Selective breeding – dogs now and then

Everyone loves a pug. Their ugly-cute flat faces are pretty hard to resist – and it’s totally understandable why they were the eighth most popular breed in the UK in 2019.

However, thanks to man’s obsession with creating ‘the perfect dog’, most pugs now suffer from debilitating health issues after years and years of intensive breeding.

The sad reality is, they aren’t alone. By identifying the strongest and ‘most desirable’ traits, such as the prettiest colour, shiniest coat and stockiest size, we’ve created at least 167 breeds of dog – and the list is only getting longer given the recent boom in the deliberate crossbreeding of designer canines.

Yet this selective breeding is often at the expense of a dog’s health, life expectancy and, ultimately, quality of life.

In this blog, we look at today’s dogs compared to what they looked like 100 years ago.  

Pug

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Pugs have always had a squashed nose but overbreeding to exaggerate the trait has caused them to develop a number of man-made health issues.

Their evolved structure means they have much narrower, constricted airways, smaller nostrils, and shorter, more squashed necks – making them prone to breathing problems. One in three are also said to experience issues with walking, and many suffer from issues such as not being able to regulate their body temperature, dental problems, eye problems and skin infections.

German shepherd

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Along with having longer and thicker fur, German shepherds are much larger now than they were 100 years ago.

But their skeletons have also changed, with their chest wider and the rear lower. The latter has made the breed prone to a genetic disorder called hip dysplasia, a problem caused by their leg bones not properly fitting into hip sockets.

Bull terrier

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Bull terriers are well-known for their long, egg-shaped heads and stocky bodies but they haven’t always been that way!

Once with a well-proportioned head and slim torso, the breed often has problems with opening and closing their mouth due to their teeth not lining up, as well as being prone to compulsive habits, such as chasing its tail. 

Basset hound

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The basset hound was once used in hunting, more inconspicuous at tracking their prey than their taller counterparts. Yet today’s hound would struggle, given its low belly, excess skin and shorter legs and ears.

The breed’s most distinctive feature, its sad-looking, droopy eyes, also weren’t as pronounced back then.

English bulldog

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Bulldogs are the poster breed for health problems and genetic irregularities. Excessive wrinkles prone to infection, breathing issues, painful eye conditions, deformed bones leading to incontinence and loss of back leg usage are just some of the problems these dogs can encounter during their short lives – all down to excessive overbreeding.

Dachshund

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Seeing a sausage dog waddling along the street with its tummy nearly touching the floor is bound to bring a smile to most faces.

They weren’t always like a slinky though. At one point, dachshunds’ legs and necks were in proportion to their body size, yet because of intensive breeding, they’ve been stretched out and are now the highest risk dog for intervertebral disc disease which can result in paralysis.

Pekingese

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Pekingese a century ago wouldn’t even be recognised as one today, looking more like a spaniel than the ball of fluff they are now. In fact, they have so much fur that their (much shorter) legs can’t even be seen, as well as struggling in warm weather.

Similar to the pug and bulldogs, pekes often have breathing problems due humans selectively breeding them to have much more of a squashed face than 100 years ago.