The burden of genetic abnormalities in Canis familiaris, the first animal species humans domesticated, has reached a critical state due to selective breeding for extreme, abnormal traits and subsequent inbreeding. “An associated cost of selection for specific traits in breed dogs is an enhanced likelihood of (inherited) disease,” the authors state in a new study published in December 2015 in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. UCLA geneticist Clare Marsden and her colleagues examined the genomes of 46 dogs from 34 distinct breeds and compared them with the genomes of 19 wolves, 25 village dogs and one golden jackal (a more distant relative of wolves and dogs). They found that compared to wolves, breed dogs had 22% more cases of genes that had not one but two copies of a harmful mutation, because it was inherited from both parents. Compared with wolves, breed dogs averaged about 115 more mutations that posed some risk to their well-being.
They conclude their results “highlight the costs associated with selective breeding and question the practice [of] favoring the breeding of individuals that best fit breed standards,” and that “Considering that many modern breeds have been selected for unusual appearance and size, which reflects fashion more than function, our results raise ethical concerns about the creation of fancy breeds.”
GENETIC DISEASE SURVEY OF 100,000 PUREBRED & MIXED-BREED DOGS
In this largest ever, to date, DNA study of the frequency and distribution of 152 genetic diseases in dogs, approximately 2 out of 100 mixed breed dogs were at risk of becoming affected and 40 out of 100 were carriers for at least one inherited disease. In contrast, 5 out of 100 purebred dogs were at risk and 28 out of 100 were carriers of at least one disease.
The authors state: “Mixed breed dogs were more likely to carry a common recessive disease, whereas purebreds were more likely to be genetically affected with one, providing DNA-based evidence for hybrid vigor. The disease prevalence information we generated during this study is made available online (www.mybreeddata.com), as a free tool for breed and kennel clubs, breeders, as well as the veterinary and scientific community.”
Every pure bred and “designer” puppy sold should come with a purchase agreement that includes the known list of genetic and related health problems that the particular breed and particular lineage may carry, the estimated veterinary costs for treating each condition and their probability of developing, plus an objective quality of life assessment score from zero to 5 stars
(See Jonas Donner et al (2018) Frequency and distribution of 152 genetic disease variants in over 100,000 mixed breed and purebred dogs PLOS Genetics).
University of Copenhagen bioethics professor Peter Sandoe in a conference on the human-animal bond (Veterinary Record Dec 5th 2015 p 558-559) observes that some people are attracted to and exhibit higher attachment to breeds with extreme (inherited) health problems requiring a higher level of care compared to owners with healthy dogs. This observation implies there may be a Munchausen –by-proxy dynamic in some peoples’ choice of particular pure breeds, stating that “an owner’s love towards an animal does not necessarily translate into good welfare for that animal.” He concluded: “There is a dark side to human attachment to companion animals, alongside some of the benefits of ownership.” One favored dog gene has a human counterpart that has been implicated in Williams-Beuren syndrome, where it causes exceptional gregariousness and friendliness toward strangers. ( See vonHoldt, B.M. et al, Genome-wide SNP and haplotype analyses reveal a rich history underlying dog domestication Nature. 2010 Apr 8; 464(7290): 898–902. Published online 2010 Mar 17. doi: 10.1038/nature08837).
In a new study, geneticist. Bridgitt vonHoldt and colleagues compared the sociability of domestic dogs with that of wolves raised by humans. Dogs typically spent more time than wolves staring at and interacting with a human stranger nearby, showing the dogs were less fearful and more social than the wolves. Comparative genetic analysis of those dogs and wolves, along with DNA data of other wolves and dogs, showed variations in three genes associated with the social behaviors directed at humans: WBSCR17, GTF2I and GTF2IRD1. Interestingly All these are associated with the Williams-Beuren hypersociability syndrome in humans. (Structural variants in genes associated with human Williams-Beuren syndrome underlie stereotypical hypersociability in domestic dogs. Science Advances 19 Jul 2017). Not all dogs, fortunately, are so affected to become what I have long-called “perpetual puppies”.
Veterinarian Prof. Wayne H. Riser was one of the first to identify health problems arising from selective breeding for sizes and shapes (see Fig.3 below) that did not conform to what he saw as the ancestral aboriginal/ pariah dog. (See his monograph The Dog: His Varied Biological Makeup and Its Relationship to Orthopaedic Diseases, 1985, American Animal Hospital Association. For further details see M.W. Fox, The Dog: Its Domestication & Behavior, Dogwise Publications).
