Thursday, 15 May 2014

Breeding - not bitching - for the future

Yep. I failed.
For close on 10 years, I have hung out on canine genetics lists, pages and groups. I've learned a lot and 'met' some smart and inspiring dog people, some of whom have become friends. But, very often, the discussions descend into a bun-fight. (Sometimes it has to be said caused by my presence, although not by anything I say there - I keep the ranty stuff for here.)

On one side are breeders keen to maintain type who have been taught that 'linebreeding' is the only way to achieve it; on the other are those exploring diversity breeding and/or whose priority is function rather than form.  Both camps have keyboard warriors who can be withering about the other. The debates often get polarised, agenda-driven and personal.

In real life we can shrug and accept that it simply isn't possible to agree on everything. But social media fosters a level of jaw-dropping ugliness that few of us would sink to if we were talking to someone in person.

Yesterday, my post on Tickle was cross-posted as follows:

Rose Jay followed it up with a PM telling me I was responsible for the deaths of thousands of dogs. She believes that following Pedigree Dogs Exposed, people with pedigree dogs were so afraid of their gasping, limping genetic time bombs that they took them to the vet to be euthanised or handed them into rescues where they were subsequently killed.

There is no evidence for this other than a couple of anecdotal stories - one a Cavalier apparently PTS because its owners were so afraid that it would develop syringomyelia.

I tried to stand the stories up at the time and couldn't.  And I don't believe many vets would agree to kill an animal on these grounds. If there are other, genuine instances that stand up beyond internet gossip, I would appreciate knowing about them.

Now in posting the above screen-grab and in not blurring Rose Jay's name, I realise I am indulging in the very behaviour that I am criticising above.

But hey. My blog.

I'm posting it mostly to articulate the hurt it has caused at a time when I am crushed over the loss of a dog. Up to 10,000 people a day visit this blog so I can tell a lot of people how hurt I am. Which makes me feel better.

But it also provides a great segue into telling you about someone who is bigger than me; someone who has risen above the social media bitching to do something genuinely useful for dogs and breeders.

Two years ago, as I blogged here, Carol Beuchat set up the Institute of Canine Biology, an online resource designed to bridge the gap between science and breeders in a positive way.

Since then, Carol has been busy. She is running online courses in population genetics for dog breeders; encouraging the setting up of global pedigree databases and bringing in geneticists, conservationists, breeders and other experts to help with breed conservation/rescue plans. There has been huge demand.

And now Carole has taken another important step. Frustrated by the merry-go-round discussions and descents-into-chaos that so often mark online dog-breeding groups, she has set up a Facebook page called ICB Breeding for the Future which aims for a higher signal-to-noise ratio.

Its mission?
The goal of this group is to assist breeders in implementing modern, scientific principles in their breeding programs. This is not a place to debate whether this is worth doing, and I will absolutely not tolerate people who are here just to be disruptive - they will be blocked instantly. This needs to be a supportive, safe, place for breeders need to learn what they need to know, and it needs to feel like a community of collaborators. We are focused like a laser on helping breeders learn how they can breed excellent, healthy purebred dogs.
The page has attracted 500 breeders from all over the world in just two days - representing an extraordinary array of breeds, many mainstream, some of which are new to me.  Remarkable is the appetite to learn and the general awareness from many of those introducing themselves that there is a need for something new.

This is the Institute of Biology's elevator pitch - which will give you an idea of what you're letting yourself in for:

1) All the useful genetic variation your breed will ever have was in the dogs that founded the breed. This genetic diversity is finite.

2) Every generation, alleles are lost by chance (genetic drift) and also by artificial selection by breeders, who select for dogs with the traits they like, and remove other dogs from the breeding population.

3) Because the stud book is closed, genes that are lost cannot be replaced.

4) So,  from the moment a breed is founded and the stud book is closed, loss of genetic diversity over time is inevitable and relentless.

5) You cannot remove a single gene from a population. You must remove an entire dog, and all the genes it has.

6) You cannot select for or against a single gene, because genes tend to move in groups with other genes. If you select for (or against) one, you select for (or against) them all.

7) Breeding for homozygosity of some traits breeds for homozygosity of all traits. Homozygosity is the kiss of death to the immune system. And as genetic variability decreases, so does the ability of the breeder to improve a breed through selection, because selection it requires variability.

The consequences of inbreeding (in all animals) are insidious but obvious if you look - decreased fertility, difficulty whelping, smaller litters, higher puppy mortality, puppies that don't thrive, shorter lifespan, etc. Genetically healthy dogs should get pregnant if mated. They should have large litters of robust puppies, with low pup mortality. Animals that cannot produce viable offspring are removed by natural selection.

9) Mutations of dominant genes are removed from the population if they reduce fitness. Mutations of recessive alleles have no effect unless they are homozygous. So rare alleles are not removed, and every animal has them.

10) Create a bunch of puppies that have a (previously) rare mutation, and the frequency of that bad allele in the population increases, so the chance of homozygosity increases.

11) Genetic disorders caused by recessive alleles don't "suddenly appear" in a breed. The defective gene was probably there all along. Make a zillion copies, and you have a disease.

12) Using DNA testing to remove disease genes will not make dogs healthier (see 2, 5, and 6).

13) The breed will continue to lose genes (by chance or selection) until the gene pool of the breed no longer has the genes necessary to build a healthy dog.

14) At this point, the breed might look beautiful (because of selection for type), but will suffer from the ill effects of genetic impoverishment.

15) The only way to improve the health of a breed is to manage the health of the breed's gene pool.

16) The health of individual dogs cannot be improved without improving the genetic health of the population. Population genetics provides the tools for genetic management of populations of animals.

17) Breeders can improve the health of the dogs they breed if they understand and use the tools of population genetics.
Now be warned: Carol is a straight-speaker. She can be a little schoolmarmy at times. She doesn't brook any messing about in class. And some of what she will tell you turns some long-embraced breeder tenets upside down.

DNA testing won't make dogs healthier? Who knew?

Carol's plan is to ask for a small subscription so that she can afford both to devote her time to it - and be able to bring in the professionals as needed.

But it's free at the moment. And promises to be a genuinely supportive, collaborate venture for those who love dogs and whose breeding decisions shape their future.

Check it out here.

