Inbreeding in Dogs

One of the things I’m doing right now is grading papers from my UW students on the “Biology and Philosophy” of one of five topics. They could choose to write their papers on one of the following:  Eating Farmed vs. Wild-caught Salmon, Should Apes Have Rights?, Game Farms, Dolphins in Entertainment, and relevant to the blog, Breeding Regulations in Domestic Dogs. They were charged with first writing a paper objectively describing both “sides” of the issue and then writing a paper that relates one of the philosophies we’ve studied to the issue and their own beliefs. Grading their papers is daunting (there are 150 of them; thankfully I have a wonderful Teaching Assistant who shares the job) but also fascinating. Each year I learn a tremendous amount that is often relevant to both my personal life (I rarely eat shrimp or scallops any more because their harvest causes so much environmental damage, although boy do I miss them!) and my professional life, as illustrated the article mentioned below, which was included in a student’s paper (thanks!).

Researchers Federico Calboli et al in the UK examined the breeding records of eight generations of 10 common breeds, including Boxers, Chows, English Bulldogs, Rough coated Collies, Goldens, Greyhound, GSDs, Labs, Springers and what they call Akita Inu (is that our Shiba Inu?). I won’t go into the mathematics of their study, in part because it would take pages and pages and in part because I don’t even pretend to understand it (I’m putting my faith in the reviewers for Genetics, which is a prestigious enough journal for us to assume at least someone else checked the math). But the bottom line is simple, and not surprising: All the breeds were extremely inbred except, interestingly enough, the Greyhounds. The extent of the inbreeding can be summarized thusly: 90% of the genetic variation was lost over a period of 6 generations. (The paper is in Genetics 179, May 2008, pp 593-601.)

Heaven help me, because I know I’ll take flack for this, but as a biologist and a dog lover, I just have to comment that there is something terribly wrong with the way we are defining “pure bred” dogs now. Insisting on 100% “purity” of blood lines is relatively new: It was common in the past, less than 100 years ago, to mix and match lineages and breeds to combine desired traits and keep the lines healthy. The idea of bringing in new genetics, if necessary, was considered to be a good thing, not something that would destroy the breed.

I’ll have more to say about this in the next post, but I’m interested in your comments first. I know how much many people love their breeds and are dedicated to “preserving and improving” them. But isn’t there an elephant in the room here? I’m hardly the first to bring up this issue, but I’d like to know first what you think about the issue of decreasing genetic variability and inbreeding in purebred dogs? I’m listening . . .

MEANWHILE, back on the farm: Willie and I had a scary couple of days; he began vomiting on Friday night and couldn’t keep any food down. I was out of town with my sister-in-law, but he has a great sitter who is vet student who took good care of him til I returned. Sunday didn’t go well, he vomited 6-7 times, so he was in the vet clinic first thing Monday morning. (FYI, if he had seemed to be in any distress otherwise I would have taken him in sooner, and his vet actually came out to check on him and bring me medications on Easter Sunday. That’s right, a vet who did a house call on Sunday on Easter. Seriously. His name is John Dally at Spring Green Animal Hospital and surely he deserves kudos, yes? And besides, he looks exactly like I imagine James Herriot to have looked when he was younger). Things are much better now, Willie is on 3 meds, very limited food, and seems to feel better. Our working hypothesis is mild stomach ulcers, possibly from the NSAIDs he’s been taking (no more needless to say). He got acupuncture last night, is super hungry but is definitely not 100% yet.  I’ll keep you posted.

Here’s the perfect April in Wisconsin image: Daffodils and snow. We had quite a storm last week. I’m happy to say the daffs all recovered and are happily bobbing in the rain right now. It’s been a cool and rainy month so far, which many people hate but I like that it keeps the spring bulbs blooming longer. Seems like the yard has been full of pots of gold for over 2 weeks now, such a joy.

And here’s the silly cake I made for my BFF for her 65th birthday. Can you tell we both love flowers?


  1. Lisa B says

    Oh boy. I used to try to bring up the “elephant in the room” from time to time on on canine forums and email lists, and I would get resoundingly told I was an idiot who know nothing about genetics and breeding or accused of being some kind of PETA troll.

    As for the issue of decreasing genetic variability and inbreeding in purebred dogs … well my last four dogs have been mixed breed. For a reason 😉

    I am going to be checking back frequently to see what kind of response you get because this is a discussion I think really needs to happen. Thanks for bringing it up!

  2. Lizzie says

    The Akita Inu is what we know as the Japanese Akita. “Inu” means dog in Japanese and “Akita” is the prefecture from which the breed originated. The Japanese Akita looks much like the Shiba Inu but they are vastly different in size (70-100lbs vs 20ish). The American Akita appears to have a heavier build and has a broader range of acceptable colors and coat patterns. The United States, Canada and Australia consider the Japanese and American Akitas to be the same breed, but they are regarded as separate breeds in the rest of the world.

  3. Allie says

    “Farmed vs. wild caught” salmon hardly seems like both sides of the issue to me. It’s clear to me that we should not be eating sentient, emotional creatures at all. I would not eat, farm, kill or pay someone else to do those things to a cat, dog, gorilla fish or any other feeling animal. The pleasure I get from food just does not justify the stress, pain and death the animal must endure. (Vegan food is pleasurable too!)

    Maybe that’s not a popular idea, but it’s an idea I hope will catch on among the community of people who love animals so much they dedicate their career to minimizing the stress and learning to understand the communication of a lucky few species.

  4. says

    This has actually been an issue I’ve been concerned about over the last 10 years or so. Breeding should never be done by amateurs, and the health and temperament of the dog should always be first and foremost in the equation. Breeders need to remember that all of their purebred dogs were once a combination of other breeds, bred to do certain jobs, breed to increase their health, or longevity. I worry when breed standards have changed more over the years to the detriment of the animals health. Do we really need a pug with a shorter nose, a Shar Pei with a more wrinkly face or a Pomeranian with thinner legs or a GSD, Great Dane or Mastiff that is larger? What we then get is a pug with more breathing problems, a Shar Pei with more incidents of entropian, a Pomeranian that can’t jump off a sofa without breaking a leg and giant breed dogs with short life spans and debilitating joint problems.

    Adding some diversification into the lines to increase their health would be a win-win in my mind. I know there are breeders out there that are trying to do the best for their breed, but are they moving in the right direction???

  5. Jeff Line says

    I wish that all of us who are involved in animal welfare issues could learn to speak civilly to each other about the many challenging issues we face. Breeders speaking to rescues speaking to shelters speaking to purely positive trainers speaking to mostly positive trainers speaking to mostly P+ trainers, o’ my.

    We have got to start talking about the damage being done by closed breed books. It seems so simple to periodically outcross a breed. I am confident that people of good will could come up with a schema for introducing fresh genetic diversity into breeds without destroying their “essential” character. Europe has apparently cleaned up some issues in Dalmations by outcrossing. However, I understand the idea is a total non-starter with US registries.

    I recall the Porty people cleaned up an issue a few years ago by identifying a founder problem and avoiding breeding from one of the very few Porty founders in the US. There they didn’t even have to outcross, it just took some discipline within the breed.

    Read about the current inbreeding issues with the Isle Royal wolf population ( Almost all of the wolves have vertebral deformities to the extent that even a layperson could see there is an issue. The issue exists.

    So please do try to lead a discussion in your thoughtful, science based fashion.

  6. trisha says

    Thanks for the info about breed names (Akita = Inu).
    And to Allie: Students did not have to ‘pick one.’ I did not have time in the blog to describe the entire paper assignment. Several students suggested not eating salmon at all, and either eating lower on the food chain (which is why I eat sardines once a week) or not eating meat at all, so rest easy.

    Looking forward to continuing comments about the breed issue, thanks for those so far.

  7. Marguerite says

    Whenever this topic comes up, I am reminded of how breeding stock for European sport horses is selected. (One caveat, I haven’t followed horse sports for a number of years, and I’m relying on memory for most of what follows, but it’s the principles I’m going for, not precise facts.)

    Again, as I understand it, horses–and stallions in particular–must pass rigorous performance and temperament tests before being approved as breeding stock. And regardless of the pedigree of the animal, if, say, a Hanoverian meets the standards for Oldenburg, then he’s approved to breed to Oldenburg mares.

    Anyone who has seen pictures of Queen Victoria’s Pomeranians will notice how large they are when compared to today’s. Does this make them better, healthier dogs? Bulldogs, who once looked more like Am Staffs, are no longer capable of meeting any type of performance standard that the first examples of the breed could meet.

    Depending on lineage to define a breed is going about it bass-ackwards. I’d be interested in learning how healthy the “designer dogs” are (which I bet is what many of our “traditional” breeds once were).

    And, on a personal note, I was encouraged to bring home a stray rat terrier (now I have two) because they are not a recognized AKC breed (though they now haver FSS status) and for many generations were more of a “type” of dog and not a breed, with some lines containing beagle and some whippet. Therefore they appear to be genetically healthy–except that now backyard breeding of “registered” dogs is leading to luxating patellae and other ills caused by greed and ignorance.

    I say you shouldn’t be able to register breeding canines that hasn’t passed performance and temperament tests, regardless of parentage.

  8. Jeff says

    You know I have been thinking about this as well. The inbreeding part. My sister has a lab, a true English lab. While he is her pet and companion he is probably the most perfect specimen of a lab physically. There are no genetic defects and he is probably has the best personality of any dog I ever met and healthy as well, not so much as an ear infection in his 4 years of life so far. He is extremely easy going and has an incredibly soft mouth. Like when him and I wrestle he will grab my whole arm in his mouth yet I never feel a tooth. Yet I have seen him crush a tennis ball in his mouth. Also he is one of the most intelligent labs I have ever had the company to be with. He is very quick to figure things out. He taught himself to open and close the doors to the house, which sometimes when he lets himself out he does forget to close the door. He was completely house trained in 4 days and never had an accident since. He is also incredibly calm and rolls with life as it comes.

    He has a brother as well, and English Lab which comes from a different breeder. You can just see the difference not only in physical appearance but in intelligence and demeanor as well. Not that anything is wrong with the other lab but he is more your general lab heart of gold, head of stone and ornery.

    Anyway I am looking at getting a new lab and was researching the breeder. It turns out the breeder of my sisters super lab is very well known for producing the best labs possible. A majority of the English labs that wins a dog show is from her kennel or has direct descendants from her kennel from my research. Her labs are also prized for guide dogs and special needs dogs. She started breeding labs when she was 16 and she is somewhere in her 50’s now. She helped found the School of Canine Science and she specifically breeds for the betterment of the species. Every single lab she produces has a full lineage tracing back at least 6 generations available on her website.

    Anyway, I tell you this because as I am looking back through several of her dogs and even my sisters dogs I was noticing a lot of inbreeding. It is not close inbreeding but it is there. The inbreeding, the closest I seen was on the second generation, so maybe the sire and the dame had the same sire but definitely different dames. So I am conflicted. I want a new dog and am ready for a new dog. The breeder is extremely reputable but I am conflicted with how I feel over the inbreeding and the extreme quality of dog that she produces. Had I not personally seen once of her dogs grow up from puppy hood to a healthy 4 year old adult I wouldn’t have considered it a good practice. However done by an experienced breeder and done for the betterment of the breed I am beginning to think it is actually not a bad thing.

    Side note please for readers, before people start telling me to adopt, I have done that, every single dog I have had. This time I want a puppy. I have never had a puppy before and I want that experience. Sorry if it seems rude but you would be surprised at how many people insist I adopt one from a shelter every time I mention I am getting a new dog, they go as far to try to talk me out of it, yes I am aware there are thousands of dogs in shelters. I have rescued 4 of them over my life loved them and gave them great homes but I really want to get a puppy this time.

  9. e says

    I am really glad to see you raising this issue. There is most definitely an elephant in the room. As an evolutionary biologist who studies population genetics, I have long been appalled at the methods routinely employed by supposedly responsible breeders. The idea of breed purity is an absurd anachronism that should have died along with the notions of human racial purity that spawned it. I doubt there is any single action that could do more to increase canine welfare, than educating breeders on this issue.

