By Julie Nelson,
Master Dog Breeders and Associates (MDBA)
THERE IS NO doubt that this breed is in serious trouble based on information the Master Dog Breeders and Associates has been able to gather from our breed health surveys, purebred registered breeders, Shar Pei rescue workers in several states in Australia and pet insurance companies.
We heard a lot of accusations going around with each group blaming the other for the problems in true dog politics and marketing style. We became so concerned at some of the things we heard that we decided to investigate further.
I’m not going to talk about “Puppy Farmers” per se because those words mean different things to different people. Suffice to say my definition is they are people who breed animals in substandard conditions.
A quick summary of what we found:
A high incidence of dogs which suffer from a breed specific genetic disorder called “Familiar Shar Pei Fever” (FSF) and approx 50% of the dogs who suffer FSF will also suffer Amloydosis which is not curable and cuts the dog’s life short at between three and five years of age.
The incidence of eye problems caused by the selection for micropthalmia (small eye) and increased skin folds or wrinkles which has bought the breed to a situation where the numbers of dogs suffering with entropion eye problems in this breed far outnumber those which are not affected.
Dumpage and Rescue
According to Shar Pei Rescue Inc regarding the dogs which they deal with One in three Shar Pei which are surrendered are the product of purebred registered breeders. Four out of five Shar Pei will require surgery for entropion eye problems Only a very small percentage of purebred registered Shar Pei breeders are prepared to take back a dog that they have sold to a pet owner who is no longer able to keep it. They are approached to accept anything up to ten dogs and pups every week
After researching all of this the MDBA has put together this paper for background information and to suggest a possible way forward.
Common Shar Pei Genetic Disorders
The Shar Pei breed has a high incidence of dogs which suffer from a breed specific genetic disorder called “Familiar Shar Pei Fever” (FSF) and approx 50% of the dogs who suffer FSF will also suffer Amloydosis which is not curable and cuts the dogs life short at between three and five years old.
FSF is an autosomal recessive inheritance pattern which means that until such time as a DNA test is available the only way to determine the risk factor in this breed is via pedigree analysis. This requires the recording and sharing of information pertinent to the health of the dogs which is attached to each and every relative and ancestor within the family tree or pedigree.
In the Shar Pei breed the incidence of eye problems is very high. This has been caused by the selection for micropthalmia (small eye) and increased skin folds or wrinkles which has bought the breed to a situation where the numbers of dogs suffering with entropion eye problems far outnumber those which are not affected.
Even more interesting and something every Shar Pei breeder needs to keep a very close eye on is a recent study which suggests that selection for more wrinkles may also have had an effect on fever disorders.
Commercial breeders of registered and non-registered Shar Pei
Even if dogs are kept in pristine conditions with the welfare of the breeding dogs high on the list of priorities, there is often poor breeding stock selection that do not take into account the health, temperament,conformation and welfare of future generations. Many of the puppies are sold as breeding dogs or not desexed.
In addition to the above concerns, poor selection of breeding dogs has had a devastating effect on the breed. When breeding dogs have been selected it has been more a matter of proximity over health and temperament. Dogs which have been picked for breeding in many instances have had less than desirable traits because they were more convenient /easeier to access rather than more appropriate for the breeder to use.
Commercial breeders in this breed tell us that their dogs are healthier because they are not breeding for the show ring and are not prioritizing the way the dog looks in regard to its breed standard but the fact remains that within their own kennels they are often doing as much or more damage to the breed as anyone else. It is a false assumption that because they do not breed to show dogs they do no harm.
Commercial breeders are at risk of limiting the gene pool by indiscriminate breeding and most would have little idea or have any consideration regarding how closely their breeding dogs are related. They have no idea what issues arise in the dogs they breed because they do not follow up the puppy’s progress with the new owner. If they did follow their puppies up they would know of any problems and could exclude from the gene pool any problem dogs and they would also know what ancestry they should avoid.
To suggest that commercial breeders are not having a negative impact on the breed cannot be taken seriously.
The reality is that all breeders get what they select for and if all they select for is a cute puppy that will bring in over a thousand dollars at 8 weeks old then that’s what they will get and everything else like health and temperament is likely to be lost.
These issues will arise long after the sale with the breeder not held responsible because the pup has changed hands and a middle person or business has sold the pup. The breeder does not have to deal with or even have knowledge of the results of their breeding program.
The documentary “Pedigreed Dogs Exposed” put a public focus on breed standards and health issues associated with breeders selecting only for a breed champion.
It is important to be aware that there are two issues which are discussed when critics look at show breeders.
1. The genetic predisposition to disorders which can be caused by using a smaller or limited gene pool and then using only a small number of these dogs for breeding.This can impact on the health on the off spring.
