Many thinks to Jill Pauline for sharing this article with me, so I could in turn, share it with you. There are many pearls of wisdom for all breeders found in this piece written by Kathy Lorentzen, whether new at this game or at it for decades.
Thanks also to Ben Perez for sharing these photos from the 2016 GSCA National Specialty.
Photographs are included here for your viewing pleasure and are not intended to illustrate any material contained in this article.
I smiled as I read Kathy’s words regarding picking puppies, as what she said reminded me of Loree Ragano. I never saw Loree stack a puppy when we evaluated litters together. We always put them down to play, sometimes separating male from female, and occasionally then sorting them down to the 2 or 3 that we liked the most, but I don’t recall ever putting them on a table. Loree always told me she picked them on the ground and believed this to be the best way to do it.This article certainly brought that lesson back to mind as Kathy said “Don’t just put your puppies up on a table, shove them into a stack, look at them in the mirror and convince yourself that you have a keeper. Let others look at them and most importantly watch them on the ground. Have you heard the old adage, “Sell them on the table, pick them on the ground”? Do I believe picking puppies on the ground is sound advice – bet your bottom dollar! This is good advice that I still follow today.
So, on to Kathy’s article. I hope you enjoy!
That old saying, “My momma didn’t raise no fools,” doesn’t necessarily apply to all of us in the sport of purebred dogs. We all get foolish, full of ourselves and kennel-blind at one time or another in our careers as dog breeders. Regardless of someone’s early success as a breeder, I’ve long felt that you have to get at least 15 years down the road in a breeding program in order to have enough wisdom to look back and see just how many mistakes you have made and realize that you are going to make many more.
I had early success with my English Springer Spaniels. Goodness, my first dog, whelped in 1972, was a multiple BIS and Specialty BOB winner, and a top-producing sire. Boy, didn’t I start out with the world by the tail, and wasn’t I just so smart? As I learned later, not so much. I got extremely lucky with that first dog. He was a natural-born show dog, and I just held on to the end of his lead and let him do his thing. And great, he was an outstanding sire, but I didn’t have anything to do with that, either. He had the genes that clicked with a lot of differently bred bitches. Lucky me, again.
Getting a Wake-Up Call
When you start with a dog like that, time shows you that you probably have nowhere to go but down. I didn’t have a beginning breeding program at all. I had this dog, one of his full sisters and one of his half-sisters. I bred the sister to a top-producing dog in the breed, and though there was one champion in the litter, there were also a myriad of problems that I didn’t see coming. I didn’t see them because I didn’t know nearly enough about the genetics and the history of the pedigrees I was working with. I hadn’t been honest with myself about admitting that there was so much more I needed to learn before I started having litters. The problems that showed up (and fairly early) in that first litter were the beginning of my wake-up call. Oh and I got more wake-up calls, and shortly.
I very stupidly bred the half-sister to a dog on the opposite coast that I had never seen. But his ads were great, and his photos were quite lovely. His pedigree was mostly West Coast dogs that I had virtually no experience with. (I said I was starting to get a wake-up call, but I didn’t say I was totally awake yet.) Those puppies, though healthy and with good temperaments, were pretty poor quality. They didn’t look much like their mom, and they sure didn’t look like the photos of their sire! How could this be? Here’s how. About six months after that litter was born, my then-husband was in California on business and went to visit the sire of the litter. To say he was a bit taken aback by the actual dog might be an understatement. He really didn’t resemble his photographs at all. Serious dog-breeding lesson number one: Don’t breed to a photograph! Even back then, creative photography existed. This dog had been retouched and photographed at specific angles to make him look much different. When we put all this newly acquired knowledge together, it made perfect sense that the puppies looked as they did. Since that time, I have never bred to a dog that I or my breeding partner (my daughter) have not personally seen, touched and spent time with.
Yet over and over again I see people breeding to dogs that they have never seen in person. One dog in my breed a few years ago was used quite extensively and mostly by people who had not only never seen the dog but had never even seen a photo of him! After being finished by a handler, he went home to the kennel and was never seen again until he was of a fairly advanced age and taken to one Specialty as a Veteran. I actually saw a post on a public forum where someone who had bred to the dog was looking for a photo of him because she had never seen him; and shortly after another person chimed in that she had bred to the dog too and would love to see what he looked like. I almost fell off my chair.
Choosing a Good Stud Dog
Just because a dog has produced a few offspring that you find attractive does not automatically qualify that dog to be the right one for every bitch out there. And if you think it does, then you are not being honest with yourself about what you are doing. Do you really think that your bitch is so perfect that she can be bred to any dog to give you more just like her? Maybe you should step back and take a long look at your bitch. And be brutally honest with yourself about how she stacks up to the breed standard. Maybe you don’t want more just like her. It might be better if you admitted to yourself that there is room for improvement. If you are so blind to your bitch’s faults and failings (and they all have some!), then go to someone who has a long and successful background in the breed and ask for help and advice. In fact, seek out two or three long-time dog breeders, as each will have a different perspective.
People who truly love your breed want to see more good-quality, healthy dogs produced. They know how to think outside the box when breeding. If you run into someone who only wants to talk to you about their own stud dogs, move on. That person doesn’t want to help you do anything but line their own pockets. You do not have to let somebody else tell you what to do, but you should let someone else tell you what they see. They might know far more than you do about the pedigree that you are working with. They may be able to offer up suggestions about what you should be looking to strengthen in your bitch and where you might be able to find the dog or dogs that can do it. If you are just breeding to a dog because some other people bred to it, then you are wearing blinders and not being honest with yourself at all. And guess what, your dogs won’t get better. But you probably won’t realize it. You cannot live on a secluded island in your own mind and be a knowledgeable, successful dog breeder. It takes a village, and there are many people out there who want to help you be part of that community.
Letting Them Go
Back to that second litter of puppies of mine sired by the West Coast dog. Not a single one of those puppies ever hit the show ring. Not only was this a lesson learned about not breeding to an unknown dog, it was also a lesson learned in realizing and admitting that the entire litter needed to go to pet homes. This is a mistake that I’ve seen happen over and over again in our sport. People plan a breeding, have a litter and convince themselves that because the puppies exist, there must be some really good ones to keep and show and go on with. Just because you have a litter of puppies doesn’t mean that there will be one or more in the litter that will be useful to you in moving forward as a breeder. We all breed with the hope that there will be something good enough to keep. But we have to recognize if we are going backward instead of forward. It’s difficult to look at a litter that grew up under your feet and admit to yourself that there really isn’t one in there to move you further ahead.
Be honest with yourself about the quality of your puppies. And if you can’t be, have a puppy party and invite those same breeders that you talked with before when searching for a stud dog. Invite them to look at and watch your puppies and discuss them with you. Get the right people together and you will have a wonderful learning experience. Don’t just put your puppies up on a table, shove them into a stack, look at them in the mirror and convince yourself that you have a keeper. Let others look at them and most importantly watch them on the ground. Have you heard the old adage, “Sell them on the table, pick them on the ground”? Well, it is so true. You can make almost any puppy look good enough on the table to “sell” it. But the honesty in the situation comes when you put that puppy on the ground and stand back and just watch it. Can it carry a correct profile? Does it move freely and easily at a trot with coordination and balance? Does it maintain its proportion on the ground? Eight-week-old puppies should stand and move correctly for their breed. If they don’t at 8 weeks, please don’t try to convince yourself that they will “grow into it.” You will be in for a disappointment.