Inherited disorders are seen in both mixed-breed and purebred dogs such as hip dysplasia, lens luxation, adrenal gland abnormalities and various cancers, while others are seen in clusters in more recent and more closely related purebred varieties. The shared disorders seen in mixed and purebred dogs are thought to originate from distant lineages of common ancestries prior to the development of modern breeds according to Thomas P. Bellmori et al ( JAVMA, 242: 1549-1555, 2013).
Fig. 3 From Riser, 1985
Several of the 200-300 genetic and developmental disorders so far identified in pure breed dogs are virtually identical to those seen in humans. So the dog continues to serve humanity (and be further exploited) as a source of genetic models of various human maladies for biomedical research. ( For genomic research on dogs see Jessica J. Hayward et al Complex disease and phenotype mapping in the domestic dog Nature Communications 7, Article number: 10460 doi:10.1038/ncomms10460 Jan 22, 2016 and Luca Penso-Dolfin et al An Improved microRNA Annotation of the Canine Genome PLOS April 27, 2016 http://dx.doi.org/10.1371/journal.pone.0153453).
The following websites provide details about these inherited disorders: http://www.hsvma.org/assets/pdfs/guide-to-congenital-and-heritable-disorders
Veterinary eugenics is evident in the holistic approach of some veterinarians addressing genetic influences and documented dysgenics on their patients’ health and well-being, notably immunogenetics and nutrigenomics. (See Canine Nutrigenomics by W. Jean Dodds, DVM and Diana R. Laverdure, 2015, Dogwise publications).
The growing popularity of “designer dogs”, cross-breeds of two or more pure breeds, which is evident on the dog adoption website www.petfinder.com, is in part generated by consumer demand for certain traits such as non-shedding and small or large size. The probability that such mixed breeds may have fewer inherited disorders than pure breeds because of “hybrid vigor” is undermined by the possibility of both parental lineages from two separate breeds carrying similar recessive harmful genetic mutations.
TV screen images from the American Kennel Club’s 2015 Westminster kennel Club Dog Show ( “Presented by Purina ProPlan”) “winning” dogs: German shepherd abnormal gait running on hock/heel and Bulldog with extreme brachycephaly (see details below).
So it is advisable for people purchasing a pure breed or designer dog to have assurances of progeny testing for hereditary diseases from the breeder/supplier, and when purchasing either very small or large breeds and those with extreme body conformation and skull shapes to purchase a veterinary health insurance policy that covers pre-existing conditions of hereditary origin. Every pure bred and “designer” puppy sold should come with a purchase agreement that includes the known list of genetic and related health problems that the particular breed and particular lineage may carry, the estimated veterinary costs for treating each condition and their probability of developing, plus an objective quality of life assessment score from zero to 5 stars.
Some breeds, notably Great Danes, Retrievers, Boxers and Rottweilers, are prone to develop certain cancers which in some instances are more likely to develop in association with being neutered, so purchasers should be aware of such risks and costs. The science of Nutrigenomics— developing specific preventive diets for these and other maladies of possible genetic origin—is still in its infancy. But genetic screening for gene abnormalities in male and female parental lineages (including mitochondrial diseases from the maternal side such as myopathy in German shepherds) with significant advances in canine and human genomics, are now being marketed.
Research into the incidence of cancer in various breeds has identified the following breed susceptibilities summarized in a review by the Morris Animal Foundation, June, 2016:
According to the Kennel Club Genetics Centre at the Animal health Trust their initial survey launched in Jan. 2016 of health issues prevalent in various breeds, prior to their selecting individual dogs from 75 breeds for genome sequencing to identify mutational abnormalities, epilepsy was the top concern voiced by most dog breeders in the U.K. The second most commonly listed health concern identified through the breed health summary was hereditary cataracts, listed by seven of the breeds. The Kennel Club Genetics Centre at the AHT has had success launching DNA tests for hereditary cataracts in the Staffordshire Bull Terrier, Boston Terrier and French Bulldog and is currently investigating hereditary cataracts in several more breeds, including the Labrador Retriever. Overall, 80 different disorders were reported with the following conditions listed by multiple breeds: progressive retinal atrophy (PRA), hypothyroidism, hip dysplasia, lymphoma and patella luxation (listed by six breeds) as well as autoimmune disorders and dilated cardiomyopathy (listed by five breeds). ( For more details and updates visit www.aht.org.uk ).
