Sunday 12 December 2010

Who's Your Daddy?

Illustration by Kevin Brockbank
Something extraordinary happened recently. In the pro-KC, pro-show newspaper Dog World,  a poll showed that the vast majority of those who responded were in favour of a limit on the number of times a top-winning dog could be used at stud. I know, in the greater scheme of things it may not seem a very big thing. But it is, I promise – at least if you are a dog.
Until very recently, the prevailing view in the show world was that a champ dog should be used as often as possible, to pass on those winning genes to as many of its puppies as possible.  It’s not just that the puppies cop a higher price – it’s that breeders genuinely believed that it is the right thing to do.  I even remember the Kennel Club’s Secretary Caroline Kisko sounding rather astonished that anyone would think otherwise. “If you have a very healthy sire then why would you not want to breed him quite widely?” she said in November 2009, apparently oblivious to the independent reports which had wholesale condemned the practice.
Much of this attitude is based on the notion that if a dog was a big winner, it must be a good thing. But of course we now know better.  We know that judges can award prizes to dogs for all kinds of reasons other than their true worth, and that the show-ring itself is often a very poor judge of health.  We also know that dogs can silently carry all kinds of genetic problems that may be passed on, unwittingly, to their offspring. And we also know that dogs are often used at stud when they are very young – way before some horrible inherited condition that may lay lurking manifests itself.
A 1968-vintage German Shepherd, Canto von der Wienerau (right), sired several litters before he dropped down dead at the age of four and his progeny were very widely bred.  Today, every single case of haemaphlia A in  the breed can be traced back to Canto. The condition is now rare in the breed, but it’s difficult to eradicate completely as it’s carried silently by the females and there is, as yet, no DNA test that can detect carriers. In other words, it’s been a nightmare for breeders that they could have done without. 
Top dog Zamp... tragically dead at 8. But of what?
Another German Shepherd, Zamp vom Thermados, who won Best of Breed at Crufts in 2008 (and many other top prizes), is listed on one database as fathering 750 puppies – the owners of  which must be a little nervous following Zamp’s premature death aged just 8 earlier this year.  There has been no official announcement of the cause of death, despite a lot of people wanting – indeed needing - to know given that his progeny are now, in turn, being bred from.   Here’s hoping it was from something that was not hereditary. 