“If you are dragging a dog to show after show with poor results, take a step back. Perhaps the dog just isn’t good enough. In that case, let it go to a loving pet home.”
I am fortunate because I have a breeding partner who happens to be my daughter. I was raised in the sport by wonderful mentors who taught me to be realistic about my dogs above all. I raised my daughter the same way. We are so lucky that we can bounce ideas off one another, discuss plans, look at puppies, make choices and most importantly disagree with one another! We spend hours and hours driving to dog shows discussing our dogs, where we are in our program, what we need to improve and how to go about getting it. We have a very similar eye but some differing priorities, which makes for lively conversation and more learning for both of us.
Realize that even a promising puppy can go wrong at some point during its growth and may not make the grade. Even the best, most well-made puppies can disappoint. Of course, you have to differentiate between a growth spurt and a puppy really losing its early promise. Know the difference and know when to place that dog. Don’t get so invested in it that you convince yourself that it is a great one! I see this again and again too. Bred it, kept it, grew it up, and it has to be a champion even if it goes to 50 dog shows to finish that title. Oh, gosh yes, then by all means breed it because it’s a champion! Any well-trained dog that is in good condition and properly shown that takes more than about 15 to 20 shows to finish is probably not a very good one.
If you are dragging a dog to show after show with poor results, take a step back. Perhaps the dog just isn’t good enough. In that case, let it go to a loving pet home. Try again and keep trying, and keep learning until you have gained the knowledge that will allow you to have confidence in your breeding program and the ability to discuss in breed-specific terms what you are doing and why you are doing it. Recognize that just because a dog has a champion title and its health clearances, it is not necessarily a good breeding prospect. If it took 30 shows to finish a dog in a breed where it only takes six to make a major, and your dog had a very hard time winning those majors, maybe you should step back and honestly assess the quality of the animal that you are considering breeding. Do you want another one that will take so many shows to finish? If not, if you really want to improve the quality of the dogs that you will go forward with, it might be wisest to place that dog with the hard-earned champion title in a pet home and go in a different direction. Disappointing? Yes, but it is absolutely the best thing you could do for yourself and the future of the breed.
We all know that dog breeding is fraught with heartache and setbacks. The only real road to success is the one where you force yourself to be honest about what you are doing and why you are doing it. Make those difficult decisions as a breeder who truly has the best interests of the breed at heart, not as an owner who loves a dog too much to let it go to a wonderful home. Or keep it and love it but don’t breed it. Long, long ago I told my husband something that he has never forgotten. “It’s just as easy to love the great ones as it is to love the mediocre ones.” What I meant was, love them all, but be aware that many dogs will move through our household and few will stay their entire lives. Enjoy them while they are here, but be willing to let them go to make room for progress and improvement. We have lived by that rule for 36 years, and it has served our breeding program very well.
Food for thought is always a good thing, at least in my world, it keeps my mind open to new ideas. As I’ve aged I’ve found it’s ever more important not to get stuck in my ways and thinking about what other people have to say on a topic keeps me out of ruts. So when I read the article I’m sharing with you today about health testing, I found myself thinking. Now, a word of warning, some of my close friends would tell you, “Sally’s thinking takes some rather weird detours now and again, so when she says “I was thinking” you might wanna run for cover!”
We all talk about being a responsible breeder, and of course, we consider a part of that responsibility to be health testing of the parents. Now mind you, I’m getting to that place where I’m almost old as dirt, so I’m one of those breeders who started in the game long before the majority of the health tests of today were available. While I’m all for health testing to gain knowledge of what is in the genes I’m about to mix together, I’m also one of those breeders who will tell you to use a good ole dose of common sense when breeding. While I’d never throw health testing to the side, I am also realizing that as the population of Gordon Setters declines, so follows our number of breeding options. This is a big conundrum we face folks, and it will take dedication, smart decisions and some good old common sense to preserve the best of our breed.
Sally Gift, AZ Photograph by Susan Roy Nelson, WY
With that said, I don’t know as I agree with everything in this article, but I do know it will give you some food for thought so I’m sharing, for your reading and thinking pleasure. If you’d like to share your thoughts after reading this feel free to use the comment section!
AUTHOR: A dedicated hobby breeder in a terminally rare breed, Amanda Kelly perpetually finds herself on the edge of everything from ecstasy to bankruptcy, quitting and insanity.
I had a really interesting conversation with a geneticist the other day that got me thinking: science is offering us more and more great ways to evaluate the health of our dogs…but when does enough turn into too much? When do we cross the threshold from helpful information to complete paralysis? Or outright bankruptcy? How do we avoid both?
The test we were discussing is quite a new one in my breed (Toy Manchester Terriers). It is for a condition called Xanthinuria that causes dogs to form a very rare form of kidney stone. There have only been three clinically affected dogs that I am aware of (full disclosure: we bred one). After encountering the issue, a fellow breeder did a little digging and discovered that a marker associated with the condition in humans worked for our breed as well. Kudos to her for being proactive and finding out more! The American and Canadian breed clubs helped proof the test and voila, it is now available commercially at quite a reasonable cost.
When I looked at dogs in my own breeding program that came up as carriers however, I was surprised as I would have expected more of our puppies to have or be forming stones than was the case. So, what does that say about the disease? Do all affected puppies form stones? If not, what is the rate? I found the answers to those Qs simultaneously helpful and troubling.
Apparently, current thinking is that approximately 50% of males with two copies of the mutation form stones or have associated kidney issues, while very few females with the same status have a problem (likely because they do a better job of emptying their bladders). Now, these are just rough estimates because the disease as a whole is rare and hasn’t been extensively studied, but it does raise an important question: what are we as breeders to do with this information and associated results of the genetic test?
The simple fact is that the more tests we have, the more pieces of info we have to try and reconcile when planning a breeding. At present, Toy Manchester breeders as a group are variously clearing things like hips, patellas, eyes, thyroid, and hearts plus DNA testing for von Willebrand’s Disease, and, now, potentially xanthinuria. That’s 7 tests, some with questionable value based on anecdotal and surveillance evidence, if we’re being honest. We’re also actively working to identify a test for juvenile cardiomyopathy.
The end result of all of that testing is a ton of information, which is great from the perspective of evaluating the health of individual dogs but also creates a number of very real problems for breeders in areas like liability, reputation and cost.
In the past, these factors were certainly in play but their effects were somewhat muted. Breeders worked for years to learn about their breed and their lines so they could make informed decisions and minimize the risk of producing issues. Health tests initially concentrated on measuring phenotype as an indicator and we worked with what we had. The important thing was that we could confidently tell puppy buyers we had done everything possible to produce healthy, happy puppies and if a problem appeared we were solid in the knowledge we had used all available tools to their best advantage.