    Unfortunately, like Lisa, when I’ve tried to raise awareness about the relevant science, I’ve encountered only hostility. I can imagine that it’s very difficult for prestigious breeders – who love their dogs and have honestly devoted their lives to improving the breed – to confront the idea that they have actually been harming the breed and hurting their dogs with these practices. Hopefully since you are well-known and respected throughout the doggy community, these people will be more willing to listen to you.

  10. Lindsay says

    @ Lisa B: I’ve had the same experience. I’m a Ph.D. student in biology very close to finishing my degree and have been called an idiot who knew nothing about genetics or breeding by dog people many times. It’s a bit frustrating.

    I think the border collie is a pretty good example of how introducing outside genetic material has improved the breed. To my understanding, dogs can be offered acceptance in working registries on merit, so if they are good herders, they are border collies. It is also a pretty healthy breed overall and has pretty strong working ability. Also, years ago the Basenji required outside stock to continue the breed because the breed, that was based on 9 dogs to begin with, had become sickly so the AKC opened the registry in 1990 to 14 dogs. I think that most breeds will have to open their registries eventually for the same reasons.

    I think it’s important for breeders to keep in mind that there are only two ways to increase genetic diversity in a lineage of animals: importing from a different population and mutation (which is almost always deleterious). What breeders are doing, even when trying to fix problems, is essentially purifying selection; they are removing genetic diversity from a lineage by only choosing the genes of certain individuals to move forward. So for all the relatedness indices and complicated crosses that people can come up with, in a closed registry, you will ONLY be removing diversity. And greater numbers of dogs produced from the same stock does not equal greater genetic diversity.

    As a biologist, I don’t believe that closed registration is a viable long-term strategy.

  11. Kat says

    This is definitely a discussion that all lovers of dogs need to have. The beauty pageant aspect of breeding dogs to an idealized standard is not doing anyone dogs or the humans that love them any good. I’d love to see the standards change from physical characteristics to performance based (more what the standards are for Border Collies for example) After all, what point is there to having a dog that would be physically incapable of doing the job for which they were originally bred or for which they are currently employed. A companion dog that looks amazing but is aggressive toward people isn’t much of a companion. A Pug that can’t breathe may look great but not many people really want to live with a companion that wheezes all the time. I often wonder if that’s part of the popularity of Bugs, Chugs and Puggles these “designer” dogs retain much of the character of their parents but with many fewer health issues.

    My son wants a Golden Retriever for his dog but I’m reluctant because I’ve met so many pure bred Goldens with serious health or temperament problems. I’ve met a lot of healthy sweet natured goldens as well but it’s such a crap shoot whether you’ll get one that is healthy and sweet or not. I keep pointing out the Golden crosses and he’s beginning to understand why. He’s 11.

    I think I’ll stick with my unrecognized English Shepherd type dog who seems to be pretty free of health issues (at least now that we’ve found a diet that works).

  12. says

    Julie’s a lucky friend, to get a silly cake for her birthday!

    I’d like to see more knowledgeable outcrossing done by those with a good scientific background in genetics.

  13. Leslie says

    Hi Trisha,
    Sorry to hear about Willie’s gastric upsets. L-glutamine (powder, can be found at Whole Foods, health food stores) is very healing of the lining of the digestive system. And do you feed raw green tripe? (Dr. Jody B. always recommended it). It’s helping my William avoid chronic pancreatitis episodes. Very digestible and delicious to them, stinky as heck to us.
    As to inbreeding, I certainly agree that modern breeding is producing less and less healthy dogs.

  14. Alexandra says

    I remember reading about how the “pure” Dalmatian breed no longer contains a normal gene for uricase, and that all Dalmatians will have hyperuricemeia as a result. Someone several decades ago (I forget the name, but I think he was a vet) had done a backcross to pointers to introduce the normal gene, and after a few generations eventually ended up with dogs that looked so much like “pure” Dalmatians as to be indistinguishable, but they had the normal uricase gene and were free of hyperuricemia.

    Ultimately, the AKC and Dalmatian breed club did NOT accept these backcrossed dogs for registration. I think that is incredibly tragic, and a very succinct example of what is wrong with purebred dog registries.

    I believe that the issue is still being debated in the AKC and Dalmatian breed club, and that some descendants of the backcrossed dogs have been registered on a limited basis. I find that amazing, because to my mind there shouldn’t even be a controversy when you are introducing new genes into a breed for the express purpose of improving the dogs’ health and welfare.

    Also, I agree with Marguerite’s comments about sport horses – I don’t follow them closely, but I know the Europeans breed German Shepherd Dogs to a performance standard rather than a confirmation standard as the Americans do, but the result is that virtually all police & working GSDs in the US come from overseas lines. Just one example, but I do with the purebred dog registries would include a breed-appropriate performance standard and basic health examination as part of their requirements for a dog to earn a “Championship.”

  15. Alexandra says

    As usual, please excuse my typos & errors… a few always seem to sneak in there.

    I also wanted to add that I like the “Register On Merit” option that one of the border collie registries has (sorry, don’t recall which one, but read about it in one of Donald McCaig’s books). I think in the long run, and open stud book is better for the health of the dogs and that it’s better to end up with a “type” of dog that does a job or serves a role (e.g., small, sweet, fluffy companion) rather than a narrow gene pool that is a “breed.”

    Another example that comes to mind is that when you look at Chesapeake Bay Retrievers in the show ring, they are almost all the same shade of medium/dark brown. However, the breed standard actually allows for a really wide range of light beige to dark brown. It’s like there’s a pressure to narrow the gene pool of a breed even further to what wins in the conformation ring. Does that make the dog a better retriever? Not a bit.

    That said, I *do* own a purebred dog, and one rescue. My rescue is a bit of a train wreck of temperament problems. My purebred has a bombproof temperament. I believe that there is absolutely a place for responsible breeders to keep producing dogs, and like Jeff, I wish that we could all be kind to each other while discussing these issues! Good luck bringing up these types of things at your next breed club meeting if you are involved with purebred dogs… and vice versa if you volunteer at an animal shelter. Kudos to Trisha for hosting this discussion.

  16. stephanie says

    I feel like there are valid points for both sides. For the breed argument, I think it is nice to be able to “know what you’re going to get” as far as general breed characteristics like behavior tendencies/temperament and working strengths. Here comes the huge BUT… But when it comes to a point where their health is compromised, is when I think breeders need to take a step back and think about what they are really doing. Is it really healthy to breed dogs that are unable to give birth naturally and need intervention? Is it healthy to breed dogs that have respiratory problems and malfunctioning organs? It is the dogs that end up suffering and the quality of life for them that is compromised, all for what? Usually a profit. It seems to me that the more responsible breeders do indeed bring in outside genes to keep their dogs healthy and they do improve the breed by keeping such health problems bred out of their lines. Unfortunately it seems that such breeders are far and few between. Another thing to take into consideration is the general overpopulation of dogs in the world and is it really appropriate to be perpetuation the problem when so many are euthanized annually?

    I really wish that people/breeders would stop and think about how their actions are impacting the world, the quality of life they are perpetuating and make decisions that are really in the best interests for lives that they are responsible for creating.

  17. Jennifer says

    I have two purebred, registered Aussies. I went to a breeder because I wanted a more outgoing, laid-back dog than is typical but who still had the intelligence, focus, and energy of the breed. I got to meet my dogs’ parents and I certainly got the dispositions and personalities I hoped for. However, I have struggled with elbow dysplasia and hypothyroidism in one dog, and MDR1 gene defects and epilepsy in the other on top of a heavy coat that is a terrible liability when he has seizures in hot weather (I shave him now). Both dogs came from a responsible breeder who promptly removed several dogs in her breeding program after my dog’s epilepsy was diagnosed. Still, genetic health issues are far more prominent in this breed than they need to be (especially the defective MDR1 gene, which can easily and inexpensively be tested for, and it has a very straightforward inheritance pattern). Show rings clearly do not select for healthy dogs, and breeders apparently will not if they feel they need to have titles on their dogs before they can breed them. My next dog will be a mixed breed from the shelter.

  18. says

    Hi Trisha,

    Your blog is a recent delightful find for me, I’ve been in heaven getting caught up from day one, drinking in the information, humor and dang, but I’m in love with that Willie. I hope he gets better sooner rather than later.

    Your question about purebred dogs: My opinion is it’s not just that responsible breeders are few and far between, but that dogs are being bred for the wrong criteria. For example, GSDs are bred to have low slung hips resulting in all sorts of medical issues. Thanks to the AKC, boxers and pugs, etc. have morphed from normal snouted dogs to dogs with deformed noses. The poor things can’t breathe without snoring.

    What’s most important to me is the health of the dog is not a factor in determining the breed standard for the AKC and the UK equivalent. Maybe it used to be, but it’s not now.

    Has everyone seen this documentary?

    After watching that documentary, my affection for the dog shows abruptly ceased.

    In my own case, one of my rescues is a Cocker Spaniel. She’s adorable (my Lucy), but oh boy, she is high strung, has had seizures, and I can’t, just can’t get a handle on curing persistent her skin problems. Cute dog, but she sure has issues.

    I’m not a professional, by the way, I’m just a regular person who has a great big love of dogs.

    Thank you so much for your blog, your books, and your DVDs. I’m a huge fan.

  19. Regine says

    In Europe there are two different breeds of Akitas with separate standards: The “Akita Inu”, the original dog from Japan, FCI standard Nr. 255 and the “American Akita”, FCI standard Nr. 344.
    The American Akita was selected in the USA out of the Akita Inus (by in-breeding…), he got larger and heavier than the original Akita Inu and is told to have less hunting instinct than his japanese ancestor.
    The better known breed here is the original Akita Inu, the American Akitas are very rare.

  20. Bill Obermeyer says

    With regard to the “purity” issue I’m reminded of the occasionally acrimonious split between the breeders of FDSB and AKC Irish/red setters over the introduction (I’d say re-introduction) of sporting abilities from dogs outside “the breed”.

    Even when field and bench lines are both “pure”, the lack of variation (judging by expressed phenotypes,) seems to be more typical of show/conformation lines than of working lines or breeds — suggesting that either the criteria for the bench-ish lines are far narrower than for the working lines or that the founder stock is smaller. I suspect that both are true, and that they are related.

    The value of a dog of working lines seems based on how well it accomplishes its assigned task in its expected social milieu. Imagine an English springer capable of sniffing out bombs and staying calm and focused in stressful situations. It is hard to imagine that such a dog would not be bred because its tail carriage was wrong, or because it had too many brown hairs in its coat. The absence of “micromanagement” of the biology of working lines allows for genetic diversity, once performance criteria are satisfied.
    A conformation animal, on the other hand, seems unrealistically over-specified – shape, size, color, gait, etc., etc. The more rigorous and specific the criteria, the fewer the animals that can meet those criteria thus reducing the breeding stock and decreasing genetic variability in the progeny. The emphasis on purity and pedigree within “the breed” exacerbates this problem. It goes further, though, and by denying registration financially punishes breeders who might otherwise introduce valuable genetic diversity.

  21. Tildy says

    Allie, I’m with you about the animals. I’m a vegan myself, but I live with a carnivore (my beloved dog of course). Can’t begin to tell you the hell I go through …

    My dog is a purebred only because I completely and totally fell in love with his breed. But any dog — mixed breed or not — is fine with me! It’s the “designer breeds” I take issue with.

    I agree that reputable breeders are getting fewer and far between. And what comes out of too many breeders are unhealthy dogs. Huge labs (they weren’t built for that), really heavy (fat?) bulldogs, smushed faces so the poor things can’t breathe. HEALTH first. Titles much later.

  22. says

    One of the reasons I was drawn to my dogs’ breeder was her participation in the ASHGI “Ask/Tell” policy: She fully reveals the results of all genetic tests on her dogs and puppies, and lists the COI (coefficient of inbreeding) for litters.

    I think it’s important to talk about problems within a breed. Any geneticist will tell you that in-breeding results in a concentration of genes, and can result in previously-unknown recessive traits coming out. However, the traits could be bad or good — there is no rule that recessive == bad. The key is to balance the good effects of purebred dogs — predictably size and behavior — against the dangers of inbreeding.