The story is repeated in many other breeds – with many top dogs siring hundreds and hundreds of puppies, blithely passing on horrific problems down the line.  In fact, it’s happened no less than three times in the blighted Basenji – a breed that began with only a handful of founders (despite there being thousands of them in their native Africa).  Of those, some were used far more heavily than the others and within a few years basenjis were dying from a horrible condition called haemolytic anaemia (also known as PKD). Fortunately, a DNA test was quickly developed. Unfortunately, breeders were so intent on cleansing the condition from the breed that they didn’t just stop breeding from affected dogs – they refused to breed from carriers too (which could have been bred safely to ‘clears’), rendering an already too-small gene pool even smaller.   One of these dogs became a top AKC champion and had hundreds of puppies – only to be diagnosed when he was about eight years old with Fanconi Syndrome, a kidney condition that can be life-threatening. By then, Fanconi’s was widespread.
The same has happened with Progressive Retinal Atophy (PRA), too – a once rare, and blinding,  condition now not so rare in the breed.  In fact, the health problems in Basenjis have been so severe that the American Kennel Cub has sanctioned the import of a few more native dogs from Africa. Sadly, they have not been universally welcomed, especially by the breed purists who view the imports as mongrels.
In the Congo, the breed’s name translates as “village dog”.  Doesn’t sound quite so grand now, does it?  Although it many ways it should – the native Basenji is a triumph, a true survivor.  And there’s a big lesson to be learned from them: the native Basenji is instantly recognisable and it breeds true – as is the case with other landraces, such as salukis, who have existed for hundreds and in some instances, thousands of years without help nor hindrance from kennel clubs or the show-ring.
Now, at last, the mood is changing.  As I reported a couple of months ago, the Hungarian Viszla Club was even bold enough after Crufts 2010 to express their concern about Crufts winner Yogi (left) who has fathered more than 10 per cent of the breed in recent years.  Then, there is the DogWorld poll – which voted 240 in favour of introducing restrictions against just 45 against.  And, recently, the FCI (which is the umbrella organisation for most overseas kennel clubs – the KC and AKC not included) has proposed that limits should be introduced.
Some kennel clubs already have in place guidelines concerning popular sires (notably Sweden and Finland). The SV, which oversees German Shepherds in Germany, rules that stud dogs may not cover more than 80 females a year (but clearly that’s still an enormous number of puppies and at an average of €800 a jump, no mean income, either.)
The KC here, though, despite being under some pressure, has decided to not introduce any blanket bans. “This has been muted in the past, “ says Caroline Kisko. “The Americans brought it in and it caused absolute havoc in their registration system – it went from having one and a half million registrations per year to less than half that – those dogs being registered by other organisations.”
In fact, this is not true. The AKC has not brought in any limits on popular sires. It did introduce some extra paperwork and a paternity test for those wanting to breed more than a certain number of litters but this was a a move designed to stop dodgy breeders faking pedigrees.  In truth, breeders in the US are still free to use their stud dogs as profligately as ever.
 But the KC is adamant. It does not want to introduce a blanket ban, preferring instead to champion its upcoming “Mate Select” programme. When this finally  comes online (and there’s no due date yet),  it will help guide breeders away from stud dogs that have been heavily used – but it certainly won’t stop them. If they want to use the stud dog du jour they can do so with no penalty.
The KC talks vaguely about possibly introducing something a little tougher at some point down the line but I don’t think this is enough - particularly when the KC is still dragging its heels over educating its electorate about popular sires.  For the third time of mentioning in recent columns, there is still nothing on the KC website warning about the dangers of these canine casanovas.
So forgive me for continuing to hammer home this point.  To those breeders thinking of using a top dog that has already been well-used, please consider a less popular alternative, for the sake of the breed. However healthy a dog appears to be, remember that inbreeding in and of itself can cause problems and the overuse of one or more dogs in a breed almost inevitably leads to inbreeding down the line.
And to those considering a new puppy, please don’t be seduced by the name of a top-winning dog (usually written in red) on a pedigree – instead use it as a good excuse to ask searching questions of the breeder. And if they look blank when you mention the term “popular sire” or try to argue that you can’t have too much of a good thing, walk away.
This article is reprinted from the July issue of Dogs Today Magazine. 


  1. Popular sire syndrome needs to be addressed in our breed clubs before we create more problems for ourselves.

    Health problems can be eliminated through hard work and sacrifice. Australian GSD breeders have eliminated haemophilia from their lines.

    If a male is imported or is the son of an imported female before he can be accepted as a stud dog or his progeny be registered his owners must supply :

    proof of the dog having been x-rayed for Hip Dysplasia and Elbow Dysplasia, and
    the dog must have been tested for Haemophilia, with the owner in possession of an H neg Certificate for that dog

    Not a cheap or easy thing to do but a whole lot better than producing offspring which die from

  2. Dijana from Sweden13 December 2010 at 09:20

    I don't believe that breeding carriers to non-carriers is a good move either. That will pretty much leave us with a whole lot of carriers in the end. Exclusion of carriers and affected dogs was the right thing to do, IF you imported and used new and healthy blood. For all the dogs you exclude you need new blood to cover up for it. Otherwise it turns out the same as it did for the Basenji breed. But ah, we don't need a dose of captain Hindsight do we..

    About the studs being overused, here in Sweden it's said that a stud must not father more than 5% of the registered dogs over a 5 year period in a breed. So theoretically a breed that registers about 1500 dogs per year could overall use only about 20 males. Each male allowed to father about 375 puppies.

    Still not good in my opinion..

  3. It totally disagree with you about not using carriers - as long as safeguards are in place which ensures that pups are tested so their status is known. Removing carriers in small gene pools is potentially catastrophic and leads to an unncessary further reduction in genetic diversity.