I would give a star to all breeders who are cognizant of the epigenetic effects of nutrition provided to the parent stock on the offspring and feed biologically and breed-appropriate (nutrigenomic) diets rather than high cereal and soy manufactured kibble. The epigenetic effects of maternal and paternal stress on offspring, well documented in laboratory animal studies, call for the highest standards of canine care and housing which are not evident in commercial puppy mills.
Also Breed Clubs need to change those breed “standards” that amount to extreme physical characteristics associated with various health problems such as giantism, dwarfism, acromegaly, long backs, sloping hind-quarters, heavy, pendulous ears, abnormal skulls, shortened muzzles and protruding eyes. Routine ear cropping and tail docking as a breed “standards” should also be prohibited.
With the support of breeders, kennel club organizations and an informed public, advances in veterinary eugenics will do much to correct the anthropogenic diseases and physical/structural abnormalities of hereditary origin arising from unnatural (human) selection in dogs and other domesticated animals.
Certain pure breeds continue to be subject to medically unnecessary surgeries,—ear cropping and tail docking– which can cause suffering and are being questioned and in some countries prohibited. (See Katelyn Mills et al. A review of medically unnecessary surgeries in dogs and cats. JAVMA, 248: 162-171, 2016). A research study published in PLOS on-line, June 27, 2016 by Katelyn E. Mills and colleagues at the University of British Columbia in Vancouver, Canada, entitled Tail Docking and Ear Cropping Dogs: Public Awareness and Perceptions, found that “Modified (tail docked and ear cropped) dogs were perceived as being more aggressive, more dominant, less playful and less attractive than natural dogs”. They also presented the first evidence that owners of modified dogs are perceived as being more aggressive, more narcissistic, less playful, less talkative and less warm compared to owners of natural dogs. Since 2008 the American Veterinary Medical Association has encouraged “the elimination of ear cropping and tail docking from breed standards” it is only the breeders and dog show clubs like the American Kennel Club (AKC) and their “official standards” for those breeds like the Boxer, Doberman Pinscher, and Miniature Schnauzer, that stand in the way of ending such mutilations in the U.S. Such practices are outlawed in Australia and several European countries.
Perhaps one way to bring about change for dogs’ sake is for all dog lovers, animal rightists and protectors to boycott the big pet food companies like Nestle’s Purina and Alpo and IAMS that seek to profit from supporting dog shows until all responsible parties come together and change breed standards for the better: No ear cropping or tail docking as from a specified date, all dogs after that date not being accepted into the ring without their tails and ears intact.
The puppy mill “factory” breeding enterprises are an added burden of suffering, abuse and propagation of genetic abnormalities in popular pure breeds, first exposed by dog writer Herm David and co-investigator Fox in the early 1970s and remain little improved under government inspection, local sanction and registration of puppies produced by the American Kennel Club (see below).
Public Release BIOMED CENTRAL April 4⁄16 (www.eurekalert.org)
“Lead researcher, Kendy Teng, from the University of Sydney, Australia, said, ‘Australians are favouring brachycephalic breeds, dogs with shorter and wider heads, such as the Pug and the French bulldog, more than those with longer and thinner heads. Looking at data spanning 28 years, we found that the demand for smaller dogs has increased every year from 1986.’”
” ‘Veterinarians are concerned about brachycephalic dogs’ welfare, as these breeds commonly suffer from breathing difficulties, skin and eye conditions, and digestive disorders. In New Zealand, brachycephalic breeds are number four of the top five dog breeds considered by veterinarians to be unsuitable for continued breeding due to compromised health and welfare. We expect to see vets in Australia treating more dogs with the conditions described.’”
“This trend is also apparent in the UK, where bulldogs, boxers and pugs have become increasingly popular in recent years. UK kennel club registrations of pugs and bulldogs have climbed from 2004 to 2013, the number of pugs has increased from 1675 in 2004 to 8071 in 2013, and French bulldogs also rose from 350 to 6990. In the US, numbers of bulldogs and French bulldogs registered with the American Kennel Club have increased by 69% and 476% respectively, in the past decade”.
In my opinion breeding dogs with the extreme forms of this deformity is unethical. It can mean, after a Caesarian birth, a lifetime of partial asphyxiation, limited exercise tolerance and enjoyment of life compounded by chronic eye, skin and respiratory and oral cavity infections along with a host of inherited diseases affecting the heart, joints, brain and other organs and systems. With abnormally large heads, many litters of puppies can only be delivered by surgical Caesarian section. Regardless of their appeal and appealing dispositions, those who really love them should stop breeding them, and the informed never consider purchasing a purpose-bred one regardless how adorable the puppies may seem.
