575A Short Face - Bad Dog

by   David Hancock

There is much opposition from dog-breeders to the European Convention on Pet Animals which seeks to limit exaggerated features in dogs, to the detriment of their health. One element in this seeking of healthier dogs is the focus placed on the 'short-faced' breeds, such as the Bulldog, the Pug, the Pekingese, the Boston Terrier and the French Bulldog. One of the problems in these breeds is that today's specimens are shorter in the face than the prototypal ones; the show-ring has produced a shorter face in these breeds than is typical. There is no shortage of medical evidence to prove that the short face in dogs brings with it a wide range of disadvantages. Difficulties in breathing, giving birth, keeping cool and coping in stressful conditions are well documented, but there are other significant anatomical problems too.

In their book, Dogs (Scribner, 2001), the Coppingers write on the Bulldog: 'Their faces are so squashed that the turbinate bones in their nostrils are tiny. Turbinate bones are covered with respiratory epithelial tissue, which helps the dog to breathe and cools its brain. As a result of the tiny turbinates, bulldogs and the other flat-facers have poor brain cooling, poor breathing, and low oxygen tension in their blood'. In their authoritative 'Breed Predispositions to Disease in Dogs and Cats' (Blackwell, 2004), Gough and Thomas devote more words to the Bulldog than any other breed, stating that brachycephalic upper airway syndrome (BAOS) is common in the breed (and in the Boston Terrier, Pekingese and Pug), with 55% of cases of hypoplastic trachea being found in this breed.

 The relentless pursuit of a muzzleless Bulldog by contemporary breeders leads to distress in the dog. The vomer bone in this breed may be incomplete or more deeply notched at its front end than is desirable and this interferes with the suspension of the soft palate, giving rise to difficulty in breathing, especially in hot temperatures. This condition is often compounded by faulty development of the sphenoid bone, increasing the discomfort to the dog. At the World Dog Show a decade or so ago I saw a Bulldog collapse in the ring on a really hot day, be carried out of the ring by its handler, wrapped in cold wet towels for a while and then brought back into the ring, only to collapse again. Does such a person really love Bulldogs?

 The short-faced or brachycephalic head shape is the result of an inherited defect in development of the bones of the base of the skull; the skull is of normal width but is significantly reduced in length. The soft tissues of the head are not proportionately reduced, so too much tissue is crammed into the space available, leaving little space for the passage of air. Other breeds show this defect through having too deep a stop, e.g. American Cocker Spaniels, St Bernards and some Boxers, but to a lesser extent. Bulldogs often have elongated soft palate. Bullbitches have an unusually hard time whelping, with one study stating that only 6% of Bullbitches whelp naturally. The seeking of a relatively large head in this breed contributes to this, with the head shape not helping. According to data from the Purebred Dog Health Survey (Animal Health Trust, Aug 2008), the four breeds with the highest percentage of deaths related to anaesthesia and surgery were the Pekingese (8%), Pug (7%), Bullmastiff (5%) and the Bulldog (4%) -all of these are brachycephalic breeds.

The short face also imposes scenting limitations, with such a construction imposing a loss of 80% of scenting ability. With scenting power meaning as much to dog as sight to us, this is comparable to a loss of 80% of sight in a human being, some handicap. Eye problems occur in dogs with the short face; Boston Terriers can suffer from outward turning of the eyes, making it difficult to achieve binocular vision, as well as protrusion of the eyeballs, which can lead to their eyes popping out of their sockets, from even moderate trauma. The Pug, with shortened nasal passages, suffers from chronic sinusitis and other respiratory infections. Some Pug owners actually find their dog's snoring 'comforting' !

 Breeding dogs for the psychological needs of humans is not very admirable but I've read of Pekingese owners liking the look of a permanently 'crying' pet and of pop-eyed breeds being desired because they look vulnerable, and they are! Eyeballs which protrude excessively expose the eye to drying, even difficulty in closing the eyes properly, and risking corneal injury. Too short a muzzle also leads to dental problems; the upper and lower jaws are not equal in length and the jaw is so short that the teeth are overcrowded. The short face also results in skin problems; deep folds or wrinkles around the nose attract bacterial infection, leading to surgical removal of some folds. Folds around the mouth tend to trap saliva and debris, causing at least a foul smell, at worst dermatitis.

