Secrets Behind Dog Breeds

By Michele Bacigalupo

Photo courtesy of LWYang.

It’s easy for pet owners to become attached to their furry, feathered, or finned companions. Humans grow aware of their emotional connection to their pets and the happiness that the animals bring them.

However, as much as dog owners appreciate their pets, it’s sometimes hard for them to notice the level of their canines’ well-being. Sadly, many owners do not pay attention to their animal’s comfort level when it’s not directly affecting their own.

Dog owners, especially ones who register for events like the Westminster Dog Show, are often guilty of buying into the business of “bad breeding.” The value of a dog’s pedigree is oftentimes detrimental to the degree of its health. In order to guarantee the purity of a dog’s breed, the animal is often the product of many generations of inbreeding. The bulldog, of both the French and British variety, is one of the most visibly deformed breeds.

BTR spoke with author and social critic Michael Brandow on the subject. Brandow published his book, A Matter of Breeding: A Biting History of Pedigree Dogs and How the Quest for Status Has Harmed Man’s Best Friend, earlier this month.

While employed as a professional dog walker in New York City, Brandow kept a journal detailing his experiences as an outsider looking into the lives of other pet owners. Many descriptive passages in the book were inspired by journal entries. Brandow’s clients were mostly wealthy individuals who owned pets of expensive pedigrees. Several of the dogs he walked were regular participants in dog shows. Sadly, the dogs with the highest pedigree status were often the ones with the most extreme health complications.

Brandow admits that when he first made the decision to raise his own canine, the question of which breed to get immediately sprang to mind. Differentiating between the various breed choices seemed like a natural starting point when selecting a pet. His friend persuaded him not to focus on such superficial aspects, telling him to go to a shelter and simply pick a dog to bring home.

Brandow explained that humanity’s preoccupation with dog breeds goes back hundreds of years.

“Historically, [breed] is related to race and class,” he explains. “Commercial standardized breeds as we know them were very much a part of the eugenics movement in the 19th century, which was an attempt to segregate and keep purer races–not just human, but dog as well.”

Brandow assesses that class works as the “flipside of race.” Hence, a dog’s breed “is an expression of how much money you had by having a type that is recognizable on the street, costing a certain amount of money, showing a certain level of taste, and breeding yourself, really.”

Brandow urges members of the public to stop paying attention to breeds and the stereotypes associated with them. He recommends refraining from complimenting a bulldog’s owner on his pet’s cute droopy face. Such encouragement will only entice the owner to purchase another bulldog in the future. The positive reinforcement of pedigree stereotypes causes breeders to produce more of a species that is already deformed, thereby reducing the quality of life for the animals to even slimmer margins.

Man’s best friend has endured years of mistreatment due to inbreeding and our obsession with purebred genetics. The damage is evident in many elite breeds, and Brandow hopes that society will move forward in a more open-minded direction over the next few years.

“A lot of celebrities are setting great examples,” he says. “Ryan Gosling has his famous mutt with a mohawk. There’s a lot of prejudice against mutts [right now].”

For people interested in observing ethical dog owning, Brandow urges them to think less of the statement dogs will make as the animals walk beside them. It’s more important to consider the ease or difficulty the canine may have walking in the first place. By bringing home a purebred, dog owners may be signing up for a commitment of taking care of an animal with pre-determined respiratory issues or weak muscles.

Brandow refers to our obsession with purebreds as “snob appeal,” and highlights the selfish desires related to caring about the status symbol of a pet over its health. He hopes people will be more open to mutts and crossbreeds after reading his book.