  4. The subject of breeding from carriers is one that is of personal interest to me, as I have a litter of Border Collie puppies from a CEA carrier mother & CEA clear father. My plan was to blood test the litter and any one who was interested in breeding in the future would be able to choose from the clear puppies. I felt this was a responsible thing to do, but would you disagree Jemima? Or are you only thinking of smaller gene pools than the BC?

  5. I would like to see some limit put on the use of stud dogs.

    My breed has serious late onset inherited conditions, so breeding guidelines, endorsed by all the cavalier clubs, state that breeding stock should be 2.5 years old and health checked when first bred.

    There is a successful young show dog from a top kennels that sired seven litters before he was twelve months old.

  6. Dijana from Sweden13 December 2010 at 12:17

    But what if you don't have a genetic test? Not all diseases have one, to exclude potential carriers would be the only way to get rid of the disease. Given that you add new blood to the genepool to avoid any reduction in genetic diversity.

    Adding new blood would probably mean that you'd have more diversity in the end, since most dogs portraying the diseases are usually very inbred. Taking them away and introducing less inbred material to the breed would give some valuable and welcome diversity that the affected dogs probably didn't have.

  7. Daybreak Dogs... I think you are doing absolutely the right thing. BC gene pools are not so big that you can afford to throw away genetic diversity needlessly.

  8. Dijana.. yes, I would say that this breeding strategy depends on being able to differentiate carriers from clears.

    I do not think it is true to say that "most dogs portraying the diseases are usually very inbred" although sometimes it will be so.

    When you talk about new blood, do you mean from outside of the breed or via less related individuals within the breed?

  9. Dijana, there´s an inherent problem here. If you have few dogs and/or a small gene pool in your breed, and you disuse any animal which MAY possibly be carriers of one particular unwanted gene - then yes, you will fairly soon have eradicated that gene, or reduced it to such rarity that the disease it produces will be gone from that breed.
    At the same time that you selected against all animals possibly carrying that gene - you selected, willy-nilly, for all individuals carrying some other recessive gene... and in a few generations, you are likely to discover just which gene you have selected for.
    All dogs, like all humans, carry at least four or five defective genes. So long as they are relatively rare in a population, nobody will notice except for those few instances when someone in a healthy family unexpectedly goes down with something in the never-heard-of-it category.
    When inbreeding becomes the pattern, those genes start congregating. The only way to keep effective breeding basis large and COI low. Obviously, in a very small breed, or one desperately burdened with a very deleterious genetic luggage, outcrossing may be necessary.

    As Margret Carter has a post here, I´ll take the chance to say how much some of us in this country admire what you and other Cavalier people are doing for your dogs. If your breed stands a chance in the longer perspective, it´s because of you and people like you.

  10. Daybreak Dogs, I think you'll find my analysis of CEA in the Border Collie informative. This post combines thoughts on both the Popular Sire Effect that Jamima is covering here and CEA in Border Collies which you are interested in:

  11. Thanks for posting this link, Christopher. The stats are fascinating. And I didn't know that Wiston Cap was a CEA carrier.

  12. Jemima, perhaps you could clarify your position on breeding carriers? There are many shades of gray between "always okay" and "never okay".

    I concede that in Dalmatians dogs, where a country might only have 2 or 3 that are NOT affected, then, it seems to me, that breeding a clear to an affected is the only choice, except crossing the breed lines, or letting the affect breed go.

    At what point, does it make sense to not breed carriers? If they are 50% of the breed? If they are 5% of the breed? Less than 5% and most breeders aren't going to test for it.

    And do you mean grown dogs or puppies who are carriers?

    In grown dogs, there is the human element, people who have a carrier dog, who they want to breed, don't want to be told not to breed him, so if they only breed him to a clear that is better, especially IF they test the puppies, and IF they tell each buyer what the test results are.

    One problem with carriers, is that more and more, science is finding out that Mendel's peas don't tell the whole story. Often, what was thought to be a recessive, is really a co-dominate.

    Co-dominant genes can expess to a lesser extent, for example, the myostatin gene in racing whippets in the USA.

    Or they can really be co-dominant like in the ABO blood types in human red blood cells.