Related post: Dogs - the Elevator Pitch


  1. In the 1990's, Dr. John Armstrong founded the original, the REAL CANGEN listserver. It was hosted out of the University of Ottawa.

    It was a non-stop graduate seminar in dog genetics and dogs, and yes, had as its absolute premise the understanding that the principles of biology that apply to all sexually-reproducing animals apply to domestic dogs.

    Alas, with the lovely Dr. Armstrong's untimely death, and later the loss of list hosting from Ottawa, CANGEN was hijacked by those whose interest in continuing to win ribbons the way they always have shouts out the scientific reality and ethical repercussions of their hobby.

    Climate scientists and those who accept science don't have time to chat with oil companies about *whether* anthropogenic climate change is happening. They need to explore why and how and exactly what is happening, and what can be done.

    Same thing with anthropogenic genetic destruction of purpose-bred domestic animals.

    Twenty years on, why are we still letting the canine oil companies distract us from doing what needs to be done?

    1. Like Heather, I also was a member of John Armstrong's Canine Genetics group back in the late 1990s. It was a wonderful group bringing together geneticists and biologists and some of the greatest dog breeders, as well as many other dog breeders who were there to learn to read and learn. It was a two way reciprocal experience where the dog breeders learned from the scientists, but the scientists also learned from the dog breeders and respected their experience
      It was a huge loss when John Armstrong died and the group was taken over by a moderator, who would not tolerate or allow any real open debate.
      I followed the first ICB population genetics course and really appreciated the systematic presentation of research and literature which was available there. All carefully filed away so I could go back to each topic whenever I need to lay my hands on it again, and leaving me a lot more able to articulate the case for breeding in a different way to achieve more genetic diversity and healthier and functional dogs.
      What I found harder to live with was the refusal to allow comment or debate between people doing the course, if you had a question it was to be directed to the course tutors who would reply. It seems the new group is going to be run the same way, and has already been told that members are not to make comments or engage in discussion among themselves . The ICB has people with PhDs who will answer any questions!
      Seems to me this is making the assumption that dog breeders are an ignorant and uneducated lot who need educating by the people with PhDs (but not a lot of practical experience of dog breeding) . Looking down the list of people from all around the world who have joined the group, I can see a number of old members of John Armstrong's original group (who thought they might be able to help the new group) as well as some very distinguished dog breeders with decades of experience behind them (and some with pretty good academic credentials as well, even a PhD or two).
      Well, I kept my mouth shut on the ICB course I completed , so I could at least make use of all the course material. But cant help feeling this is not the way John Armstrong would have managed a group - he would have got the best out of everybody who wanted to contribute, whether scientists, dog breeders - or even the occasional journalist /writer/film maker

      Seeing a new group with many of the old Cangen people joining (great to see the likes of Vladimir Beregevoy and Susan Bragg back again) , I just want to enjoy the same brilliant level of informed discussion that we had when John Armstrong was there. While I hugely value the input of geneticists and biologists, not sure I want dog breeding to be entirely dictated by them. It should be a partnership of people who have different inputs which complement each other

    2. I also was a bit thrown by this - and I agree that there are some (many) amazing breeders whose experience is invaluable. But, elsewhere, Carol asks that people think carefully before they comment and make it factual and helpful so I think/hope there is room for contributions by others.

      Let's see how it goes. Her page. Her rules. ;-)

      And I for one would be very relieved to not see it descend into a pointed free-for-all as it so often does elsewhere.

  2. this is why we have the "great divide' when people like Heather ( and you by the way but you already know that) use words like "win ribbons" and ' gasping, limping genetic time bombs " how in the world do you expect the two groups to come together.? I am sorry about Tickle.. it is always hard to lose a dog .. even a "gasping, limping genetic time bomb" that you continue to berate here but for some reason you expect lots of sympathy for yourself but none for those that lose their dogs that they love.. and you tell them they are just flat our stupid for buying a dog that they want.. and love as much as you loved Tickle. Ethics are different for everyone. I am sure yours are not the same as mine but to call people out by name and shame them because they do not think they way you dog is just as bad as the post above. But as you say your blog.. so have at it.. meanwhile we all lose dogs we love.. your loss is felt by anyone who has shared it .. sometimes i do not feel that you reciprocate.

    1. Well of course there isn't a scrap of evidence to suggest I don't care if someone loses their dog - and quite a lot of evidence to the contrary.

      Surely, Jan, it is the one thing that should unite everyone on all sides of this debate?

      Please do check out the ICB Breeding for the Future page.

    2. If you have access to the information. (which everyone does!) there is no excuse for not educating yourself. Either you are willing to do what is in the best interests of canine genetic health and welfare. Or you are not. Either you are in or out. And if you are out you are part of the problem. You are directly responsible for causing suffering, pain to sentient beings and for misleading people and for using selfish excuses to continue along the same path of genetic self destruction. Ribbons and piffle.
      -It's just not up for debate anymore by people who are well read on the science and evidence and are intelligent enough to understand the consequences of their actions.

      You, clearly are not. As for ethics, you need to go and look up what that actually means. You seem to be confused. There are no ethics that exist to justify breeding sick and deformed animals.

      As for Jemima expecting sympathy, that sums up your mentality doesn't it? You think the time and effort somebody makes to do a vocation and write a blog where people write comments like mine and yours is actually to satisfy their own ego?

      Expecting sympathy or simply wanting to share with like minded people who understand the heartbreak of losing a best friend, pedigree or mutt it's irrelevant.

      I think that no matter what Jemima does you will always criticise it. Good job that the people who understand the bigger picture don't view her as a threat, but as a change agent and a force for good in the world.

      Jemima is a part of the solution for the future health of dogs. Bestuvall, your post reflects that YOU continue to be part of the problem.

      Sorry for ranting,

    3. How much money have you donated to canine disease research? Because if your answer is zero you are out not in or do you think that you can write about problems on a blog and they will go away.
      The solution to the future health of dogs is through research not through blogging and reading. Supporting that research by donating time, dogs, DNA and money will be the successful way to make our dogs healthier than ever. SoAnon how much have you given?

    4. Yet again bestuvall you come up trumps. Perhaps if you read around the issues a bit more you'd understand that if people hadn't f*4?'d dogs up in the first place by selecting for form and exaggeration over function, then breed clubs wouldn't be trying to raise money for genetic markers.