Selectively breeding for appealing, puppy-like domed heads and shortened skulls and muzzles ( with associated dental problems) as we see in Toy poodles, Yorkshire terriers and especially Cavalier King Charles spaniels can result in much suffering. Essentially the skull is too small for the brain which means pressure on parts of the brain and even displacement which can trigger seizures, various neurological problems and chronic pain. Identified conditions include Syringomyelia/Hydromyelia, Hydrocephalus and Cerebellar herniation.
The winter of 2017 the World Small Animal Veterinary Association urged veterinarians to become informed and actively involved in opposing the breeding of dogs with extreme traits such as brachycephaly which can lead to health and welfare problems, notably obstructive airway syndrome. Recommendations for veterinarians to follow are available at http://jav.ma/WSAVAbrachy
Small dog breeds have varying degrees of paedomorphosis—the perpetuation of puppy-like physical traits into adulthood, —ranging from disproportionately large heads, protruding, “appealing” eyes, malformed jaws and dentition to misshapen and misaligned limbs. All these paedomorphic traits can lead to a variety of health problems later in life.
Many dogs, and not just the smaller breeds, also inherit, through human selection, what I term paedopsychic traits. The behavioral repertoire associated extreme paedopsychosis consists of predominantly infantile/puppyish behaviors normally seen just in brief episodes of spirited playfulness and moments of anxiety in most adult dogs. These behaviors include often almost continuous attention-seeking behavior, puppyish yapping and crying, excessive oral (chewing and licking) and searching- behaviors which can become obsessive compulsive disorders.
Along with the physical ailments associated with concurrent paedomorphosis, these poor dogs do not have the best quality of life without constant attention and often considerable veterinary expense. They are especially prone to separation anxiety, and many suffer, often alone all day in a crate in an apartment in the more affluent urban communities world- wide where they are currently popularized status symbols, fashion accessories and a source of emotional gratification. Abnormal behaviors related to boredom/hypostimulation often develop in dogs confined in such unstimulating environments.
These hyper-dependent perpetual puppies, whose attention-seeking behavior is rewarded by the devoted attention of owners highly conditioned by their dogs, in some instances bordering on Munchausen by proxy, are notably hyperactive , hypervocal, hypersensitive, hyperexcitable ( and seizure-prone) and hypersocial. Many such dogs may carry the gene responsible in humans for the Williams Beuren syndrome, affected children being exceptionally gregarious and friendly toward strangers.
Since extreme forms of paedomorphism and paedopsychism can lower the quality of life of such animals, their deliberate and continued propagation should be seriously reconsidered. Those caring for such dogs, many of which are very adorable but are challenged physically and emotionally, should not over-indulge since that only reinforces over-dependency. Apart from not breeding dogs with such extreme traits, joining a regular play group with other dogs may be the best medicine to help let the real dog emerge by reinforcing more mature dog-dog interactions.
A new paper in Canine Genetics and Epidemiology from a team at UC Davis school of veterinary medicine documents the lack of genetic diversity in the English Bulldog which is so extreme that there isnot enough genetic diversity to allow breeders to selectively breed-out the health problems that plague these poor dogs. These issues include severe lifelong breathing and self-cooling difficulties, corneal ulcers, skin disease, a screw-shaped tail which is linked to painful spine abnormalities, deformed joints, defective immune systems, dental problems and the inability to give birth naturally. The lead author of the paper, Professor Niels Pedersen, said in the Independent newspaper : “The English bulldog has reached the point where popularity can no longer excuse the health problems that the average bulldog endures in its often brief lifetime”.
The only humane and ethically acceptable solution is for people not to purchase an English Bulldog and for breeders and breed clubs internationally to make a concerted effort to outcross with one or more “correcting” breeds such as the Staffordshire and English Bull terriers.
Short-nosed breeds from pugs to mastiffs are more often affected by common conditions, not just known issues associated with brachyephaly. A biostatistical analysis of the pet health insurance claims of more than 1.27 million dogs over a nine-year span shows that even after removing conditions linked specifically to brachycephalic breeds, dogs with the structure common to these animals are less healthy than dogs with a more normal canine appearance. Common conditions include greater prevalence than seen in dogs with normal muzzles and skulls of: Digestive and respiratory problems, cancer and other skin diseases and various eye, ear, anal gland, dental, bladder/cystitis and heart issues, patellar and intervertebral disk luxations and other spinal conditions and greater susceptibility to hyperthermia/heat stroke. In summary, the flatter a dog’s face is, no matter how appealing or standard for the breed, the more general health problems in addition to serious ones specifically caused by the facial deformation they will suffer compared to dogs with normal skulls and length of muzzle. For details visit www.nationwidedvm.com/studies-and-research.
