All the Gordon Setter health clearance links in one place. If we’ve missed any, or there is information here that needs updating please be sure to send us a comment or an email at: firstname.lastname@example.org
As with any question, ask several breeders the same question and you’ll get several different answers. When it comes to acting responsibly as a breeder to bring healthy Gordon Setter puppies into the world it’s agreed that completing certain health clearances on breeding animals before any mating occurs should be a priority. However, ask any breeder which tests are necessary or which certifications are the most important – that could become a topic for debate. For purposes of this article, we are listing the screening tests that address health issues that pertain to the Gordon Setter along with where to obtain or find proof of existing certification. These screening tests are suggested tools that will prepare you to make informed breeding choices that will affect the health of many future generations of Gordon Setters. Canine Hip Dysplasia (CHD) – screening/certification organizations. Click any of the active…
The face of breeding, as I’ve known it, has changed considerably since I first joined the ranks of Gordon Setter breeders in the 70’s. So much more information is readily available, resources for every question can be found at the touch of a keyboard, cross-country breeding is accomplished without shuffling the bitch off to the airport, and the availability of genetic tests is growing quickly to theoretically help us breed healthier dogs. But are we, the breeders, utilizing the results of those tests with a consciousness that will improve the overall health of the breed or could misguided perception and dwindling numbers cause the downfall of the breed instead?
I just read, and then reread an article written by a Corgi breeder Joanna Kimball – “How We Must Change as Breeders and Why – A Football Field of Dogs” published in Best In Show Daily(point and click on the bold title to link to the article). Joanna raised some valid points regarding breeding that I believe bear discussion among Gordon Setter breeders. I hope you’ll join me here in considering some of those points and then by sharing your own perceptions, agreements or disagreements as they be.
First the assumption that as a breeder we should all agree that only a very few dogs should ever be bred – is this true? The breeder’s thought process as Joanna wrote is “I should be as picky as possible, first health-test everybody, prove that each dog is healthy, make sure that only the ones who are incredibly high-quality in terms of conformation and show success are allowed to breed. I should build the next ten thousand dogs from the most elite pool of this one.” That’s the conventional wisdom, the way “good breeders” do everything, right?
In fact, Joanna says we should bear in mind that “EVERY DOG WHO IS REMOVED FROM THE POPULATION HURTS THAT POPULATION.” To maintain health in any breed we need to understand the need for genetic variation, and to retain genetic variation we need to be breeding from many lines, to many sires not only the one or two most popular sires and so on.
I often want to go back to when I was younger, just starting out, and in this case I’m talking about the days when breeding wasn’t a four letter word and the propaganda of animal rights activists hadn’t put us all under their spell. The spell that makes breeders feel self-righteous for eliminating as many dogs as we can from the breeding pool because breeding is, after all, a very bad word. As the battery of DNA tests for genetic disorders continues to rise breeders are feeling satisfied as we believe we are gaining ground on health issues. But, should we also be considering that we might be losing ground on genetic diversity as we eliminate more and more dogs from the breeding pool with those tests?
Joanna states in another point “SINCE EVERY DOG THAT IS REMOVED FROM THE POPULATION HURTS THE POPULATION, WE MUST REMOVE ONLY THOSE WHOSE PRESENCE WOULD HURT IT EVEN MORE.” To me this is like saying “Don’t throw the baby out with the bath water”. A common sense approach would include knowing what health condition could cause the death of our Gordon Setters, or what health condition would ruin the quality of life for our dogs, before making breeding choices based primarily on health testing, testing that if used incorrectly could eliminate other necessary qualities from the breed’s gene pool. Using testing to learn what, if any, health condition might be passed from one generation to the next is a wonderful tool, but it is not the only tool that a breeder should be using. Utilizing health testing to obtain the appropriate result in breeding requires very judicious application on the part of the breeder, who must also keep in mind the continued genetic diversity of the gene pool, as well as the overall soundness of the breed both physically and mentally.
Why, for example, would one choose to breed an OFA fair bitch to a dog because he had OFA good or excellent hips but also carried an unsound front, instead of breeding her to an OFA fair dog who is sound and beautifully moving both front and rear? In this case the breeder might get one or two additional puppies with better hip ratings (might) but the breeder will also be adding some puppies with those unsound fronts? Did the breeder really improve the breed or the gene pool with that breeding? Or, what about choosing to breed the Rcd4 carrier bitch to the Rcd4 clear dog whose parents both died of cancer at age 7, instead of breeding to the Rcd4 carrier dog whose parents died of old age at 13. We don’t have DNA tests for cancer available for Gordon Setters, but we do know that cancer causes the death of many Gordon Setters before their time, and we know the history of certain cancers can be prevalent in families. By theory, 25% of the puppies in the Rcd4 carrier to carrier litter could be affected, and at age 10 there may be one, perhaps even two of those affected dogs who might (there’s that word might again) go blind from late onset PRA. Doesn’t the carrier to carrier litter – as a whole – have a better chance of living a healthy, happy life until old age takes them from us? Which choice does a breeder make and how does it affect the diversity of the gene pool? What if the breeder decides not to do either breeding because they don’t like the health choices? Can the diversity and size of the gene pool continue to be maintained if this were to be the constant decision?
