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100 Years of Breed "Improvement"

Everyone is free to copy this – in whole or in part – and slap it on their website without telling me about it. All I ask is that the work is properly attributed.

 If you come across this work without it being attributed to me (in any language) it’s plagiarism. Please use the Feedback/Contact form to let me know.

For the sake of honest disclosure, I will admit to owning “purebreds” (the ‘pureness’ of purebreeds is a discussion for another time) but I also have mutts. All the dogs I’ve had since childhood had a few things in common, they were friendly, prey driven, ball-crazy, intense, motivated, athletic (crazy dogs are easier to train) and none had intentionally bred defects. I would never buy/adopt a dog whose breed characteristics exacted a health burden.(Asher 2009). That just incentivizes people to breed more of these intentionally unhealthy animals. The dogs on the left are from  the 1915 book, ‘Breeds of All Nations by W.E. Mason. The examples on the right are modern examples from multiple sources. To be able to make an honest comparison, I’ve chosen pictures with similar poses and in a couple of cases flipped the picture to get them both aligned in the same direction. I had to skip some breeds I wanted to include because of the lack of detail in the older photographs.

It seems incredible that at one time the Bull Terrier was a handsome, athletic dog. Somewhere along its journey to a mutated skull and thick abdomen the bull terrier also picked up a number of other maladies like supernumerary teeth and compulsive tail-chasing.

The Basset Hound has gotten lower, has suffered changes to its rear leg structure, has excessive skin, vertebra problems, droopy eyes prone to entropion and ectropion and excessively large ears.

A shorter face means a host of problems. The modern Boxer not only has a shorter face but the muzzle is slightly upturned. The boxer – like all bracecyphalic dogs – has difficulty controlling its temperature in hot weather, the inability to shed heat places limits on physical performance. It also has one of the highest cancer rates.

The English bulldog has come to symbolize all that is wrong with the dog fancy and not without good reason; they suffer from almost every possible disease. A 2004 survey by the Kennel Club found that they die at the median age of 6.25 years (n=180). There really is no such thing as a healthy bulldog. The bulldog’s monstrous proportions make them virtually incapable of mating or birthing without medical intervention.

The Dachshund used to have functional legs and necks that made sense for their size. Backs and necks have gotten longer, chest jutted forward and legs have shrunk to such proportions that there is barely any clearance between the chest and floor. The dachschund has the highest risk of any breed for intervertebral disc disease which can result in paralysis; they are also prone to achondroplastic related pathologies, PRA and problems with their legs.

The German Shepherd Dog is also a breed that is routinely mentioned when people talk about ruined breeds; maybe because they used to be awesome. In Dogs of All Nations, the GSD is described as a medium-sized dog (25 kg /55 lb), this is a far cry from the angulated, barrel-chested, sloping back, ataxic, 85-pounders  (38 kg) we are used to seeing in the conformation ring. There was a time when the GSD could clear a 2.5 meter (8.5 ft) wall; that time is long gone.

The Pug is another extreme brachycephalic breed and it has all the problems associated with that trait – high blood pressure, heart problems, low oxygenation, difficulty breathing, tendency to overheat, dentition problems, and skin fold dermatitis. The highly desirable double-curl tail is actually a genetic defect, in more serious forms it leads to paralysis.

Once a noble working dog, the modern St. Bernard has been oversized, had its faced squished in, and bred for abundant skin. You will not see this type of dog working, they can’t handle it as they quickly overheat. The diseases include entropion, ectropion, Stockard’s paralysis, hemophilia, osteosarcoma, aphakia, fibrinogen deficiency.

It is unrealistic to expect any population to be free of genetic diseases but show breeders have intentionally selected for traits which result in diseases. Conformation breeders claim they are improving the breed and yet they are often the cause of these problems. If “improvement” in looks imposes a health burden then it is not a breed improvement..

No dog breed has ever been improved by the capricious and arbitrary decision that a shorter/longer/flatter/bigger/smaller/curlier “whatever” is better.  Condemning a dog to a lifetime of suffering for the sake of looks is not an improvement; it is torture.

Further Reading


Asher L, Diesel G, Summers JF, McGreevy PD, Collins LM. (2009). Inherited defects in pedigree dogs. Part 1: disorders related to breed standards.  Vet J. 2009 Dec;182(3):402-11.

  1. Bull Terrier
  2. Basset Hound
  3. Boxer
  4. Bulldog
  5. German Shepherd Dog
  6. Pug
  7. Saint Bernard
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Comments (23)
  • Just take a look at FCI unrecognized dog breeds, such as APBT, kangal etc. They've became much better than they were in the past. The main reason is that they aren't show dogs. 

    • As far as strict interpretation of the breed standard, I think that is impossible. Interpretation is left up to human interpretations. We all see things differently. The standard is the same. What one judge sees as a plus another judge misinterprets it. The reality is it is a fault. Just like pointed out the kicked tail on the Pug is a fault. The ridged back on the ridge back is a fault.

      I think the standards should be fixed. I think the judge should know them if they are judging them. But I know every judge is supposed to have in their mind the perfect example of what the standard should look like and judge the dogs based upon that imaginary image. i know that each judge will have a different image. I also know that judge will choose a dog over another dog and they are only supposed to pick the dog that closely matches their imaginary image of the breed standard.

      • Hulk? Imposible...

        The APBT isn't a dog of conformation's standar, but if you like see a standar, the best is ADBA, the first association pure breed of APBT, after UKC. But UKC cross the way from dogs show.

        The most important in the APBT is caracter, stamina, brave, and resistence. Hulk is a dog so weigth, 80kg. This dog doesn't run long distances and finish like the first time. 


        In Hulk we can look ddb's blood, neapolitan's blood and bully's blood. Obiusly it doesn't correct with the ADBA standar.

        Examples like Chinaman, Mayday, little gator, red boy, etc... it is other thing that Hulk.

        I can't write that i wanna write, because i don't know express.

        Un saludo

        • In order to know the limits of the size of the APBT you would have to go back to the original practice of the Pit. Competitor would inspect the opponents dogs by picking them up and checking them. So the weight of the dogs were restricted to a narrow range.  Even in the ADBA standard I think the upper limit of 75 pounds is too much.

          I will post something else on this later when I have a chance to refer to my old books and articles.

        • Spanish word referents to evolution is «evolución». But this not «evolución», this is «involución».

          • I think in some cases such as in the first example that the original english white terrier can be somewhat "revived" from extinction in some form. I think when the English brought their english white terrier dogs to Pakistan it has somewhat still remained in function while crossing their dogs with it and coming with the closely type and functional gull terr. This dog is still an avid hunter in Pakistan. I think it would be even further close to the original English white terrier if it was bred with America's EBT maybe.


            • Here is this from the UKC standard which is closer to original. Note the limits on weight.


              The American Pit Bull Terrier must be both powerful and agile; overall balance and the correct proportion of weight to height, therefore, is far more important than the dog’s actual weight and/or height.

              Desirable weight for a mature male in good condition is between 35 and 60 pounds. Desirable weight for a mature female in good condition is between 30 and 50 pounds.

              As a general and approximate guideline only, the desirable height range for mature males is from 18 to 21 inches at the withers; for mature females it is from 17 to 20 inches at the withers.

              It is important to note that dogs over or under these weight and height ranges are not to be penalized unless they are disproportionately massive or rangy.

              Very Serious Fault: Excessively large or overly massive dogs and dogs with a height and/or weight so far from what is desired as to compromise health, structure, movement and physical ability.

              • This is a really good topic. It would be nice to get more input, thoughts, opinions etc on this. Especially if it is done in a respectful open minded way.

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