The short face in the Bulldog and derivative breeds, like the Bullmastiff, comes from the Pug cross not from the baiting ring. The surest way I know of antagonising Bulldog and Pug breeders is to remind them of the Pug-Bulldog crosses once conducted in their two breeds. Bullmastiff owners too are usually far from pleased at any suggestion that the ancestors of their breed might well have had Pug blood in them. Of course breed historians will usually believe what they want to believe. But I see much to admire in the character of the Pug and the Bulldog and see no stigma in admitting such cross- breeding. But did the Pug-Bulldog cross really happen? What is the evidence?

 In his "The Illustrated Book of the Dog" of 1879, Vero Shaw was in no doubt, as these quotes illustrate: "With reference to the Pug as it at present exists...It is in many of the inferior large-sized specimens that the Bull cross is so plainly evident...the results of the cross are frequently disfigured by being out at shoulders and by badly-carried tails.. .Nor are such experiments likely to benefit the Bulldog, for Pug blood is in its turn plainly visible in some of the breed, especially the fawn and fallow-smut ones, which one comes across. Another trace the Bulldog often leaves behind it in the Pug is in the carriage of the ears. ..modern breeders in some instances have availed themselves of a Bull cross in hopes of improving their strain in certain qualities."

Sydenham Edwards, in his great work "Cynographia Britannica" of 1800, wrote in his chapter on Bulldogs that the small "Dutch mastiff or pug-dog was much in fashion" during the time when Bulldogs were most needed, and "that possibly by accident or design" it had been used to "improve the bulldog". As both 'Stonehenge' and Buffon record, the French referred to Pugs as small Bulldogs. Thomas Bell, writing in 1837, described the Pug-dog as a smaller variety of the Bulldog. If you look at Hogarth's so-called Pugs, you see signs of non-Pug blood and the famous painting of a heavyweight 'Pug' at the National Trust property Dunham Massey depicts a brindle dog, not a colour found in pugs in Britain. 'Stonehenge' in his "Dogs of the British Islands" of 1878, records: "...both strains (i.e. Willoughby and Morrison pugs) have been crossed with the bulldog, with a view to enlarge the skull and shorten the face."

In his "Modern Dogs (non-sporting)" of 1894, Rawdon Lee writes: ". ..1 should not be surprised to find that during the early part of this century some of the small-sized bull bitches were mated with a pug in order to produce that fawn or 'fallow smut' bulldog." You don't find such quotes in books on Bulldogs! John Gordon wrote two books on Bulldogs and two on Pugs without mentioning such easily researched details. Selective or tedentious research contributes little to our knowledge of dogs.

Following the banning of bull-baiting in 1835, the bull- baiting dogs not surprisingly suffered a decline. 'Idstone' in his "The Dog" of 1872 records: "About the year 1840 very few thoroughbred examples existed, and the possession of such an animal would have been regarded as a sure sign of ruffianism." There was not exactly a market for such incredibly brave, very fierce, usually savage, powerful dogs. They had to be adapted to the requirements of the time.

From 1840 the breed of Bulldog changed from a mainly white, rat-tailed, thick-eared, broad-mouthed, strongly muzzled, hard muscled canine gladiator into a very different animal. In his "The Bulldog --a Monograph" of 1899, Edgar Farman notes that: "From that time forward the breed began to deteriorate, and, with the era of modern dog shows, the appearance of an up-to- date specimen became a caricature of the active and plucky animal that baited the bull."

 In his authoritative "Dogs: Their History and Development" of 1927, Edward Ash wrote, on the Bulldog: "When bull-baiting and dog-fighting ended, the dog was bred for 'fancy', and characteristics desired at earlier times for fighting and baiting purposes were exaggerated, so that the unfortunate dog became unhappily abnormal. In this translation stage huge, broad, ungainly heads were obtained, legs widely bowed were developed, and frequently the dog was a cripple. Then gradually the desired points were rounded off and the transition stage had passed. How these changes of type were obtained is difficult to say."

