How Have Dogs Changed After 100 Years of “Purebreeding”?

Photos from 1915 show how much breeding has altered dogs, and it's not all about looks.


Because today’s first Scoop article touched only briefly on criticisms of the Obama family’s choice to get a purebred dog from a professional breeder, maybe the second one should take a look at the issues inherent in breeding dogs. The proper role of breeders is a hugely controversial one here at Dogster, and more than a few people will tell you that there is no proper role for breeders.

They say a picture is worth a thousand words, and this 2012 post from the blog Science of Dogs has words and pictures that illustrate the results of breeding precisely. The animated GIFs from Gizmodo take the point one step further.

Blogger Mus Musculus (presumably a pseudonym, because it’s the Latin species name for the common house mouse) took photos from the 1915 book Dogs of All Nations, and paired them with modern photos of dogs from the same breed, in the same pose. The results after almost a century of selective breeding are striking. For instance, take a look at the change in the skull shape of the Bull Terrier below:

Musculus singles out the English Bulldog as an especially egregious example of long-term breeding problems.

“There really is no such thing as a healthy Bulldog,” Musculus writes.” The bulldog’s monstrous proportions makes them virtually incapable of mating or birthing without medical intervention.”

The Pug and the Boxer have seen their muzzles shrink in the past 100 years, resulting in common respiratory problems for each. Of the Pug, Musculus notes that “The highly desirable double-curl tail is actually a genetic defect, in more serious forms it leads to paralysis.”

Of course, these dogs would be very different from their ancestors even if it weren’t for breeders. Ordinary natural selection, which took humans from being merely a particularly disreputable branch of the primates to inventing New York and the wheel, would have done its job on the Boxer and the Bulldog as well.

But one of the inherent results of selective breeding is that recessive traits, which need to be inherited from both parents in order to manifest, are preserved by interbreeding. Recessive traits are why human cultures discourage setting up housekeeping with cousins or siblings.

A characteristic that would otherwise get lost in the shuffle of genes over a few generations starts to turn into a standard characteristic. In humans, you start to get large incidences of things like hemophilia. In dogs, things like the double-curl tail become more common because they’re fetishized by owners and breeders.

Does that make breeders inherently evil, or that we should harangue everyone who buys a dog from one? Regardless, it is worth thinking twice about what “purebred” actually means.

Via Science of Dogs and Gizmodo

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3 thoughts on “How Have Dogs Changed After 100 Years of “Purebreeding”?”

  1. Pingback: Weekly round-up of Labrador news (Dec 06) – The Labrador Site

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