Of brachycephalic breeds surveyed for birthing problems because of pups’ large skulls, French bulldogs were 15.9 times more likely to suffer dystocia, Boston terriers 12.9 times, Chihuahuas 10.4 times and pugs 11.3 times compared to the norm according to D.G. O’Neil et al ( Canine dystocia in 50 UK first-opinion emergency-care veterinary practices: prevalence and risk factors. Veterinary Record June 19.17, p 559.
The BBC documentary called Pedigree Dogs Exposed, which caused considerable furor when it aired in 2008. You can view it online here: http://topdocumentaryfilms.com/pedigree-dogs-exposed/
The Norwegian Kennel Club has recently come out extremely strongly (http://pedigreedogsexposed.blogspot.co.uk/2016/04/breaking-news-norwegian-kc-admits-we.html)
See also www.unethicalbreederawareness.com
Advances are needed in veterinary eugenics to correct the documented dysgenics and associated physical and behavioral problems in dogs (as well as in other domesticated species) arising in part from selective breeding for desired but often extreme and abnormal traits. The AKC has neglected its potential role in facilitating veterinary eugenics for decades in spite of my and others appeals to them, by selling their AKC official breed registration papers to commercial puppy factory or mill breeders and others who do not engage in progeny testing, Dog-writer/reporter the late Herm David and I were the first to blow the whistle on puppy mills in the 1970s and we shared our concerns with the AKC and the dog breeding community at large. The AKC’s new voluntary Breed With H.E.A.R.T. program, which ostensibly addresses this issue, is essentially too little too late: or at least forty years after the issue was first presented to all involved.
According to Bob Baker, Missouri Alliance for Animal Legislation (in a personal communication, April 30, 2016) “The AKC inspection program is a sham. Their standards of care are bare minimum and can best be described as “survival standards” and certainly not humane standards of care. For example, the dog’s primary enclosure only needs to be large enough so the dog “can sit, stand, lie down or turn around.” This tiny space is the required living space for a breeding dog for her entire existence. Most troubling, there is no enforcement of the standards of care. According to AKC, the breeder is given at least one-week notice before the inspection. One need only review the paltry number of suspensions handed out by AKC based on the findings of their inspectors to recognize the lack of enforcement. The vast majority of suspensions that are handed down are the result of investigations by federal and state inspectors or local humane agents. Interestingly, many dogs rescued from puppy mills are AKC-registered and the facilities previously inspected by the AKC.
Shockingly, while AKC promotes the fact that they have promulgated “standards of care” for AKC breeders, when legislation was introduced in North Carolina to codify similar basic standards of care, the AKC actively worked in opposition to the legislation. The AKC is okay with standards of care as long as they are never enforced or codified into law.
What most people don’t realize, the entry fees for dog shows do not cover AKC expenses for sponsoring the shows and thus registration fees subsidize AKC dog shows. The next time you watch the Westminster Dog show, be aware that this show is being supported on the backs of puppy mill dogs, and the registration fees generated by puppy mills are subsidizing this, and all of the AKC dog shows.
In my professional opinion, most dogs embody more of the finer virtues that we admire in good people than I find in most of my own kind. This is surely why Australian aborigines say “Dingo makes us human,” It is also why so many people regard their dogs as family members. But this emotional bond is exploited by the multinational pet food industry that is still selling junk food and treats that sicken millions of dogs and sponsoring dog shows and shelter adoptions to boost ownership and sales.
But even more un-dogworthy are those who treat dogs as disposable commodities, mass producing them in cruel breeding factories called puppy mills and sold in pet stores or on-line or by dubious “rescue” organizations. This latter national disgrace and international atrocity is documented by Kim Kavin in her unforgettable and dirt-digging book The Dog Merchants. (Pegasus Books, NY. 2016). I highly recommend this book to all dog lovers to get involved in helping save “man’s best friend” from such exploitation and especially for those who are considering purchasing or adopting a puppy or adult dog.