    I think it would be a sad, sad thing if all dogs were so mixed that they were all mid-sized brown dogs. At the same time, I’m disgusted by poorly bred purebreds and designer dogs. I wonder what would happen if the big registries stopped allowing registration by high-volume breeders? Hmmmm.

  23. Julia says

    But what about the genetic issues that bringing in a new breed would cause? For instance, if you bring Labs in to a breed that doesn’t have PRA? There are an increasing number of genetic tests available to help people selectively breed to reduce issues WITHIN the breed. And it doesn’t necessarily mean narrowing your breeding pool – with DM, a “clear” dog could be bred to an “affected” dog and all the pups would be carriers, the “affected” dog doesn’t need to be taken out of the gene pool.

  24. Julia says

    In response to Debbie – don’t buy in to the PETA propaganda about the evil of breeding or that horribly slanted documentary. GOOD breeders are not breeding dogs that can’t breathe or that are deformed to the point of being functionally crippled. GOOD breeders are striving to breed dogs so they are healthy and BALANCED.

    Having a rescue with horrible problems really doesn’t say anything about GOOD breeding. Dogs from true responsible breeders rarely make it into rescue. Most commonly the dogs in rescue are from ‘casual’ breeders who are not careful about genetics.

  25. says

    I haven’t read all of the comments, but I’d say that you need to prove there is an issue with decreased genetic diversity itself before you write an article decrying it.

  26. Beth Fabel says

    I have been saying this for years…theres no more surefire way to destroy the breeds we love than to get so obsessed with “purity” that we breed all genetic diversity out. What makes a breed a breed isn’t what his parents were as much as it is what he can do. And what the show ring has done to many breeds is disgusting…the “a little is good so more must be better” philosophy has created dogs with what can only be described as deformities. No breeds primary function should be to run around a show ring.

  27. Susanne says

    As a long time breeder and exhibitor of GSDs I do think there is a rather short sighted attitude to our breeding methods. Long gone are the days were dogs were bred to type, irregardless of breed or even breed club affiliation, and I think this is to the detriment of our breeds genetically. Long before there were organized registries dogs were bred for a particular group of traits and if a breeder found a dog in a far away place who had some desirable traits to bring back home then back home he (or she) came. No one would have cared a hoot about papers or even breed as we define it today. In this manner of breeding for type some genetic diversity was maintained.
    In the current times most breeders I speak with don’t even know what it means to breed for type, they only know to use a in, or line, breeding model. Further, breeders focus so much on popular lines or kennels that many dogs are excluded from consideration simply because a breeder does not recognize enough names in the Pedigree. How often have we heard “yeah but the pedigree is a whole lot of nobody”. This popular mindset is such the opposite of how our breeds were started all those years ago.
    I have always thought that horse breeders have a better view. In many, mainly warmbloods, breeds a horse can be included in a breed book for a particular breed simply because it reflects that breeds type. This means horses of merit are included no matter pedigree, this allows for so much more genetic diversity then our dog model.

  28. Lauren Norwood says

    Akita Inus are also known as the Japanese Akita; they are a different “type” of Akita, just as there are different “types” of German Shepherd Dogs (eg. show line, working line, West German, American, Czech, etc). There are two types of Akita: American and Japanese. They both derive from common ancestry, but have their own differences.
    The American type has a stockier body with denser bone and a larger, more bear-like head. They also come in a wider range of acceptable colors and patterns. Pintos or dogs with black masks are especially common.
    The Japanese type is lighter in body with finer bone and a more fox-like head. Any color other than sesame, red, fawn, brindle or white is not permitted. Pintos and dogs with black masks are also not permitted.
    Many countries consider the two to be separate breeds.

  29. Karen H. says

    We got a pure-bred puppy in March. First time ever — before now, I’ve only had mixed-breed rescue dogs.

    We got an English Shepherd because my ES mixes have been fabulous dogs, and I thought I’d see what the “real thing” was all about … and because the breed is supposed to be bred for working traits, not looks, and so has a better health record than most other breeds. (ES is not AKC-recognized.)

    Surprise! Our puppy had a seizure at 12 weeks, and has a surprising number of neurological and behavioral issues. The breeder’s only real response is “there’s nothing wrong with either of his parents” and “there’s nothing wrong with his litter mates.”

    I fully understand that our puppy’s problems could be a genetic fluke — he could just be a lemon. (Hate to call him that, because he’s also a very smart, very fabulous puppy.) But I can’t shake the feeling that his issues have something to do with the fact that his lineage has been selected for many generations back … by definition the gene pool that produced him is getting smaller.

    I love this dog and hope we can save him, but after this we’ll go back to “Heinz 57″ dogs.

  30. says

    I own both Akitas and Shibas. Shibas are related to Akitas and may be the older breed as they have found ancient skeletons in Japan of dogs similar in size and build to the Shiba. The Akita breed suffered a fairly severe genetic bottleneck during WWII when many dogs were killed for their pelt, starved or otherwise died from diseases like distemper. The book “Dog Man” by Martha Sherrill chronicles one man’s effort to save the breed after the war. Interestingly, before the war, the Akita was regularly mixed with european breeds. There have been discussions in recent years of having the AKC further segregating the breed into two separate breeds, Japanese-style Akitas (small andcompact) and American style Akitas (large and bear-like). I am not a big fan of this idea from a genetic perspective but then I am not a breeder and I am more interested in health and temperament than conformation to a certain physical ideal. The shiba does not have (or at least not yet) the level of breed specific problems that the Akita has.

    My 12 year old shiba has had very few health problems. My rescued akita (likely the result of a backyard breeder) has had several health problems but on the other hand he is currently 14 years old and going strong.

    Dr. Sophia Yin had an interesting Facebook post awhile back about genetic disorders in mixed versus purebred dogs. She noted that while most people think mixed breeds are free of genetic disorders, many common genetic disorders are very ancient in origin and pre-date the emergence of the modern breeds. Here is a link to the original post:!/SophiaYin.DVM/posts/10150142209074245

  31. says

    @Alexandra –
    The dalmatian issue is still an incredibly divisive force within the Dalmatian community. It is too bad. Many long time breeder are still demanding that more research be done to see what “pointer diseases” could have been brought into the breed. They are 13 or 14 generations out now and there is a group of breeders that are carrying Dr Schaible’s work forward. It’s been many years since my college genetics classes – but really how much of the pointer genome could remain at 13 generations! And it was just one pointer! As you can see it is a hot topic for many people. :-) For more information check out

  32. Kelli says

    It’s definitely a good topic to bring up, as I personally have seen it as a huge problem in my breed of choice (GSD).

    There’s been a great divide in the breed between show and working types, and it’s sad to see the extremes that the showline dogs are being bred to at the expense of their working ability. I think the Europeans have a good system going as far as requiring breed evaluations that include temperament and working ability before the shepherds are able to be bred. I’d rather my GSDs be able to do their job well (Schutzhund, herding, etc.) then look “pretty” and be able to run around a ring.

    Small example in the big scheme of things but I think people are too caught up in breeding for show extremes and completely overlooking what the breeds were intended for in the first place, or even the health and temperaments of the dogs themselves. Sad.

  33. Ruth says

    I’ve recently started following this topic, and I’m amazed that people can be in love with their breed to a fault. The recent Dalmation fuss is a great example of this! It seems like when a stud book is opened to fresh blood, it is only in extreme circumstances and for too short a time. Too little, too late.

    There are so many other related issues here… How do we reduce the number of people who keep their dogs intact “just in case” they decide to breed? Who says when a trait is extreme? When did the attitude about fresh blood change from positive to negative? At what point do health problems eclipse looks? With genetic testing becoming readily available, is a breeder only responsible if he/she takes advantage of it?

    And, a question most of us ask ourselves: How do I balance the pros and cons of adopting a rescue versus raising a purebred dog?

    It’s interesting to see that the inbreeding has such an effect over six generations. I seem to remember reading somewhere else that six generations is a key number in genetic variation, that the extreme traits would even out after that number of breedings.

    And a semi-related note, I was thinking of this topic today when I saw this article: J.M. Fleming, K.E. Creevy, D.E.L. Promislow. Mortality in North American Dogs from 1984 to 2004: An Investigation into Age-, Size-, and Breed-Related Causes of Death. Journal of Veterinary Internal Medicine, 2011; 25 (2): 187 ( There were a few surprises in terms of common causes of death for particular breeds. While the study has some flaws, it is possible that breed fanciers have overlooked problems that could be discovered with studies like this.

  34. says

    I do find that in some cases there are very good reasons for breed outcrosses in the case of health problems. I think the choice of the Dalmatian club (as mentioned above) not to include the outcrosses that were developed was a poor one. I understand their reasons, but in my life and breeding goals health is second to none.

    In my experience, much of the argument that we’re breeding sick dogs is based on the actions of only SOME of the breeders, and sadly, a lot of propaganda. Breeding healthy dogs takes a LOT of work, and there are tons of people out there who are breeding but have not put in the work. It can take literally hundreds of hours of research and fact checking to truly find a good breeder – something the average dog owner doesn’t do. I admit, that is terribly sad. However, there ARE breeders out there who are producing sound healthy dogs. Lots of them. The “Pedigree Dogs Exposed” documentary is a good example of the propaganda out there that falls terribly short of telling the whole truth.

    Different breeders have different goals. Some are breeding for the top herding dogs, some for the fastest sled dogs, some for the perfect look, some for great heads, etc. While I might not like the choices many of them make, I don’t find that I have a right to tell them they are wrong and what they are doing is not ok. In sledding dogs a great front can be considered worth its weight in gold, in herding good rear angles are likely to be more coveted. I have no use for toy breeds, but that doesn’t mean that nobody does. Not everybody is breeding for the same things, not everybody is wrong. Quite often I find that in the breeds people talk about being “ruined” such as Labs and GSD’s there are still plenty of breeders out there with great lines of exceptional healthy dogs – there are just a whole lot of “didn’t-put-in-the-time” breeders overshadowing them so many of us don’t know about them (until WE decide to put in the time ourselves).

    Sure, there are some breeds that are developed from the combining of other breeds and those breeds might benefit from dipping back into other gene pools by somebody who knows what they’re doing. However, there are still many breeds who stand alone. The Samoyed curled up on my feet is approximately 12 generations out of the original dogs of the native people who developed them (depending on the line you follow back) and to introduce any other breed to his clean genetics is not something I would support. There really is no benefit to it.

    I’m done with unknowns. I’m not interested in having a dog who will be limping around after a hard run at only 5 years old because of poor structure. I’m done spending hours upon hours training a puppy only to put him down at 8 months because the person who bred him didn’t seem to think it would be a problem that his father was severely dysplastic. I’m not willing to put a dog through multiple knee surgeries that could have been prevented by proper structure. For me, I don’t care where the dog came from, I just care that I can verify proper health testing for many generations behind him. I care that I’ve done everything I can to make sure that my dogs (and those they produce) are as healthy as possible. This is why I choose purebred dogs from good breeders.

  35. Chrissy says

    I also agree that something is wrong. Aside from the issue of extensive inbreeding in ‘pure bred’ dogs, something that has really amazed/shocked me lately is the resistance people are met with when attempting to create a new breed. I know that sometimes this is done for the wrong reasons, for example backyard breeders and puppy mills mixing pure bred dogs to create popular ‘designer dogs’ – but there are those out there who are experienced and passionate, who want to create something new that either combines the best of two breeds, or refines an existing breed to make it somewhat different. This is how ALL dog breeds were created, why did it suddenly become such an offence? Look at schnauzers, they come in three sizes, or the various terriers that come in different coat types. Yet anyone who breeds ‘unregistered’ dogs is often shunned by the dog community (I’m not talking about unregistered pure bred dogs, but rather mixes and breeds not yet recognized by the kennel clubs). These people are accused of ‘tainting’ or ‘ruining’ the lines that others have worked hard to establish. But the responsible people doing this type of breeding are not putting their mixes back into pure bred lines, they are creating something separate. Nor are they removing a large enough proportion of the dogs of a certain breed to make an impact on the lines that have been created. I guess it’s human nature to resist change, but I personally don’t see any issue with responsible dog breeders striving to create new breeds.