These "changes of type" had been obtained by using the blood of a short-nosed, compact, close-knit, cobby, unaggressive, black-masked, smaller dog called a Pug. In his "The New Book of the Dog" of 1907, Robert Leighton wrote on the Pug: "...and it is known that it has been bred with the bulldog for the anticipated benefit of the latter." He expresses no doubt about this cross-breeding. He was the acknowledged authority of his day who took great pains to be accurate. Outcrossing can boost a breed's virility and correct faults imposed by close breeding, but breeding for exaggeration can never be wise. The pursuit of fad breed points is a curse in any pedigree breed and the Bulldog has suffered more than most. In one decade a well out at shoulder front is desired, in another a grotesquely undershot jaw is all the rage and then the great essential is a mass of wrinkle. The degree of wrinkle on the contemporary Bulldog is not historically correct. Wrinkle on a Pug is a breed feature. Misguided breed fanciers used these words in the Bulldog standard of 1875: "The forehead should be flat…..and the skin upon it and about the head very loose, hanging in large wrinkles." I know of no portrayal of a bull-baiting dog with large wrinkles on its forehead.

In Germany, the Pug was bred with the Pinscher in order to shorten the face of the latter. This may have been to broaden the mouth of the Pinscher (a word linked to our word 'pinch' and literally meaning a dog that nipped). In her valuable book "The Pug Handbook" of 1959, Wilhelmine Swainston Goodger records: "It is therefore safe to assume that the 'traces' (i.e. the darker spinal marking) of Mastiffs, Bulldogs and even Terriers...are due to the use of the Pug, the only naturally short-faced dog known in Europe at that time, in cross-breeding to shorten the muzzles of other canine types."

An examination of Bulldog skulls in the British Museum (all from dogs born prior to 1936) showed they had longer jaws than modern Bulldogs. Geneticists tell us that the short muzzle is dominant, that crosses involving the Bulldog are liable to produce extreme variation in size and that crosses involving giant breeds are liable to produce excessive loose skin. The Mastiff, the Bullmastiff and the Bulldog share origins and genes; they have been interbred as breed-types for centuries. The Pug has a wholly separate origin and, despite once being called the Dutch Mastiff, has a different skull conformation from the mastiff group. The blending of Pug and Bulldog blood brings together entirely different ancestries, totally different historic functions and essentially different anatomies. The Pug has maintained its distinct breed type over at least four centuries; the Bulldog does not even resemble its own ancestors, especially in the muzzle. It is worth noting that the descendants of Bulldogs taken to the colonies still display the classic head of the bull-baiting dogs, as the American Bulldogs, the Alapaha Blue Blood Bulldogs, the 'Aussie Bulldog' and the dogs of Lolly Wilkinson in Canada demonstrate. It is not historically correct to breed Bulldogs, and certainly not Mastiffs or Bullmastiffs, with the truncated muzzle which has long been a feature of the Pug. Pug-faced Pugs are not anomalous. Pug-faced Bullmastiffs are and do not fit the breed mould; such a feature is leading this admirable breed away from its own blueprint. I rather like Pugs but I'd prefer the Pug face to remain where it belongs, on Pugs and not on Bullmastiffs or Bulldogs. Our precious breeds of pedigree dog must be perpetuated as identifiable individual breeds, each with its own typical characteristics; that surely is the whole point of pedigree dog breeding.

The 19th century Bulldog breeder who promoted the sale of his pups by boasting that he had bred 'the shortest faced Bulldogs in London' epitomises those breeders who see merit, and profit, in exaggeration, exaggeration which harms dogs and restricts their lives, but fattens the breeders' wallets. Such breeding has to stop. We must now face up to our responsibilities towards sentient subject creatures as admirable as dogs. 'Fancying' a breed because of its harmful exaggerations is no longer an option; caring for a breed involves obliterating any feature which harms the well-being and quality of life of every specimen in that breed, not indulging in the misguided perpetuation of past mistakes. Every breed needs to be sound!