Patti Rasmussen a Samoyed breeder ( I would prefer “devote”) from Lincoln Virginia writes to me: “While the AKC does not keep health clearance records on dogs, there are places that do. A starting point for anyone wanting to know more about purebred dogs would be the parent club for that breed. (In the case of my breed - the Samoyed Club of America) Most breeds also have regional clubs that offer information on breeders and how to find a good one. (http://www.potomacvalleysams.com/Home.html) and (http://www.potomacvalleysams.com/Puppies.html) The puppy buyer section was just updated with some excellent advice. Provided within those articles are links to OFA and its registries, which are noted to be for almost all purebred breeds. OFA’s records are all public, as are CHIC results.( http://caninehealthinfo.org/chicinfo.html#goals) At worst, a person seeking information on a particular breed can learn what health issues there may be by seeing what breeders test for. They will at least know where to look for certification, in in most cases they can look up the parents by name to see what health tests they have had and passed. It is incumbent upon the prospective buyer to do some homework before seeking a breeder.
Although AKC has a health department (AKC Canine Health Foundation) and funds some studies, the majority of decisions about genetic testing is done by the parent clubs for each breed. I’m sure some are more rigorous than others, perhaps depending upon how many problems they have and/or how common. We now have DNA testing for many things, with more becoming available all the time. Adding that to the normal hips, elbows, eyes, heart, etc is making some more inroads. It’s helpful, but just another tool to roll into the mix when planning litters that will be healthy, sound, and good representatives of the breed. We are, perhaps, working toward a time when AKC will have some minimum requirements for each breed before a dog can be registered, but with most of their income coming from registrations (which are down, I think), I wouldn’t look for that to become a priority. I think the move will continue to be toward education of the breeder and prospective buyers, and making data available more so than toward making it more difficult to register a dog. But who knows?
The Orthopedic Foundation for animals. (OFA) (http://www.offa.org/breedtests.html) started out as a place to send hip X-rays for review by a panel of radiologists who would grade the hips and certify them as to fair, good, excellent (for the dog’s age, a minimum of 2 yrs) or mildly, moderately, or severely dysplastic. For years you did not breed anything that lacked an OFA clearance, or that didn’t CERF (pass all the requirements for your breed’s eyes). This foundation is now the repository for information of all sorts. Elbows x-ray results, eye exam results (That used to be registered with CERF - Canine Eye Registry Foundation), and so on.
The Canine Health Information Center (CHIC) (http://www.caninehealthinfo.org/chicinfo.html) is maintained by OFA with data bases available for all participating breeds on whatever issues they commonly check for. Most breeders now will want their breeding stock to have CHIC certification, which means they’ve been tested for hips, eyes, elbows, heart (and possibly whatever DNA things are now available). The only thing buyers need to keep in mind is that saying a dog has been certified as checked for those things, is not the same as saying he/she passed all the tests. Hence the data bases, as well as certificates issued to each dog that passes everything”.
The AKC’s Bred With H.E.A.R.T. program requirements include statements to the effect that breeders must certify that their breeding stock is health tested, that they are responsible for the health and well-being of the puppies they produce and that they certify that health screens are performed on breeding stock. This program will not undo the damage done to many popular breeds over generations especially from puppy mills but is a step in the right direction. An excellent puppy purchasing contract agreement has been developed in the UK which is applicable in the U.S. and other countries. See http://puppycontract.rspca.org.uk
Using what is called CRISPR/Cas9 gene editing technology (which enables multiple genes to be altered simultaneously) scientists in China have created two beagles that lack some or all of the muscle-inhibiting protein myostatin, resulting in dogs with larger-than-normal muscles. Dogs now join the list of species that have been genetically edited, including pigs, goats, monkeys, rabbits and rats. These activities raise profound ethical concerns as I document in my DVD concerning earlier developments in this Brave new world of genetic engineering biotechnology and where it all may lead, available at www.drfoxvet.net (See also my article Don’t Clone Your Dog). Like it or not, the age of bioengineering cybergenetics is upon us. Chinese biotechnology firm Boyalife and South Korea’s Sooam Biotech are building what will be the world’s largest animal cloning facility in China. But genetically engineered/edited and cloned animals often have genetic and developmental abnormalities and new diseases which cannot be justified for the novel pet trade. In December 2015 Laura Jacques and Richard Remde of Yorkshire, England, received two new puppies, Chance and Shadow, who were cloned using their deceased dog Dylan’s DNA. The couple paid roughly $100,000 to have him cloned at the Sooam Biotech Research Foundation in South Korea.