Enter the genetic test. In my breed, the first one was for von Willebrand’s Disease (a blood clotting disorder). For years this disease was monitored by assay testing that measured the actual amount of the specific type of clotting factor in the blood and projected genetic status based on corresponding ranges. It was a pain to do but everyone muddled through as it was one of the few standard health tests most breeders did in the 1980s and 90s. When the genetic marker was identified, some breeders lost their ever loving minds. Dozens of valuable dogs were promptly spayed and neutered while breeders across North America began making pronunciations about “never” breeding a carrier even to a clear.
There’s no question, needless damage was done to the gene pool — especially when you consider there had never been a documented case of a Manchester actually bleeding out because it was vWD affected (at least not one I am aware of). Eventually breeders learned how to work with the DNA results and things calmed down. Our new test allowed us to easily avoid producing “affected” puppies (i.e., a dog with two copies of the gene, not necessarily clinically affected) and, regardless of the actual effects of the condition itself, doing so quickly became “right” and “just”. It was an approach we ourselves endorsed and followed because, after all, “responsible breeders” test.
And thus, the line in the sand was drawn. It’s a line we in the dog community drew ourselves and it’s one most of us dare not cross.
The scientific advancements that brought us more genetic tests took place against an active backdrop that included the rise of animal rights, increasing anthropomorphization of pets, emergence of puppy lemon laws, and the advent of social media. Now, it may seem odd to bring those factors into a discussion of genetic testing, but they each play a very important role in describing the environment within which we are working. An environment that values reputation above all else and that pits breeding decisions against financial liability in a way many breeders don’t consider.
Any breeder with two licks of sense knows that when it comes to breeding dogs, the most important possession you have — more important than any ribbon you may ever win — is your reputation. Your reputation affects everything you do, from access to stud dogs and puppies to demand for same. In a subjective sport like ours, it can even affect your ability to succeed in the show ring.
Protecting, fostering and growing a reputation can become all-consuming. Let’s cut to the chase here: We’re operating in an environment that can make a competition out of anything — which is why sometimes reputation management, and by extension health testing, becomes as much about one upmanship and moral superiority as it is the well-being of the dogs in question. That probably explains why many of the tests done in my breed are done by rote…because they are available, not because we have objectively identified a need for them. Not because we have established that rates of thyroid problems or eye issues, for example, are any higher in our breed than in the general dog population. No, we do them because we can and because we feel (tell one another?) that we should. And why is that? It’s because we have established as fact within our community that good breeders test and bad breeders don’t. So, we all work extra hard to make sure our conduct is above reproach.
That core belief is just as strong outside of the dog community, where we have worked hard to battle animal rights messaging by establishing health testing as a key feature differentiating responsible breeders from backyard breeders. And it’s a great message — easy to understand and easy for the public to actively measure when they are talking to breeders. The trouble is, that message comes pre-loaded with expectations we can never live up to. Expectations that if you buy from a good breeder your dog will never ever have health issues. That health tested parents won’t produce problems. That responsible breeders can be God.
And therein lies the problem. The more health testing we do, the bigger the gap grows between public expectations and the reality of what we can deliver…and with it, our financial liability. Because hey, don’t forget, in addition to health testing, responsible breeders also guarantee their puppies. Whether through provision of a replacement puppy or return of purchase funds, those guarantees do carry financial risk and can’t be dismissed at the best of times and even less so as puppy lemon laws increasingly make puppy health a legal matter. So, tell me…how do you think small claims court would view a breeder that knowingly produces a problem? Or one that unknowingly produces one because they failed to use the tests available? It’s a perfect catch 22 in the making.
It’s a simple axiom that the more health testing available, the less we talk about what we’re trying to avoid producing and the more we talk about what we are willing to risk producing. There isn’t a perfect dog out there and every biological organism possesses deleterious genes for something, regardless of whether we can test for it or not. The more tests available, the more complicated planning breedings becomes because we all naturally want to avoid the chances of producing any problem at all. But is that a realistic goal?
What did I say we were up to in my breed – seven tests? Eight? Heck, even I lose track sometimes. And all of these tests in an era when the number of puppies being produced continues to drop at an alarming rate. Under 200 Toy and Standard Manchester Terriers “combined” were produced in North America last year, so I’m sure you can image how difficult it might be to match test results for potential breedings (particularly if we’re testing for everything under the sun). Or what the costs of doing those breedings might be as we look further and further afield, let alone the relative cost of doing the health screening to begin with in a breed with relatively small litter sizes and low purchase prices. The financials would rock your world and have you questioning my sanity, so we won’t go there other than to say red is a better quality in a new coat than a ledger (but I digress…).
I asked a few researchers and vets what they felt breeders should do with test results when there are many to consider. The consistent response was that we need to prioritize — and that’s a completely reasonable thing for a scientist to say…and a very difficult thing for a devoted dog breeder to actually do.
Never mind the costs, appearance or liability — I genuinely don’t want to be responsible through conscious decision for producing a sick puppy. It is one thing to employ testing, tools and techniques to theoretically reduce disease and quite another to look at a plethora of results and say “This one I can live with.”
And what happens once the die is cast? If we use Xanthinuria as an example, I could choose to breed two carriers together and test all of the puppies…but then what? Sure, knowing a puppy has two copies of the gene and is at higher risk of forming stones will be helpful to an owner who could keep the dog on a low purine diet and perhaps avoid issues altogether…but could I sell a puppy like that? For how much? Would anyone take it if I was giving it away? What level of financial responsibility do I hold if it does develop an issue two, five or 10 years down the road? What if there are multiple puppies with two copies of the gene in the litter?
And that, ladies and gentlemen, is the ethical dilemma of the future. Perhaps we in smaller, rarer breeds are dealing with it sooner, but it is a dilemma I truly believe every breed and breeder will face at some point. It has the potential to be absolutely paralyzing as we seek to do the right thing in a world where that is increasingly less black and white than it seemed a few short years ago.
I don’t know exactly how we can or should approach it — perhaps I’m hoping you’ll be able to tell me. I suspect that monitoring of actual breed health through health surveys and breeders sharing information on what they are seeing will be increasingly important if we wish to prioritize according to real information. And I do know that one of the things we absolutely must do is change how we discuss health testing. The way we talk about each other (oh Lordy, put a star next to that one!) and to each other as well as how we portray ourselves to the public. Just as important, we have to think about health tests and results holistically in the context of our breed and gene pool. In our rush to erase problems through testing, we are shown again and again that the devil we don’t know is often worse than the devil we can test for.
What To Do?
This article isn’t intended to form the cornerstone of a campaign against health testing. Far from it. I truly believe we need to use the tools available to us, particularly if they are able to help us avoid devastating issues facing our dogs and puppies. In fact, I and others in my breed have worked hard for more than a decade to see a genetic test developed for juvenile cardiomyopathy because it is a brutal, deadly disease and I want all of us to have a tool that will allow us to make informed choices and stop guessing at how to avoid it.
But I’m also a realist. Health management is a tough nut to crack even for trained geneticists let alone the average breeder doing their best to navigate an increasingly complex and technical landscape. Giving us the test results is the easy part, it seems — figuring out what to do with them is our next great challenge.
