Are some breeds playing catch-up?

I posted part of this blog on Facebook, originally, but a few comments and further discussion have prompted me to add to it.

Following the recent cancellations of dog shows in Germany as a result of animal welfare legislation, there’s been a lot of discussion about how to “prove” show dogs are healthy and shouldn’t be penalised. Among the brachycephalic dog breeding/showing community, in particular, there are comments about the large number of dogs being bred irresponsibly and outside the KC registration system. There is, understandably, concern that all breeders are being tarred with the same brush. Unfortunately, it’s hard to find data or published papers on health differences between show and non-show, or KC and non-KC dogs.

This is something that we have addressed since our first Dachshund health survey in 2012. In our breed health surveys, we have data on KC and non-KC registered dogs. For some of our surveys, we have also been able to identify dogs that are shown and those that are not. These are invaluable data sets that reflect the open, transparent, approach we have taken on data collection and reporting. We now have over 10 years’ worth of data from multiple surveys where we have actively sought responses from beyond the Dachshund breed club community that owns KC-registered dogs.

In our 2021 survey, we had around 10,000 responses, of which 20% were not KC registered. I thought it would be interesting to see if there are any statistically significant health differences for IVDD, Colour Dilution Alopecia and Skin Allergies for these 2 sub-populations. There isn’t. However, non-Breed Standard coloured Dachshunds were 2.4 times more likely not to be KC registered than Breed Standard colours/patterns.

We did an analysis of IVDD prevalence differences between show-owned and non-show-owned Dachshunds in our first 2 breed health surveys (2012, 2015). Show-owned dogs were half as likely to have had an IVDD incident. Obviously, there are potentially many confounding factors but my suspicion is that lifestyle factors are the most significant. Our paper published in 2015 (Packer et al: DachsLife 2015) also reported this difference and that there was a lower IVDD prevalence in households with 4 or more Dachshunds (which are probably among the show/breeder community).

I’ve also recently completed an analysis of 2021 rescue statistics for the Red Foundation and, as in previous years, more non-KC registered Dachshunds are surrendered to rescue. In 2021, 68% of the re-homed dogs weren’t KC registered. KC-registered Dachshunds are less likely to end up in rescue.

I have written previously (Our Dogs “Best of Health”) about the importance of data collection by breeds and the fact that you need multiple sources of data and analyses. There is no single source of the truth about breed health! All surveys and research studies are subject to some form of bias; hence the need to triangulate on a consensus view by using multiple sources.

I am under no illusions about the fact that Dachshunds are, inherently, an exaggerated breed and are in the sights of the legislators in Germany and elsewhere. We are, however, in a better place than many breeds because of our approach to health improvement over recent years. Some breeds are now playing “catch-up” and I suspect there will be a surge of new health surveys initiated by their breed clubs. The design of these will be really important but, equally, they really do need to work hard to get responses from beyond the breed club and show community, and to be able to differentiate between them in their analyses.

Cassie Smith has published some useful comparisons of Breed Standard and non-BS colour registrations for Pugs, Bulldogs and French Bulldogs in the CRUFFA Facebook Group. These are all based on KC-registered dogs but provide some useful insights into the “health” and breeder practices for BS and NBS colours. For example, the uptake of health screening programmes differs between the 2 groups; BS colours are more likely to have participated in screening programmes. Of course, that might simply be because breed clubs or the KC have not promoted schemes to NBS owners. Other interesting differences are that NBS dogs typically have larger litters and fewer caesarean sections. As always, the analyses raise more questions. Breed Clubs should be looking at these analyses and asking why there are differences. If they don’t have the evidence that their community is breeding the healthiest dogs, it’s going to be hard to argue the case against breed-specific or anti-show legislation.

I’ll leave you with one of my favourite Edward Deming quotes: “Without data, you’re just another person with an opinion“.

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