Of the estimated one billion population of dogs in the world (See James Gorman, The Big Search to Find Out Where Dogs Come From, The New York Times, Science section, Jan 18, 2016) three quarters are still living under the relative freedom of being unowned community commensals or feral packs and loners, and as more symbiotic, often working dogs that share human habitation and usually have free access to the outdoors. Millions are poisoned every year to control rabies, skinned for the fur trade and raised and slaughtered for the meat market. The future of the remaining quarter kept confined under leash and animal control laws,— a population of increasing numbers of pure breeds and designer dogs— is biologically clouded by the emerging market for cloning puppies from dead dogs and the reality of gene editing to create totally new canine characteristics for biomedical and other commercial purposes.
Natural, aboriginal dogs can still be found in many developing countries, especially in rural communities as well as in the U.S. as detailed in the books Dog Body, Dog Mind and The Dog, Its Domestication and Behavior by Dr. Michael W. Fox. One example is the so called Carolina dog or American dingo, originally a landrace or naturally selected type of dog which was discovered living as a wild dog or free roaming dog by Dr. I. Lehr Brisbin. A breed standard has been developed by the United Kennel Club that now specifies the appearance of these dogs which could be their undoing if genetic diversity declines. We have met very similar dogs from some of the Native American Indian reservations in Minnesota and the Dakotas, many communities of which need urgent veterinary care and population control. Working in Africa and India, as well as in the U.S. and Europe, we have found a general attitude of preference for pure-breed dogs over local village/aboriginal dogs or “pariahs” and those of mixed breed who are seen as inferior, social status being associated with ownership of various pure breeds.
The “breeding-back” phenomenon in the Western world where free-roaming urban and suburban dogs, some of distinctive breeds, interbred with others to produce pariah/aboriginal dog-like phenotypes commonly called mutts or mongrels, has been significantly reduced in most communities where it is illegal to allow one’s dog to roam free and not be neutered. Conversely, concerted efforts to reduce indigenous/aboriginal dog numbers by various means humane and inhumane for public health reasons (especially rabies control) may actually lead to the disappearance of landraces and loss of genetic diversity in regional canine populations. In the U.S. some dog rescue networks are bringing dogs, many which are of the aboriginal phenotype, from southern states to more northerly and western states for adoption. This well intended humane activity calls for veterinary health certification to reduce the risk of canine diseases prevalent in the south spreading further into the canine community.
The author’s two indigenous dogs from Nilgiris, S. India (L) and one from Jamaica ®
The aboriginal/native dogs in the Nilgiris, S. India, we came to know while operating an animal shelter and refuge and full community veterinary services for close to a decade in the late 1990s.These dogs vary in size from 25-50lb, many adults being undersized and underweight due to chronic malnutrition. They are long of limb and tail, with usually erect or semi-erect ears. Tails are normally long and straight and are curled upward or downward in display, but some dogs have more permanently up-and curled “Spitz” tails.
Normally all these dogs are protective and very loyal to their owners. They have a good musculature, and the males are clearly more robust and have more powerful jaws than the females. All have characteristically small paws relative to their size compared to most modern breeds. The females are more protective towards theirs puppies than non-native breeds, and will chose to whelp in a secluded place and may sometimes burrow a den. They will often nurse their pups for several weeks longer than other dogs, pups continuing to be accepted as old as 3-4 months of age.
Their sense of smell and tracking abilities are considered superior to other imported European breeds. They are skilled hunters. Tribal people rear these dogs to guide them in the forest and to hunt smaller animals. These dogs also instinctively alert to the scent tracks of potentially dangerous panthers and tigers, wild boar and cobras, and are especially on the alert after dark. They are noted for their courage and tenacity, defending their owners from wild boar and sloth bear attacks. Around other domestic animals with which they normally live in villages and Tribal settlements, like chickens, calves and goats, they are gentle and even protective, most probably a result of selective breeding and training.
They have great stamina and have better resistance to many diseases compared to imported breeds and cross-breeds. They are able to sustain themselves as scavengers, often existing on a subsistence diet that for other dogs would often mean rickets, stunted growth and other deficiency diseases. They show innate nutritional wisdom, often being seen eating mineral rich dirt and enzyme, bacteria and protein rich feces of suckling calves. (In Tanzania we learned that the village dogs are valued as a free diaper service for infants and that the licking of friendly dogs, owned and not owned, can help clear up skin infections. The Masai people selectively cropped some dogs’ ears “To make them more aggressive”).