As the Gordon Setter Expert audience has grown tremendously, so has the amount of email that I get from people who are searching for quality Gordon Setters from responsible breeders.
To simplify the process where I connect those who are searching for Gordon Setters, with those who are searching for good homes, I’ve created this FREE listing – that’s right, you may advertise to sell your Gordon Setters for free, right here on this site! If you have a puppy, a litter, an adult or are planning a breeding this free service is the perfect value! I’ll be happy to include your photos and pedigree too.
I’ve set a few parameters to ensure I am working with responsible breeders who are invested in the preservation and promotion of the Gordon Setter breed, and you’ll find the rules and restrictions regarding this listing service by visiting the pages below.
Don’t worry about losing this message, just remember that you can go to the Gordon Setter Expert “Home” page any day and simply click the header at the top of the page that reads “Place an Ad – Puppy, Adult, Planned breeding”.
Want to see what your ad might look like? Click here
Gordon Setter Future Litter (Planned Breeding)
- To place a free ad on this site for a future litter of AKC (or foreign) registered Gordon Setters click here.
Gordon Setter Puppies
- To place a free ad on this site for an AKC (or foreign) registered Gordon Setter puppies click here.
Gordon Setter Adult
I’m certainly hoping Gordon Setter breeders and owners will find this service helpful, that’s all I’m here for, to help!
Sally Gift, Mesa AZ
Photograph by Laurie Ward
Where do they come up with this stuff? “Dog show plays big role in puppy mill cruelty”
The march against puppy mills and commercial breeding crossed the line to include responsible breeders like you and me quite awhile back. Breeders like us, who are dedicated to promotion and preservation of our breed by planned breeding, genetic health testing and competition at events that showcase our success are equally in the path of the march against commercial breeding. Events like dog shows, hunt tests, obedience trials, field trials, and agility trials have been targeted in the past and we generally brushed those efforts away. As we look at the continual decline in the purebred dog population are we fully understanding that we can and must take action to respond responsibly to propaganda like what is written in the article “Dog show plays big role in puppy mill cruelty” by Kim Kavin published in the Times Union?
It’s going to take a whole wave of concerted effort to turn the tide on the purebred dog population, but if everyone takes on a small part, turn it will. Keeping our eye on legislation is vital, as is campaigning to stop harmful laws. Promoting your breed, telling your story, sharing why you own purebreds – that’s wonderful advertising – keep that up and do even more of it. Inviting puppy buyers to dog events to share the fun, and creating a fun atmosphere at those events is a must. Encouraging breeding through mentoring rather than running frantically in the opposite direction when someone new says “I want to breed her”. There is an endless list of things we can do. You can help build this conversation by adding your own thoughts in the comment section. Help build the momentum we need to stop harmful messages from doing further damage to our breed and our sport.
Sally Gift, Mesa AZ
Photo courtesy of Silvia Timmermann
Click the blue title of the article to read in it’s entirety, I’ve only included a couple of excerpts below.
Viewers rush to buy adorable animals, fueling sales from questionable sources
Published 2:33 pm, Saturday, April 30, 2016
…The Mamaroneck law affects a single pet store. New York state lawmakers could set a significant national example by instead targeting one of the biggest marketing assets that puppy mill owners have: the Westminster Kennel Club Dog Show…
…A main goal of televised events like Westminster is to drive demand at commercial breeding farms, which then turn out millions of puppies eligible for AKC registration at a fee. This is the very business that Mamaroneck’s law is meant to stem. If the goal is to shutter the worst farms, then banning one of their biggest marketing assets would send a far stronger message….
Kim Kavin is author of “The Dog Merchants: Inside the Big Business of Breeders, Pet Stores, and Rescuers,” to be published Monday by Pegasus Books.
Well I’ll be! Here’s a new (at least to me it’s new) old trick from the breeders of yesteryear and I’m simply tripping over myself wanting to try it. I’ve never heard this one before, it sounds nifty and I’m wondering if any of you have ever tried (or heard of) this pregnancy predictor? Arlene Czech writes about the “Gum Check” in her article for this month’s column in ShowSight Magazine.
How to perform the test: exactly 21 days after the FIRST tie mating start looking at the gums on your bitch by lifting her lips as though you are checking her bite. If she is pregnant the gum will appear very white, much whiter than their normal red color. (see photo below) This color change will occur between the 21 to 24 days after that first mating. It would be ideal for you to begin checking the gums earlier than the 21 days so you have a good picture in your mind of her normal gum color. If she is not pregnant the gum tissue will not change color.
Why it works: According to Arlene’s article, this is the time when the fetus implants itself on the uterine walls. During this process a good deal of the blood flow is redirected from the body of the bitch and focused on her uterus instead.
We’d sure like to hear back from those of you who may have already been aware of this trick and have used it, as well as those who give it a try on your next breeding. Simply send us an email at firstname.lastname@example.org or leave a comment at the end of this article.
Thank you to our reader Carol Wilson for sending the following email and photos:
These photos were shared from one of our readers (thank you Shelley Ellison) who reported …my images of my Labrador Retriever girl Katy when I bred her last year. The darker image was taken on day 21 after ovulation, and the brighter gum color was taken on day 24 after ovulation. I did progesterone timing for shipped chilled semen and she had 9 beautiful puppies.
Sally Gift, Mesa AZ
Gordon Puppy Photograph courtesy of Debbie Bjerkestrand
(Read Arlene Czech’s article by clicking the blue link below). I’ve included a brief excerpt and photos from the article here.
This is what he told me, and I would like to pass it on to others. No need for a visit to the vet, just a simple check. He demonstrated with his dog as to how to tell if a bitch is pregnant. He simply held her head while he lifted her lip, as if checking the bite when judging. He said the gums will be very white at this time. The time? Exactly 21 days from the first tie in breeding. Actually, you need to start a few days before to become used to the gum color. Just a quick look is all you need. The only problem is that it does not stay white forever. Why it is white is that this is the time that the little fetus/egg implants itself on the uterus? In doing so, blood is drained from the bitches’ body and goes to the uterus. You need to check for several days after since some aren’t ready to implant. Recently I have taken pictures of my recent bitch on her 21st day had white gums, and then several days later I took another picture showing her red gums. Breeders do not believe me until they try it themselves and then say “they did turn white!” And if it is not a success then the gums stay red.
In all the intervening years, I have had success with this over 55 times. I missed once because I didn’t catch her on the 21-24th day. Then I take my bitch to my vet to palpate on the 28th day to see how many.
I understand from several breeders of farm animals that they too check the same way to see if the breeding took. I didn’t ask how many days they use, but the method was white gums.
by Arlene Czech
or…the Mating Game with a digital kick!
*Jerold M Bell DVM (Professor, Clinical Genetic, Tufts University) wrote: It is not the type of matings utilized (linebreeding or outbreeding) that causes the loss of genes from a breed gene pool. Rather, loss of genes occurs through selection: the use and non-use of offspring. If a breed starts limiting their focus to breeding stock from a limited number of lines, then a loss of genetic diversity will occur.