  36. says

    I should probably add…

    I find that the driving force behind the majority of the controversy regarding how dogs are bred is based in misunderstanding.

    So many people who have never shown a dog in conformation call it a beauty pageant. Anybody who’s actually been a part of it (and understands it) knows that’s not the truth.

    Many show people find themselves too engrossed in the show world and fail to continue “proofing” their dogs in the work they were originally bred for.

    So many people who breed strictly for work (hunting, herding, sledding, etc) brush off the show people, but a huge majority of them know absolutely nothing about proper structure which has a huge impact on working ability.

    I run in both circles, and it makes me completely crazy that each thinks the other doesn’t know what they’re doing, all the while they both could benefit from the knowledge of the other.

    I happen to like the way much of the breeding in Europe works – put a title on both ends of his name or you’re not breeding him. IMO, the way it should be.

  37. says

    I just watched Debbie’s link to the Kennel Club in the UKC. Not feeling very good right now and actually quite ashamed of what we have done to dogs in the name of ‘beauty’ and ‘breed standards’. I was a German Shepard person but the breed is all but ruined now.

    The history of dogs is we bred them to work for us. We even bred them to bark when we needed dogs to warn us.

    I have a field lab that is obsessed with retrieving. Jack would rather retrieve then eat. He lives to retrieve. The bright spot in this is Jack had the word ‘Silver’ all over in his pedigree, which is clear to me that some one, tried to breed a Wein to get a ‘silver’ lab. As much as this is against the rules in breeding it most likely helped with inbreeding problems.

    I see so many dogs that i train with so many problems that are purebreds.

    If I were Queen I would want all conformation dogs to have temperament and health as prerequisites to showing.

  38. Beth says

    I think the most important point is not to jump to hasty conclusions. It’s easy to think that losing genetic diversity is inherently a bad thing, but I suppose it depends on what diversity is lost and why, and how much new diversity crops up from spontaneous mutation and the like. I agree that there should be some sort of performance consideration in breeding dogs, but I don’t know that would increase diversity. For instance, the Thoroughbred racehorse is bred almost completely for performance, with type and conformation being an afterthought. There were 3 founding sires of the breed, and over time most of the diversity has been lost: 95% of all thoroughbreds now trace in tale-male to the Darley Arabian, and the Y chromosome info from the other two founders (the Godolphin Arabian and the Byerly Turk).

    How did this happen? Matches are made with performance in mind, and while horses are inbred, the close matches common in dogs are completely frowned upon.

    Indeed, humans can all trace back to one female ancestor even though there was never a time, apparently, when there was only one human woman alive. How did this happen? Humans aren’t selectively bred at all.

    From Wiki:

    “One of the misconceptions of mitochondrial Eve is that since all women alive today descended in a direct unbroken female line from her that she was the only woman alive at the time.[10][11] However nuclear DNA studies indicate that the size of the ancient human population never dropped below some tens of thousands;[10] there were many other women around at Eve’s time with descendants alive today, but somewhere in all their lines of descent to present day people there is at least one male (and men do not pass on their mothers’ mitochondrial DNA to their children, so the mitochondrial inheritance chain is broken). By contrast, Eve’s lines of descent to each person alive today includes at least one line of descent to each person which is purely matrilineal.”

    I don’t know. I guess my point is that inbreeding is not in and of itself necessarily a problem. Breeding to a rigid standard based on looks with no regards to function is, and inbreeding if there are genetic health problems is. But contrary to the conventional wisdom, there are many genetic health problems in mutts too. I must say that the “backyard-breeder” dogs we had, which probably have more genetic diversity (totally unrelated individuals being bred) tended to have more health problems than the dogs we’ve had from “good breeders”. My current two Corgis are quite inbred by human standards, and also very healthy with no apparent problems. Never sick, no personality issues, healthy happy and sound, both mentally and physically.

    I think in the handful of breeds with severe genetic problems that are rampant, careful outcrossing should be allowed. But is inbreeding in dogs any more of a problem than in any other domestic animal? Considering how few rams and bulls are out there compared to the numbers of ewes and cows, I tend to think that the male-line diversity in livestock is very limited and has been for thousands of years. Since the males of horses, cattle, sheep, etc tend to be more aggressive and have not been kept by many farmers for time out of mind (with one neighborhood male “servicing” all the females)…. well, I tend to think that the issue must be huge there.

  39. Beth says

    Whoops, meant to say “and over time most of the diversity has been lost: 95% of all thoroughbreds now trace in tale-male to the Darley Arabian, and the Y chromosome info from the other two founders (the Godolphin Arabian and the Byerly Turk) has been mostly lost.

  40. Mokele says

    The whole dog breeding thing is actually a lesser reflection of what’s going on in my critters of choice, reptiles (particularly snakes), and frankly, a bit of poking around the reptile community could be instructive in a few ways.

    A bit of background: Within reptiles, and snake in particular, the sheer number of offspring means that genetic flukes show up from time to time, often in the form of pattern abnormalities (albino, leucistic, lacking yellow/red/black, stripes, etc.) termed “morphs”. Most are simple recessive traits (like albinism), so unlike dog breeds, where the target traits are the complex product of many gene interactions (ear shape, head shape, etc.), breeding is exceptionally simple and follows straightforward Mendelian genetics everyone learned in high school. It also puts a premium on inbreeding – full-sibling and parent-offspring breedings produce many more “visibles” (snakes that express the trait). In snakes, “outbreeding” means “cousin-cousin breeding”. Furthermore, there’s *no* central bookkeeping, no tracking of individuals (good breeder snakes can change hands every few years, and many snakes live 15-30 years), almost no culling, and a general rejection of the idea that inbreeding is damaging. While some lines have yet to show major problems, others have started producing offspring with no eyes, no scales, kinked spines, neurological abnormalities, hearts outside the body, or even a single eye in the center of the head.

    Firstly, based on what I’ve seen in reptiles, I wouldn’t be surprised if money weren’t behind some of the objection – a rare color mutation can make a $10 snake into a $6000 snake (and yes, they go for that and more, sometimes over $100,000). Granted, dogs also don’t have the raw profitability that comes with having 100+ offspring per year over a 30 year lifespan, but still, the cash incentive behind inbred animals is substantial. While I’m sure many see themselves as standing on principle, the subconscious knowledge that altering breeding practices will cost a huge amount of money will certainly exert a powerful tug on one’s opinion.

    Secondly, damage accumulates, and while reptiles seem to be more tolerant of developmental instability than mammals, a continuation of bad breeding practices will lead to health problems going from “bad” to “monstrous” to “Cronenberg’s remake of The Fly”. Sooner or later, the damage *will* accumulate badly enough for the entire future of the breed to be in jeopardy. I’d even argue this has already happened – English bulldogs, where most births can no longer happen without C-section, are a failed breed, as they’re incapable of the single fundamental trait that defines all life from bacteria to beluga whales, reproduction.

    The truly weird thing is that the same breeders who don’t bat an eye about parent-offspring breeding will rail against hybridization between closely related species (which happens frequently in nature) or even between sub-species or regional variants, using language straight from the 18th century including, and I quote, “dirty blood”.

    Anyhow, sorry to be long-winded, but I figured some input from the ectotherm world might be useful, given how quickly the same situation has degenerated.

  41. Beth says

    I do want to add that I think there are a handful of purebred dogs that are train wrecks. No responsible breeder should be breeding to a standard that does not allow dogs to mate or whelp naturally (and who writes such a standard?) GSD’s winning Best of Show who can’t even stand straight and wobble behind because their back ends are so sloped is a disgrace and they all ought to be ashamed, both the breeders who produce it and the judges who put them up. Breeding giant dogs that only live to 7 or 8 is questionable. A few breeds are riddled with cancer and heart problems.

    Certainly inbreeding has contributed to some of the issues (cancers, for instance). But what of the other problems? Inbreeding hasn’t caused warped breed standards, but perhaps the reverse is true. There is a certain conceit in dog breeding, and breeding “extreme” animals just because you can is something that really should be looked at more closely.

    Inbreeding didn’t cause a Basset that’s so short and heavy it could never chase a rabbit, but a breed standard that never stops to look and see if the dog can actually still run did. So I guess I’m less concerned with inbreeding in and of itself and more concerned with a rigid standard that encourages everyone to breed towards the same ideal.

    If a dog can’t breathe because it’s nose is so short, does it really matter if that trait came from 2 sire lines or 2000?

  42. AnneJ says

    This has become a big issue in my breed. When I had my first Aussies close inbreeding was considered the only way to be a proper breeder by most people. Recently, in the last 5-10 years (some) people have been realizing this was a mistake and have been paying attention to lowering the Coefficient of Inbreeding in their dogs.

    Crossing to other breeds, although it gets brought up occasionally, is still verboten for most people in the breed. I mean, say you were a breeder of good working border collies, and you went for genetic diversity and crossed to another breed. You might have generations of dogs that wouldn’t work right and who would want them? The same would be for any other useful breed of dog.

    Some mixes, for pets, make a lot of sense to me, for example, the puggle (beagle/pug), who gets more breathing room than it’s pure pug parent.

  43. kay says

    Hi Trisha, breeding purebreds – oh my, that is a complicated subject! I’ve been doing it since 1980 so I have been down a few roads…..anyway it’s a topic to be dissected over a few drinks or a very long walk in the woods! What I can say is that I see more behavior problems as the result of poor breeding practices – i.e.. breeding for one trait (and that trait is not temperament!) or indiscriminate breeding for profit – pairing any male & female with no regard for health checks or temperament….

    On the topic of vets – isn’t it great to have one you can trust, that you know has your dog’s best interest at heart? A couple months ago I was in another state judging a trial and got a call from my pet sitter that my dog, Baker (who will be 15 in june), would not/could not get up. This was on a Sat. I called my vet, who had actually never seen Baker and he went over to my house on Sat. night to examine him and give him meds. He then called me that night and the following two nights, prepared to go over again if needed. When I got home, I got the bill for the house call – $50. – yes, I thought the decimal was misplaced (certainly it would have been 10x more if he had been taken to an emergency clinic!)! BTW Baker is fine and back to ‘normal’…

  44. says

    I just wanted to point out that there is a significant difference between linebreeding and inbreeding. Inbreeding is the breeding of close relatives, such as mothers/sons, fathers/daughters, siblings, etc. Linebreeding is breeding of related dogs, but further apart than 1st generation cousins. In today’s breeding environment, tight linebreeding is quite rare. People *say* they’re linebreeding, but typically what they’re doing is more of a close breeding than a true linebreeding. Inbreeding is very rarely done by responsible breeders.

    I am a breeder of American Cocker Spaniels, if you can even call me that. I’ve had one litter in 15 years, so I’m not a major contributor to the puppy population. That being said, I do have a stud dog in my home (he has yet to be used for breeding at 3 years of age). I have done a variety of health tests to ensure his health (OFA, CERF, DNA tests for PFK and PRA), as well as having completed his conformation title. We are now moving on to obedience and rally obedience, as well as having fun with learning tricks (through shaping and clicker training). He has a fabulous temperament and is a lovely dog. I will be extremely selective in which females he is allowed to breed, if any at all.

    I think it’s important to be true to the breed (if you’re involved with purebreds), but I also think it’s crucial to take health and temperament into account as well. And we can NOT forget that function is of utmost importance. For me, American Cockers were bred to hunt. My dogs don’t hunt (for more than treats!), but they are BUILT to hunt. And I make them use their brains regularly, to ensure that their ability to reason and think isn’t lost. For me, that’s the best I can give back to this breed.

    Just my thoughts on a beautiful spring evening.

  45. says

    Sending love to Willie!! Scares like that are no fun, hope he’s feeling better.

    So glad you raised this timely issue. I’m wondering — do you know the answer? — if the reason that the Greyhound did not exhibit the inbreeding of other breeds was, that they are bred primarily for physical performance and not a “look”?