      What is the point of spending thousands for IVDD genetic research in miniature dachsunds when you could select for longer legs and shorter backs in the first place?!!

      The future health of dogs requires people to stop screwing them up by continuing to line breed and selecting for looks. The genetic research now is unfortunately just fire fighting. Possibly too late for a lot of breeds too, particularly when people are focusing on this as the answer to the problem.

      Genetics and DNA research is not the holy's understanding WHY people continue this barbaric cruelty to dogs in the light of empiricism. How much money people have given to research is irrelevant! The best way to stop this is simply not to buy pedigree dogs. No demand, no supply. We need fewer well bred dogs. The whole system needs to change. And that starts with education...

    5. Yes, we need to invest in cancer research. At the same time, we need to start breeding dogs who can at least FUNCTION. But, of course, "Pain is purely a human concept."

  3. I'm not gonna dwell on your loss - I don't believe anything I can say or do here will lessen your pain. I read both posts at the time they were put up and mourned and cried, and I am praying that your sorrow will soon fade away.

    As for the ICB group, I was introduced to it on Tuesday by someone I met on a Brazilian group about new breeding guidelines. It was a BIG surprise to see your name there on a comment, as in
    Let's see where this gets us dog lovers and breeders, eh. :D

    1. I am not, and never have been, the enemy.

    2. I really didn't understand that one. :P I'm an avid follower here and a big fan of yours - I was absolutely thrilled to see you in the same group. Sorry if it sounded off. xD

    3. Jemima, yes you are & always have been & more than likely always will be the enemy. What else would you call someone who wants to destroy all purebred dogs, who wants to turn all dogs into long snouted, prick eared, medium sized, brown mutts, who wants to end dog shows except for the enemy??

    4. Are you being sarcastic, Trish? These days I can't tell anymore.

  4. I am disgusted that someone uses the loss of your dog to try to score a point.

    I lost a young Dane suddenly and was accused of killing it and others before it. It broke my heart and was far from the truth.He died of a rare cancer. The other dogs I killed died from genetic problems.

    I do have pedigree dogs and am involved with breeders and show people but am for anything that will help prevent genetic problems. Too much has been swept under the carpet in the past.

    So sorry that you have had to deal with disgusting posts. My heart goes out to you x

  5. Hmm. Wonder what this Rose Jay has contributed to dog welfare in her lifetime?? Anyone??

    What a terribly insensitive women. You can genuinely hold your head up high Jemima and know you have impacted the dog world as a whole and forced changes for the better. Ok, so the changes made are still small, but they are directly as a result of PDE.

    My thoughts are with you on the loss of your beloved Tickle. I read the past two blog posts, and felt every emotion along with you. Dreading the time I have to let my first dog go :(


  6. UrbanCollieCHick15 May 2014 at 19:42

    I just explained the Wycliffe affect on Poodles to someone at work who came to me, thinking I'd support his statement to a colleague..."Why would you spend thousands on a labradoodle, which is a MUTT? You may as well spend that on a golden or a poodle!"

    Hardly that simple.

    Anyway, I'm sending him "The Problem With Poodles" via the Institute! I refer to it often. It's a wonderful effort!

    1. Well, giving money to someone to breed poodles with a breed completely dissimilar to them to sell as novelties with a silly name doesn't exactly do anything to address the Wycliffe bottleneck, does it? All it does is encourage the black market trade in stolen pups with no papers and put in disrepute by association anyone breeding poodles and doing outcrosses to different sizes of poodles or phenotypically similar breeds to broaden the gene pool. >:-(

    2. UrbanCollieChick16 May 2014 at 00:06

      I do think the names are silly. Beyond that, stolen pups, disrepute by association with said stolen pups, etc, can all happen without breeding poodles to dissimilar dogs. That stuff can all happen with all sorts of purebreds. And there is good and bad in poodle cross breeders. Cannot paint them with a broad brush.

      So, what to d

    3. Fair point, Anon.

      I am unaware of any outcrossing to phenotypically similar breeds though, either in Poodles or other breeds. I would love to learn more.

  7. 22 years ago I started breeding Labradoodles and when I launched a web site in 1995 discovered the meaning of "flaming". In John Armstrong's discussion list I found the only dog breeding forum where I could discuss genetics and the theoretical aspects of crossbreeding and make a comment without being abused. Some very strong disapproval yes, but not the outright offensive and often obscene hostility that eventually led me to stop bothering to try and develop a public discussion of the rationale and science behind crossbreeding practices.

    Since then, in spite of endless hostility and abuse of breeders, crossbred dogs (and poodle crosses in particular) have become the pets of choice for families in most of the english speaking world.

    Good crossbreeding practices (yes there are good and bad ways to breed crossbred dogs) depend on good purebred dogs. I am delighted to see that John Armstrong's work is being taken up again ... but will there ever be any forum where serious Canis lupus familiaris breeders can openly discuss all the ways in which this species can be bred to ensure its long term survival?

    1. I'm astonished at how long it has taken for genetics to filter down through the dog breeding community. 25-years-ago A-Level Biology students were being taught about the perils of inbreeding, including inbreeding depression. I knew a science teacher who was a show-dog breeder, and she bred half-brother, half-sister litters. This breeder was knowledgeable about genetics, so really didn't have any excuse.

      25-years-later and most dog breeders are STILL in denial about genetics.

  8. I would say your work has mainly had a positive effect on the dog world, especially when it comes to highlighting the problems with brachy breeds, which so many were completely naive about.
    The ONLY thing I would say I have seen as a negative from your work is this: the increase in people buying crossbreeds under the belief they will be healthier.

    I hang out on a lot of dog forums, and so many times since PDE have I see people who have gone out to a crappy BYB and purchased a cross breed puppy with no health tests, and proudly gone on about how it MUST be healthier than my dog because its a cross. Sometimes they've even quoted PDE almost word for word.

    My dog is a pedigree, and he is from fully health tested lines who were also worked, proving his family is very much able to do the job they were bred for, and very much fit for function. No-one can say a BYB cross breed is healthier than a well bred pedigree.

    But I have seen a rise in people getting designer crosses on the strength that 'pedigree dogs are all unhealthy'. I think thats the only real damaging thing that may have come from PDE: people turning away from reputable pedigree breeders who do things right, to acquire a crossbreed from someone who does things wrong, and believing thats the more ethical choice.

