From my ‘Crossing the headlines’ column in Dog World (8th October 2014).

One of the joys of living in this country is being able to walk into a store like WH Smith or any one of our large supermarkets and being able to flick through the vast array of glossy magazines on offer on a mind-boggling amount of subjects. I find it incredible that subjects like model trains or stitchcraft, etc, can support three or four dedicated, high quality magazines – but somehow they do.

There’s nothing better on a wet Sunday morning (long before the crowds arrive) than flicking through some of these magazines. The other day I was engrossed in reading all about the various colour morphs of the Bearded Dragon and the complexities of breeding Oscar fish. I will never own a reptile (or breed Oscars) but I found it fascinating nonetheless. Of course, what makes it even better is that it is (for now) completely free to dip in and out of this information and due to the impersonal nature of these vast stores you are not scrutinised by the clockwatching shop owner of the past or subjected to the caustic remark, ‘This ain’t a library, son’.

Rare breeds

It was on one of these ‘flick through and put down’ expeditions that I came across a fascinating article by Bruce Fogle. It was in the Countryfile Magazine about a subject close to my heart and one I’ve written about in the past – saving our rare breeds. However, I was very surprised to see Dr Fogle’s name attached to this subject especially on reading the byline, ‘Many traditional dog breeds are vanishing, yet they make excellent pets, says Bruce Fogle, so isn’t it time to swap Labradoodles for Dandie Dinmonts?’

All very confusing for, wasn’t Dr Fogle a leading exponent of the Labradoodle?

And, just a year ago, wasn’t the very same Dr Fogle telling viewers in the BBC’s Wonder of Dogs how we all needed to ‘mix things up a bit’  and how ‘having parents from two different breeds, you are diluting the problems of hereditary disease’?

And in the same programme didn’t he say when asked about the soaring popularity of Labradoodles:

“Well, it isn’t only Labradoodles; there’s the cockerpoo, the peekapoo and the puggle (which is a Pug and Beagle cross) so there is of course fashion.  And this happens to be a very good combination. The net result is a dog that looks like Walt Disney designed it and that’s what we’re interested in. It also happens to have a great personality and that’s what we are doing with most breeds today; we’re modifying them from the reason that they were originally built… to become pets.”

With such a glowing endorsement from a trusted vet and household name, why wouldn’t you want one? And thousands decided that they did.

I was so fascinated by what Dr Fogle now had to say on saving our rare breeds that I actually paid the rather steep price of the magazine and took it away to read over a café mocha with chocolate sprinkles – another Sunday indulgence.

There is no doubt that he is an excellent writer with a warm, personable way with words. The article began with:

“I have been a clinical vet for more than 40 years and I have never met an Otterhound. Ever. I can count on my fingers all the Lancashire Heelers, Sealyhams, Clumber Spaniels, Smooth Collies and Dandie Dinmonts I’ve met. I treat more Labradoodles in a week (hardly a glowing endorsement for hybrid vigour) than I see Irish Water Spaniels, Kerry Blue, Irish, Welsh, Lakeland and Skye Terriers in a decade. These breeds are classified as vulnerable by the Kennel Club (at risk of disappearing) but why have imported and crossbred dogs replaced so many of our indigenous breeds?”

However, I was stunned that he even had to ask that particular question when he and a legion of ‘celebrity vets’ have been actively promoting the benefits of the labradoodle, the puggle and a whole plethora of other bizarrely monikered mongrels for the past ten or so years. When the talk is constantly focussing upon these deliberately bred mongrels, pushing them and promoting them as we’ve seen on numerous articles and programmes (the most recent being the Alan Titchmarsh Show, January 21), labelling them as being ‘hypoallergenic’ and a ‘suitable companion for your asthma suffering child’ what do you think is going to happen? You are going to have a population explosion in these types of dogs, exactly as I and many other commentators have predicted.

Change of heart

Reading on though it does appear that Dr Fogle has had something of a change of heart concerning the pedigree dog and its breeders; he goes on to say:

“Crossbreed dogs – puggles, cockerpoos and labradoodles – are also in vogue. People get them in the mistaken belief that they are healthier than their parent breeds. The first generation may be but not subsequent ones; labradoodles have worse hip dysplasia than Labradors because while good Labrador breeders are selective about breeding to reduce hip dysplasia, labradoodle breeders are usually not (just imagine the furore that would have been caused if a Dog World writer had written that!) as crossbreed puppies often come from puppy farms in Central Europe.”

We then got a run down of a few rare breeds and their companionship qualities.

On the Sealyham he writes: “To find an easy going one, it’s best to go to a reputable breeder. It has short legs, so gets muddy but, from a genetic health perspective, it’s excellent.”

On the Dandie Dinmont he wrote: “I’ve never met a quarrelsome one and, for a small dog, it has an impressively deep bark. It was bred in the 1600s in the Scottish Borders and has no serious inherited medical disorders.”

Imagine that; a short-legged, long-backed rare breed with a tiny gene pool and no serious medical disorders? How on earth have breeders managed that? Could it be down to the skill of those early breeders – the forefathers of the breed – who only selected robust stock to breed on from? These breeders of old certainly knew their dogs and probably forgot more than we will ever know. They were ruthless (some would say callous) in their selection and any that didn’t make the grade were destined ‘for the bucket’. Times change and ‘culling’ would be seriously frowned upon today which is exactly why I feel the time for making ‘new breeds’ is over. Anyone deliberately breeding crossbreeds (especially without health testing and at a time when the majority of our dog rescue centres are creaking at the seams with a multitude of crossbreeds) is being reckless and should be stopped.

Obviously someone of Dr Fogle’s stature in the veterinary world paying tribute to our rare native breeds is to be applauded and I hope more follow his example.

In an age where we demand accountability and traceability for everything we buy from our eggs and meat right through to the wood that makes our coffee table it does seem a dangerously retrograde step to go down the ‘mix it all up’ line for a companion that will hopefully be spending the next 15 or so years in our homes and with our children. Sadly, many of the owners (many of whom should never have bought any dog in the first place) who rushed out to buy a puggle or a labradoodle have found this out to their cost when their new acquisition outgrew the cute ‘Disney-esque’ puppy stage and didn’t live up to the exacting expectations of their fashionista owners. These poor dogs (now languishing in shelters and kennels up and down the country) because their coats did actually shed or because they grew larger than expected are the real losers in these ‘experiments’ and those who have so relentlessly promoted them should hang their heads in shame. While of course no dog should be ‘born to suffer’, no dog should be born to be unwanted.

Read more on Dog World’s website