As breeders we have discussed the declining population of Gordon Setters and along with that we’ve shared ideas and tactics to preserve and protect the best of our breed’s genetic makeup through responsible breeding. As Dr. Bell recommends, one of the ways to do that is to encourage and participate in the use of a diverse selection of stud dogs. We understand the need to select dogs and bitches from the breadth of our gene pool.
With preserving and protecting the Beauty, Brains and Birdsense of our breed as an objective, you (our readers) have suggested that we needed another resource to broaden the means by which we locate the right stud dogs for our bitches, one that will help us find those diverse dogs. Time and time again you’ve suggested an easy to find, easy to use stud dog list to help in your search for quality dogs from sources beyond the scope of the winners listing of those currently being exhibited, trialed or campaigned. You asked for a place where you could find dogs that are available for natural, frozen and fresh chilled breeding, in the US and abroad, on a web based platform. Today we make that resource, a Gordon Setter Stud Dog List, available to you.
Please join me in sending a sincere Thank You to Donnah Brngner and Kristin Majercik for all of their hard work and support to help create this listing page and by providing assistance to maintain it moving forward.
Over 8,800 visits were made to the Gordon Setter Expert site just last week alone. They were people like you and me, many of them breeders, the majority of them Gordon Setter fanciers. So you, the Gordon Setter lover, you are indeed using this site regularly as a resource for information about our breed. If we list them, our stud dogs, if we build “it” (the stud dog list) “they” will come and together we will build another tool to aid in the preservation, promotion and protection of the Gordon Setter though responsible, quality breeding practices.
There is no fee to use this listing, I’ll continue to cover the expense to keep the site and this stud dog list running. Could this change at some point because we outgrow my current space and I need to purchase more? Possibly, but as I’m not in this to make a profit, any expense that you might be asked to help offset in that distant future, would be very, very slight..
Sally Gift, Mesa AZ
Photograph by Susan Roy Nelson
*About – Jerold S. Bell DVM
Adjunct Professor, Clinical Genetics, Tufts University, Cummings School of Veterinary Medicine
WSAVA Hereditary Diseases Committee, Member
OFA (US), Board of Directors
AKC Health & Welfare Advisory Panel, Member
By Jerold M Bell DVM
(This article is reprinted with permission of the Jerold M Bell DVM
IT’S ALL IN THE GENES
As dog breeders, we engage in genetic “experiments” each time we plan a mating. The type of mating selected should coincide with your goals. To some breeders, determining which traits will appear in the offspring of a mating is like rolling the dice – a combination of luck and chance. For others, producing certain traits involves more skill than luck – the result of careful study and planning. As breeders, we must understand how we manipulate genes within our breeding stock to produce the kinds of dogs we want. We have to first understand dogs as a species, then dogs as genetic individuals.
The species, Canis familiaris, includes all breeds of the domestic dog. Although we can argue that there is little similarity between a Chihuahua and a Saint Bernard, or that established breeds are separate entities among themselves, they all are genetically the same species. While a mating within a breed may be considered outbred, it still must be viewed as part of the whole genetic picture: a mating within an isolated, closely related, interbred population. Each breed was developed by close breeding and inbreeding among a small group of founding canine ancestors, either through a long period of genetic selection or by intensely inbreeding a smaller number of generations. The process established the breed’s characteristics and made the dogs in it breed true.
When evaluating your breeding program, remember that most traits you’re seeking cannot be changed, fixed or created in a single generation. The more information you can obtain on how certain traits have been transmitted by your dog’s ancestors, the better you can prioritize your breeding goals. Tens of thousands of genes interact to produce a single dog. All genes are inherited in pairs, one pair from the father and one from the mother. If the pair of inherited genes from both parents is identical, the pair is called homozygous. If the genes in the pair are not alike, the pair is called heterozygous. Fortunately, the gene pairs that make a dog a dog and not a cat are always homozygous. Similarly, the gene pairs that make a certain breed always breed true are also homozygous. Therefore, a large proportion of homozygous non-variable pairs – those that give a breed its specific standard – exist within each breed. It is the variable gene pairs, like those that control color, size and angulation, that produce variations within a breed.
BREEDING BY PEDIGREE
Outbreeding brings together two dogs less related than the average for the breed. This promotes more heterozygosity, and gene diversity within each dog by matching pairs of unrelated genes from different ancestors. Outbreeding can also mask the expression of recessive genes, and allow their propagation in the carrier state.
Most outbreeding tends to produce more variation within a litter. An exception would be if the parents are so dissimilar that they create a uniformity of heterozygosity. This is what usually occurs in a mismating between two breeds. The resultant litter tends to be uniform, but demonstrates “half-way points” between the dissimilar traits of the parents. Such litters may be phenotypically uniform, but will rarely breed true due to the mix of dissimilar genes.
A reason to outbreed would be to bring in new traits that your breeding stock does not possess. While the parents may be genetically dissimilar, you should choose a mate that corrects your dog’s faults but phenotypically complements your dog’s good traits.
It is not unusual to produce an excellent quality dog from an outbred litter. The abundance of genetic variability can place all the right pieces in one individual. Many top-winning show dogs are outbred. Consequently, however, they may have low inbreeding coefficients and may lack the ability to uniformly pass on their good traits to their offspring. After an outbreeding, breeders may want to breed back to dogs related to their original stock, to increase homozygosity and attempt to solidify newly acquired traits.
Linebreeding attempts to concentrate the genes of a specific ancestor or ancestors through their appearance multiple times in a pedigree. The ancestor should appear behind more than one offspring. If an ancestor always appears behind the same offspring, you are only linebreeding on the approximately 50 percent of the genes passed to the offspring and not the ancestor itself.
It is better for linebred ancestors to appear on both the sire’s and the dam’s sides of the pedigree. That way their genes have a better chance of pairing back up in the resultant pups. Genes from common ancestors have a greater chance of expression when paired with each other than when paired with genes from other individuals, which may mask or alter their effects.
A linebreeding may produce a puppy with magnificent qualities, but if those qualities are not present in any of the ancestors the pup has been linebred on, it may not breed true. Therefore, careful selection of mates is important, but careful selection of puppies from the resultant litter is also important to fulfill your genetic goals. Without this, you are reducing your chances of concentrating the genes of the linebred ancestor.
Increasing an individual’s homozygosity through linebreeding may not, however, reproduce an outbred ancestor. If an ancestor is outbred and generally heterozygous (Aa), increasing homozygosity will produce more AA and aa. The way to reproduce an outbred ancestor is to mate two individuals that mimic the appearance and pedigree of the ancestor’s parents.
Inbreeding significantly increases homozygosity, and therefore uniformity in litters. Inbreeding can increase the expression of both beneficial and detrimental recessive genes through pairing up. If a recessive gene (a) is rare in the population, it will almost always be masked by a dominant gene (A). Through inbreeding, a rare recessive gene (a) can be passed from a heterozygous (Aa) common ancestor through both the sire and dam, creating a homozygous recessive (aa) offspring. Inbreeding does not create undesirable genes, it simply increases the expression of those that are already present in a heterozygous state.