    My beloved dog is one of those “designer dogs” (labradoodle) that so many love to hate. I was a volunteer puppy raiser for a guide dog school, and raised him to be a guide dog…didn’t turn out that way, and I got to adopt him. He is extremely healthy though, a delightful and social companion, and incredibly smart. He did come from a breeder who tests extensively and breeds first for health and temperament. Some people admire him so much and say, “Oh it’s too bad they (labradoodles) aren’t an AKC breed.” Personally, I’m glad they’re not! Once you lose the freedom to outcross, it seems you’re headed to a genetic dead end…and that’s only worsened by people’s tendency to select for more and more exaggerated “type.” Having said that, of course I’ve noticed too that having a mixed breed, whether a “mutt” or say, a labradoodle…doesn’t guarantee health either! A mixed breed whose parents both had a genetic problem is quite likely to develop that same problem. But the freedom to outcross in a responsible manner seems, to me, a vital tool for the responsible breeder. Interesting topic and I’ll look forward to seeing what else you have to share on it!

  46. Sally S in OK says

    In discussions like this I’ve never seen anyone indicate how much genetic diversity in an individual animal is desirable and how much is too much. At one extreme each generation is a clone of their parents. At the other extreme there is zero predictability or consistency from one generation to the next.

    Frankly a discussion that is just about inbreeding is like discussing pay checks. There’s an implication that high is bad – unless it is yours. Does that mean low is good? In reality there’s so much more that ought to be considered than a quantity.

    When I see in-breeding, or more specifically a co-efficent of in-breeding (COI) above 25% — which is my personal trigger point for my breed, Golden Retrievers; yours may vary depending on population characteristics — I have a number of questions to research:
    What dogs are significant contributors that occur multiple times on both sides of the pedigree?
    What do I know about those dogs and their offspring?
    Were there traits I value?
    Were there faults/issues present that I find unacceptable?
    Who were breeders making key decisions about what offspring to keep in the gene pool and which to sift out?
    Do I value the same traits in dogs that those breeders valued and attempted to make more predictable and consistent?

  47. Jennifer Hamilton says

    As I understand it, the greyhound is the only breed that does not suffer from hip dysplasia. If that is in fact true, there is at least one major advantage to not outcrossing that breed. Even wolves have hip dysplasia, so I’m curious that greyhounds are the only “pure” breed and are also exempt from this terrible issue that affects 1 in 5 dogs at some point in life. I’ve also been told over 1500 genes contribute to proper or improper formation of the hip socket. Not sure what all of that means, but the whole greyhound purity coincidence is intriguing.

    I’m glad to hear Willy is doing better. I’m assuming you’ve ruled out kidney and liver issues as relates to the NSAIDS. For certain of the canine NSAIDS my dog was on, the FDA recommended blood panels every two weeks, and at least every month as long as the dog is taking them. I thought one of the bloggers was exaggerating until I actually read it on the package insert myself. My dog never had a problem, but I know others that developed kidney and liver issues abruptly and unexpectedly…some with serious consequences. Hope Willy rebounds quickly!

  48. Christina says

    I’m glad Willie is on the mend! How distressing with everything you’re already going through – exactly why I refused when the vet suggested I put my 1 year old dog on pain killers for the rest of his life over a surgical fix.

    I think everyone who is a lover of purebreds would do good to think twice and find people thinking to the future of the breed – not just their next great show dog. People like this man, who wanted to fix a very serious issue that affected 100% of dalmations: The website has a lot more information so I won’t hash it out here but he goes through the information wonderfully. The skinny is he cannot register his dogs after several generations because of the out-crossing that is getting rid of the problem.

    I think dog fancying is a wonderful thing – people who work towards solid animals who are physically and mentally sound and able to perform the tasks they were bred for (or not bred for but love to do anyways ;)). But it gets sullied by the attitude you mentioned that outcrossing is evil/wrong and only “purebreds” (said in a snotty tone, hehe) are worth showing. I think the lua dals are a GREAT example of the wonders a well thought out and executed outcrossing can do – his dals are gorgeous! It gave me serious pause and made me consider wanting a puppy from him!

  49. ABandMM says

    The above link is from and written by Dr. Nancy Kay (via her “Speaking for Spot” blog) and discusses breed profiling with respect to cause of death among purebred dogs. A timely article for this discussion.

    My mom just had to put down her 16+ year old Chow “Bear” that she bought from a pet store (she has promised me that she will never to buy a dog from a pet store again). Given that “Bear” was likely a puppy mill dog, she enjoyed 16 years of a very good life with just one major, but manageable health issue (ligament problems with one of her hind legs). Bear was the only purebred that we have had; all of our other dogs (past and current) have beens mutts/mixed breeds/All-Americans. I have training in genetics and certainly agree with “hybrid vigor” school of thought.

  50. says

    Just had to address this:
    “For example, GSDs are bred to have low slung hips resulting in all sorts of medical issues.”

    What medical issues would those be? It’s not related to hip dysplasia (you get HD in dogs with level backs and little rear angulation just as often/more often); I’ve never heard of a connection to ACL problems; and it’s not connected to any back problems that I know of–there’s no connection to Degenerative Myelopathy or Cauda Equina or gastric torsion or cancer or epilepsy or heart disease or skin allergies.

    Perhaps there is a connection to later arthritis in the spine? Never seen or heard it suggested, via either anecdotal or empirical evidence.

    Sometimes this “low slung” look goes hand in hand with loose ligamentation, flat pasterns, and excess “wiggle” in the hocks–I think that this is concurrent, not cause and effect–that is, breeding for extreme gait can also select for looser ligamentation because it creates a more dramatic style of motion and it also selects for a higher wither (often a very upright shoulder), longer thigh and stifle-thus a more extreme amount of rear angulation and a more extreme variance between wither height and croup height.

    It’s an easy visual target–it looks weird and different and the dogs who are the most extremely built tend to lose their agility and versatility. But, so far, it’s not been connected to specific health problems. I’m not a proponent of this conformation–but I’d rather see it condemned for its actual problems than imagined.

    I am all for having registries that have working and health requirements–most GSDs bred in Germany (even/especially the show-ring dogs) have passed a 12 mile endurance test, a temperament/obedience/traffic test, a physical examination (including teeth, weight, and height), a working/performance test, as well as having had to compete in a show ring at least once and pass a gunfire test. Additionally hip and elbow xrays are required for the breed survey. I also like the fact that it’s not the government that has these requirements–it’s set up by the breed club. Clubs/individuals have lobbied for some such registry requirements here in the US–and have been repeatedly shot down.

    I like the suggestion proposed above of having performance/temperament/conformation based evaluations like for sport horse registries–where a stallion can be approved to breed horses for X and Y and Z registries, as long as the dam is of those registries. And a mare can be approved to produce foals that will qualify for those registries as long as the stallion is also approved.

    If something like that *could* be set up and implemented, though… would breeders use it? That is, just because it is possible…. would it make any difference, would it be ignored or used? Who would use that “appendix” stud dog? And if someone did, would it just create an “island” within the breed that no other breeders would touch?

  51. Annie R says

    Interesting that the Akitas are just as inbred as the rest of the traditionally English and American breeds. As chronicled in the book “Dog Man” by Martha Sherrill, the Akita was “resurrected” post-WWII in Japan by country folks in the northern regions of Japan. At the beginning, they were breeding more for spirit, and Sherrill describes how they got a lot of dogs with shorter legs, less curl to the tail, etc. Then, over time, the dogs started to look more alike, with more consistent coat texture, leg length, tail curl, etc. Apparently the competitiveness at regional shows was intense, even in the days when there were not many dogs or breeders; so perhaps it isn’t so surprising that the breed is as “inbred” as the rest, even though the current generation of Akitas comes from only about 50 years of breeding.

    It’s an interesting if somewhat heartbreaking book — very realistic description of how the dogs were treated during and after the war in a country where people were starving and the dogs were not a priority in society — but also a very interesting chronicle of how an “ideal” model of a breed develops in a country like Japan over the years in which Western values were becoming more idealized.

    Anyway, hope poor Willie gets back on an even keel soon. He does seem to go in and out of crisis all the time! I sure loved your video of his exercises, Trisha; a wonderful example of training paying off.

    Fabulous cake! If someone made that for me, I wouldn’t call it silly at all; I’d be truly touched. What a beautiful homemade gift! And so sweet to do that in the midst of your student-paper deadline!

  52. says

    I think outcrossing for some diversity would probably be a good thing. I think breeding for health and purpose as well as looks would be better in the long run. However, if you bring this up in some circles, you will be ostracized and it’s an uphill battle. Breeding should certainly be undertaken only by those with some education and knowledge, and if I were to decide to breed dogs, I’d seek out a breeder I felt was excellent and try to mentor with them. I feel that in some cases, the breed standards are in essence pushing breeders to breed less healthy dogs, and it makes me wonder just how much the folks in charge of that care about the actual health of the dogs being bred.

    On the other stuff… I sure hope Willie catches a break on his health. It’s so hard when our companions are ill, be they human or otherwise. I’ve got a heckuva vet, but I can’t imagine getting a house call, you’re lucky! But I won’t turn away from my folks, they have done right in so many other ways, so I’m lucky too. Love that birthday cake, I hope somebody makes me a cute one for my birthday this year! And your daffodils looks gorgeous.

  53. says

    Hi Trisha,
    There is only one thing to say about this genetic BS, in my opinion. When I was a young boy, we didn’t feed our dogs all this mass produced crap in a paper bag. The most compelling thing about genetics that has become common is the probability of a dog having allergies; seriously, a dog with allergies? Do animals that we humans haven’t messed with typically have allergies? I had hoped we were smarter than this. What happens in the long run if we do this with the meat we eat, not just our dogs. I fear we are really messing things up. I’ve only paid for two purebreed dogs in my life; a Poodle and a Siberian Husky. They were both good dogs, but did not come out of the main stream breeding pools.

    Thanks for your consistant good information. My education in dog training took a huge step with The Other End of the Leash.

  54. says

    Hope Willie’s feeling better!

    I feel it’s long been time to push for breeder regulation and legislation.

    Nationally, there has been a fairly recent push to pass puppy mill laws. But those laws are incredibly weak — and even that movement has slid backwards recently (taking Missouri as the perfect example). I can’t understand the almost rabid push against regulation and legislation. If I were a truly responsible breeder, I would want the profession to be regulated to keep out the bad apples, puppy mills and backyard breeders.

    I would also love to start seeing breeders who choose health and temperament above all for a solid family pet, rather than focusing on conformity to a breed and/or producing superstar agility champions. In any event, even if a breeder does want to focus on conformity to the breed or performance in a canine sport, health and temperament absolutely have to come first. No questions asked.

    This dovetails into so many other issues, including ones you have mentioned before, Tricia — working together with shelters and rescues, spay/neuter programs, etc. Here in Northern Virginia, I volunteer at our local shelter and am connected with many local rescues. Their populations almost always include large numbers of backyard breeder/puppy mill dogs, hounds and hunting dogs, and pit bulls or mixes. For all of those populations, regulating breeding and focusing on spay/neuter programs would go a long way in reducing the number of homeless dogs.

    And this doesn’t even begin to answer the horrible dilemma of homeless cats and other companion animals, who are generally euthanized at higher rates than dogs!

    Thanks, as always, for not being shy about raising these kinds of issues!

  55. jackie says

    I am a trained geneticist who gets into arguments on dog forums too! My current dog is a cross breed, and I will avoid having a pure breed in the future, because of my concern over inbreeding. (By the way, there are plenty of puppies in UK rescue, so wanting a pup wouldn’t be a problem.)

    Dr Dunbar says there should be a rule that all breeders only breed from dogs that are physically and mentally healthy, and in particular stud dogs should all be at least 7 years old, therefore selecting for good health and longevity.

    Interestingly in my limited experience border collies from working stock may be physically healthy but they are not always sane or happy in a home environment (even if socialised in a home from puppyhood). Again, we need to think about physical _and_ mental health in the breeding stock.

  56. says

    As an australian registered breeder (Belgian shepherds and miniature poodles) a certified groomer and trainer I agree that show dogs are getting less and less genetically diverse. When I was first breeding here in Australia it was very difficult to import dogs or semen and our gene pool for Tervuerens was tiny, therefore we were allowed to interbreed the four varieties of belgians under very careful conditions. This widened the gene pool considerably as did the advances in science that made bring semen into the country more viable. There has also been a lot more importing of new lines of dogs from the US and Europe over the last 15 years. Our gene pool here is still very limited however as is the gene pool for most pure-bred dogs. It is scary how few dogs most of the breeds go back to. I must make the note that there is inbreeding and then there is line-breeding and most responsbile breeders should be doing line breeding with occassional out crossing if possible. I also agree that the stud books need to be opened to fix any particular issue such as what was done in the case of the dallies.