    And obviously that would not have been your intention to push people to BYBs rather than reputable pedigree breeders, I understand that, and you can't help how people choose to act on your message. But I feel that perhaps if more was mentioned about health tests and how getting a healthy dog is down to way more than just whether they're a pedigree or a cross, that would be beneficial to dogs.

    Whether a dog is unhealthy or short lived or not is due to a huge number of factors (a major one being diet, which is rarely touched on) and it isn't as simple as 'cross breed = healthy, pedigree = unhealthy'. But this seems to be what some people now think.
    The message the public needs is to back healthy dogs and good breeders, regardless of whether the dog is a pedigree or a crossbreed.
    I know my dogs mum, dad, grandparents, great grandparents etc. I have been given all available info about any disease present in his family's past, he's from health tested lines, and there is no way someone getting a crossbreed puppy from the guy down the road is getting a healthier dog than my boy.
    If someone chooses a crossbreed from a breeder who follows the same ethics as a good pedigree breeder, ie, health tests, a clear genetic history that has been improved and worked on and so on, then thats no problem at all. Sadly, I've not yet met a breeder of crosses who is doing that. One of the reasons I picked a breeder dog rather than a rescue was for health assurance (as much as is possible) and so I knew he had a healthy mum, dad, grandparents, great grandparents and beyond and could be better assured of what I was getting, health and temperament wise.

    Not your fault, of course, that people have taken the message a bit wonky. But I don't remember seeing so much black and white views on pedigree vs cross before PDE came out :/

    1. Well isn't it a matter of people doing their own research? And if people are thinking in black and white, that reflects their own way of looking at the world surely? Nobody is dictating what people should do, it's up to individuals to decide. All you can do is provide the information and hope that people are educated enough to think rationally and form their own opinions. People have also misinterpreted Richard Dawkins' aetheist views. He has said that he has never been in the art of coercion but simply wants people to have the opportunity to look at an alternative view and then decide for themselves. If they still believe in God, despite having read his books, then that is their own decision that he respects. Just because people are passionate, driven and maybe strident about something does not mean they are dictating what other people should do.

      I choose to adopt. It's a moral and ethical decision and a personal one. I'd never buy a pedigree or crossbred puppy but if I was in the market for a puppy, I would have on my checklist that the breeders had signed up to Carol's page. Breed standards do not measure up to the 21st century requirements for pet dogs. We really need to focus on well bred pet dogs and stop using words like pedigree and cross breed. They have a lot of baggage attached to them and have become loaded words due to people's black and white thinking!

      There is a study that indicated that cross bred or mutts live on average 1.8 years longer than pedigree dogs. When you think about the average life of a dog, that points me in that direction....

    2. Zippy;

      I would argue people who were going to buy purebred pedigree pups from "knowledgeable breeders" who
      - select their dogs for function rather than form,
      - only breed healthy stock & health test for hidden health issues
      - try to ensure genetic diversity in the matches
      These are not the people who are being affected by "the cross-bred craze". These people understand and appreciate purebred dogs and have likely had a great deal of "success" with them.

      Rather people who previously would have purchased a purebred dog from the local breeder are the ones being affected. They bought into the "purebred hype" - they thought that all breeders who cared enough to breed purebred dogs were "knowledgeable" breeders, and that purebreds were therefore healthier, happier, better dogs. Media coverage at the time certainly supported this.

      Now after the drastic change in media coverage and public perception, they buy into the "crossbred hype", they're still not checking for knowledgeable breeders for the most part, and they do not always understand that hybrid vigor mostly applies only to the F1 generation, but heck, at least now "genetic variation" is on their checklist when they pick their new companion! And many of them are going to enjoy more success with their new companion than they previously did.

    3. Anon 7:25. People cannot do their research if there is no information. If you get a dog from a shelter or pet shop, odds are against you ever knowing anything about the health or temperament aspects of its sire or dam, much less sibplings, grandsire/dam, etc. If you buy from a good breeder, you have at least have a chance of knowing aspects of genetic heritage that go with its pedigree. A responsible breeder won't breed from dogs with epilepsy, serious allergies, HD, OCD, genetic eye problems, etc., and will do what they can to avoid inbreeding and preserve genetic diversity. There is much room for improvement of the pedigree system, and huge need for tracking heritage for mixed breed dogs. But in general, knowing the pedigree is a start in the direction of understanding and improving genetic health.

    4. I hang out on a few big forums too, both American and UK based, and have never seen anyone claim to buy a crossbreed puppy as a direct result of PDE, or even that they might be healthier to be honest. It comes down to sheer lack of education on where the right places to buy ANY puppy is. People who want a puppy "right here, right now", or the people who have the knowledge at their fingertips, or have been given countless advice as to where to search for a reputable puppy are not Jemima's fault and it seems a rather weak excuse to try and pin the blame for people's ignorance on her or the show itself.

    5. Anonymous, well, if you've not seen it, I must be lying!
      Im just telling what I've witnessed.
      I also claimed clearly in my post that I wasn't blaming the show for people's ignorance, I was quite clear on that and said that people should do research themselves. PDE can't be blamed directly for someone making the wrong choice of dog.
      Im surprised you've not heard an increase in people parroting that crossbreeds are healthier: I've seen a lot of that. Also, go have a quick search for dog on preloved or gumtree or any pet sale site, and see how many times you see 'hybrid vigour' on someone's non health tested, thoughtlessly bred litter of crossbreeds. Theres a litter of malamutes x danes on there right this second that speaks proudly of how its a three way cross, which makes hybrid vigour and healthier dogs. Its everywhere.

      Why would I have any reason to badmouth PDE? I like the programme and think all dog owners should see it. I've never said anything but that, and as Im not a breeder or a show person and just have one simple companion dog, I have no agenda to push.
      But I also don't agree that all pedigrees are unhealthy and all crosses are automatically more healthy. It isn't that simple. A badly bred dog is a badly bred dog, regardless of whether its pedigree or cross.

    6. Consider the possibility that the popularity of crosses has stayed the same and people are just using health as one more reason they sell/buy them.