So, why all this fuss about the gene pool, and gene pool diversity, and strength and size of the gene pool? A relatively simple example to help us understand is to look at the mixed breed population, and their reputation for being “healthier” than their purebred counterparts. Why is that? Genetic diversity is solidly at play. Odds are there are no common ancestors for generations in the pedigree of any mixed breed dog. A huge and diverse gene pool lies behind the mixed breed.
Before you decide I might be plumb crazy talking here about an issue with the size of gene pool let me ask you if you’ve read and absorbed, yes absorbed to the point where it makes perfect sense to you, the article at the Institute of Canine Biology by Carol Beachat PhD “Is your breed drifting?” (point and click on the bold printed title to link to this article)
As I look at the Gordon Setter in general, comparing them to other purebred dog breeds, I believe that Gordon Setters have relatively few genetic health issues that occur regularly. We are lucky in that respect. However, we cannot hope to improve the health characteristics we’d like to change, if our gene pool continues to shrink to the point where the majority of dogs are related, where there is not sufficient diversity to enact change. We need a diverse and a large population and we need responsible breeders who understand how to accomplish those health driven goals while maintaining the integrity of the breed.
As I look at dog show entries, where the rubber meets the road when it comes to proving the merit of our breeding stock, I find an ever decreasing number of Gordon Setter entries along with a decreasing number of new faces joining the ranks of breeders. Those who are showing today find ourselves scrambling to locate shows where there will be points, majors are difficult if not impossible to find unless sometimes you can bring your own entry – which accomplishes what exactly as far as improving the breed when you’ve finished a dog simply by winning over your own breeding? Specialties are struggling to build 5 point majors and many are no longer able to do so, despite offering two shows in one day. Our National Specialty entries have dropped from all time highs of between 450 to 550 dogs in ’93, ’94, and ’95 to approximately 220 entries for 2015, half the number that were participating 20 years ago. Fewer entries, fewer breeders, fewer litters equals a smaller gene pool and thus loss of genetic diversity. To me this issue is two-fold; as breeders we need to appropriately and wisely utilize health testing without the elimination of too many dogs from the gene pool, and secondly we need to address the shrinking gene pool by understanding that we need to bring new breeder/exhibitors on to follow in our footsteps, to pick up the reins and drive on.
Many of you have been at this breeding/exhibiting thing for a while now. I’m curious how you feel about these concerns or better yet do you even believe there are such concerns? What would you change if you believe change is needed? How would you drive change? What do you think could be utilized to bring about improvement? Who do you believe is responsible for leading change in the breed? Can or should breeders accept responsibility for driving change? How can breeders mentor others? So many questions and opinions, let’s start a discussion by sharing them, discussion is the first step. Your thoughts and comments are very welcome here, do remember to be respectful of others please.
For those of you who are Gordon owners but perhaps not involved in breeding and showing, what might entice you to change your focus, what would drive your interest in showing/breeding Gordon Setters? How would you want to learn? Who would you want to learn from? As above, your respectful thoughts and comments are welcome here.
To share your thoughts you may use the reply field at the very bottom of this article or click “Leave a Comment” at the very top of this article.
I’d like us to talk to each other people, as I believe change is needed and that is why I write this blog for you…to bring change through the sharing of information, common goals, and a love for our breed, the Gordon Setter.
Thank you Jerold S. Bell for your permission to reprint this article.
Late-onset (rcd-4) progressive retinal atrophy in Gordon Setters:
Where are we, and where do we go from here?
Jerold S Bell DVM,Clinical Associate Professor of Genetics, Tufts Cummings School of Veterinary Medicine
(This article originally appeared in the August, 2011 TarTan Tidings)
Most owners have now received their rcd-4 PRA test results from the Animal Health Trust that were collected at the GSCA National Specialty in Ohio in June 2011. The AHT reports that of the 107 cheek swabs submitted from the collection; 3% test as affected (two copies of the defective gene), 30% test as carrier (one defective and one normal copy), and 67% test as clear (two normal copies of the gene).
The AHT previously reported a 50% carrier rate worldwide for the defective gene in Gordon Setters. However, this included all of the initial families of affected dogs that were used in the research to find the defective gene. The 30% carrier frequency from the dogs collected at the 2011 National probably represents a more accurate breed-wise US carrier frequency.
The rcd-4 gene that causes Gordon Setter PRA is one that similarly causes autosomal recessive late-onset progressive retinal atrophy in man. Owners of dogs who received affected test results are probably surprised with the result, and find no vision problems with their dogs. This is because this is a late-onset disorder. It was originally reported that the average onset of this form of PRA was around 10 years of age. This is the average age of Gordon Setters recognized with visual impairment that test affected with rcd-4 PRA. The actual age of onset of Gordon Setter rcd-4 PRA is possibly much older; with may affected dogs never reaching the age of onset of visual impairment. In addition, owners of very old Gordon Setters with visual impairment may believe that it is “normal” for old dogs to not see well, and do not pursue a diagnosis of PRA. The fact of the matter is that there is a range of age of onset for the clinical signs of Gordon Setter rcd-4 PRA where some may slowly lose their vision at younger than 10 years of age, and some may never show clinical signs of a vision problem.