    BUT … I disagree that mutts are any healthier than pure breds. As a groomer my clients are predominently mutts, including some of the designer breeds. Talking to my clients tells me there is just as much epilpsy, hip dysplasia, luxating patellas, eye sight problems etc. That is before I even go on to consider the crippled malt/shihtzu crosses I see who have front ends bent in different ways and are unable to lift their heads up correctly. What does happen in the pure- bred world is that the disease are more documented.

    I think their is room for carefully developed new breeds, like the Australian labradoodle. BUT only if it is carefully done by those qualified to develop a new breed, Not by those who just put any old poodle over any old labrador.

    Thanks for raising the issue Pat, it is a very large can of worms and I think there is not an easy answer to the issue of health in dogs. I have to wonder sometimes however why we are so tolerant of genetic diseases in humans but are so adament that dogs have to be free totally of all illnesses – genetic or environmental.

  57. Andreja says

    Oh, this subject is very close to my heart. I own a wonderful purebred whippet,and would love to get another one just like him, perhaps his offspring. But unfortunately his pedigree shows more inbreeding than would be healthy and I don’t know if I feel comfortable with passing his limited genome on to the next generation. As another reader mentioned, inbreeding can only decrease diversity, it cannot create new qualities that weren’t in the original gene pool. Whippets are considered to be a healthy breed but with the amount of inbreeding I see this will not remain so for long.

    I would guess that the reason greyhounds were so much healthier is because their population is quite big (I estimate about 100.000 racing greyhounds in USA – not counting those that were adopted) and this huge group of dogs is bred on merit of performance only (and having a greyhound pedigree, of course). Greyhounds are probably the biggest group of dogs that are bred that way. Of course there are pet and show greyhounds as well, but I would guess that they don’t produce as many litters as racing greyhounds. I don’t support greyhound racing, but perhaps we could learn something from those breeders nevertheless!

  58. Frances says

    I have two pedigree dogs, but I can see absolutely no reason for not opening the breed registries to controlled interbreed crosses. At the same time, I thoroughly dislike the band wagon profiteering from “designer” cross breeds, which all too often is reproducing the worst of each, rather than the best.

    I am also concerned that the principle of breeding only those dogs that have excelled in the show ring (performance or conformation) is further narrowing the gene pool, and is made even more problematic by often limiting breeding stock to the most exaggerated examples of the breed. Recent work on registers to support COI calculations, and find “perfect matches” should help, but may be too little too late for many breeds.

    I have read research that recommended that rather than breed many pups from a few “top” sires and dams, we should be breeding one or two litters from the top 50% of the breed. This goes so far against present practice I am not sure how it would be achieved – just look at the horror that greets the suggestion of mating two pet dogs (even pedigree, registered dogs of the same breed).

    For those that have not already found it, the Pedigree Dogs Exposed debate is continued here:

  59. Jeff Line says

    I think Jackie’s quote from Ian Dunbar goes right to the heart of the issue. I would suggest that we add behavioral and temperamental stability to good health and longevity as criteria for selecting breeding dogs, but I bet Dr. Dunbar would too.

    The issue I am cautiously raising is our obsession with early spay neuter (ESN) as a population control measure. In general most dogs that make it to maturity are either show dogs for whom appearance, not temperament, is the breeding goal and dogs held by what are frequently labeled “irresponsible owners.” I am concerned that it may be impossible to improve dogs as a species if we can’t keep the soundest dogs in the breeding pool. While all my dogs are spayed or neutered and I have never bred an animal in my life, I personally regard spay/neuter as an important discretionary decision for dog owners. I don’t have an answer but I think ESN is part of the breeding pool problem.

  60. K. Snider says

    @Kathy (and others) – as someone who studies Biology, I can tell you that it is a fact that low genetic diversity is bad. That isn’t the question, and there is enough evidence for it to fill a library.

    These are the questions: How low must genetic diversity get before it becomes bad? How bad is bad? What are we willing to sacrifice or do in order to keep to a closed, small pool of animals? (For instance, one of the few instances where inbreeding can work great is if you’re willing to cull large numbers of animals – but that’s not something most breeders are willing to do, and I would argue it’s not really ethical.) Since the predictability of purebred dog traits is valuable, how far are we willing to go to maintain that? How predictable must those traits be in order to meet our standards? What are those standards – what do we want to breed for, and how can we establish regulations so that most good breeders follow those goals? How can genetic testing and research be used to help guide breeding decisions in small populations, and what are its limits? They’re all good questions, and I’m glad Trisha raised this topic. I realize most dog fancy circles are still adamantly against any kind of outcrossing etc, but with seeing discussions like this, I have hopes that in the future people will consider these issues more seriously rather than dismissing them out of hand.

  61. Marguerite says

    Setting aside the idea that genetic diversity is desirable (just for argument’s sake), I don’t think anyone has mentioned the role of culling as part of a breeding program. I’m sure for many the idea of putting down a puppy is abhorrent (as it is to me), but spaying and neutering is an equally valid method of removing imperfect animals from the breeding pool.

    Is it possible to produce healthy dogs that are closely related?

    This discussion on genetic diversity reminded me of a neighbor, a dairyman who has what he describes as a “closed herd.” All his cows are descendants of his father’s original herd from the 1930s (I think that’s the time frame–could be the ’20s). The breeding program concentrates on the “super milkers” and the sons of the super milkers are kept in the breeding program. The rest, I suppose, go to slaughter. And after multiple generations, the milk production per cow is significantly higher than that of the average Holstein. The herd numbers well over a thousand but after so many generations, I can’t begin to imagine how closely related they all are.

    But back to my original thought–culling unproductive cows is inevitable and I think it probably plays as big a part as selective breeding in that family’s success in a really tough business.

  62. says

    This is a great discussion. I would like to add a few points/questions:

    1. How are the smashed in noses of pugs, low slung hips of (sorry!) GSDs, and stubby legs of a Bassett Hound benefiting the animal? Are these animals healthier, better suited physically? Who is actually benefiting?

    (By the way, I’m sorry I forgot your name, but I saw your site and your GSDs are breathtakingly beautiful.)

    2. Yes, there are good breeders out there. I have a friend who has the most gorgeous Golden Retrievers. She has bred one of them a few times, but the thought and planning that went into the breeding isn’t what the norm is. There are unfortunately many breeders out there who have no problem with inbreeding (as opposed to line breeding). My friend sold her pups for a huge amount of money and did intensive interviewing of prospective owners. She still keeps in touch with them all.

    There are a lot of bad breeders out there, way more than responsible breeders. You’re not going to find them on a site like this because they could care less about how their animals turn out, they just want to make a living.

    One problem is the majority of us pet owners simply can’t afford an expensive dog from a reputable breeder and even if we could, how on earth would we be able to determine whether or not the breeder is a good one? By price? We’re just normal people here, we haven’t a clue. We want a boxer, we find one in the paper, we go look and fall in love with the puppy, not the pedigree.

    This discussion is making me late for work, but it’s fascinating to read the different opinions.

  63. Heidi N says

    I have been intruiged by all of the comments, particularly from breeders (who, on this forum, are probably more educated, enlightened and open to new ideas than most quality breeders).

    I am not a breeder, just a first-time dog owner of a dog who was used by a backyard breeder. Poor thing has severe separation anxiety and megaesophagus. I love her to death and she is supposedly a purebred Boston.

    But, I do have a master’s degree in public policy and have one comment. And my comment is this: the self-identified “good” breeders are HORRIBLE at improving the lives of the millions of dogs and cats in this world who are not from quality breeders. I am puzzled by the lack of leadership on issues like tighter regulations on puppy mills and backyard breeders, etc. Whenever issues like this are raised by citizens, groups like HSUS or ASPCA or others, the breeders whine that “oh the public just doesn’t understand that not all breeders are alike. They lump us all in together. blah blah sniff sniff.”

    I really encourage the good breeders to be LEADERS on these issues. You, as well as the vet community, are supposedly the experts on how to take care of animals and how to breed and raise them. Despite the sometimes contentious discussions internally among breeders (which other, more informed people on this thread have written about), surely you can form a group or somehow become leaders on the poor breeding practices of puppy mill owners and backyard breeders.

    Do you not know that your silence is making you appear complicit or at a minimim, uncaring, about these issues? Most people know that there are good breeders out there and do NOT lump them together with the backyard or puppy millers.

    I am just totally puzzled by this lack of leadership from the breeder community.

  64. Rachel says

    Just to add to the inbreeding discussion, I see that some people associate diversity with unpredictability. This is true only if you are breeding random dogs, as opposed to choosing two unrelated healthy dogs with good temperaments (whose parents etc also had good temperaments). This will be just as likely to give you a dog with good temperament as breeding more closely related dogs.

    So increasing genetic diversity in a breed doesn’t mean you would just end up with a grab-bag of random puppies. You could still breed for the traits you like (non-barking, gentle temperament, soft mouth, etc) while increasing the diversity within a breed.

  65. Beth says

    One thing I’m not clear on his how something like “genetic diversity” works with dogs where pups from the same litter can have vastly different genetics? I mean, they are obviously only working with the one possible pool of genes, but with the mix of different genetic possibilities out there (as witnessed by such obvious things as coat color in dogs that come in multiple colors), what impact does this have?

    In addition, in many wild herd-type animals, genetic narrowing happens even in nature (herd male who breeds many females while most of the males have limited mating opportunities, for instance).

    Clearly there is a tipping point where diversity can get too limited, but how much narrowing is “normal” and healthy, or at least acceptable?

    I’m glad someone else mentioned the cows. :-) Dogs are getting the lions share of attention these days. It seems to me it’s an issue with lots of other critters though, too. Take for instance the “Wild” ponies on Assateague Island. They tried introducing outside blood in the form of new stallions, in part to increase the health of the herd. The results were disastrous. The narrow gene pool represented by the current herd can thrive on the low-quality food, salty water, and bug-ridden conditions of the island. Other horses cannot. The genetic narrowing exists for a reason: it’s the set of gentes that best allows survival. Is introducing a whole lot of outside genes that are detrimental to the task always wise?

    To put it in dog terms, if our goal is to breed, say, the best tracking dog around and we hit a perceived genetic bottleneck and introduce new blood (with less tracking ability), over generations won’t we just breed right back away from those not-so-good tracking genes and end up with a new bottleneck down the road?

    And don’t highly specialized wild animals (think Cheetahs) also exhibit naturally-occurring genetic bottlenecks?

    I guess I have a lot more questions than answers.

  66. jackie says

    I agree with Debbie – it isn’t good enough (for the dogs or the ordinary dog owner) that there are a few fantastic breeders out there – we need to help people find the good ones, and ensure that the bad breeders go out of business. I’m not sure I would know how to find a really good breeder, to be honest!

    Of course it is possible for crossbreeds to have a genetic disease, particularly if the two breeds in question tend to carry the same disease genes, but I still maintain that it is less likely. Even where two breeds have the same clinical disease, subtly different genetic causes may sometimes mean that the cross-breed is healthier. Mutts may have health issues resulting from poorer care in early life, of course.

    The low numerical proportion of male sires in cattle and horses is less relevant than it appears since the only genes on the Y chromosome are those to determine sex. All other genes are shared by both sexes and it doesn’t matter whether the inbreeding occurs through the female line, the male line, or a mixture of the two. In any case, where the primary selection process is for physical performance, and non-productive individuals are rigorously culled from the breeding population, you are likely to end up with lines where inbreeding is well tolerated.

  67. Lisa W says

    Breeding for sound temperament and health should be first and foremost, and for many, it is. It is no guarantee, but it is the first line of defense. Breeding primarily for physical confirmation (to a standard or to a whim) reminds me of the eugenics experiments of the early 20th century. It

  68. em says

    Oh Willie! I hope you are feeling better.

