So, I’m probably not the first one to say anything along these lines, but I thought I’d bring up a personal anecdote that came to mind while watching “The Science of Dogs”.
This is Maggie. She’s the older of my family’s two dogs, at roughly 8 years old. We don’t have an exact age pinned down for her due to the fact that she was a rescue dog whose previous owners didn’t provide certain information. What we do know, however, is that she’s a purebred Miniature Poodle. And as the most purebred dog we’ve ever owned, she’s become a prime example of the pros and cons of selective breeding.
First off, the pros. Like most poodles, Maggie is very intelligent. She learns certain habits and behaviors very quickly, and even has significant problem solving skills. She can quickly figure out which areas of the house are ideal for hiding treats, what spots our other dog, Allie, can’t reach, and even when someone is just considering going for a walk or going upstairs to bed. She’s also a very athletic dog, particularly when it comes to jumping. Maggie’s able to jump high enough to reach the back of a fairly tall recliner or couch, despite being just over a foot tall herself, and takes advantage of this skill to nap in spots where she knows no one will bother her, or to get a better look at the back door to see if someone’s coming inside. Another pro, at least on a personal level, is that poodles’ hair does not have double layers like most dogs’ coats. Rather, they have one layer of hair, which means they not only shed less, but the relative lack of dander makes them mostly hypoallergenic, meaning dogs like Maggie are perfect for people like my mom, who has had animal allergies all her life.
Now, onto the cons. One common health problem among small dogs, including poodles, is tracheal collapse, where the cartilage in the trachea is so weak that it flattens. Maggie has had this problem since we first got her, and she does noticeably cough and have difficulty breathing at times, especially when she’s over-excited. As such, she normally goes collar-less when she’s inside, since wearing one just irritates her condition (this picture was taken immediately after a grooming appointment – the collar came off soon after). Another fairly common issue among poodles are eye problems, as you may have guessed from the picture. In 2009, we found out that Maggie had glaucoma in her right eye, leaving her partially blind. While Maggie adjusted to her impaired vision fairly well, she was still uncomfortable from the fluid building up behind that particular eyeball, to the point that, two years later, we finally had to have the eye surgically removed. While she’s done just fine so far, we’re still keeping a lookout for any problems in her remaining eye. Finally, to wrap up this section on cons, she does have noticeable behavioral issues. While some could be attributed to her abusive previous owners, there’s some that are actually pretty common among poodles. For one thing, poodles are said to get bored pretty easily, and are pretty creative about finding trouble. And let me tell you, there have been instances where we’ve come home after being out for a while and noticed a knocked-over trash can or evidence that someone’s been sneaking into rooms they shouldn’t be able to get into…
So, there you go: a case study as to the genetic pros and cons of our selective breeding of dogs. Honestly, while I do wish more could be done about the genetic disorders present in purebreds like Maggie, I do love the end result all the same, mismatched eyes and all.