Allyn Weigel has been working with German Shepherds for 40 years. He says he breeds dogs for great health, not for show standards.
“You can take your hats off to conscientious breeders,” he tells Local 6.
But some breeders who are not conscientious have dogs who end up in the show ring. Some, not all. But for the purist among breeders, some are far too many.
“There's an old saying in sports: whatever it takes to win. Well, in the show ring that sometimes dominates," Weigel claims.
And sometimes show standards mean breeding for a specific trait, like a big head, a short muzzle, or even short tails. And that, experts say, can create problems.
“If you are trying to breed to one specific trait, there may be another trait you don't like so much,” says Dr. Kristin Haines, a veterinarian with Affiliated Veterinary Specialists in Maitland. “Like possibly for a Boston Terrier, or Pug, that has a pushed in face. They were bred for those particular traits. However, now we know, as that trait has been propagated in that line, we see breathing difficulties in those animals if those traits are too extreme.”
Long ago, Weigel says, German Shepherds were being bred to an unreasonable and unhealthy standard.
“We were building elephants,” he explains. “We felt it was causing hip problems by having these overly large dogs. So, the breed club said, ‘No, you're bringing back to them back to standards.’”
Within three years, most German Shepherd breeders did. Other breed clubs, Weigel insists, need to do the same.
“The breed club has to step in and say that will not happen anymore, we won't certify your dogs, and you won't show your dogs at our show,” he tells Local 6.
There is also the problem of inbreeding so-called perfect dogs to pedigree. Certain breeds are known for genetic disorders, like orthopedic diseases, kidney problems, and cardiac diseases.
“There are certain programs out there that help breeders decide if their breeding colonies are of good genetics,” says Haines.
The Orthopedic Foundation for Animals has a database that is tracking the prevalence of disease in certain breeds. Bulldogs and Pugs, for example, have the highest incidence of hip dysplasia. The Scottish Greyhound has the highest incidence of cardiac disease. The Pomeranian is the breed most likely to have knee problems.
Weigel says German Shepherd breeders have worked hard to reduce hip dysplasia in the breed lines. “We used to be number four [in highest incidence]. Now we got the dog down someone around 24 in that category."
Experts tell Local 6 that pedigrees bred in puppy mills tend to have the most health problems. That's why buyers should research breeders thoroughly and get as much health documentation as possible. While some critics suggest mutts are a safer bet, tracing disease in mixed breeds is much more difficult. Either way, most animal advocates insist that rescuing shelter dogs is a far better option.