Inbreeding can exacerbate a tendency toward disorders controlled by multiple genes, such as hip dysplasia and congenital heart anomalies. Unless you have prior knowledge of what milder linebreedings on the common ancestors have produced, inbreeding may expose your puppies (and puppy buyers) to extraordinary risk of genetic defects. Research has shown that inbreeding depression, or diminished health and viability through inbreeding is directly related to the amount of detrimental recessive genes present. Some lines thrive with inbreeding, and some do not.
Geneticists’ and breeders’ definitions of inbreeding vary. A geneticist views inbreeding as a measurable number that goes up whenever there is a common ancestor between the sire’s and dam’s sides of the pedigree; a breeder considers inbreeding to be close inbreeding, such as father-to-daughter or brother-to-sister matings. A common ancestor, even in the eighth generation, will increase the measurable amount of inbreeding in the pedigree.
The Inbreeding Coefficient (or Wright’s coefficient) is an estimate of the percentage of all the variable gene pairs that are homozygous due to inheritance from common ancestors. It is also the average chance that any single gene pair is homozygous due to inheritance from a common ancestor. In order to determine whether a particular mating is an outbreeding or inbreeding relative to your breed, you must determine the breed’s average inbreeding coefficient. The average inbreeding coefficient of a breed will vary depending on the breed’s popularity or the age of its breeding population. A mating with an inbreeding coefficient of 14 percent based on a ten generation pedigree, would be considered moderate inbreeding for a Labrador Retriever (a popular breed with a low average inbreeding coefficient), but would be considered outbred for an Irish Water Spaniel (a rare breed with a higher average inbreeding coefficient).
For the calculated inbreeding coefficient of a pedigree to be accurate, it must be based on several generations. Inbreeding in the fifth and later generations (background inbreeding) often has a profound effect on the genetic makeup of the offspring represented by the pedigree. In studies conducted on dog breeds, the difference in inbreeding coefficients based on four versus eight generation pedigrees varied immensely. A four generation pedigree containing 28 unique ancestors for 30 positions in the pedigree could generate a low inbreeding coefficient, while eight generations of the same pedigree, which contained 212 unique ancestors out of 510 possible positions, had a considerably higher inbreeding coefficient. What seemed like an outbred mix of genes in a couple of generations, appeared as a linebred concentration of genes from influential ancestors in extended generations.
The process of calculating coefficients is too complex to present here. Several books that include how to compute coefficients are indicated at the end of this article; some computerized canine pedigree programs also compute coefficients. The analyses in this article were performed using CompuPed, by RCI Software.
[RCI Note: CompuPed computes Wright’s Inbreeding Coefficient faster and more accurately than any other PC program available. ]
Pedigree of: “Laurel Hill Braxfield Bilye”
( a spayed female Gordon Setter owned by Dr. Jerold and Mrs. Candice Bell, and co-bred by Mary Poos and Laura Bedford.)
To visualize some of these concepts, please refer to the above pedigree. Linebred ancestors in this pedigree are in color, to help visualize their contribution. The paternal grandsire, CH Loch Adair Foxfire, and the maternal grandam, CH Loch Adair Firefly WD, are full siblings, making this a first-cousin mating. The inbreeding coefficient for a first cousin mating is 6.25%, which is considered a mild level of inbreeding. Lists of inbreeding coefficients based on different types of matings are shown in the table below.
In Bilye’s pedigree, an inbreeding coefficient based on four generations computes to 7.81%. This is not significantly different from the estimate based on the first-cousin mating alone. Inbreeding coefficients based on increasing numbers of generations are as follows: five generations, 13.34%; six generations, 18.19%; seven generations, 22.78%; eight generations, 24.01%; ten generations, 28.63%; and twelve generations, 30.81%. The inbreeding coefficient of 30.81 percent is more than what you would find in a parent-to-offspring mating (25%). As you can see, the background inbreeding has far more influence on the total inbreeding coefficient than the first-cousin mating, which only appears to be its strongest influence.
Knowledge of the degree of inbreeding in a pedigree does not necessarily help you unless you know whose genes are being concentrated. The percent blood coefficient measures the relatedness between an ancestor and the individual represented by the pedigree. It estimates the probable percentage of genes passed down from a common ancestor. We know that a parent passes on an average of 50% of its genes, while a grandparent passes on 25%, a great-grandparent 12.5%, and so on. For every time the ancestor appears in the pedigree, its percentage of passed-on genes can be added up and its “percentage of blood” estimated.
In many breeds, an influential individual may not appear until later generations, but then will appear so many times that it necessarily contributes a large proportion of genes to the pedigree. This can occur in breeds, due to either prolific ancestors (usually stud dogs), or with a small population of dogs originating the breed. Based on a twenty-five generation pedigree of Bilye, there are only 852 unique ancestors who appear a total of over twenty-million times.
Pedigree Analysis of Laurel Hill Braxfield Bilye
(computed to 25 generations)
Percentage of blood
Appearance in pedigree
# times in pedigree
|CH Afternod Drambuie||33.20%||6||33|
|CH Afternod Sue||27.05%||7||61|
|CH Afternod Callant||26.56%||5||13|
|CH Sutherland Gallant||25.00%||3||2|
|CH Sutherland MacDuff||25.00%||3||3|
|CH Sutherland Lass of Shambray||25.00%||3||2|
|CH Wilson’s Corrie, CD||22.30%||7||200|
|CH Afternod Buchanon||20.22%||7||48|
|Loch Adair Diana of Redchic||17.97%||5||12|
|CH EEG’s Scotia Nodrog Rettes||17.76%||8||181|
|Afternod Ember of Gordon Hill||17.14%||8||76|
|CH Afternod Hickory||16.21%||6||27|
|CH Black Rogue of Serlway||15.72%||9||480|
|CH Afternod Woodbine||14.45%||6||15|
|CH Fast’s Falcon of Windy Hill||13.82%||8||66|
|CH Page’s MacDonegal II||13.43%||7||56|
|CH Downside Bonnie of Serlway||12.90%||10||708|
|Peter of Crombie||12.76%||11||3,887|
|CH Afternod Amber||12.50%||5||5|
|Ben of Crombie||11.83%||11||7,584|
|CH Afternod Kate||10.74%||6||17|
The above analysis shows the ancestral contribution of the linebred ancestors in Bilye’s pedigree. Those dogs in color were present in the five-generation pedigree. CH Afternod Drambuie has the highest genetic contribution of all of the linebred ancestors. He appears 33 times between the sixth and eighth generations. One appearance in the sixth generation contributes 1.56% of the genes to the pedigree. His total contribution is 33.2% of Bilye’s genes, second only to the parents. Therefore, in this pedigree, the most influential ancestor doesn’t even appear in the five-generation pedigree. His dam, CH Afternod Sue, appears 61 times between the seventh and tenth generations, and contributes more genes to the pedigree than a grandparent.
Foundation dogs that formed the Gordon Setter breed also play a great role in the genetic makeup of today’s dogs. Heather Grouse appears over one million times between the sixteenth and twenty-fifth generations, and almost doubles those appearances beyond the twenty-fifth generation. He contributes over ten percent of the genes to Bilye’s pedigree. This example shows that the depth of the pedigree is very important in estimating the genetic makeup of an individual. Any detrimental recessive genes carried by Heather Grouse or other founding dogs, would be expected to be widespread in the breed.
