Designing the kennel club of tomorrow

One of these dogs is a mutt, and the other is a purebreed.
One is a model of health, and the other is ... a purebreed.

If you aren't aware, the process of dog breeding is controversial.  On one hand, most of us love the products of breeding: the lovable Golden Retriever, the fearsome German Shepard, the whimsical Dachshund.  Unfortunately, these breeds can only exist so long as we continue to mate two dogs of the same breed to make a litter of new breed members, and the unpleasant truth is that we know that in doing so we're promoting birth defects.  It's long past time we thought about how to improve this practice.

Dog breeds are defined by kennel clubs like the American Kennel Club (AKC) and the Westminster Kennel Club (WKC).  These clubs hold shows where judges assess which dog looks most like the kind of dog it is supposed to be, and these winners go on to sire puppies who will carry forward the noble blood line of the breed.  The concept makes simple sense.  In order to continue having Saint Bernards, gather a bunch together, find the male and female that look the most like a classic painting of a Saint Bernard, and then mate them.  More picture-perfect Saint Bernards.

The problem is that this system descends from an earlier time when we didn't understand heredity or genetics.  We now know that the more closely related two individuals are, the more likely it is that their offspring will develop birth defects.  So if the very first condition to being a Saint Bernard eligible to appear in shows and breed is that both of your parents were Saint Bernards, it means that every single pure breed dog is the product of generation after generation of inbreeding and incest.  I'm pretty sure this is common knowledge, but it's essential to make one thing very clear.  This is not an unfortunate flaw in an otherwise intelligent system designed by experts.  This is a deeply foolish tradition that has used an unearned level of respectability to stampede over actual expert wisdom.  

It occurred to me that this system will never go away so long as it persists to be the only available system of producing standardized dogs.  This is often overlooked by critics of breeders, who insist that everyone should just buy shelter dogs instead of financing the breeding system.  It makes sense, because if you want a beagle, you can find a beagle without paying a breeder by just searching through adoptable dogs for a beagle.  But that system still takes for granted that beagles exist because someone is mating beagles somewhere.  One day, once our pet population is under control and all dogs are born wanted, how do we satisfy the desire for pomeranians and mastiffs without continuing a system that is extremely efficient at manufacturing dogs with health problems?

The solution is simple in concept.  It's just one step.

As we do currently, we can still select sires and dams based on general body characteristics, and behaviors, although personally I'd focus on health, athleticism, and personality instead of selecting for a long list of arbitrary limb ratios and tail angles.  But here is the key step: instead of requiring breeders to prove that two dogs are closely related... we require them to prove that two dogs AREN'T closely related.  That's it.

"But how would that work?? How can we make a Finnish Spitz without breeding two dogs confirmed to come from a long line of Finnish Spitzes???"

By breeding literally any two dogs that look like a Finnish Spitz that aren't known to be cousins.

From left to right, a Finnish Spitz, a Norwegian Buhund, a Canaan Dog

Also, you don't need to call it a Finnish Spitz.  You could call it a Primitive Dog.  If you like it in just one color, a Tan Primitive Dog.  There is a long coat variant called a Long Coat Primitive Dog, and if you wish to breed a specific subtype that is hardy in cold weather and good with kids, and your name was Prescott, you could call it a Prescott Primitive Dog.  It could still be made exclusively of other Prescott Primitive Dogs, just so long as your definition for a PPD is based on its appearance and behavior and that you guarantee none of your breeding stock are family.

But progress requires more than concept.  It requires method.  Currently, the system I just described doesn't appeal to kennel clubs because kennel clubs are filled with people who have fetishized the concept of closed blood lines.  This concept of nobility and purity in breeding are widely accepted in the general public as well, but I desperately want to believe that that is because people simply don't know any better.  I think we need a new kennel club, committed to the modern system of breeding I described.  This would be a kennel club founded on modern principles.  Among these principles would be adherence to scientific and veterinary wisdom, and a belief that dogs are not merely the clay with which breeders sculpt but individuals who have a right not to be brought into the world to suffer from completely foreseen chronic illness.  

I see a kennel that encourages breeders to stop paying thousands of dollars to buy semen that will yield a litter of three or four sickly puppies in the hope that one of them survives long enough to breed again and instead mate the dogs which the AKC and WKC consider entirely valueless.  I see a kennel that produces its own breeds, known for their robust health and long lifespans.  Are you looking to buy a family dog?  Instead of paying outrageous prices for a AKC-certified purebred Toy Poodle, why not buy a certified wellbred small General Poodle?  We could create golden retrievers that live longer and aren't known for being dumb; bulldogs that live longer and don't require c-sections to give birth; and king charles cavalier spaniels that live longer and aren't known for of dying from liver shunts.  We can have the dogs we love, but for longer, and minus the congenital birth defects if we just recognize that the only thing allowing the current crop of idiots to dictate our global system of dog parent-matching is that they have ribbons.

You can buy those online, you know.