.

Shar-pei - the eyes have it

Have what?

Well, quite often entropion - the turning in of the eye margins causing damage to the dogs' eyes.

It is a direct consequence of the wrinkling/skin folds that have become a defining feature of the Westernised version of the breed but was never a feature of the original Shar-pei (see here).

And, indeed, it is is so bad that "tacking" is routine in the breed -  a procedure in which the vet places sutures around the eye when the dogs are pups to prevent the eye surface being injured by the inward rolling of eyelashes.

This often does the trick; sometimes, though, Shar-pei need more surgery to correct the entropion when they are older.

Shar-pei breeders are so de-sensitised to this that tacking (and entropion surgery) is not considered a big deal in the breed. In fact, in the twisted logic adopted by some breeders, tacking is actually considered a sign of a responsible breeder. And although the Kennel Club dictated a few years back that dogs that have had their eyes tacked cannot be shown, insiders tell me that an awful lot of show dogs will have had their eyes tacked as pups. It is hard to prove one way or the other.

But there are some breeders taking a stand and one in particular I'd like to praise.

Three years ago, I blogged this photograph, as featured in a book by the photographer Tim Flach. As you can see, this very wrinkled eight-week-old pup is sporting a stitch above her right eye - a "tack".

It turned out that the pup was bred by a UK-based breeder called Ines Alarcao. She took quite a lot of stick at the time and has since withdrawn from showing.

But she's kept breeding Shar-pei and she recently sent me these pix of her current litter of eight pups. Here they are at six weeks old. They all have clear eyes and not a single one has had to be tacked. They also have fewer wrinkles and bigger ears (breeding for very small ears in Shar-pei has led to tiny ear canals prone to ear infections).

Have a look at these photos and then see below for what Ines says about these pups.

It's a big improvement - at least in terms of their conformation.

I asked Ines how she had achieved it:
"I bought two girls from different lines four years ago , with reasonable eyes and not many wrinkles and good ears. I have mated them with guys with the same features. One of them produced a blue boy with excellent eyes, the other produced a girl with good eyes too, and  I have now mated these two together and produced this guys.   Some people say that good eyes are a matter of luck. Not true! But I had to find it through trial and error. I am keeping two girls from this litter , I bought another one that has got less wrinkles and more traditional features, and I have another 6 mth-old girl that i bred and kept with really good eyes. My new breeding program will  be based on them."

Now these pups are still too immoderate for me. And, in my opinion, this breed is too inbred and has too many inherent health problems (notably Familial Shar-pei Fever) to be able to justify breeding it at all.

But I really was pleased to see these pix. A step in the right direction.