      Also consider the possibility that the popularity of crosses is increasing, but that it has already been increasing even prior to PDE. So to show that PDE actually has an effect on the popularity of crosses, you would need to show that the rate of increase after PDE is higher than the projected rate of increase prior to PDE airing.

      >Im surprised you've not heard an increase in people parroting that crossbreeds are healthier: I've seen a lot of that.

      That's not a bad thing to parrot given that it is true.

      >But I also don't agree that all pedigrees are unhealthy and all crosses are automatically more healthy.

      Nobody but a total idiot would say that, and I have not come across such an idiot. The only people who make such claims are those who put it up as a straw man so they can critique it.

      Mixed breeds are more healthy than pure breeds just like men are taller than women. As a whole/on average/in general, that is the case. That certain type of pure breeders can produce healthier animals than certain type of mixed breeders does not change that basic fact.

    7. If parrotted often enough on the internet it eventially becomes accepted as fact.

      For example, since Collies are sensitive to ivermectin (heartgard) and Border Collies are related to Collies; Border Collies should never be given ivermectin for heartworm preventative because they are also sensitive. This line of thought has been repeated so often on the internet that vets are telling their clients to not use ivermectin on their Border Collies. Thess statements have been proven incorrect on several levels by those doing the research and yet it continues to be accepted as fact.

    8. Ziggy, you might consider that PDE has had essentially zero effect on the general public in the United States, who never viewed it or heard about it, and also zero effect on the fancier institutions in the US, who ignore it when not excoriating the truth that it revealed.

      And yet US dog buyers have also gone over to crossbreds in great droves -- and were doing so before an obscure BBC documentary aired on the other side of the world.

    9. But I'm not convinced US buyers are shifting to crosses due to health concerns; more likely they are buying crosses because it is the current fad.

  9. How very sad Jemima. Totally disgusted with the post by Rose Jay. She was certainly given the right name at birth. Roses have thorns. Unfortunately she chose to use hers at the most inappropriate time. Shame on this woman. No matter what her opinion is she had no right to do such a thing. Anyone who has lost a much loved friend knows the pain and grief this causes. She should have the decency to keep her vindictive thoughts to themselves at such a devastating time.

    1. Yes unfortunately an open invitation for the crackpots to take a shot, it was bound to happen. Even with something as universal as grief.

      Show any "weakness" and wham!

      It doesn't do their case any good and in fact only serves to highlight their fear. Lashing out aggressively and inappropriately is not going to solve our problem of unhealthy pedigree dogs.

      Me thinks it's still a case of shoot the messenger for some.

  10. Ziggy you seem to think "health tests" are the panacea to unhealthy pedigree dogs? You are perhaps more than at least an ocean behind what a simple outcross between a Labrador and a poodle on a puppy farm could achieve in health of pedigree dogs.

    I don't mean to be rude but your own views are as black or white as you here accuse. I understand completely heartfelt too.

    Here is a good piece to read, concentrate on the second half if you like I are not a geneticist by trade, it's not rocket science though often presented as such.

    The problem is if you give just the punch line as in my opening sentences you get the chorus of indignant disbelief and accusation of being.... well exactly what you are accusing Jemima off.

    Making the body supporting the argument/punchline understood is difficult enough without the them versus us mind set.

    Maybe we should all use "we" more often after all it affects the whole of our doggie kingdom not just our own dog back home, "chosen breed" type landrace or rescue.

    1. No, Im simply saying that I've seen an increase in people going to crappy BYBs and not even being aware or concerned with vital things like health tests and proper breeding, because they believe it will inherently be healthier purely by virtue of it being a cross, as if cross breeds never suffer ill health, or can't inherit health issues from ALL the breeds in their mix rather than just the one. Thats simply it. And it worries me. Yes people should do their research, but we all know they don't. I even said many times it wasn't PDEs fault that people don't think for themselves, but the fact is if I hear 'cross breeds are healthier', regardless of their background, or how well they've been bred, I'll go mad. Its not quite as simple as crossbreed = healthy, pedigree = unhealthy. I have known just as many crossbreeds with chronic or debilitating conditions as I have pedigrees.

    2. Yes. To be honest buyers are becoming afraid of believing the "responsible" pedigree show dog breeders universal claim. They should be. It simply doesn't hold true, no matter how many health tests they do to produce those winning dogs they will be linebreeding in a closed register to a model that is winning those ribbons, in some extreme cases even if it can't actually breath.

      As we know that "responsible" claim has come to mean for the majority of these breeders extremely badly bred "pet quality" dogs who are going to more than likely suffer numerous expensive heartbreaking health problems, be they mental or physical. It's a tiny minority that might just get it right sadly even these might be a risk.

      Taking a chance on a cross breed over a pedigree alone is upping the odds on getting a healthy sane pet. Who can blame us.

      Back yard breeders rarely line breed, quite honestly many take much better care of their couple of dogs, sometimes just one bitch than most winning show breeders do or let on to be doing.

      BYBs were getting a bad rap by these so called "responsible" breeders its to be found shouted aloud on almost everyone of these breeders web sites.

      If you were to ask me for example would I prefer a pedigreed JRT from a "responsible" show breeder who does expensive health checks over that litter next door from a bitch (working or not) that I know from daily interaction, observation I would have to say 100% no thank you, without a moments doubt. They are doing fine without the show ring or those pieces of paper proving they are a closed register inbred mess.

      Yes a bit of this and a bit of that finds their way into the breed type all the time some of it good some of it not so good but this is only a plus to have a broad gene base from which to choose or next pet, a very big plus. Mostly these crosses are initially F1 crosses to other breeds.

      At the end of the day when the sun sets and (after a nice G&T perhaps) we go to bed we can leave that constantly nagging worry behind that our dogs might suffer needlessly simply because we chose a pedigree dog bred badly from/for show ring stock within a closed register. Believe me they all give the growing list of diseases, some even go so far as to say acceptable diseases.

      You pays your money but you certainly don't get what you pay for. Why on earth not take a chance on a cross breed?

    3. I have no opposition to cross breeds. I would happily have one some day, But if I did want one, I'd only ever get one from a rescue, or if I wanted one with health tests in place and some family history, I'd go to a breeder of crosses who does things properly. My issue comes in someone dropping £1000 on some 'designer' cross purely because they think its going to automatically be healthier.
      You argue that a cross is upping the chance of a sane healthy pet......thats entirely dependent on the situation!

