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  • Writer's pictureLeilani Nichols

The Dark Side of Selective Breeding: When Nature Takes a Backseat

In the beginning of our breeding program I took every heat cycle very seriously. Tracking ovulation, checking semen quality, and even resorting to artificial insemination. It was while working as a large animal vet tech in the farming community that I began to question if this was for the good of the breed. If an animal can not easily copulate, give birth, and raise their young on their own, are they a good candidate for breeding? Of course as responsible breeders we wouldn't leave our animals alone in this process, but I believe we should also not intervene where it isn't necessary.

So many factors play into this. Having a large breeding program allows me to make these decisions easily. If a female is a poor mother, or a father is not fertile, we simply don't breed them. Which is better for the future of the breed, and the next generation should be fertile, good mothers, and give birth without undue stress.

As a breeder that may rely on income from litters to support the rest of the program throughout the year, at times this decision hurts. Skipping a litter from one of our favorite females because her cycle is no longer predictable? Retiring a promising young maiden dog because she required a C-section her first litter? In the end these decisions aren't black and white, and we have to decide what is best for the future of the program. In the wise words of Dr. Hunter "Sometimes the best solution is procrastination." and that has rung true over time, as decisions often sort themselves out.

Cairn Terriers, as a rule, are very healthy. Most of them are fairly fertile, they are good mothers, and they give birth on their own. In all of our litters over the years we have only had two C-Sections. I believe this has to do with the parent animals receiving proper balanced nutrition throughout their lives, stress or contentment of the parent animals, and paying attention to birth weights and trends from certain sires or mothers. In the cattle industry birth weights of calves can be predicted based on averages of the sire's offspring. They found that certain genetic markers lead to certain ranges in weight of newborn calves, which in turn effects the ease of birthing for the mother. Interestingly enough they also track things like weight gain of the calves, and an easier birthing calf doesn't necessarily mature to be any smaller as an adult.

Selective breeding has given rise to a multitude of dog breeds, each with its unique set of characteristics. However, in the pursuit of perfection, breeders have often resorted to methods that defy nature. The breeding of dogs that cannot engage in natural reproduction is a poignant example of this trend, and it raises serious concerns about the well-being of the animals involved. French bulldogs and Norwich terriers are absolutely adorable and wonderful companions, but they have trouble breeding naturally or giving birth. Furthermore an experienced Norwich breeder told us Norwich Terriers birth more males than females, making keeping breeding stock to further the breed even harder. In a breed that can't mate naturally, requires C-Sections at birth, has small litters, and low numbers of female puppies, the future is indeed bleak.

Cesarean sections are another practice that raises red flags. In some breeds, selective breeding has led to characteristics such as oversized heads and narrow pelvises, making natural birth impossible or extremely risky. As a result, cesarean sections have become a standard procedure for these breeds. While the health and safety of the mother and puppies are paramount, it is essential to ask whether it is ethical to perpetuate these traits that necessitate such interventions. Such traits can limit the genetic diversity of the breed, leading to a higher likelihood of inherited health issues. On the flips side of this coin, breeds such as the Norwich Terrier may not exist all together without these practices.

The consequences of these breeding practices are evident in the rarity of some breeds. As the breeding standards become more stringent and the gene pool narrows, the prevalence of these breeds declines. Moreover, the health concerns associated with such practices can further discourage potential owners from choosing these breeds, contributing to their rarity.

Here's where it gets a bit western, and a bit controversial. At some point in the origin of every dog breed we know today there was a visionary. Humans purpose bred animals to have certain characteristics. In a perfect world, the Norwich Terrier breeders would unite. They would track things like birth weights, percentages of females born in a litter, fertility of a sire, etc. And most likely, there are some that do. However, it isn't enough.

Registrations for the breed are down, breeders are unlikely to sell breeding dogs, and the numbers continue to dwindle and gene pool continues to shrink. I leave you with these thoughts to ponder, and then to consider my vision with the Cairn Terrier x Norwich crossed lines. This cross has put Norwich lines in homes that would never otherwise have had the opportunity to own one as a pet due to their rarity. Of course we would love to raise purebred Norwiches and improve the breed within itself, but despite being an established and reputable Cairn Terrier breeder the Norwich breeding community is not ready for change or to welcome "outsiders".

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It’s sad that breeders think only of themselves and not the animals they purport to love.

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