If I were to tell you that by my ruff estimate
in 1955 there were approximately 1,407
AKC registered Gordon Setters of breeding age in the U.S., and by comparison
in 2015 that same population is only 796,
would you begin to understand why I believe that the time to take steps as a group to improve the odds of breed preservation is right now?
Here is how I arrived at the numbers:
The number of AKC Gordon Setter registrations for 1945 showed 265 new dogs registered, and ten years later in 1955 there were 375 new registrations. To obtain an estimated number of breeding age Gordons starting the year 1955, I assumed an average increase of eleven dogs each year from 1945 through 1954 for a total of 2,815 new Gordon Setters between the age of zero to ten years old who would have been in the breeding pool on January 1, 1955. For ease of calculation, I assumed all of the new dogs that were registered lived to be age ten, so more dogs are allowed in these estimates than were actually available as mortality isn’t factored. Going on, using the assumption that dogs under age two and over age eight would not be bred, we would lose about half of the total ten year population which left us with 1,407 total dogs for use in our breeding pool at the start of 1955.
Fast forward to the last ten years, 2005 through 2015, and rounding the numbers there were approximately 825 new Gordon Setters registered in 2005 and 380 registered in 2015 for an average decrease of 44.5 dogs per year giving an estimated population of 6,248 dogs at the start of 2015 who are between the age of zero and ten years old. Again, as in the 1955 estimate, in this calculation we are going to exclude the dogs in that pool who are under two and over age eight, so 50% of the population is deleted bringing us down to 3,124 breeding age Gordon Setters. But here in the future, statistics published by the ASPCA* tell us that 83% of all household dogs are spayed or neutered so in 2015, unlike 1955, we must now subtract another percentage of our Gordon Setter population from the breeding pool as they are no longer fertile. I was generous with our Gordon Setter breeding population and only took 70% of the total away from our breeding pool because of spay/neuter which left us with 937 Gordon Setters to breed from. But wait, we aren’t done here in 2015, we also need to subtract dogs we delete from the pool due to the Health Screenings we apply, so another chunk of our breeding pool goes away, and for this calculation I said that 15% of the 937 remaining dogs would fail one test or another and thus be subtracted from the pool by their breeder/owners, leaving us with an estimated 796 Gordon Setters in the U.S. today who are fertile and available in a breeding pool. In case you missed it, let me just point out again, that number is 600 dogs fewer than our predecessors started with in 1955 after importing Gordon Setters in the post war era to improve and increase the U.S. breeding stock.
Yes, this is a “ruff” estimate on my part, it takes the number of new registrations and uses certain assumptions to propose an estimated population. But I’ve not exaggerated any numbers or needlessly subtracted from the population. I believe this is a realistic estimate of the Gordon Setter breeding pool as it may have existed then and could exist today .
What does all this mean to breeders?
What does this mean to you? A few things need to come to the forefront to be managed, taught, and promoted by us. Now more than ever before we need breeders who are familiar with inbreeding as it pertains to genetics, and the meaning of maintaining diversity as best we can in an already heavily inbred population. Now more than ever before we need breeders who are open about the issues that arise in their litters that could be a result of genetic mutation. Now more than ever before we need to promote and market the purebred dog through social media and other free and open avenues that are affordable. Now more than ever we need to replace the concept of finding every pet at the local shelter with information about the value of finding a pet with the purebred’s predictability of size and temperament to start the list. It’s our job to take the purebred dog, for us the Gordon Setter, global with each of us taking responsibility for telling some part of the story, each of us taking responsibility for mentoring the new, each of us taking responsibility for the breeding pool and each of us understanding that the restrictions we’ve applied to ourselves as breeders, pertaining to pets and our concept of backyard breeders may need change with revisions in order so that we welcome newcomers into the fold to mentor and teach them about the joys of purebreds, the joys of breeding, and the meaning of health clearances. We need to learn how to tell the value in every dog as it pertains to our breeding pool, perhaps no longer limiting ourselves strictly to champions or top winners for example. I could go on, but I’ll stop here and let you all chime in with more “we need to” ideas.
If there is anyone who wants to debate my estimates, who can show me that I’m way off in some far, far fetched land, please do chime in to show where I’ve gone astray. I’d love to learn I’m wrong this particular time! (grin)
From the Institute of Canine Biology this link and these words of wisdom:
While inbreeding has the beneficial effects of reducing variation in litters and increasing apparent prepotency of sires and dams, it also has the very undesirable effect of increasing the expression of genetic disorders caused by autosomal recessive genes. So managing inbreeding in populations of animals is necessary for the control of genetic disease.
It’s not enough just to carefully choose the sire and dam of the next breeding. For sustainable breeding over the longer term, inbreeding must be managed in the entire population, and often breeders don’t have a good understanding of the factors that affect rates of inbreeding. One of the most important is the size of the population of animals. Large populations change more slowly and are more predictable over time; small populations are genetically unstable because they are more sensitive to effects of chance and because change can occur very quickly.
Sally Gift, Mesa AZ
Photography by Susan Roy Nelson