Carolyn Menteith is a behaviourist at tails.com with over 25 years of experience working with and training dogs.
The big news that has taken the canine world by storm is that Norway has effectively banned the breeding of Bulldogs and Cavalier King Charles Spaniels after the Oslo District Court ruled that the breeding of these dogs, with their inherent health problems, goes against Norway’s Animal Welfare Act.
Ashild Roaldset, CEO of the NSPA (Norwegian Society for Protection of Animals), said about the ruling “The man-made health problems of the Bulldog have been known since the early 20th century. This verdict is therefore many years overdue.”
She went on to say “What is happening here is a systematic and organised betrayal of our four-legged friends. Today it was finally determined that this is a violation of the law.”
The organisation’s legal team successfully argued that the history of selective breeding meant that there are no dogs from either breed that could be catagorised as ‘healthy’ and therefore cannot ethically be used for breeding.
There is however an exception for breeders who are looking to use “serious and scientific” methods to improve the health of the breeds – possibly with selective cross-breeding.
Whatever you think about the ruling, there is no doubt that Ashild – and the court – are right. Many bulldogs and Cavalier King Charles Spaniels have serious health problems including severe breathing dificulties, eye conditions, skin infections, heart issues, joint problems, birthing issues, and in the CKCS, a condition where effectively the skull can be too small for the brain causing constant pain.
I don’t want to talk about the health issues regarding this however – as that is much more Sean’s area than mine – but I do want to talk about this from a behaviourist’s point of view.
Whenever we see a dog that needs our help because of a behaviour problem, the very first thing we always consider when we are talking to the owner is “could there be a clinical cause?”. The main clinical cause for a change in behaviour, or an ongoing behaviour issue, is pain or discomfort.
And of course, that makes perfect sense. You know yourself that if you have a splitting headache, a painful injury, a horrible cold – or worse in these days, covid – you are not at your best. You feel rotten, you have way less tolerance of stress, and your fuse is far shorter. Even the best patient can feel low, flat and depressed – and that affects your behaviour, your energy levels, your enjoyment of life, and the way you interact with those around you.
But for you, the headache, the injury, or the cold will pass. For the breeds that we have chosen, over many years, to breed in a way that means they can’t breathe properly, can’t exercise, have itchy sore skin, painful eyes, or a constant headache, this is never-ending.
As a behaviourist, I am so very well aware of what all these conditions can do to the behaviour and emotions of a dog – and so the misery that these conditions can cause.
I admit I am a huge fan of Cavaliers – in fact they were top of my list of dogs I wanted to get and that I would recommend to others, as they are (or should be) fun and active while still being gentle, easy-going and highly trainable – but I could never accept the thought that a beloved dog of mine was constantly suffering.
I’m not sure how we have got here. These problems have been known in these breeds – and several others – for years, and there are some fantastic breeders and breed clubs out there who try to do all they can to ensure the health of their dogs – but yet here we are despite these best intentions.
I’m reminded of one of my favourite quotes from Maya Angelou “Do the best you can until you know better – and when you know better, do better”.
We can’t say we don’t know better now – all of us in the dog world – so maybe it is finally time to look to Norway, and do better, for the love of dogs.