The unnatural purebred dog

Dalmations are a beautiful but unpredictable product of generations of selective breeding.

Purebred dogs are celebrated in our culture. They win awards, they reap huge stud and puppy fees, they start in commercials and television. Sadly, our love of pure breeds is leading to their demise. Organizations like the American Kennel Club reward animals that are visually perfect but in genetics, when you selecting for one characteristic, can make totally unrelated changes in a breed that were never anticipated. In other words, if you attempt to breed purebred Huskies with blue eyes, you may inadvertently create a more nervous and fearful animal.

The classic example of this cause-and-effect breeding selection comes from a geneticist named Dmitry Belyaev. In 1959 he began an experiment with wild silver foxes in Russia. Dr. Belyaev wanted to see if he could domesticate the silver fox to make it tame. In each generation of foxes, he selected the most tame individuals and then bred them; this continued through thirty generations. By the experiment’s end, the silver foxes were super tame (though not as tame as dogs). But what’s more interesting is that even though Dr. Belyaev was only selecting for tameness, the foxes changed physically, too: their coats changed from silver to a patchy black and white (like a Border Collie), their tails started to curl up, and their ears flopped down. The foxes also developed smaller heads  and the skulls of the male foxes became more feminine. Sadly, all this selective breeding also created neurological problems like epilepsy. They had lower levels of stress and higher levels of serotonin, which inhibits aggression, which is good in a domestic context, but would get them killed in the wild. Some of the fox mothers even started eating their babies.

The same kind of thing is happening with the most popular dog breeds in the U.S. Golden Retrievers are bred for their calm temperaments but lately they are also starting to develop unusual aggression problems that were never present in the breed before. This is because fear is a “check” on aggression; fear keeps a dog from being too aggressive. A calm dog is a low-fear dog meaning he is also potentially a high aggression dog.

The pool of purebred, breedable dogs is relatively small so inbreeding is also standard in the world of pure breeds. All this inbreeding, combined with selectivity, has also created a number of common illnesses and physical conditions that were previously uncommon to the breed such as seizures, hip dysplasia, heart disease, eye problems, and more.

This does not mean that all purebred dogs are genetic monsters; they’re not. But it is important to choose carefully when looking for a purebred puppy or dog. Sadly, even purebreds end up homeless so, rather than buying a dog from a breeder, consider adopting a dog from a breed rescue group. These organizations exist for nearly every breed out there and do the tireless work of protecting the designer dogs that get lost in the shuffle. For breed rescue groups in your area, visit


*Modern Hound can help you find the perfect purebred dog for your family. Visit for more information!

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