Rcd-4 PRA is not the only inherited PRA in the breed. It has been shown that there is an earlier-onset PRA in the breed, with an average onset of 5 years of age. Some Gordon Setters clinically affected with this form of PRA and their parents have tested clear of the defective rcd-4 gene, proving that there are two separate genetic PRA disorders in the breed. Dr. Cathryn Mellersh at the AHT (email@example.com) is currently searching for the defective gene causing this form of PRA in the breed, and is interested in cheek swab samples from affected dogs and their close relatives.
Because there is more than one form of PRA in the breed, and because Gordon Setters can also have other disorders of the eyelids, cornea, lens, and retina, the rcd-4 genetic test does not replace the need for annual CERF examinations of the eyes. (since original publication of this article CERF is no longer operating see OFA website instead.) The most important thing that we need to do about rcd-4 PRA is to not devastate the Gordon Setter gene pool with widespread spaying/neutering, and the removing of quality dogs from breeding. Aside from the loss of quality dogs, the breed cannot withstand the removal of 30% of breeding dogs from the gene pool and maintain breed genetic diversity. This is the first direct gene test that is available for the breed, but it will not be the last. We must all recognize that the proper use of genetic tests for recessive disease is to breed quality carrier dogs to quality clear dogs, and replace the carrier parent with a clear-testing offspring that is of equal or better quality. If a quality dog that you determine deserves to be bred tests as a carrier, you certainly can and should breed the dog. You must make a decision counter to the emotional reaction when you received the carrier test result. Making a decision to not breed a quality dog based on a single testable gene is not appropriate. As long as carriers are not bred to carriers, no affected dogs will be produced. This is a testable and controllable gene. By dealing with rcd-4 PRA in an objective and informed manner, we can continue to produce quality Gordon Setters and work away from this single hereditary disorder. The goal is to slowly decrease the carrier frequency in the population and slowly replace carrier breeding stock with normal offspring. This will take many generations. A genetic test should not alter who gets bred, only who the dog gets bred to. For more information, please refer to the articles in the February TarTan Tidings (or the March, 2011 GSCA Newsletter).
Lastly, it is important to remember that this is about the dogs. We belong to a community that loves Gordon Setters. No one wants to produce carrier or affected dogs. The stigmatizing of breeders and quality dogs due to carrier status is an old, outdated and unacceptable practice. We need to be able to raise the level of conversation to constructive communication. We should all report rcd-4 test results on our dogs to the OFA open health databases. This includes clear, carrier, and affected dogs. An application form is available in the DNA tests section of the OFA website. The application should be mailed with a copy of the official test results from the Animal Health Trust. The fee for entering rcd-4 results into the OFA database is $15 for clear and carrier dogs, and is free for dogs testing affected. As more genetic tests become available, we will find that there are no “perfect” dogs. By working together we can improve our breeding attitudes, our breeding programs, and the overall health of the Gordon Setter breed.
(This article originally appeared in the August, 2011 TarTan Tidings)
(This article can be reprinted by permission of the author firstname.lastname@example.org)
As with any question, ask several breeders the same question and you’ll get several different answers. When it comes to acting responsibly as a breeder to bring healthy Gordon Setter puppies into the world it’s agreed that completing certain health clearances on breeding animals before any mating occurs should be a priority. However, ask any breeder which tests are necessary or which certifications are the most important – that could become a topic for debate. For purposes of this article, we are listing the screening tests that address health issues that pertain to the Gordon Setter along with where to obtain or find proof of existing certification. These screening tests are suggested tools that will prepare you to make informed breeding choices that will affect the health of many future generations of Gordon Setters.
Canine Hip Dysplasia (CHD) – screening/certification organizations. Click any of the active links below to be taken directly to that website for complete information.
OFA – Cleared by Parentage Certification replaces the need for testing.
As a breeder it would be also important to understand the role CHIC plays for future genetic research. Canine Health Information Center (CHIC) Please see our previously published article by Jerold S. Bell DVM The CHIC DNA Repository for Gordon Setter for more complete information regarding this organization. Briefly Dr. Bell’s opening stated… “The CHIC DNA repository is a joint project of the AKC Canine Health Foundation (CHF), the Orthopedic Foundation for Animals (OFA), and the Canine Health Information Center (CHIC). It is open to all breeds of dogs. The stated objectives of the program are to: Facilitate more rapid research progress by expediting the sample collection process; Provide researchers with optimized family groups needed for research; Allow breeders to take advantage of future DNA based disease tests as they become available; and to Foster a team environment between breeders/owners and the research community improving the likelihood of genetic discovery.” Additional Links: GSCA Health Survey 2004 Results
We are dedicated to building a knowledge base and a sharing site for those who are involved in all of the various aspects of competition with Gordon Setters, competitions that showcase the Gordon Setter’s Beauty, Brains and Bird-Sense.