BREEDING BY APPEARANCE
Many breeders plan matings solely on the appearance of a dog and not on its pedigree or the relatedness of the prospective parents. This is called assortative mating. Breeders use positive assortative matings (like-to-like) to solidify traits, and negative assortative matings (like-to-unlike) when they wish to correct traits or bring in traits their breeding stock may lack.
Some individuals may share desirable characteristics, but they inherit them differently. This is especially true of polygenic traits, such as ear set, bite, or length of forearm. Breeding two phenotypically similar but genotypically unrelated dogs together would not necessarily reproduce these traits. Conversely, each individual with the same pedigree will not necessarily look or breed alike.
Breedings should not be planned solely on the basis of the pedigree or appearance alone. Matings should be based on a combination of appearance and ancestry. If you are trying to solidify a certain trait – like topline – and it is one you can observe in the parents and the linebred ancestors of two related dogs, then you can be more confident that you will attain your goal.
Some breed clubs advocate codes of ethics that discourage linebreeding or inbreeding, as an attempt to increase breed genetic diversity. This position is based on a false premise. Inbreeding or linebreeding does not cause the loss of genes from a breed gene pool. It occurs through selection; the use and non-use of offspring. If some breeders linebreed to certain dogs that they favor, and others linebreed to other dogs that they favor, then breed-wide genetic diversity is maintained.
In a theoretical mating with four offspring, we are dealing with four gene pairs. The sire is homozygous at 50% of his gene pairs (two out of four), while the dam is homozygous at 75% of her gene pairs. It is reasonable to assume that she is more inbred than the sire.
A basic tenet of population genetics is that gene frequencies do not change from the parental generation to the offspring. This will occur regardless of the homozygosity or heterozygosity of the parents, or whether the mating is an outbreeding, linebreeding, or inbreeding. This is the nature of genetic recombination.
There is a lack of gene diversity at the first (olive) gene pair, so that only one type of gene combination can be produced: homozygous olive. As the sire is homozygous lime at the third gene pair, and the dam is homozygous blue, all offspring will be heterozygous at the third gene pair. Depending on the dominant or recessive nature of the blue or lime genes, all offspring will appear the same for this trait due to a uniformity of heterozygosity.
If offspring D is used as a prolific breeder, and none of the other offspring are bred to a great extent, gene frequencies in the breed will change. As dog D lacks the orange gene in the second pair and the purple gene in the fourth pair, the frequencies of these genes will diminish in the breed. They will be replaced by higher frequencies of the red and pink genes. This shifts the gene pool, and the breed’s genetic diversity. Of course, dogs have more than four gene pairs, and the overuse of dog D to the exception of others can affect the gene frequency of thousands of genes. Again, it is selection (for example of dog D to the exception of others), and not the types of matings he is involved in that alters gene frequencies.
Breeders should select the best individuals from all kennel lines, so as to not create new genetic bottlenecks. There is a tendency for many breeders to breed to a male; who produced no epileptics in matings to several epileptic dams, to an OFA excellent stud, or to the top winning dog in the show ring. Regardless of the popularity of the breed, if everyone is breeding to a single studdog, (the popular sire syndrome) the gene pool will drift in that dog’s direction and there will be a loss of genetic diversity. Too much breeding to one dog will give the gene pool an extraordinary dose of his genes, and also whatever detrimental recessives he may carry, to be uncovered in later generations. This can cause future breed related genetic disease through the founders effect.
Dogs who are poor examples of the breed should not be used simply to maintain diversity. Related dogs with desirable qualities will maintain diversity, and improve the breed. Breeders should concentrate on selecting toward a breed standard, based on the ideal temperament, performance, and conformation, and should select against the significant breed related health issues. Using progeny and sib-based information to select against both polygenic disorders and those without a known mode of inheritance will allow greater control.
Rare breeds with small gene pools have concerns about genetic diversity. What constitutes acceptable diversity versus too restricted diversity? The problems with genetic diversity in purebred populations concern the fixing of deleterious recessive genes, which when homozygous cause impaired health. Lethal recessives place a drain on the gene pool either prenatally, or before reproductive age. They can manifest themselves through smaller litter size, or neonatal death. Other deleterious recessives cause disease, while not affecting reproduction.
Problems with a lack of genetic diversity arise at the gene locus level. There is no specific level or percentage of inbreeding that causes impaired health or vigor. It has been shown that some inbred strains of animals thrive generation after generation, while others fail to thrive. If there is no diversity (non-variable gene pairs for a breed) but the homozygote is not detrimental, there is no effect on breed health. The characteristics that make a breed reproduce true to its standard are based on non-variable gene pairs. A genetic health problem arises for a breed when a detrimental allele increases in frequency and homozygosity.
The perceived problem of a limited gene pool has caused some breeds to advocate outbreeding of all dogs. Studies in genetic conservation and rare breeds have shown that this practice actually contributes to the loss of genetic diversity. By uniformly crossing all “lines” in a breed, you eliminate the differences between them, and therefore the diversity between individuals. This practice in livestock breeding has significantly reduced diversity, and caused the loss of unique rare breeds. The process of maintaining healthy “lines” or families of dogs, with many breeders crossing between lines and breeding back as they see fit maintains diversity in the gene pool. It is the varied opinion of breeders as to what constitutes the ideal dog, and their selection of breeding stock that maintains breed diversity.
The Doberman Pincher breed is large, and genetically diverse. The breed has a problem with vonWillibrands disease, an autosomal recessive bleeding disorder. Some researchers estimate that up to 60% of the breed may be homozygous recessive for the defective gene, and the majority of the remaining dogs are heterozygous. Therefore, there is diminished genetic diversity in this breed at the vonWillibrands locus. A genetic test and screening program now exists for Doberman Pincher breeders. They can identify carrier and affected dogs, and decrease the defective gene frequency through selection of normal testing offspring for breeding. By not just eliminating carriers, but replacing them with normal testing offspring, genetic diversity will be conserved.
Dalmatians have a high frequency defective autosomal recessive gene controlling purine metabolism. Homozygous recessive individuals can have urinary problems due to urate bladder stones and crystals, and an associated skin condition (Dalmatian Bronzing Syndrome). At one time, the breed and the AKC approved a crossbreeding program to a few Pointers, to bring normal purine metabolism genes into the gene pool. The program was abandoned for several reasons, but it was accepted that the number of individual Dalmatians with two normal purine metabolism genes far exceeded the few Pointers that were being used in the program. The impact of other Pointer genes foreign to the Dalmatian gene pool could have had a greater detrimental effect than the few normal purine metabolism genes being imported through the program.
PUTTING IT ALL TOGETHER
Decisions to linebreed, inbreed or outbreed should be made based on the knowledge of an individual dog’s traits and those of its ancestors. Inbreeding will quickly identify the good and bad recessive genes the parents share in the offspring. Unless you have prior knowledge of what the pups of milder linebreedings on the common ancestors were like, you may be exposing your puppies (and puppy buyers) to extraordinary risk of genetic defects. In your matings, the inbreeding coefficient should only increase because you are specifically linebreeding (increasing the percentage of blood) to selected ancestors.
