Genetically Engineered Dogs?

3 beagle puppies sleepingWould you like a dog that was genetically engineered? After discussing an article regarding Chinese scientists genetically modifying dogs to study a particular muscle protein, we asked a few people that question to see what the average person thought about the possibility, and the most common responses were “what was the dog genetically engineered to do?” and “why would anyone want to genetically engineer dogs?” Fair enough questions we thought and wondered if a dog breeder had tried it before. One American based Mastiff Breeder did just that with his own breeding dogs. David Ishee of Mississippi, USA, has built his own small lab in his backyard to try to insert synthetic pieces of DNA into the genomes of his own Mastiff dogs to speed up the process of eliminating faulty genes from his dogs.

How are Dogs Genetically Modified?

David Ishee Biohacker

David Ishee

David did not start off genetically modifying his dogs but first took an 8 year traditional route of breeding dogs with healthier traits with each other to improve the health and athleticism in his lines and to a great extent, he has succeeded. But a few years ago he watched a TED talk on genetic engineering and thought that he could apply the technique to his dogs. After obsessively researching the topic and finally speaking with others with an interest in the biohacking field, he managed to order a kit and synthetic DNA online. 

Using a technique called Clustered Regularly Interspaced Short Palindromic Repeats (CRISPR), he planned to insert a gene that would make his puppies glow in the dark, to prove that he could genetically modify a dog’s genome before moving onto modifying genes to eliminate real and painful diseases in dogs such as hyperuricemia in Dalmatians, of which almost every single Dalmatian suffers from due to a high level of inbreeding in the development of the breed.

The Food and Drug Administration in the USA, has moved to regulate these sorts of experiments and have now classified any animal with artificially modified as a veterinary drug making it illegal for him to sell or give away his dogs.

Our Thoughts on Genetically Engineering Dogs

bulldogWhile we commend breeders for taking the approach of breeding genetically healthier dogs with each generation rather than breeding dogs to meet an artificial beauty standard as is required for pure breed show dogs, we have some serious concerns with the use of direct genetic modification in the hands of backyard enthusiasts. Thankfully, becoming a backyard genetic engineer in Australia is much more difficult and our laws are much more stringent from what I am aware of. It is important to note that DNA testing is an essential tool to identify potential genetic diseases in parent dogs before breeding any litter


Purebred Dog Problems

Neapolitan mastiff show dog vs working dog

Neapolitan mastiff working dog Vs Show dog. This shows how the features of this breed have become extreme at the hands of show breeders

Historically, pure breed dog breeders are responsible for some very morally questionable developments in many dog breeds. Bulldogs, Neapolitan Mastiffs, and Pugs are perfect examples of breeds that have been affected by the urge to breed ever more extreme individuals.

original pugs

How Pugs originally looked

These breeds have already been subjected to being burdened with unhealthy head dysmorphia that make many normal behaviours such as running and breathing unnecessarily difficult for the sake of fashion and winning ribbons. Genetic engineering conducted by a breeder obsessed with having a Bulldog with the largest head, or a Pug with the flattest face, or any number of ridiculous features, would only speed up and exaggerate the number of dogs unnecessarily suffering in the name of winning ribbons for their owner.

Advantages of Designer Dog Breeds



As designer dog breeders we are not limited to only breeding dogs within the same breed, but we can and do match dogs from different breeds to reduce and eliminate many undesirable traits of particular breeds rather than breeding for exaggerated features. For example we do breed Pugs with Beagles that results in Puggle puppies that are far healthier than Pugs due to the simple fact that they possess a much more natural body and head shape, thanks to the influence of genes inherited from the Beagle while still retaining the cheeky character that makes Pugs so popular. This technique is popular amongst breeders of other animals such as sheep and cattle to produce healthier animals that still retain the qualities of the original breed.

Unfortunately, this approach of bringing in healthy genes from a different breed to increase the health of another breed has been very limited in the pure bred dog breeding world. If fact, this technique was engaged in the 1970’s by outcrossing Dalmatians with Pointers to specifically address the issue of hyperuricemia in Dalmatians with the addition of the healthy form of the gene (SLC2A9) responsible for hyperuricemia in Dalmatians. Unfortunately, the dogs with the good SLC2A9 gene have not had a large enough impact on the gene pool of Dalmatians and the breed is still characterised by this painful metabolic and unnecessary disease.

Should we Genetically Modify Dogs?

We do believe that genetic engineering does offer the possibility of fast and significant health benefits for both dogs and people, but we do need to proceed conservatively and with caution to address the very real biological, moral and ethical threats and challenges that unregulated genetic engineering poses. For the time being, we think that we have many other safer options to continue to make our dogs healthier. We do wholeheartedly embrace and employ DNA screening into our breeding programme, as well as physical and temperamental health checks and screening undertaken in consultation with other professionals such as our veterinarians.  

About the Author

Michael has been involved in dog breeding all his life. He completed his degree in Animal Science with a focus on genetics, then went on to complete his Honours work in immunology through Melbourne University’s Dept of Medicine and the CSIRO Australian Animal Health Laboratory.   We are extremely fortunate to have Michael as part of our team at Chevromist Kennels.  The level of knowledge and expertise he brings to our breeding program is invaluable.  



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