Our findings agree with those of the new study in suggesting that the best way of breeding back to a less extreme skull shape would be to introduce dogs from outside the current breed registers. This is likely to be true of many other aspects of conformation and temperament. And we would agree that the extreme changes in appearance (such as the excessive skin rolls in these breeds) do account for many of their disease problems.
An Alternative To Outbreeding?
Fortunately not all short-faced dogs suffer from the respiratory disorder and although our research is not yet complete, we now have pretty strong evidence that there are still multiple genetic variations between those that do and those that don’t. But we do not know whether this is also true for other aspects of conformation and appearance-related conditions.
We believe that the swiftest way to remove these diseases would be to outbreed to a dog type that does not have the features that cause the health problems typical of these breeds.
Over the last few years groups such as the (now disbanded) Advisory Council on the Welfare Aspects of Dog Breeding, the RSPCA, a number of dog welfare charities and the Associate Parliamentary Group on Animal Welfare have offered a lot of advice about the health problems of these dogs in an attempt to reduce their popularity. Yet the kind of expensive advertising campaign that could really reach the public has been lacking.
An additional problem is that most breeders reject the introduction of genes from outside their breed. They fear the breed will “be contaminated”, that new diseases will be introduced and that the breed will lose its character or change in temperament. There appears to be no likelihood of legislation to compel breeders to outbreed on welfare grounds.
But with the help of our research it may be possible to breed for healthier dogs using the existing genetic variation within the breed (in addition to contributions from crosses outside the breed if necessary and if they can be made acceptable to breeders). If within-breed crosses to reduce disease do prove practical, this will probably be a slower route to reduce the disease burden for an individual offspring than an outcross-breed. However, the advantage is that within-breed crosses are likely to be widely accepted by dog breeders and so it may prove a quicker way of moving the whole population forward towards better breed health.