We're going to talk about the Newfoundland.
The drawing below illustrates the head of the "modern" Newfoundland from show lines. Many are not this extreme, and some are more, and dogs with heads like this are taking home ribbons in good competition.
What you see here is a breed in the process of becoming brachycephalic.
Interestingly, the heads depicted in AKC breed standard look little like the original rectangular skull of the early dogs. When did the ideal head drift away from the very functional dimensions of a canine athlete to the scaled-up rendition of a toy companion dog? And perhaps the better question is why?
We have seen this slow, creeping "improvement" of the head happen to many breeds. Over time, muzzles get shorter, the shape of the skull changes, and ultimately the breed has a doll-like, flat face and high forehead like the modern Frenchie, Peke, or Pug.
If this is what breeders want to select for, is it really a problem? Yes, it is. It's a BIG problem. Let me explain.
The Newfoundland doesn't usually live in a hot environment, but it nevertheless depends on an efficient cooling mechanism because it is a large, heavy-coated working breed that must tolerate frigid ambient and water temperatures and also be able to dissipate the heat produced when working. Reducing the length of the muzzle compromises the ability of this breed to do the job it was bred for.
So here's the problem. Breeders might like the looks of the shortened muzzle and domed skull on the today's Newfoundland, but should they be allowed to breed for structural features that will compromise the health and function of the dog?
There is pressure in Europe on breeders to breed away from these extreme features and back towards sound, functional dogs. If we can clearly see that the path ahead for the Newfoundland is towards features that will compromise function, then the time to do something is now. The issue is not "cosmetic"; It is anatomical and physiological, and it consequently affects general welfare as well as pain and suffering.
After I published this post, I was alerted to this great article (written in 2013!) that makes the same points about the changes in the Newfoundland skull. Clearly this isn't a new issue, so what I want to know is what breeders are doing about it. If nothing, then that's a problem, because these are not changes in cosmetics but alterations of structure that have profound effects on function and health.
A short muzzle on a dog like this should be considered a genetic defect by responsible breeders with a commitment to breed for health. If breeders do not see it this way, then there needs to be some oversight by veterinarians and those well-versed in the problems produced by brachycephaly.
What rationale do breeders offer for producing dogs with a head structure that seriously compromises the health and welfare of the animal?
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