Jemima and the Tipping Point

A couple of weeks ago, Dog World published a Dachshund Supplement which was full of Dachshund articles and photographs. The pictures gave, in my view, a fairly typical insight into the types of Dachshund being shown and winning in the UK at the moment.

The day before the supplement was published, I had an e-mail from Jemima Harrison (Pedigree Dogs Exposed) with a copy of a picture from the supplement. The Subject line of her e-mail was “Extreme conformation?“.

I think there are two issues to consider here:

Firstly, where is the tipping point for exaggeration that pushes a dog beyond what is acceptable (a) in the Breed Standard and (b) as viewed by the person on the Clapham omnibus?

Secondly, what are the health/welfare consequences of different degrees of exaggeration?

Let’s think about the Breed Standard first. How difficult can it be for judges to read the Breed Standard and judge to it? The Breed Standard clearly states: “Moderately long and low with no exaggeration, compact, well muscled body, with enough ground clearance to allow free movement. Height at the withers should be half the length of the body, measured from breastbone to the rear of thigh.” and “Body sufficiently clear of ground to allow free movement.“.

Tipping_Point

By the very fact of being a dwarf breed, Dachshunds are “exaggerated”. The Breed Standard gives one view on what is acceptable and the Breed Council/Clubs work to communicate and educate key groups such as Breeders and Judges.

Philippa Robinson presented her Tipping Point perspective at the Breed Conference last year and it’s repeated in the Breed Council’s Annual Health Report for 2012. There is a “health guide” for Judges which also reinforces the point about exaggeration. All A1 List judges were sent the short illustrated guide last year.

If the person on the Clapham omnibus thinks a particular shape is too exaggerated, presumably market forces would kick in and they’d be looking for different-shaped dogs (unless the “pug-effect” applies? – buy one because it’s cute). It’s not as simple as blaming the show community for Dachshund exaggeration and health issues. The confounding data from our 2012 survey show that pet-owned Dachshunds are twice as likely to suffer back problems as show-owned ones. We don’t know whether that’s caused by their conformation or their lifestyle (diet, exercise, weight).

With regard to the health issues, we all know that Dachshunds are prone to back disease because they are a dwarf breed and that some of the varieties are more likely to suffer than others. To the best of my knowledge we don’t have any evidence that “longer” and “less ground clearance” correlates with “more back disease”. Indeed, longer-legged and shorter-bodied Continental (FCI) Dachshunds seem to be similarly prone to back disease as UK-bred ones. However, common sense must tell us that breeding for exaggerated length, or greater depth of chest, or shortness of leg, cannot be a good thing. We all need to be aware of the dangers of going beyond the Tipping Point and the Breed Standard gives us a good starting point.

The only published data (as far as I am aware) from a study of conformation and IVDD is http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/16881827 which suggests that shorter backed and taller Dachshunds are more prone to IVDD than longer-backed and less tall ones. However, this study is based on a small sample size and, there is some ambiguity in the results from what I can see.

Rowena Packer from the RVC has been conducting a study of Dachshunds with back disease, where she has been measuring their proportions and other physical parameters. The results of that study will be fascinating and, I hope, will provide us with further useful information on the relationship between Dachshund conformation and health.

What we all ought to be able to agree on is that we need to find a way of reducing the prevalence of back disease in Dachshunds. The Breed Council is pursuing a number of options to achieve this and is continually looking out for research evidence that will help. Dachshund breeders can help by trying to avoid breeding from dogs where there is a known history of back disease in the pedigree. Buyers can also help by asking breeders to tell them about any back problems in their lines.

I wrote this in my article for the Dog World Supplement:

The last major change to our Breed Standard was in January 2009 and formally adopted in June 2009. So, we’ve had four full years for breeders and judges to get to grips with what some people are calling the “new Standard”.

Probably the most significant changes were:

  • the statement that Dachshunds should be “moderately long and low with no exaggeration, compact, well muscled body, with enough ground clearance to allow free movement”, and…
  • the guidance that “height at the withers should be half the length of the body, measured from breastbone to the rear of thigh”.

Anyone who has read Sayer (1939) and Dalglish (1952) will realise that neither of these changes is actually asking for a “new” shape of Dachshund!

It is therefore a mystery to me, and a source of frustration given the number of seminars our Breed Council and Clubs have run, to read judges’ critiques that say “would have preferred more length” or “long, low and level”. I cannot imagine there are any Dachshunds being shown in the UK that need to be longer and there are still far too many with grossly exaggerated depth of body and short legs, resulting in virtually no ground clearance.

We shouldn’t therefore be surprised that Jemima Harrison’s “Pedigree Dogs Exposed – 3 years on“, screened just before Crufts 2012, featured a flashback to the pictures of Dachshunds used in PDE1 in 2008 and commentary saying “look what 100 years of the show ring has done to the Dachshund; today’s dogs have much shorter legs”. True enough; comparing those two photos the “modern” dog certainly doesn’t have the ground clearance required by our Breed Standard.

Pedigree dog breeders continue to be in the spotlight for exaggerated conformation and health issues. We do ourselves no favours by showing, or awarding prizes to, dogs that our critics consider to be be exaggerated and not fit for function.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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