    The point is that recessive genes, aren't nearly as recessive as dog breeders like to pretend. When an unhealthy recessive gene causes a dog to die young, or to live a sickly life, then I feel it is wrong to breed and sell more carriers.

    In puppies, it is easier for a dog breeder to exclude the carriers from her breeding stock before they are sold. I think you will find that this will be the method which most dog breeders use genetic testing for.

    While there might be a few cases where one puppy in a litter stands out and has "show quality" stamped all over him, mostly dog breeders guess which puppy is best - at least in uniform purebred litters.

    So the dog breeder simply selects which puppy to keep from those puppies who test clear. With that method, the club could rule that after a genetic test which identifies carriers, has been out for 2 years, then no more carriers can be bred.

    That way, every dog breeder clears their own line, then continues with the new generation of their own dogs who are clear.

    There is always selection used to decide which dogs are bred, and which are not. Isn't selecting to breed the healthy ones more important than selecting to breed the show winners?

    If anyone can tolerate dog shows and events selecting dogs by their wins, and excluding dogs who do not win, then surely they can understand that every selection narrows the gene pool, but some selction must be done, or there would be too many puppies, so lets use genetic test to select for healthier dogs.

  13. 1. Let me present this as a mystery, like a Sherlock Holmes tale.

    You are sitting at the veterinarian's office waiting your turn to speak to the vet about some matter, when in through the door walks a plainly dressed woman, wearing an old fashion bonnet.

    She sits beside you and says her name is Sarah. She is the talkitive sort and starts telling you about the Rottweilers she raises, and the small puppy farm she and her husband are starting.

    In her lap are 2 Rottweiler puppies, of a weaning age, both mostly white. One has a few grey spots.

    Sarah's complaint is that sometimes there are white puppies in her litters of Rottweilers, and these puppies are sometimes deaf, or as Sarah says it "Not the same as other puppies".

    Both puppies have blue eyes, and the pupils of their eyes (that black circle in the middle of the middle of the eye) are rectangular, like that of goats.

    The vet is very busy this morning, leaving time to guess at what might be the problem with Sarah's Rottweilers. What is causing these white puppies in Sarah's litters?

    continued on my next post

  14. 2. (continued from "1")

    Sarah tells you that she has read a book on genetics, and talked to a horse vet, and is sure that these white puppies are double recessives, because neither parent suffers from this condition, and the parents are both "beautiful dogs".

    Sarah continues talking, saying that both parents are very beautiful, not plain black and tan like other Rottweilers.

    Sarah and her husband plan to make a puppy farm selling rare colored Rottweiler puppies. But Sarah wants to know what to do about these white puppies.

    Sarah's husband has pulled up in his truck with the parent dogs. He walks in the door with both parent Rottweilers on a leash, and says to his wife: "Might as well get them vaccinated while we are at the vet today."

    What color are the parent Rottweilers?

    continued on "3"

  15. 3. Books list merle as a dominant, written as "M", but it isn't really, it just seeems that way because we can see the effect of the gene due to it being a color, not a blood type.

    The double merle, is the affected condition, just like with other recessives - but in merle, you can see the heterozygous condition too, not just the affected double merle condition.

    But how often is this the case? How often are carriers actually partial affecteds? If we could see what is happening inside the dog, how many other traits would we know to be co-dominant, not truely recessive?

    Palimino horses are the classic example, the normal is the brown horse with a black mane, the affects are the white horses, known as "Creamellos", and the heterozygous condition is the one bred for - the Palimino color.

    But what happens in genes that work on blood types? Like sickle-cell anemia? Another condition, known because it's heterozygous condition is more beneficial to the carrier than either the affected state or the normal state in malaria infested areas. The Ss sickle cell type is not a clear dominant/recessive condition.

    What else is an example of co-dominants once thought to be recessives? How often are carriers affected, but to a lesser degree? And, on a different point, are we inadvertantly favoring the carrier state in our selection of breeding stock?

    (BTW, I like the merle color, and don't view it as harmful with one copy of the gene, especially if it is not coupled with the white spotting gene - but some dog breeders disagree, and state that the single merle gene can be harmful. Maybe there are right, maybe they are wrong, hard to know for sure.)