      I knew when I bought my pup that I was upping my chance of getting a sane healthy dog because I had access to health history for his extensive family, evidence of health tests, and could meet not only his parents but his grandparents and even further back and see that they had the temperament I wanted.
      Thats not a chance you get with a crossbreed from the guy down the road who just had a random litter.
      But I selected my breeder carefully, and someone who bred for temperament, health and from dogs who could, and did, work, and was aware of the problems that can arise from inbreeding was important to me (as I said, my breeder wasn't exactly obsessed with that: he was the only dobe breeder I've met who wanted to outcross to remove DCM, as we discussed, so he was far more concerned with health than looks. In fact, most of his dogs were working dogs, he rarely if ever showed and wasn't very interested in the show scene) was important to me.

    4. But you are making the usual mistake... You are comparing a well researched, caring pedigree breeder who strives for robust health and mind, with a totaly accidental or random breeding.

      Your selection criteria could just as easily be applied to source a cross breed.

      I think the K.Cs make a big mistake, and encourage this "divide" by stating that problems are avoided by sourcing a "registered , ethical pedigree breeder".

      It insinuates that "ethical" is something unique to registered pedigree breeders.

      The message insinuates that pedigree are better because of the pedigree itself, not due to breeding practices. Most people recognize that as false.

      If they dropped the word pedigree in that statement it would have real meaning. Instead its used to draw the line, and reinforce it.

      They lose the chance to focus on the real issues of breeding for purpose and understanding what those purposes are. Both sides of the argument seems to be missing that point.
      The way I see it, its BECAUSE of the divide provoked by pedigree breeders in refusing to recognize any legitimacy in cross breeding while their only measure of a successful breeder focuses on the picture a dog projects rather than any functionality.

      The insistence that ethics and care in breeding are unique to pedigree breeders robs us of those who could show and promote any different.


      P.S Good idea, a web site showing modern versions and listing health problems, then selective cross breeds of same and old versions!

    5. Automatic condemnation of "Back yard breeders" that takes place serves no purpose. We need to accept that its needed, or lose a future with dogs.

      Pedigrees are not a stand alone option.

      They need legitimacy and value or they too are fighting against the odds.

      If people could take pride in being a back yard breeder, then just maybe communities would be concentrating on, and discussing more, what we want in our own back yards.

      The K.Cs need to let us take pride in our own back yards so we can get on with the job of strengthening their foundations.


    6. Oh yes there is a difference yes I agree Ziggy, working dogs are a completely different kettle of fish, worlds apart.

      They are performance tested, or proven in the field. That's their only health test. They come from proven stock. You need to find this out by becoming involved with dog sports, word of mouth, reputation. They aren't interested in hip scores.

      Not sure if there are any purely healthy working Doberman strains maybe in Germany where schutzhund activities are a particularly popular past time.

      These breeders are almost universally the heavily maligned by show breeders "back yard breeders". The days of vast working dogs kennels are mostly long gone except for a very few hunting hounds.

      Many crosses make very good working dogs, intentional crosses. Why should it be different for pets? This is it seems where it's heading. Though the desire to linebreed breed these crosses and have them recognised as a breed in themselves leading to closed registers under the AKC is bordering on lunacy.

      For me at any rate a dog is all about working ability for various reasons I like my dogs to be useful both as pets and specificibeing pet.

      If bred along the same lines as field working dogs....which they should be even if the field is a home and garden environment, ideal, backyard?

      Thing is a pet dog is a working dog too. Absolutely it has a definite function and most of these show bred animals are not up to that task, not happy healthy sane or functional so they can't be suitable for the job of being pets.

      No amount of promises from showing breeders with the limited value health tests bring will make those inbred extremes suitable. Even these are becoming increasingly difficult to be suitable for a decent cross, yes.

      Whippets with teeth falling out and mastiffs who can barely trot around a ring....usual stories. A cross any cross even just an outcross can only be a good thing for their welfare.

      It would be sad to lose pedigree dogs as such because there would be none left to cross with for one (: But the way we have gone about breeding these sadly it is looking more and more likely ):

  11. Whilst health and genetic diversity are essential considerations when it comes to breeding, I'm not seeing anything about breeding for temperament. Good temperament is not rewarded in the showring, meaning dogs with iffy temperaments still can and do regularly win top prizes at Crufts and other dog shows. These dogs are then used extensively at stud, and before you know it, the temperament of the whole breed has been degraded. This is particularly pressing in the light of dog bites - no pet owner wants a dog from parents with iffy temperaments. There is currently a top-winning Whippet that has won several times at Crufts, and along with his winning conformation is also passing on his snappish temperament to his numerous puppies. I have heard breeders who want to use him on their bitches, explain away his temperament by saying that he probably wasn't socialised properly as an adult. Firstly, how on earth do they know this, secondly, what reputable breeder uses a stud dog from someone who doesn't bother to socialise his or her puppies properly?

    We know a lot about canid genetics and temperament, and that is, temperament is largely inherited.

    "And how many dog owners know how important it is to pay careful attention to dispositions of the parents of their potential new pups? Most of the clients in my office, who are smart, responsible people, didn't know to ask the breeder what the personality of the dam and sire was. Many of them didn't even ask about the sire, or didn't think to wonder why they weren't allowed to meet their puppies' mom. I've had hundreds of people in my office over the years who explained that they couldn't tell me what the disposition of a pup's father or mother was because they couldn't get near them for all the barking and the snarling. Sigh." - Patricia McConnell

    And, wrt training and socialisation:

    "To the people who know that although training and conditioning can, and do, solve a myriad of problems, it is best to start at the beginning, with a sound set of genes that mean training is like paddling downstream instead of up it." - Patricia McConnell.

    1. +1
      Dogs with poor temperament tend to suffer, just as dogs with defective health. They get exiled from the house, chained, and muzzled. They stand a good chance of ending out rehomed and failing a second time. They are more likely to be euth'd in shelters, or escaping confinement and getting killed on the road.
      In addition, they bring on resentment against all dog owners from the general public, contributing to stupid regulations that punish the majority of dog owners for the infractions of the minority of dogs.