Don’t set too many goals in each generation, or your selective pressure for each goal will necessarily become weaker. Genetically complex or dominant traits should be addressed early in a long-range breeding plan, as they may take several generations to fix. Traits with major dominant genes become fixed more slowly, as the heterozygous (Aa) individuals in a breed will not be readily differentiated from the homozygous-dominant (AA) individuals. Desirable recessive traits can be fixed in one generation because individuals that show such characteristics are homozygous for the recessive genes. Dogs that breed true for numerous matings and generations should be preferentially selected for breeding stock. This prepotency is due to homozygosity of dominant (AA) and recessive (aa) genes.
If you linebreed and are not happy with what you have produced, breeding to a less related line immediately creates an outbred line and brings in new traits. Repeated outbreeding to attempt to dilute detrimental recessive genes is not a desirable method of genetic disease control. Recessive genes cannot be diluted; they are either present or not. Outbreeding carriers multiplies and further spreads the defective gene(s) in the gene pool. If a dog is a known carrier or has high carrier risk through pedigree analysis, it can be retired from breeding, and replaced with one or two quality offspring. Those offspring should be bred, and replaced with quality offspring of their own, with the hope of losing the defective gene.
Trying to develop your breeding program scientifically can be an arduous, but rewarding, endeavor. By taking the time to understand the types of breeding schemes available, you can concentrate on your goals towards producing a better dog.
If you are interested in learning more about these subjects, consult the following books:
- Abnormalities of Companion Animals: Analysis of Heritability
C.W. Foley, J.F. Lasley, and G.D. Osweiler, Iowa State University Press, Ames, Iowa. 1979.
- Genetics for Dog Breeders
F.B. Hutt, W.H. Freeman Co, San Francisco, California. 1979.
- Veterinary Genetics
F. W. Nicholas, Clarendon Press, Oxford England. 1987.
- Genetics for Dog Breeders
R. Robinson, Pergamon Press, Oxford England. 1990.
- Genetics of the Dog (equally applicable to cats & other animals)
M.B. Willis, Howell Book House, New York, New York. 1989.
By Jerold s Bell DVM, Clinical Associate Professor of Genetics, Tufts Cummings School of Veterinary Medicine. Reprinted by permission of the author.
(This article was originally published in the March 2007 AKC Perspectives Delegates Newsletter.)
Issues of genetic diversity are a concern to dog breeders, and this can be especially so for breeds with small populations. The concern is whether there is enough genetic variation within a breed’s gene pool to maintain health and vitality. Breeders should be concerned about genetic diversity, because there are examples where damage has been done to a breed due to breeding practices. Restriction of genetic diversity can also occur in large population breeds.
All genes come in pairs: one from the sire and one from the dam. Each gene in the pair is called an allele. If both alleles in a pair are of the same type, the gene pair is homozygous. If the two alleles are different, the gene pair is heterozygous. While each dog can have a maximum of two different alleles at a gene pair, many different alleles are potentially available to be part of the gene pair. The greater the number of alleles that are available at each gene pair (called genetic polymorphism), the greater the genetic diversity of the breed.
If there is no breed diversity in a gene pair, but the particular homozygous gene that is present is not detrimental, there is no negative effect on breed health. The characteristics that make a breed reproduce true to its standard are, in fact, based on non-variable (that is, homozygous) gene pairs.
The origins of the breeds have a lot to do with genetic diversity. A breed established with a working phenotype tends to have diverse founder origins, and significant diversity. Even with substantial population bottlenecks, the breed can maintain considerable amounts of genetic diversity. This was shown in a molecular genetic study of the Chinook breed, which was reduced to 11 modern founders in 1981. Breeds established by inbreeding on a limited number of related founder individuals could have a reduced diversity. Many breeds have also gone through diversity reducing bottlenecks; such as occurred during World War II. For most of these breeds, their gene pools have expanded through breeding for many generations, resulting in a stable population of healthy dogs.
There are two factors that must be considered when evaluating genetic diversity and health issues in a breed; the average level of inbreeding, and detrimental recessive genes. With a small population, there is a tendency to find higher average inbreeding coefficients due to the relatedness between dogs from common ancestors. There is, however, no specific level or percentage of inbreeding that causes impaired health or vigor. The problems that inbreeding depression cause in purebred populations stem from the effects of deleterious recessive genes. If the founding population of a breed produces a high frequency of a deleterious recessive gene, then the breed will have issues with that disorder. This can be seen as smaller litter size, increased neonatal death, high frequency genetic disease, or impaired immunity. If these issues are present then the breed needs to seriously consider limited genetic diversity.
The issue of high average inbreeding coefficients is one that all breeds go through during their foundation. As the population increases and the average relatedness of dogs goes down (based on a fixed number of generations), the average inbreeding coefficient for the breed will go down. The effect of initially higher inbreeding coefficients in small population breeds will depend on the presence of deleterious recessive genes that will be expressed when homozygous.
Some breeders discourage linebreeding and promote outbreeding in an attempt to protect genetic diversity in their breed. It is not the type of matings utilized (linebreeding or outbreeding) that causes the loss of genes from a breed gene pool. Rather, loss of genes occurs through selection: the use and non-use of offspring. If a breed starts limiting their focus to breeding stock from a limited number of lines, then a loss of genetic diversity will occur.
The process of maintaining healthy lines, with many breeders crossing between lines and breeding back as they see fit, maintains diversity in the gene pool. If some breeders outbreed, and some linebreed to certain dogs that they favor while others linebreed to other dogs that they favor, then breedwide genetic diversity is maintained. It is the varied opinion of breeders as to what constitutes the ideal dog, and their selection of breeeding stock based on their opinions, that maintains breed diversity.
The most important factor for diminished genetic diversity in dog breeds is the popular sire syndrome. The overuse of a popular sire beyond a reasonable contribution through frequent breedings significantly skews the gene pool in this direction, and reduces the diversity of the gene pool. Any genes that he possesses – whether positive or negative – will increase in frequency. Through this founder’s effect, breed related genetic disease can occur. Another insidious effect of the popular sire syndrome is the loss of genetic contribution from quality, unrelated males who are not used for breeding. There is a finite number of quality bitches bred each year. If one male is used in an inordinate amount of matings, there will be fewer females left for these quality males that should be contributing to the gene pool. The popular sire syndrome is a significant factor in both populous breeds and breeds with small populations.
The best methods for ensuring the health and diversity of a breed’s gene pool are to:
- Avoid the popular sire syndrome.
- Utilize quality dogs from the breadth of your population to expand the gene pool.
- Monitor genetic health issues through regular health surveys.
- Do genetic testing for breed-related disorders.
- Participate in open health registries, such as CHIC (www.caninehealthinfo.org) to manage genetic disorders.
(This article can be reprinted with the written permission from the author: email@example.com)
Related article – Outcrossing Does Not Equal Gene Pool Diversity
Photograph courtesy of Susan Roy Nelson is not intended to illustrate any point in the article, it is presented for your viewing pleasure only.