Thursday, August 26, 2010

Building Better Dogs


When Munson and I visited the vet, I noticed a chart over the weighing scales, presenting “Le tableau des âges” for cats and dogs. Munson weighed in at 45.1 kg, barely changing over the last 18 months.


Most people are familiar with the notion of a dog year being equivalent to seven human years, built off the simple interpolation of a dog life-span of 10 years against a typical human life span of 70. However you can’t break down the relative ages into simple seven year equivalences. Dogs take months to reach sexual maturity, humans take many years. A human takes several years to develop primitive speech skills; Munson worked out the word “outside” at around 3 months. Through the animal kingdom, milestones for development and deterioration differ greatly. Within the dog world, breed differences in longevity relate to the purposes they were bred for, from utilitarian to purely aesthetic, and to the damage wrought by restricting the gene pool for many pure bred dogs.

Fullscreen capture 26082010 105631 AM Fullscreen capture 26082010 105636 AM

Nowadays, dog age charts are not uncommon, mapping dog ages nonlinearly to human ages, usually modified by weight class. I’ve not encountered any footnoted by reference sources, so was curious to find where these “authoritative” charts are sourced, especially as they diverge so widely. Bondi at age 10 was about 75kg  (165lb), which places him at 96, 80, 78 and 66 years respectively.

Wikipedia has an article on Aging in dogs that references results from a Dog Longevity website. North American veterinary school data puts Alaskan Malamute longevity at 6.2 years (possibly skewed by all these dogs turning up in hospital!) whereas the British Kennel Club survey puts it at 10.67 years (pretty close to Bondi’s terminal age). The figure I usually see bandied about for mals is 13-14 years, and the well-cared for individuals I’ve seen are usually pretty energetic at 12-13. “Senior” dog status is marked at somewhere between 5-7 years for larger breeds, and if you accept that larger dogs mature emotionally at a slower rate than their smaller cousins, gives them only one to two years of mature middle-age. I guess that corresponds to Bondi’s demands for either a sportscar or a world-trip when he hit late middle-age.

The Dog Longevity study revealed common misperceptions that small breed ages tended to be overestimated, and large dog ages underestimated. The analysis indicates that most pure-bred dogs, irrespective of size, live 10-13 years. Where breeds have shorter lifespans, breeders tend to exaggerate or just point to longer-lived individuals.

The most damage is done by selectively breeding from young champion dogs based on their aesthetic merits or other dubious breed standards. When you don’t care if a dog has a long healthy life after its show or stud life, then you’re not capturing the genes for a robust long life and good temperament – you may as well have canine mayflies which reach breeding status quickly and then quickly deteriorate.  Beverley Manners, a labradoodle breeder writes:

“…breeders of pure breed dogs, breed their puppies predominantly with the aim of producing top show dogs. Health status and temperament are all too often of secondary importance to the conformation and general ‘look’ of the dog.  The saying "that one’s ONLY good for a pet" is commonly heard amongst breeders of pure bred dogs, as the family pet type puppy is considered inferior. As the majority of people looking for a puppy, are seeking a family companion or good natured kids’ dog, the emphasis on show ring traits is of no importance to them. “

An editorial from The Veterinary Journal puts the case for strong leadership on breed standards – read it here.

Regardless of the anticipated life of your dog, there is so much you can do to make it a fulfilling one for dog and human. My dogs have had exceptional lives not because I choose to give them nice international vacations, but because I listen to them and watch them, and incorporate them into the rich life that I want to lead. I refer you back to Paul McGreevy’s book A Modern Dog’s Life with the accompanying video where Paul explains his motivations.

Acrobat External Window 26082010 122358 PMFor further reading, here are some abstracts from presentations for the seminar Building Better Dogs, written by Paul McGreevy and others.


Munson says thanks for reading this far! Now go give your dog a scratch and a cuddle…. and a treat, and a swim, … and since the cupboard’s open, another treat…

Mike and Munson at Lac de la Gimone

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