    As to the purebred dogs discussion…Whew, several cans of worms! I’ve always had mixed breeds and even though certain breeds really appeal to me aesthetically or personally, I’d never really thought of myself as someone who would go out of my way to buy a dog. Until Otis the great dane. He was a rescue, but having him has made me understand the appeal of the purebred dog in a totally new way. Great Danes are just so different from most other dogs, I can’t figure out how I would ever get a dog with some of the traits that I’ve come to love without going for another purebred, even if it’s a rescue.

    Now that we’ve got his diet straight, Otis is one of the healthiest, most physically sound dogs that I know (knock wood).

    That said, researching danes as a breed has mostly led to dawning horror at the health issues, in part brought on by the fashion trends and breeding practices that threaten the health and vitality of the breed.
    Otis would be laughed out of a show ring. Not only is he short (34″, only two inches above the minimum in a breed that gives preference to the tallest dog), but he’s just not pretty. Serious dog people might call it a ‘lack of refinement’. Big ears and a short neck is what I’d say. But I’ve seldom met a great dane, who could match him athletically. He’s 150lb dog who moves so smoothly that his feet don’t even seem to touch the ground. Whose collar tags don’t jingle as he trots through along the hiking path. A dog who can caroom through the woods at a breakneck speed, over the hills and across the creek and never put a foot wrong. A dog who can outrun a deer (it was awful at the time, but one of the most impressive things I’ve ever seen).

    The disconnect is what troubles me. If you ask most people whether they’d rather have a strong, healthy dog or a pretty one, most people would say that they’d choose health, but we have a conformation show system that awards championships and promotes the breeding of dogs whose physical strength and fitness has never been evaluated in an objective way AND people who, time and again, DO choose dogs based on looks (hence black dog syndrome).

    I wonder whether the lack of congenital problems in greyhounds has quite a bit to do with the fact that they are typically not pets first, but working animals judged on objectively measured performance, not appearance or pedigree.

    So I think that there a few major issues in these cans of worms:

    First: Does the practice of close breeding, closed stud books, etc. lead to an unacceptable risk to the health of the dogs? In many cases, among breeds with serious incidence of congenital illness, it seems that it does.

    Second: Are breed standards themselves encouraging or failing to discourage the preservation of harmful traits, or the exaggeration of traits (push faces, short legs, giant height) beyond the limits of good health and practicality? I think that in many cases, they probably are.

    Third: Do we have a reasonable standard of evaluation for dogs considered for breeding purposes? A quick online search will yield dozens of Great Dane breeders who proudly announce that their dogs are just “finishing up a championship” in conformation at two years of age or less. Here’s the problem: Danes are a slow-maturing breed with lots of congenital problems. Is it reasonable to award a dog a conformation title before he or she is fully physically mature? Many breeders are actually breeding their studs at less than two years old on the weight of these titles. How will the breeder ever improve health and longevity by breeding dogs that have not demonstrated good health well into adulthood?

    Fourth: Just to open ALL the cans of worms that I can think of, does the pressure to conform to a breed’s characteristic appearance, in and out of the show ring, put pressure on owners to cosmetically alter their dogs to the detriment of the dogs’ health and well-being? Ear cropping is the hot-button for danes, but tail docking is another common one, and arguments probably could be made about the onerous nature of the extreme grooming that Poodles and other high-maintenance types get subjected to.

    I like Otis’ natural ears, and I wouldn’t choose to crop any dog, but I understand why people do, particularly conformation show people. Not only do people in the general public have a harder time identifing his breed, but the optical illusion of the standing ear is really quite dramatic.

    Holding his ears up makes Otis’ neck look longer, his face more chiseled. He has a dane friend with cropped ears who is exactly the same height, but unless they are RIGHT next to each other, you would SWEAR that she’s three inches taller. If cropped dogs have an advantage in conformation shows, and conformation shows are the only measure by which a breeder can demonstrate the quality of their dogs, it might well be hard for a breeder or owner to resist putting their dogs through an uncomfortable and unnecessary procedure (with all its attendant health risks). But suggest that the practice should be generally disallowed, and brace yourself for an onslaught of apologists who have spent years justifying the practice to themselves.

    Whew…worms, worms everywhere. :-)

  69. leeann says

    Inbreeding for function is creating as many unhealthy animals as inbreeding for form as evidenced increasingly in working breeds including Border Collies,

  70. Betsy Copeland says

    Best wishes for Willie’s speedy recovery! Fascinating discussion, but I am wondering how much the statistics are skewed because most mixed-breed owners don’t do the kind of genetic and medical tests to determine ailments? I don’t know of any mixed breed owner that x-rays their dog’s hips to submitt them to the OFA for analysis for DJD or CHD, much less does an ultrasound on a healthy mixed breed for cardiac clearance. I do know from experience that a beautifuly moving dog can have severe dysplasia. They don’t know they are broken, so its not detectable to the naked eye. Could some of the theories of cross-breed health be due to lack of diagnosis?

  71. Laurie says

    Very interesting all the comments – and while I know there are many healthy “mutts” with good temperaments out there please can someone tell me why so many people assume that a puppy born because her dam’s owner was too careless to supervise her will by definition be healthier than my purebred who’s breeder spends months and years researching the best mate for her bitch. So many pups end up at a shelter because they were unplanned and unwanted – and what can you know about the sire if you don’t even know who he was.
    That being said it is essential to do your homework – meet the parents of the dog you are planning to make part of your family (and if you can’t meet the sire find out about him), interview the breeder in her/his home, meet the other dogs, ask for the heath clearances – put in as much work as we do when buying a car (& heaven knows cars are more boring)
    I have had “mutts” whom I loved with all my heart but this time round got an English Cocker spaniel who is everything in terms of health, personality, size, energy level & life-changing love I could ask for – I researched the breed over several years, interviewd breeders and have ended up with my heart-dog and as a bonus his breeder has become a mentor, groomer & friend.

  72. Frances says

    I don’t know whether anyone has yet raised the issue of impaired immune system, and higher rates of autoimmune disease, in closely bred dogs. In a way this is worse than the big, obvious physical issues. It is possible to breed away out some physical problems in even a small gene pool, but loss of diversity in the immune system is invisible and insidious.

  73. nancy says

    The closed Stud book argument has been going on for years in many species. In theMorgan Horses, the introduction of the Saddlebred was allowed. There are still great discussion with breeders of the Merits and purity of the different lines, ex: Government,Lippitt,Brunk. They all have their followers. Unfortunately, once a particular stud, be it canine,equine, or whatever species wins BIG at whatever you follow, conformation, field, or many of the newer events. Breeders will flock to a stud for breeding purposes without thought to the next generation. There are dogs showing on the bench that can’t perform what their breed was developed for and field specialists that would not make the “cut” in conformation. So, the discussion goes on.

  74. says

    Debbie Says:

    1. How are the smashed in noses of pugs, low slung hips of (sorry!) GSDs, and stubby legs of a Bassett Hound benefiting the animal? Are these animals healthier, better suited physically? Who is actually benefiting?

    (By the way, I

  75. says

    There is hope here in the US. The UKC has a “Total Dog” Award Program. A dog must win in a Conformation event and win, AND a performance event and win. So the dog has to look good BUT also have some athleticism to win an performance event to win this award.

    FYI, a very good friend of mine is going to a HSUS conference in DC this week–called the ‘Purebred Paradox’!!!!! The lady who made the doc Debbie linked to will be there, as will many other well respected speakers…creator of PennHip, creator of OFA.

    Here is the link people are talking about this very issue

  76. Beth says

    I keep adding points as the discussion progresses. :)

    I keep seeing mention of “short legs” as an extreme breeding trait that benefits people, not dogs. As the owner of two Corgis, I can honestly say that I never realized what an advantage the short legs are til I had one.

    First of all, a ten week old Corgi can corner and judge distance like an adult dog; no puppy awkwardness. I’m guessing this is an asset on a farm.

    Second of all, a Corgi can run as fast as a taller dog for short distances (long moment of suspension at the gallop) and trot forever; as a cattle herder, this was desirable.

    Most importantly, a Corgi can go full-speed uphill and nearly as fast downhill without going head over heels the way a taller dog would. I have seen mine go down hills that you or I would consider a cliff very nimbly, without even a pause, even when a more gentle route was easily available. For a dog developed in hill country, I’m guessing this was a plus to both dog and owner.

    I also wanted to address this:

    “The low numerical proportion of male sires in cattle and horses is less relevant than it appears since the only genes on the Y chromosome are those to determine sex.”

    I’m not so sure that’s how genetics work. Most breeders of any domestic species talk of “prepotent” sires who seem to “stamp their get.” The offspring of these sires resemble them, regardless of the dam. While it’s easy to chalk that up as wishful thinking, it’s a common enough belief across multiple species. Moreover, in Thoroughbred racehorses (where large amounts of data are readily available) numbers are used called the “Average Earnings Index” and “Comparable Index”. With these numbers, you can compare the average earnings of a stallion’s get to the average earnings of the mares’ offspring when they were bred to other sires.

    Top sires consistently improve their books, meaning their offspring will perform better than offspring out of the same mares by other sires.

    I don’t think it’s just a crapshoot and I think that certain individuals are more likely to pass down their traits than others when genetic mixing goes on. So little is understood about how genetics works. For instance, recently they’ve come to determine that certain human diseases seem to be more severe if they come from the mother’s side of the family than if the same disease comes from the father’s side of the family. Why? They are not sure, but mitochondrial DNA might (or then again might not) be a factor. Anyway, the point is that we are just at the beginning of understanding genetics, not at the end.

  77. EssMac says

    Oh sweet Willie, I hope he is feeling better, poor lad.

    Everyone has already said everything that I would have said on the inbreeding subject. I will just say “thank you” to all of you who have spoken so eloquently on so complex a subject.

  78. Margaret T says

    Outcrossing in and of itself is not necessarily beneficial. I have a friend who got a goldendoodle from rescue: later he found out that every single pup in the litter had hip dysplasia, some so severe they required surgery as pups. Testing generations for medical issues when possible can help us enormously.
    I would hope that, unlike the Dalmatian people, when even the best bred dogs of a given breed have a serious health problem, its fanciers would look at outcrossing. Quarter horse people decided to allow the introduction of thoroughbreds (not for health reasons, though). Those resulting foals were not directly entered into the AQHA registry; they are in an appendix registry which requires proof of quality (performance) before they can be considered “quarter horses” and bred as such. That kind of program would give people a choice: a “purebred” according to the old rules, or a dog that has been bred for some kind of improvement, whether health or ability or disposition.
    Conformation should not be looked down on as not relevant; it is important for any canine athlete, and for the health and comfort of many other dogs as well. The word “form” is in there for a reason; the length of leg and back, the angle of the forearm–these are important to the dog’s ability to move. The problem is that the conformation show ring tends to be so political, tends to reward such extremes, that the purpose of breeding toward an ideal that includes temperament rather than an extreme appearance is forgotten. For this reason, I really admire what the Golden Retriever Club of America has done: certify dogs as being good representatives that conform to breed standard, rather than just relying on the ring where one dog wins points, regardless of quality, and the others get the gate, regardless of quality. I wish more breeds would do that and that breeders would then use those dogs rather than requiring a finished champion. Field type or conformation type, a well-bred golden should be able to pass that standard.
    I should add that I am not a breeder; in my life, I have had seven goldens; the 60s-70s dog lived to 12 years, the 70s-80s dog to 12 years, the two 80s-2000 dogs to 14; I have two that are 13 now, rescues, and one that is a year old from a good breeder. One of the 14 year olds was a well-bred field dog; three were back-yard breeder dogs. The two current oldies are probably BYB, but I have no way of knowing. Every single dog had/has exceptional temperament.

  79. Deanna in OR says

    Even in breeds bred for working and not conformation, there are genetic bottlenecks. In working Border Collies, for example, the famous Wiston Cap (born in 1963) can be found in the pedigrees of almost all BCs registered with the International Sheep Dog Societ, ISDS (see for a 2002 article about the few BCs with no Wiston Cap in their ancestry–and a nice graph that shows the % of ISDS sheep dogs without Wiston Cap, over time, as the line goes to nearly zero by the mid-1990s). And the ISDS is not a closed registry they allow “Registered on Merit” for working ability as a sheep dog), and includes border collies (or actually, sheep dogs) from all over the world.

