We’re on the move once more! Up to our necks in plastic packing boxes and bubblewrap and the inevitable cull of items begins yet again; ‘do we really need that slow cooker/Qualcast push along mower/Jane Fonda ‘Trim, Tone and Flex DVD!’

And in between runs to the dump and attending car boot sales (a particularly soul-destroying experience) we have been making regular trips to our intended new home in sunny South Devon and it was on one of those trips that something very strange happened…a bizarre coincidence that gave me a lot to mull over.

We’d parked up in the multi-storey in Torquay and as we emerged from the gloom of the carpark I spotted a dog being walked by a couple and I couldn’t quite believe my eyes.

Now, as many of you know, I imported a Standard Smooth dapple bitch (Reba) from Holland two years ago. It was a childhood ambition of mine to own a dappled Standard Smooth – a dream that had blossomed back in the mid-eighties when I watched a lady walk into the Great Joint Dachshund Association Show (then held at Picketts Lock, North London) accompanied by a pair of stunning silver dappled Standard Long Dachshunds. These dogs may have belonged to the Sonvel kennel belonging to Mrs Solven – who specialised in the colour. Shortly after that sighting, the dappled longs seemed to disappear and the dappled smooths had already long vanished…certainly from the show scene.

So, imagine my surprise when confronted by a rather lovely looking silver dapple standard longhair dachshund walking proudly down Torquay High Street.

Although not donning a rain mac, I summoned up my inner Columbo and ran after its owners to find out more about their beautiful dog. I assumed that they would have brought him over from the continent, but no, the dog and its owners were very much English born and bred.

Surely that couldn’t be right?

I told them about Reba, my fascination with dapples and how unusual the colour is in Standard dachshunds in this country.

Did they know who bred him?

‘Oh, we haven’t had him from a puppy,’ said his doting owner, ‘we rescued him recently…although he must have lived the life of Riley before…apparently he used to be stud dog and was quite good at it too!’

Apparently the couple had gone along to a remote farm to buy a puppy and spotted the dappled dachshund quite by chance. When they asked what he was, the owner jumped into the pen of assorted dogs, lifted the dog up by the scruff of his neck and said, ‘what this one?’ That callous, rough action made the couple determined to rescue him.

‘Is he registered?’ I asked.

‘Oh yes, he’s full pedigree,’ she replied, ‘we have all his papers at home…now then…what’s his pedigree name again?’

The woman’s husband offered the registered name, ‘he was in a bit of a mess when we took him on, that’s why we’ve had to have his coat cut back…but he’s a lovely boy…so friendly and so good with the grandchildren.’

I had one a last cuddle with Argent (who I would have loved to have taken him home with me!) and waved them all goodbye and then we dived into the nearest Caffé Nero to do some further investigating and, simply armed with the dog’s kennel name, we discovered his full story on the myKC site within five minutes and traced his line back to the late 70’s…easily following how the dappled gene had been passed down through the generations. And the ‘traceability’ that we enjoy made me think; why on earth haven’t we insisted that all dogs (pedigree and non-pedigree) are registered and that every dog then has a ‘pedigree’ (even if it is as rudimentary as listing the breed/mix of the dam and sire)? I know that every time the Kennel Club has floated the idea of registering non-pedigree dogs it has been received with as much enthusiasm as a cup of cold sick but surely this is the way forward, gaining valuable information not only on the dogs themselves but also the people breeding them. After all, while the breeder of registered dogs face limits on the amount of litters they breed and the amount of litters individual bitches have in a lifetime – the unregistered have carte blanche to do exactly as they wish. This surely isn’t fair or right? Those whose sole motivation in breeding dogs is all about the profit are taking full advantage of this lapse. Also, given some of the eyewatering amounts many pups are selling for, it is highly likely a significant amount of tax is being avoided. After all, once the advert for the unregistered puppy has been deleted and the cash has been spent on a holiday, where is the evidence the transaction even took place?

Would it really be so difficult to set up a separate compulsory register for non-pedigree dogs (maybe add all the non-recognised coloured pedigree dogs onto it too!). If this universal registration was cross-referenced with the microchip data wouldn’t this go some way to mitigate many of the problems the dog world currently faces? If every breeder had to pay a registration fee for every puppy born (which is currently £16 per puppy) it may help to make puppy farming a little less profitable, at the very least it would make the breeder listed culpable if future troubles arise. Also bearing in mind that, of the estimated 8.75m population of dogs, roughly two-thirds are unregistered, think of the additional funding that can be generated for the welfare of all dogs. Given the number of pop-up registration services out there already capitalising on these dogs, surely it makes sense to have a single database?

However much certain charities dress it up on their websites and annual reports, by listing dogs as the pedigree breeds they most closely resemble, the majority of the unwanted dogs languishing in kennels are in fact crossbreeds (mainly of staffie types). Yet while these unfortunate dogs desperately clamour for a home, thousands more puppies of exactly the same type of dog are being produced (and dumped) and their faceless/nameless breeders face no condemnation from anyone. The people adding to this misery need to be made responsible/identifiable and if a small registration fee from every puppy produced could help fund rescue kennels or even better fund compulsory puppy socialisation/training classes, surely that would be a good thing. Why wouldn’t rescue charities want this too?  Of course it wouldn’t be a panacea for everything that is wrong in Dogdom; let’s face it, Argent still fell into the wrong hands, but one thing his loving owners said really struck home with me, ‘apparently he was a stud dog, and he was quite good at it too!’

Searching through the records however there are no progeny registered to this particular dog. They have simply vanished into the ether. Are there scores of unregistered standard longhaired dachshunds out there? Or was he being used on other breeds to create a plethora of fantastically named, expensively priced, bizarre creations? We will never know and possibly nor will the owners of his many puppies and this is the problem. This also highlights the welfare issues facing many breeding bitches whose puppies go unregistered.

Because aside from knowing who bred what and exactly when/where, registration could significantly help to improve dog health. A fascinating new study in the US has shed further light on breed evolution and could eventually help widen our understanding of dog diseases. A group of geneticists at the Human Genome Research Institute have spent the past 20 years collecting DNA from different breeds (with the co-operation of dog breeders and exhibitors) to find out how the breeds developed and map the family tree. This ‘tree’ was visually depicted in the American magazine, ‘Science’, showing how almost all of the breeds fall into 23 larger groupings, called clades. The data clearly demonstrate how breeds create other breeds, as they share DNA with multiple clades. It said that one of the earliest small breeds was the Pug. By introducing Pug blood into other breeds, many of the small breeds we know today were produced and Pug DNA is now part of many other toy and small dog genomes. Surprisingly the study found Pug DNA in such diverse breeds as the Miniature Schnauzer, Pomeranian and American Eskimo.

It is hoped that these clades will help vets spot potential genetic problems and understand canine mysteries such as why Collie Eye occurs in the Nova Scotia Duck Tolling Retriever. The research seems to suggest the Toller (a breed that otherwise usually enjoys robust health) has some Collie ancestry that may have passed on this defective gene. What the research definitely shows is the mixing of breeds has resulted in the sharing of genomic regions harbouring mutations that cause a specific disease in some very different breeds.

This is something those who adopt the ‘laissez faire’ mix-it-all-up, free-for-all attitude to dog breeding should possibly mull over and it’s also one every puppy buyer needs to think about. It is vital to know what lies behind your dog’s breeding…and this is just as important for the mongrel as it is for the pedigree.

Published in Dog World on 14th June 2017