These dogs vary considerably in their vocal repertoire which is generally rich and subtle in terms of sound combinations (like growl-whines, yelp-barks and pant-huffs) that give clear indication of animals’ emotional state and intentions. Some give low ‘huffs’ and growls when sensing danger, while others give full voice which is not preferred when in the potentially dangerous jungle where silence is desired. They will give different barks when alerting to wild boar in the bush versus monkeys in trees, and will engage in coyote-like yip-yap howls when they sing in choral groups. One distinctive sound that some make in greeting is a coo-like twitter sound with high notes that sound like whistling, much like the whistle-call of the Dhole or Asiatic Wild dog.
The Nilgiris native dogs come in different colors that include black, red, tan, white, piebald and brindle. The most characteristic coat color is red, (or ruddy tan), possible a parallel or convergent adaptive coloration seen in the indigenous Wild dog (Cuon alpinus) also known as the Dhole or Chennai, one of the few wild canid species that hunts in packs.
Indian villager feeding community dogs, some having homes/owners: Note coat color diversity but similar size and conformation.
These Nilgiris native dogs are in state of potential extinction due to dog breeders introducing foreign ‘exotic’ European breeds that are seen as a status symbol. Many of these purebreds are deliberately crossed with the indigenous Nilgiris native dog, in part to help them adapt better to local conditions, but further diluting and ‘contaminating’ the genetic lineage of these wonderful indigenous dogs. Spay/neuter ‘birth control’ programs have further reduced their numbers.
Outside breeds contaminating the gene-pool of this native lineage in the Nilgiris are German Shepherd Dog (Alsatian), Doberman, Labrador retriever, Rottweiler, Terriers and Hounds brought in decades ago by British people and more recently by more affluent Indian citizens. A policy decision to not neuter classic phenotypes of this now threatened domestic variety of dog would be a wise move in this and other bioregions where there are viable populations of relatively “pure” indigenous aboriginal dogs.
The red “Country” dogs of the Nilgiris are predominant of those colors mentioned above. We would like to conserve the Nilgiris Native dogs due to their beauty and temperament. We also believe that this native, aboriginal variety of dog may well be the classic prototype of the earliest domesticated dog and belongs to that ancient lineage.
“Bingo” a prototypical Nilgiris aboriginal “country” dog. Below, typical Nilgiris Red Dogs
Scientist P.Skoglund and associates reported in the journal Current Biology, 25, 1515-1519, 2015, that they had recovered the genome sequence of a 35,000-year-old Siberian wolf. Calibration of the molecular clock suggests that the ancestors of modern dogs formed a distinct lineage prior to the peak of the last ice age. Siberian huskies and other northern dog breeds trace a part of their ancestry to the ancient Siberian wolf population.
Laura M. Shannon and an international team of 26 other scientists published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, 112, 13639-13644, 2015 a report entitled Genetic structure in village dogs reveals a Central Asian domestication origin. They concluded that “ Dogs were the first domesticated species, but the precise timing and location of domestication are hotly debated. Dogs today consist primarily of two specialized groups—a diverse set of nearly 400 pure breeds and a far more populous group of free-ranging animals adapted to a human commensal lifestyle (village dogs). Using genomic data from 5,392 dogs, including a global set of 549 village dogs, we find strong evidence that dogs were domesticated in Central Asia, perhaps near present-day Nepal and Mongolia. Dogs in nearby regions (e.g., East Asia, India, and Southwest Asia) contain high levels of genetic diversity due to their proximity to Central Asia and large population sizes. Indigenous dog populations in the Neotropics and South Pacific have been largely replaced by European dogs, whereas those in Africa show varying degrees of European vs. indigenous African ancestry.
As I discuss in this review article these wonderful indigenous, “landrace” varieties of dogs are endangered by European (pure breed) dog crossbreeding. In the U.S. there are un-neutered mixed breed dogs especially in the Southern states where they are still allowed to freely roam and breed back to a more natural landrace type. But as municipalities enforce spay/neuter and leash laws for many good reasons and overcrowded shelters in these states such as Alabama, Arkansas, Georgia, Mississippi, and Tennessee, send these dogs up to shelters in northern states where there are insufficient local dogs and pups for adoption, we may be seeing the last of the natural, landrace dogs in north America, many on Indian reservations being crossbred with Pit bulls and other pure breeds.
Our just-adopted 45 lb dog “Kota” from Alabama, a landrace type, brought in to shelter as a stray dog in May 2016 with a litter of pups, facial scars and one ear torn from fights.