  16. I don't know about the KC, but the AKC celebrates particularly prepotent sires.

    Here is a celebrated St. Bernard that produced a 33 champion get:

  17. 4. It was once taught that the ABO blood type was an all or nothing thing - that there were only four blood types in this system: A, B, O, and AB. (Which is okay if you are teaching nurses for hopitals, or for practical use, but not a good example in a genetics class).

    But that did not fit with the theory of genetics, causing me to once argue with a biology teacher that there had to be AO, and BO, too.

    The teacher, who was really over-qualified and an excellent teacher, stuck with what the text book said. When I continued to point out that what was written could not be (it was self-contraditory), he said that it was a hapliod genetic condition.

    (Which was a stupid excuse on his part, to win an arguement by bringing in "there is more to it than you know" - but with something that totally did not fit, but which I couldn't argue against because I had never heard of it - but the ABO system is not, and could not be, haploid in their genetics.)

    When I persisted, he said everyone else in the class understood, I looked around and asked. Nobody saw any conflict, and the teacher made some rude remark about my not getting it.

    So I made a mental note to never study blood, because I was clearly unable to understand a basic high school blood lesson.

    Years and years later, the old books were changed. Of course there are AO and BO bloodtypes in genetics, and they are now believed to be co-dominate.

    The problem was that the laboritory tests, only showed the "A" and the "B", what was left was called "O", that was known, but since the "O" had no test to find it in the blood, the people writing genetic text-books left out the existance of the AO and BO blood types, which are applicable in genetics - very much so, so much so that it doesn't make sense to say they don't exist.

    Their existance was not needed to be known for using blood donations, but they should have been included in a study of genetics, especially since the ABO blood system was used as an example.

    So here, like with dog breeding, the books are (mostly) wrong, the people who teach it are just people, and they are wrong when they read a mistake and then believe it.

    And there will be people who will argue that the books they read and the standards they believe in, have to be right because they could not be wrong, the kennel club could not be wrong, and they themselves could never have believed so long in something so wrong.

    Hang in there Jemima. You are right. Even if everybody else thinks the dog show world is flat - stay with your vision of a round Earth.

  18. let's see... no more than three litters from any bitch no matter what a good mother they are ( poor old things).. no more than two c sections from any bitch ( how cruel).. no more than blah blah numbers of dogs from any REALLY GOOD stud dog.. ( lets use the inferior brother instead) and ban this.. and "correct" that.. you know the things that no one does but heck let's make sure they never get a chance.. and voila.... no more pure bred dogs.. our mission is complete...that my friends is where you are going.. restrict.. ban.. eliminate.. it is a complete cycle..dogs will be bred "underground".. cost a fortune.. and be totally unhealthy.. go for it.. you are asking for it.. and you will get what you wish for.. of course most of you here think you will not be "affected".. LOL.. that's rich..

  19. Anonymous above, can you really not see the dangers of using a popular stud dog over and over again? This is exactly what has brought about depleted gene pools in many breeds. And why should his brother be "inferior" necessarily? Just because a male dog is a pet, and not showered with prizes in the show ring, it doesn't mean he could not sire lovely puppies.
    It seems to me that the moment people are obsessed with producing "pure bred dogs" things go wrong. Much better to breed healthy dogs with no exaggerations.
    Julia Lewis

  20. Julia.. no one is stopping you from breeding whatever you want to breed.. my point is that all of the bans, restrictions and elimination of whatever comes up next.. ( seems like a new ban is brought forth daily)will eventually kill off all dog breeding.. or will make dogs so expensive that only a few people will be able to breed dogs.. much less own them
    Julia.. use the brother.. use a different breed, use a mixed breed far you still can.. but not for long if we keep going this way..restricting banning and eliminating .. the perfect storm for the extinction of the pure bred dog...

  21. "the perfect storm for the extinction of the pure bred dog.."

    And what about the present storm?

