Dog Breed Standard - event summary post

In continuation with SAWS’s breeding month, on the 15th of March 2021, SAWS welcomed the Dog Breeding Reform Group (DBRG)’s very own Dr. Emma Milne MRCVS, a reputable author and animal welfarist, for a talk to uncover whether the current standards for dog breeds cause suffering. This talk welcomed RVC students, staff as well as other members of the DBRG. Emma’s talk focused firstly on discussing the health complications of specific breeds caused by the current breed standards, then Emma considered what species and breeds are affected by brachycephaly, and finally explored the ethical dilemmas surrounding breed standards.

Health complications of the current standards for specific breeds:

1- Neapolitan Mastiff

Neopolitan mastiffs are permitted to have some loose skin over their bodies including their head.

2- Shar pei

Current breed standards for Shar peis is as follows: eyes must be almond shaped with a growing expression. Function of eyeball or lid cannot be disturbed by surrounding skin, folds or hair in any way. Any sign of irritation of eyeball, conjunctiva or eyelids is deemed highly undesirable for this breed. Free from entropion (a condition in which the eyelid is rolled inward against the eyeball, typically caused by muscle spasm or by inflammation or scarring of the conjunctiva, and resulting in irritation of the eye by the lashes). The muzzle must be padded. Some changes in the standards of this breed include changes from the old standard, which included fine wrinkles on forehead and cheeks continuing to form dewlaps, while the new standard for Shar peis now limits this to moderate wrinkling on the forehead and on the cheeks.

3- Dachshund

The old breed standard for dachshunds included having a long, fully muscled body. The new standard has changed this to only having a moderately long body, which is fully muscled. The body of the dog should sufficiently clear off the ground to allow free movement (i.e. should ideally not scuff the ground with its chest as it walks).

4- English Bull Terrier

Breed standards for English Bull Terriers include a downfaced, egg-shaped head. Viewed from front, the egg-shaped head must be completely filled, its surace free from hollows or indentations. The nose should be black and bent downwards at the tip.

5- German Shepherd

There are striking differences between the hind legs of the working/police dogs and those of the show ring (see image below). Notably, the hind legs of working German shepherds are much longer than those of show and therefore their backs are straight and not angled down. German shepherds commonly suffer from hip dysplasia which is an incurable and painful disease for dogs. Working German Shepherds have a powerful, well muscled build, with a weather resistant coat. In 2016, there was a change made to breed standard of German Shepherds, in that they must be capable of standing comfortably and calmly, freely and unsupported in any way.


Emma mentioned in her talk that “brachycephaly is the direct result of the stupidity of man”, underlying the key issue of selective breeding. These extreme conformations which lead to seriously debilitating and chronic diseases in brachycephalic dogs, would not exist in the wild and frequently require veterinary attention. Currently, show breed standards for “flat-faced” dogs state that respiratory distress is highly undesirable. However, it is almost impossible for flat faced dogs not to experience respiratory distress as these dogs are specifically bred to have pansy-like sweet faces, short noses with big eyes as well as short square bodies - giving them a cuddly teddy bear-like look. The show breed standard for pugs for instance, requires the dogs to carry a certain amount of fat, meaning that a lean pug is undesirable. This not only adds the complications of being overweight to a body which is already struggling to cope, but also normalises the idea that these dogs are ‘meant to be’ overweight.

One of the first brachycephalic complications that people tend to think about is Brachycephalic Obstructive Airway Syndrome (BOAS), however this is not the only complication that these dogs suffer from. Other complications include multiple GI diseases, heat intolerance, exophthalmos, corneal trauma, dry eye, skin fold pyoderma, hemivertebrae, IVDD, multiple myelopathies, chondrodystrophy, obesity, 100% dental malocclusion, congenital cardiac disease, syringomyelia, and the inability to reproduce, to name just a few. Additionally, it is not just dogs that can be brachycephalic and suffer from these conditions, but also cats, horses and rabbits.

What have we done?

Emma went on to explain that by only being concerned with appearances, we have created animals that could not and would not exist in nature. If we breed dogs for appearances, then health and temperament can never be a priority. Breeds do not occur in nature, instead they are a man-made concept. In fact, some breeds are now only viable through veterinary intervention, including reproduction. Many breed enthusiasts claim that it is impossible to get rid of certain breeds and that breeds are unable to be changed. However, as Emma pointed out, if some breeds are only viable through veterinary intervention, they would die out if they did not receive this intervention. Additionally, we have only had many of these breeds for the last 20 to 100 years and already they have changed dramatically, th