    2. If I didn't mention temperament in my list of things a good breeder breeds for, I certainly intended to. For me, its actually probably the MOST important thing in a pet dog, possibly even more so than health. What good is a stunningly healthy dog with a poor or aggressive temperament? Many, many physically healthy dogs are euthanised every year because of temperament and behavioural issues.

      Its one of the biggest reasons I selected a breeder dog rather than a rescue: Im a first time owner, with a big strong breed, and I did NOT want to take a chance on bad temperament with a breed like mine.

      But it is absolutely true that mentally unhealthy dogs suffer just as much, and die young just as often, as physically unhealthy dogs, so temperament should be viewed as just as big of an issue.

      I know in the world of rat breeding, a rat can have the best health ever, but if it is poor in temperament, it will not be bred from. We realise that a healthy rat you cannot handle, or who bites chunks from you, or who will not mix with other rats without killing or maiming them is no good. And as a rat rescuer, behavioural or aggression issues from poorly bred rats are one of the biggest reasons they end up in rescue.

      Temperament is SO important in what are, essentially, companion animals.

    3. I think genetic diversity = health and most definitely bad character = genetic poverty in a lot of our pedigree dogs. Yes amongst other problems.

      Many of our pedigree dog breeds with critical genetic bottlenecks suffer from genetic character problems. It's almost the marker of doom one of the symptoms of genetic impoverishment.

      When labradores start snapping and Danes tremble and jump with every sound they aren't right.

      I dont know how dogs could be shown and win in this condition are drugs used, is doping common place. Are blood tests taken for doping at dog shows?

    4. I think mental health (character) is covered in what we understand by health?

      Using the "holistic" for want of a better word approach to genetic diversity one would breed for everything not just against one problem like dysplastic hips or prolapsed vaginas? The whole thing improving ultimately with the genetic robustness of the population. Character or mental stability must be part of Canine functionality as a whole as much as physical health is imo?

      There is definately hereditary aspects to human mental health no reason it should be that different in dogs.


      Study just published about this very issue Fran. APBC funded study states that owners 4 times more likely to seek behavioural help if owners had not seen dam when purchasing puppy. They recommend to view both dam and sire before purchasing a puppy from a breeder.


  12. The poor quality gene pools of pedigree dogs that so many are decrying are the same gene pools being used to breed cross breeds. While the f1 crosses may be healthier than either parent all subsequent offspring of f1 crosses could be carriers of the genetic defects in both source gene pools.

    If being a pet is the new job for dogs will this job be capable of assessing mental and physical robustness of dogs to be selected for breeding; in much the same way field dogs are assessed for breeding by their performance in the field? Would being a pet find mildly dysplastic dogs? Would being a pet always find the unilaterally deaf dogs? Would being a pet identify exercise induced collapse?

    1. >All subsequent offspring of f1 crosses could be carriers of the genetic defects in both source gene pools.

      So what? They are still less likely to have recessives meeting up than a mating between two pure bred of either gene pool.

      Suppose we have a recessive disease with a carrier rate of 10% in the Labrador.(let's assume affected rate is 0% for ease of calculations) There are no genetic tests or any other methods to determine carrier status. When you breed two Labs together, the chances of breeding two carriers together is approximately 1% (10% x 10%). If you cross a Lab with another breed without this disease, the chances are zero. Yes, the F1 offsprings will have 5% chances of being carriers, but even if you breed back to a Lab, the chances of breeding two carriers will only be 0.5%(5% x 10%), less than a pure Lab breeding. And if you breed those offsprings back to a Lab, the chances will be even higher but still less than 1%.

      The risk reduction goes further than the F1 generation.

  13. The assumption in your example is the genetic mutation is carried by only one of the two gene pools (breeds) being crossed. It is known many genetic mutations are carried by multiple breeds (same genetic diseases due to the same mutation).

    In your example there is an affected rate of 0% (very low); without a genetic test for the mutation how will you know whether or not the other breed carriers the same mutation? It could be the affected rate, being very low, has not produced enough affected dogs for the breeders to accept they have the disease in their breed.

    Many if not most genetic mutations have been present in the canine genome from before the development of breeds. The only reason we see these genetic diseases in some breeds and not others is due to in-breeding having increased the rate of these mutations to the point where the affected rate is producing enough diseased dogs to where breeders cannot ignore the presence of the mutation.

    1. I know because I set the hypothetical example as such. You might as well ask me how I know the carrier rate in labs is 10%.

      No one expects common genetic disorders present in both parent breeds to disappear because of outcrossing.

      > The only reason we see these genetic diseases in some breeds and not others is due to in-breeding having increased the rate of these mutations to the point where the affected rate is producing enough diseased dogs to where breeders cannot ignore the presence of the mutation.

      And that is THE problem with breeding within a closed gene pool.

      Having a very high incidence of a disease that should be otherwise rare is not a positive thing just because it allows breeders to identify it as a major breed problem and forces them to deal with it. It's much better to have a disease stay an unknown problem that you can't do anything about, that crops up on very rare occasions.

    2. >No one expects common genetic disorders present in both parent breeds to disappear because of outcrossing.

      >They (offspring of f1 crosses) are still less likely to have recessives meeting up than a mating between two pure bred of either gene pool.

      When promoting outcrossing or breeding f1 hybrids we must be careful to point out that just because two different breeds are being used does not automatically mean they do not both carry the same genetic mutations. We really need to change people's perspective when discussing breeding; away from thinking about breeds towards thinking about gene pools. The kennel clubs have done such a great job teaching us to think in terms of what we can see (phenotypes) and not thinking about what we cannot see (genotypes). It is the unseen genotypes that are the killers of our dogs.

  14. Those interested in canine genetics may find this article interesting.

    Canine Morphology: Hunting for Genes and Tracking Mutations
    Abigail L. Shearin, Elaine A. Ostrander

    The authors stated:

    “To aid in the selection of breeds for any given study we recently did a cluster analysis of 132 dog breeds and showed that breeds divide into five major groups: Asian and ancient dogs; hunting and gun; mastiff and terrier; herding and sight hound; and a mountain group [10]. Dogs from the same cluster often carry the same ancient mutation. Thus, judicious selection of breeds for fine-mapping studies can greatly reduce both work load and complexity associated with the study [10].”

    One can see how breeds within each group can carry the same mutations.