  22. Actually, breeding to the 'famous' dog's less famous brother used to be fairly common in some breeds. It's mentioned in some of the older dog breeding books I own. According to the "Population Structure and Inbreeding From Pedigree Analysis of Purebred Dogs" study, only 20% of the dogs in the breeds studied had recorded progeny. That's one out of a litter of five that contributes to future generations. Breeding just one dog from a litter causes the loss of half the available genetic diversity in that line, automatically and permanently. Breeding two dogs reduces that loss to 25%.

  23. I still don't see what the anonymous person above is talking about. I wish he or she would explain more clearly. It seems to me that breeding from more dogs, rather just from a few show dogs, would not wipe out a breed, it would enhance it. You'd still be breeding the same breed, only using more dogs. I don't understand why it would make dogs more expensive, either.

  24. Sorry, meant to put my
    name to that last post.
    Julia Lewis

  25. Kate.. what about it? The "present storm" is a fabrication. blown out of proportion and lacking in very much "horse sense".. The more laws, bans, restrictions and what ever you put upon people the less product you will have that is healthy and available created by educated knowledgeable people... what you will have is underground products created without much knowledge and even less husbandry..more disease.. and certainly less healthy dogs..with no known ancestors...
    Less product.. less availability.. more money..more laws, more restrictions.. less quality" product produced.. more black market ones .. in the hands of those who you would rather see not breeding dogs..
    stop passing laws.. stop banning things.. stop restricting people who really care.. it will come back to bite you ( if i may use a pun) in the form you don't want to see

  26. If "people" really cared they wouldnt breed for constant cesarians, too many litters, too few sires.

  27. Anon 19:30
    reading your posts I get the general impression that you would rather things stayed as they were, that you see no harm in letting a bitch have numerous litters, no harm in putting a bitch through continual c-sections, and no harm in the over use of popular sires.
    The bans and restrictions are put in place to try and improve dog health. I understand that in those breeds with small gene pools this may lessen the gene pools further but surely breeders can further afield to other countries and import fresh blood and new genes. In some breeds the only answer may be outcrossing. Wheres the harm in that? Many present day breeds were originally crosses.


    read it.. educate your self.. and breed what ever crosses you would like to breed

  29. No sorry anon I do not accept looking at a bitches natural cycle as an excuse to continually breed from them. But what a perfect excuse for puppy farmers.
    Pyometra can occur also in breeding bitches if the pregnancy fails. Entire bitches not bred from can live perfectly healthy lives and never develope a pyometra. Spayed bitches can also live perfectly healthy lives.
    Considering your last posts I guess based on the info from the blog you asked me to read you would be perfectly happy for a bulldog or french bulldog to be bred back to back continuously despite continuous risks of c sections. But hey, let them because it is more natural and will prevent a deadly pyometra (if they survive the c section).

  30. "Until very recently, the prevailing view in the show world was that a champ dog should be used as often as possible," this is utter tripe stop generalising not EVERYONE thinks this!!!!!!

  31. Any KC dog should have limits on breeding, I'll never forget seeing a GSP on a few months ago looking exhausted and already over bred, being sold as nothing more than good for breeding. I will never forgive myself for not picking up the phone and buying her to save her from any further 'mistreatment'
    The line has to be drawn somewhere and the KC could make a difference, but it's much more profitable for them to make money as we all know...

  32. Jemima,

    Do you know how far back the GSD was 'allowed' to stack so radically different than other breeds? When did the ethic of placing or holding one leg so far behind the other begin?

    My theory is that it can't be a coincidence that the GSD has such horrible and unique angulation in the rear and also are stacked in conformation so differently to accentuate this. One certainly followed the other, IMO. And I think that this difference has allowed the angulation to continue to become more and more grotesque and dysfunctional.

    I wonder if we can't track down the origin to a certain kennel club or country or even kennel and dog.


  33. My basenji girl is the granddaughter of an African import. She looks slightly less standardized than most basenjis and will be 14 this year. She's healthy as a horse. Beautifully active, joyous, full of life. Is her longevity a coincidence? I'd like to think no . . .

  34. Her breeder, who is still breeding, tests regularly for Fanconi and has had no incidence of it.