Using a small gene pool for breeding is not always a bad thing. A mixed breed dog could potentially suffer a couple of hundred genetic disorders with every mating and the resulting offspring unpredictable in how it should be managed and its potential health problems. Purebred dogs potentially have, on average about 20 per breed which occur more often than they do in dogs which are not as closely related. This can enable a good breeder to identify problems and develop a program to work toward eliminating the problem from future generations – impossible to do when you don’t know what you are working with or when there are too many potential problems to know what to test or screen for.
2. There is an accusation that some show breeders have placed the highest priority on how a dog looks in the ring in their quest to win a championship.
This accusation encompasses the belief that breed standards have been poorly written or even worse, that they have been written without any concern for how the way a dog looks has an impact on their health. These views are concerning and there is little doubt that some breed standards have seen some breeds selected for extremes. Breeders can and do interpret the standards in many ways without considering how this may impact on the general health of the breed because of the way the dog looks within a few generations.
Conformation judges have much to answer for in this regard as well as their personal preferences can have a huge impact on what “type” of dog is winning in the ring. Some breeders are at risk of selecting for the type of dog which is currently winning and are not putting enough of a priority on how this “type” or genetic mix may impact on future generations. They may also miss what the current type contributes to current health issues of the breed, for instance entropion eye issue in the Shar Pei caused by selection for small eyes and more head wrinkles.
To date the criteria which has been used by traditional kennel clubs to accept a new breed has not entailed an assessment of how a particular breedlooks may impact on its ability to function and live a healthy life.
So from our investigation without doubt Shar Pei show breeders have had a negative impact on this breed.
If all breeders are selecting for is for a dog which will win in the show ring and they are prepared to overlook or compromise on a dog’s health or temperament and not consider how that may impact on the future generations then that’s what they will get and everything else is likely to be lost
Back yard breeders
This group of breeders is much maligned by the general dog breeding and welfare community. It is a term used to describe people who breed on a smaller scale than commercial breeders and breed for a variety of reasons.
The term is used to describe someone who breeds non-papered purebred dogs or papered purebred dogs but without testing them in the show ring and/or screening them for potential genetic disorders. It is also used to describe small scale breeders who breed crossbred dogs.
At first glance these people seem less likely to cause long term problems for the breed as they often use dogs which are not widely used at stud and each breeder produces relatively small numbers at their individual level.
It could be argued that if the dogs they are using for breeding were originally bred by breeders who had selected for health, temperament and conformation that there would be minimal damage done to the breed.
In years gone by a person could approach a registered breeder and be honest and say that even though they were not interested in showing a dog they may want to have a litter or two. The breeder would then take that into account and be sure to sell them a pup which would do no harm to the breed if it were used for breeding.
These days breeders are more likely to guard their breeding lines and any potential good breeding dogs will be kept for themselves or only allow them to go out on co ownership with a long list of conditions thereby limiting the breed’s gene pool even further.
It can also mean anyone who does just want to have a litter or two will be at a greater risk of using inferior animals unsuited to breeding as they will source them from stock with no known ancestry history.
If a dog’s ancestry, health and temperament issues are not known and if breeding dogs are not screened for health issues or tested for their breeding suitability then there is a higher risk that the puppies they produce will have problems.
If all breeders are breeding for is so their dogs can fulfil a perceived need to breed and mate or so children can see “the miracle of birth” or so other people can have a dog as “good” as theirs or to buy a new lounge suit or a myriad of other reasons and they are prepared to overlook or compromise on a dog’s health or temperament and not consider how that may impact on the puppy’s future or future generations then that’s what they will get and everything else is likely to be lost.
There is no doubt that breeders in this group have also had a negative impact on the breed.
Dumpage and rescue
According to Shar Pei rescue Inc regarding the dogs which they deal with:
One in three Shar Pei which are surrendered are the product of purebred registered breeders. Four out of five Shar Pei will require surgery for entropion eye problems Only a very small percentage of purebred registered Shar Pei breeders are prepared to take back a dog that they have sold to a pet owner who is no longer able to keep it. They are approached to accept anything up to ten dogs and pups every week
In the main they see three groups of Shar Pei needing rescue:
1. Puppies aged seven to twelve months old as this is usually the time when the pet owner has been advised that the dog needs entropion eye surgery which costs approximately $1200. 2. Dogs aged three years old as this seems to be the time when an untrained and unmanaged dogs becomes more troublesome with the dog left to take over the backyard and who growls, jumps and perhaps snaps at the owners when they interact with the dog or when they wish to use their backyard. The training issues seem so insurmountable that the owners just give up.
3. The really genuine circumstances for example people who have had life changing and unexpected events happen in their life like marriage breakdowns, human health issues or other life events.