  15. I know this post is old so I don't expect a response, but several of the items in the list above are demonstrably not true. This list totally ignores the reality of genetic mutation. If there is one thing I hate, it's fighting bad science with more bad science. I have posted this link before and it's never been addressed, but when you look at genes instead of pedigrees there is a lot more diversity within purebred dogs than would be imagined:

    "Of the 100 markers tested, 99 have an average HT of 0.50 or higher and 89 have an average HS of 0.50 or higher. Further, they have an observed mutation frequency of 1.1 × 10−2 (Irion et al. 2002, unpublished data), which is an order of magnitude higher than that seen in humans (Ellegren 2000). This comparatively high mutation frequency will give rise to new alleles or a higher incidence of previously rare alleles in each breed over time. At this rate, 12,995 mutations would be expected among the approximately 1 million AKC dogs registered each year. Certainly the frequent mutations observed in this set of microsatellite loci may cause even those breeds subject to strict selection to appear more heterogeneous than their pedigrees suggest."

    I don't have access to this one:

    But the abstract says "This review assesses evidence from DNA analysis to determine whether there is sufficient genetic diversity within breeds to ensure that populations are sustainable in the absence of cross breeding and to determine whether genetic diversity is declining. On average, dog breeds currently retain approximately 87% of the available domestic canine genetic diversity."

    This does not jive with pedigree analysis, which indicates a much more rapid loss of genetic diversity.

    I am a huge fan of minimizing line breeding and doing more to maintain diversity within our breeds. But saying that we only lose (never gain) genetic diversity within a closed book ignores one of the primary necessities of evolution: mutation.

    And pedigree analysis ignores the fact that littermates can inherit different mixes of different genes from the parents.

    And here is a great table of TESTED genetic diversity levels (compared to pedigree reading) of various breeds, including wolves and mutts:

    1. What exactly is your point? We shouldn't be minimising line breeding, we should be abolishing it.


  16. More on diversity:

    "Surveys of microsatellite loci in a few dog breeds have shown them to have moderate to high levels of heterozygosity relative to wild canids. This implies little or only moderate inbreeding within breeds as is also suggested by the mitochondrial control region analysis." There is more, much of which honestly makes little sense to me but seems to contradict analysis made strictly by pedigree.

  17. Sorry Beth. You are clutching at straws. It is the mentality in human beings that needs to mutate when it comes to breeding can dig up papers on genetic diversity until the cows come home. But the fact remains that breeding within a paradigm of closed gene pools is akin to committing generic suicide..

  18. Anon, what I am saying is if we have the science, we should use it. Genetic testing tells you more than a pedigree. As far as alleles go, you can have full siblings that inherited different alleles and you can have an unrelated dog who has the same allele as yours. The #1 rule listed above is totally false; if a genetic pool of any animal contained all the genetic material it ever would, evolution as we know it would never have taken place. Mutation is common on some genes, very rare on others and we are only beginning to learn the tiniest bit about that.

    If the argument is that closed gene pools produce less viable animals, then lets look at some of the facts. If litter size is an indicator of genetic health, we can look at the ancestral wolf with an average litter size of 4 to 7, and a Corgi with an average litter of 6 to 7 or a lab with an average litter of 5 to 10 and I would say where is the evidence that we have depressed litter sizes in those breeds?

    Let's look at certain genes. Genetic studies show that genetics for appearance are actually controlled by just a few genes. So the ancestral wolf had one predominant gene for ear set, based on phenotype. Dogdom as a whole carries many genes for ear set. Most breeds though only have one phenotype left. If an individual breed has lost all the other types through selective breeding, it still has as many as the ancestral wolf.

    The important genes--- the ones for health--- are much more complicated. If there are three possible alleles for a certain set of genes and an individual breed has all three in sufficient numbers, then outcrossing gains you nothing. If there are a dozen alleles and a breed only carries one, then of course there is a problem. Pedigree will never give you the answer to this question. DNA analysis will.

    Some genes for complex behaviors like herding ability or soft mouth probably ride near other genes as well. So if you are breeding bird dogs, you won't be breeding hard-mouthed dogs. Whether you stay in the stud book or breed out of the stud book, if the genes for soft mouths are the same across all dogdom, then crossing out won't help if you are only picking other soft-mouthed dogs. Since hard-mouthed dogs are worthless as bird dogs, then if you DON'T selectively breed for that trait you have a new set of problems: what becomes of the failure dogs (the bird dog that destroys birds, the sheep dog that attacks sheep).

    If you look at wild animals, you will see that in many habitats you don't have generic animals, you have highly specialized sub-types. So you don't just have a generic "lemur" in Madagascar. You have dozens of species and subspecies, many very similar but that have closed populations that don't interbreed. You don't just have one finch in the Galapagos, you have a dozen species many of which primarily differ by bill size.

    From an evolutionary perspective, it is difficult to imagine that different sub-species evolve by having thousands of individuals concurrently evolve new traits. What likely happens is you get isolated populations with slight differences that gradually evolve into a new species or sub-species by not outcrossing with the parent species. These original founders were probably few in number. The idea that a "closed stud book" cannot possibly maintain genetic diversity is not something that is backed up by wild animal species and sub-species. Yes there are terrible breeding practices and good ones; if you keep tightly inbreeding for generations you will have problems.

  19. (continued).
    But I'm not sure that there is good scientific evidence that a closed book in and of itself is a recipe for genetic disaster. I believe only about 30 wolves total-- over two years--- were used for the entire reintroduction to Yellowstone. It is more or less a closed gene pool, since there aren't other wolves close enough to migrate in. Since there were only 30 founders and a closed gene pool from that 30, is the entire experiment doomed? When animals colonize new areas, it is frequently only a tiny handful and their offspring on down the lines that are the basis for all others of their kind....

    1. *sigh*

      This isn't even worth discussing, sadly...

    2. Beth, your argument for continuing to inbreed is sad.....

      Read the post from Gaddy Bergman on the latest Blog about the Pug with no muzzle. Eloquent and based in sound reason and judgement about the human condition at large here.

  20. Good on you Beth for posting your piece! The two anons who replied had no retort.

  21. Older dog breeder do tend to flame at having to change their usual way of dog breeding, but most people don't like to change especially is it means admitting that some piece of knowledge they had learned was untrue.

    I learned it at a dog show 30 years ago, how could it possibly be wrong?