Saturday, July 23, 2011

The ethics of dog breeding: to breed or not to breed?

It’s challenging to breed purebred dogs well. You have to balance appearance, health, and temperament, and of course by “health” I actually mean “2598237 different possible inherited diseases.” You breed or buy the best animal you can (no small task in itself), you compete with it to prove its ability and conformance to the breed standard, and then when it is an adult the time comes to breed it. Before you breed, you have to make sure the animal is physically healthy. You perform perhaps thousands of dollars worth of tests towards this goal. If your star fails any one of them, you should consider not breeding it, even if it is otherwise a great breeding prospect. If it fails a really important test — like the assessment of the likelihood of developing hip dysplasia in a breed that is notorious for its hip problems, like the golden retriever — then you really shouldn’t breed the animal.

Time was, dog breeders had big kennels, with dozens of dogs. If one of them turned out to have an inheritable health problem, it was fairly easy to just remove that animal from the breeding program. After all, if you have 50 dogs and can only breed 49 of them, what’s the big deal? These days, people have less land, and dog breeders tend to have smaller numbers of dogs. So what happens if you are the owner of a single, beloved pet and you really want to try to improve the breed by having a litter from this pet? You show, you compete, you have health tests, and the animal fails the test for healthy hips. Now it’s not just a question of not breeding a single animal. Instead, it’s a question of not being able to breed at all, unless you get another dog and start over. What if that one has a health problem too, and you really don’t want to have three dogs in your house?

It’s a tangled issue. Personally, I think dogs do better in homes than in kennels, generally speaking (although I recognize that there are some private kennels out there containing some very happy dogs). But I also think that if we are going to be selecting dogs for beauty, as we do with show dogs, we have a responsibility to not let health fall by the wayside. Making the breeding of healthy dogs easier is a good thing. It’s sad to think that the fact that more dogs are living inside as pets makes breeding responsibly more difficult.

1 comment:

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