Breeder selection of appropriate homes
There is a general consensus among registered breeders and breed rescue that the first and foremost reason there are so many dogs of this breed being dumped is due to bad breeding practices which results in placing dogs in inappropriate homes with either non-educated or poorly educated owners. They also believe that those people are neither equipped nor willing to deal with the inevitable associated issues with the Shar Pei breed.It is an argument well used in anti pet shop propoganda.
The Master Dog Breeders and Associates agree to a point with those breeders and rescue but we do not accept that this is the main or only reason for these dogs coming into rescue and it does not tell the full story.
It’s no longer good enough for anyone to say that homes need to be selected better and that owners need to be more responsible when faced with “inevitable associated issues” and things go wrong.
Shar Pei breeders need to be breeding dogs which don’t get these genetic disorders in the first place and which don’t require the owners to fork out thousands of dollars in vet bills!
Importantly, they need to be breeding dogs that do not suffer in the way Shar Pei do today. We should not simply settle into believing that people who decide to own this breed should be expected to have to deal with these health and temperament issues.
We believe that spending time and resources in finding well suited homes and breeders and rescue being available to help new owners when things go wrong is most definitely a critical component of any solution.
More importantly for the MDBA is that we believe that breeders cannot justify breeding dogs which are destined to suffer no matter what the breeding goals are of the breeder. We do not care whether these goals are to breed a champion or a working dog or a pet or a source of income. What we care about is the health and welfare of the dog and the quality of life that dog has.
Responsibility for the issues in this or any other breed cannot be side stepped by placing sole blame on the poor choice of owner.
A way forward
If we are to prevent dogs suffering and consider the future of an entire breed we need to take action now. We no longer have the luxury of blaming each other, keeping secrets, remaining complacent or remaining ignorant.
We now need to join forces, share resources and work together for the betterment of this breed.
We need to select animals for breeding which do not have conformation issues which will put future generations at risk of poor health and suffering.
We need to select animals for breeding which have less risk of producing sick or poor temperamented off spring in future generations.
Breeding healthy Shar Pei
Consistently producing healthy pups with sound temperament is the hallmark of a responsible breeder. Every Shar Pei breeder has to accept responsibility for the part they have played in this breed’s evolution. They must honestly look at their contribution, both the good and the bad, and they must decide what part they will play in the breed’s future.
They must examine their current breeding practices and change any that are not in the best interest of the individual dog in terms of health and temperament or that are not the best for the future of the breed.
It is the responsibility of us all to become more knowledgeable about our dogs and make good decisions for them and our breeds rather than simply following current conventions or blindly chasing a goal.
We must look at what we are compromising on to meet our goals because if we are damaging individual dogs or the breed then this is completely unacceptable to anyone who truly loves dogs.
Every single breeder needs to ask what they are doing to reduce the incidence of canine health issues and we need to ensure that breeds are being bred in line with what the originators of the breed had in mind with regards to purpose, performance, health type and longevity.
We need to shake off the idea that problems must be kept quiet and not be shared because if we keep doing this we will not be able to help this or any other breed. We need to enable all breeders to have better knowledge tools and resources to profile a pedigree and track all health and temperament issues as well as how the dog and its ancestors faired in the show ring or other formalor work related dog activities.
Why the pedigree system is so important
Being able to categorically state the ancestry of any dog is still the best tool any breeder has for selecting the best and healthiest dogs to use for breeding and to make informed decisions and determine risk factors for the potential offspring.
The Master Dog Breeders and Associates believed the traditional pedigree system could be further enhanced as a selection tool for breeding purposes so we developed a pedigree system which records all the pedigree information as well as health, temperament, conformation and all dog obedience and sporting achievements such as agility, trialling, schutzhund etc.
Anyone who has a purebred with a registered pedigree with any registry we recognise whether that be limited or main register papers is able to enter their animal’s details with us with the appropriate documentation.
This means pet owners with limited registered dogs, rescues who accept dogs with registered pedigrees and purebred dog breeders are able to provide this information and for it to be entered onto our database which will then enable the information to be used when breeders are proofing their pedigrees.
There is no cost for entering this information with us and it is not necessary for anyone to be a member of the MDBA to do so. This as an opportunity for us to gather information which breeders are reluctant to share or don’t know. If we only gather information from our members when our members add this information as part of the stud pedigree registration process then there will inevitably be gaps a mile wide in the information we collect.
What we are aiming for is as much verified information pertinent to the whole dog being accessible and visible to our breeder members in their pedigrees to better enable them to estimate breeding values in the dogs they are selecting for breeding.
Hopefully, in the not too distant future our breeder members will be able to access this information on one piece of paper, the dog’s pedigree, knowing it is accurate and breed consistently better dogs with science and not just luck.
It is important to note that providing this information into our pedigrees does not register the dog nor give the owner or their dog any benefit. We are undertaking this initiative for the greater good of the breeds and future generations in the hope that we can play a small part in helping to prevent dogs suffering as we move forward.