    I was impressed that my BC, Tenaya, had Wiston Cap in her ancestry, until I read about this :-)

    As Nancy said “Unfortunately, once a particular stud, be it canine,equine, or whatever species wins BIG at whatever you follow, conformation, field, or many of the newer events. Breeders will flock to a stud for breeding purposes without thought to the next generation.”

    Even if you try breeding for health and temperament within a breed, you can create a genetic bottleneck. I also have 2 rough collies. In collies, the MDR1 gene is very common (creating a sensitivity to many drugs), affecting about 75% of all collies. If you try to breed this out of collies,you would create a greater genetic bottleneck by only breeding those dogs who don’t have this genetic mutation. You could bring in other breeds to reduce this genetic frequency, but since the MDR1 gene is also fairly common in some sighthounds (and other breeds), which were used in collie breeding “programs” in the 1800’s, you might not eliminate it just by outbreeding unless you choose a more distantly related breed. You’d have to choose carefully AND you would also have to do the outbreeding with lots and lots of collies to avoid creating yet another genetic bottleneck in your attempts to eliminate the problem.

    The other challenge is we don’t know what other characteristics “ride along” with our chosen characteristics when we breed. A wonderful example of this is Belyaev’s foxes, where breeding for temperament also resulted in piebald coats, floppy ears and curled tails (see for a good discussion). Over 40 years and with continued outbreeding to non-domesticated foxes, these traits are still carried along with tameness.

    It would be interesting if someone did a study on how unplanned & undesired traits in dogs (hip displasia, eye problems, etc) might be carried along with other traits we desire in dogs, INCLUDING temperament or other desirable health traits as well as conformation traits.

  80. Melissa says

    Well, I certainly do love my purebred dogs, but I certainly do have deep concerns about breeding practices as well. I have two breeds that are quite uncommon in my country. Generally this means there is a fairly strong sense of community amongst the few breeders and it’s easy to keep tabs on what is going on. But I am alarmed at what does seem to be going on. Nearly every litter in the last year in both breeds were fathered by one or two sires. I accept that there is a small gene pool, which makes it difficult, but I can’t help but feel putting all your eggs in one basket is how things went so badly for Basenjis in the States. I know a lot of breeders that are a wealth of knowledge on their breed and have dog and puppy welfare foremost in their minds, but still keep breeding litters with that one sire they like.

    I was learning about the Vallhund standard recently and realised that it is all about producing dogs that move freely. My little guy is not a beautiful Vallhund in that sense, really. He moves plenty well enough, but when put next to a dog with better conformation, it’s obvious that one stands more squarely, moves more smoothly, and doesn’t seem to ever put itself in one of those odd positions that my boy will do momentarily that makes him look strange. My Vall is fast, tough, and extremely agile, but what if his loins weren’t quite so high, or his shoulders were a touch farther back, or his neck a little thicker? Would he be faster, tougher and even more agile? Could the way to producing physically sound dogs be through breeding to a standard in some cases at least?

    Furthermore, when you start to look at dogs in the one breed, you start to see different lines. It’s almost like there are breeds within the breed. I have one dog from a line known for laid back temperaments and one dog from a sire that seems to pass on his head and his drive to every second puppy. You can start to pick who a dog is related to by what they look like. That bothers me. I guess it’s inevitable, and probably good for the people after a particular kind of whatever breed they are after, but just what are we producing? Lines or near clones? “No major health problems” might well be what is generally said about a breed, but you don’t hear about the pups that get put down early due to spinal or neurological problems, or the dogs that went to pet homes and developed severe allergies, or the dogs that have ongoing health problems that can’t be put down to any specific cause.

    Anyway, I am deeply concerned. My supervisor has been going all over the country giving talks at dog training seminars about inbreeding in pedigree dogs. There are breeders here that hate him passionately because they think he wants them to outcross. Or not have pure bred dogs. Or something. He just wants them to introduce more genetic diversity. There are breeds in serious trouble. Norwegian Lundehunds have their own special disease that every single individual of the breed has. Someone needs to oversee the outcross of that breed before it goes extinct.

  81. jackie says

    The differential inheritance of disease from the maternal rather than paternal line is due to a phenomenon called ‘imprinting’. This is known to be due to differential methylation of the genes within the egg or sperm, but the practical implications are still being teased out. However I believe (I retired a few years ago so I might be a little out of date) that when the gene then passes ‘back’ to the other sex the imprinting is reset. So Grandfather gives male imprinting to his genes, but his daughters pass those genes on with female imprinting.

    The ‘prepotent’ sire idea I think arises purely from the fact that males father far more progeny than the females. If a mare only has 10 foals in her lifetime, it’s not going to so be strikingly obvious if she passes her traits onto all of them.

    Purely anecdotally I can tell you that my SpringerxBorder Collie (probably both working lines) was Xrayed for an puzzling injury and the vet said all his joints were ‘perfect’, but that could easily just be a coincidence.

  82. Laurie says

    When breeding is done as big business, it can’t be good for the breed, the dogs or our communities. The priority bring profit. One of my rescue Aussies came from a puppy mill and was sold as a stud dog to a small breeder who just wanted to get rich quick and knew nothing about the breed. Fortunately after one litter she gave up and found rescue. I love this dog, but he is not quite right… Physically he is built wrong and has hip and knee problems, intellectually he is different, and emotionally he is scared. He is also sweet and loyal and fun. But he never should have been a stud dog. He also is a Merle to Merle cross, so lucky to be sighted and hearing and not a double merle. As for the breeders who do it for the love of the breed and try to breed thoughtfully, I have more careful words. What are you trying to preserve? What are you adding? I was told once sometimes it is necessary to breed Merle to Merle, risking a majority of the pups, because of the limited lines to work with for a desired result. Gasp. Isn’t that a good time to introduce different stock? Aussies were just about good herding and stock capabilities until they got registered forty or so years ago. Doesnt look like acceptance is a good thing for the breed! Now they are supposed to look a certain way…

    Thanks for bringing this up. It is time the conversation happen. If we can change breeding practice we can educate consumers.

  83. Amber says

    Genetics have always fascinated me. I have two Pomeranians who were both “rejected” from showlines. When I got Jasper, I didn’t know fully understand what that meant, I was focused on his main issue, which is a birth defect in the form of a elliptical eye, flattened pupil, and lack of tapetum. He looked like every other Pomeranian puppy: an exploded white marshmallow. As he grew up, I realised he didn’t fit American/Canadian registry requirements… But he did look an awful lot like some German Poms. When I finally got in contact with his breeder last year, I found out that he was the result of crossing a more flat-coated German import Pom stud with your standard fuzzy orange dam. I’d met both dogs and his half-sister and never realised they were totally different “type” dogs. Jasper’s siblings have since been either shown or bred, because all three were more fluffy than him (His sister is the only other one showing the longer, foxy face) He’s recognisable as a Pom, but most people assume he’s a mix, and he simply isn’t… He’s just not a classic North American Pomeranian.

    My female has a less impressive story and comes from a less impressive breeder (Ironically, J was born on a farm, and Gypsy in a ritzy suburb) Gypsy’s mother was simply known for throwing short-coated puppies, and the breeder had developed a good enough eye to tell which pups would be appropriate for show when they aged. A litter of four, and three were deemed not good for the ring, and Gypsy found her way into my lap. She has excellent conformation and an adorable face, but her feathers and tail are short. Her coat is super thick, but it just can’t hold itself up. She’s been called a long-haired Chihuahua and a mix before, but both of her parents and all down her line are registered Pomeranians… She’s just the “unlucky” one. I don’t know why her breeder insists on breeding a dog that won’t have appropriate puppies, but I’m glad he did this time, because is gives people like me the opportunity to take in a wonderful, purebred dog with few issues, simply because she doesn’t conform aesthetically.

    Canine genetics seem to be somewhat of a crapshoot. I hope that the breeds that suffer from ill-breeding can be saved soon, or we’re going to end up with a lot of sick dogs =(

  84. Susan Mann says

    One of my favorite topics! If you aren’t familiar with the Canine Diversity Project, you need to be! is not maintained well, some links no longer work, but still a lot of good information, most of it accessible/readable to those of us without a degree in genetics or years of breeding and looking at how different factors interact.

    Recently, the IRWS (Irish Red and White Setter) group has announced that it will be doing an outcross project to working Irish (Red) Setters to increase genetic diversity, and this is of course causing an uproar. I went to the vet last week, and (almost unbelievably, as they are a rare breed, and the timing was perfect!) there was a breeder there with her litter of IRWS puppies! Very adorable!! She was very upset about the scheme, saying that it isn’t necesssary because there are plenty of (non-working) IRWS and that as long as you are breeding to the type, the working ability is there, even if the dog hasn’t been worked to know it. Working people of all the breeds I have had discussions with all agree, you get what you breed for, and if you aren’t breeding for working ability, you lose it. This woman was claiming that her dogs have working ability, because they have a JH title.

    The plight of the Tollers (NSDTR) is worse, as the dispute for the need for an outcross has caused it not to happen. Virtually all of the Tollers on the ground, and especially the subset of dogs being bred, are more closely related than full siblings. And the breeding population is estimated at around 50 dogs- worldwide. Both cancer and auto-immune disorders are on the rise, and likely due to MHC (major histocompatability complex) homozygosity, with one type predominating in the breed. I do agility, and know quite a few tollers, but none who have lived past age 9.

  85. Susan Mann says

    The whole way in which we choose which genes get passed on is problematic. In order to be a “responsible” breeder, you need to make sure most of the pups get spayed/neutered early (6 months), well before you can really know which dog of a litter is going to be the “best” (and we won’t go into how “best” is defined!) and what health problems are going to pop up. Then the breeder is left with one or maybe two pups which she then has an incredible interest in making sure do well- and in not sharing what invisible health problems, or temperament issues, arise. Testing answers some questions, but hardly all, and it is not unheard of for a dog with great x-rays to “share” those xrays with less stellar examples. And eliminating dogs from the breeding population due to testing also decreases the breeding population, and with an inbred population, may lead to the rise of a different health issue, as happened with Fanconi’s syndrome in Basenjis.

    Then if it the dog is a male, and even a wonderful one with a fabulous temperament and no KNOWN health issues, and gets his championship, which is extremely expensive to get, he is bred many, many times, and after a few generations, his name is showing up in the pedigree of the vast majority of dogs of that breed, and any recessive health defects start showing up. His equally wonderful brother, with perhaps better genetic health, was neutered, and never had the opportunity to pass on those genes.

  86. Neil says

    Like others here, I was horrified to learn of the resistance to registration of backcrossed Dalmations by the AKC. I own a purebred Landseer Newfoundland myself, but was satisfied that the breeder had a pragmatic health-driven approach to maintaining the breed rather than doggedly (!) following a specific bloodline, or chasing a whimsical momentarily-fashionable physical trait.

    Our puppy is well on the way to becoming a model of good behaviour, and selectively breeding for traits, especially behavioural ones, is not necessarily a bad thing – that said it should be done responsibly and with health in mind, and I feel the registries need to take a much larger role in promoting/enforcing this (not that they will – I’ve noticed a rather zealous anti-regulation bent amongst many breeders).

  87. Ellen Pepin says

    Let me start by saying that I’m not all that knowledgeable about breeding purebred dogs. A lot of breeders seem to have conformation to the AKC standards, rather than health and temperament as their goal. I feel that this is one of the reasons so many “pure bred” have diseases that a particular breed is prone to. I have studied some ecology, my brother is a PhD in ecology, and keeping the gene pool large is one of the arguments ecologists use for keeping wolves on the Endangered Species list. This is desirable because interbreeding causes the animals to develop certain illnesses, and bad behavioral traits.

    I have an adopted Collie, who the Collie Rescue group thinks is pure bred. Tess is a somewhat difficult dog. She likes people, but takes a while to warm up. Sometimes, she will growl or even show teeth. This is much less common now, and she has never done so with a child. Collie lines have been closed for many years. This breed used to be one of the most owned dogs in America. Once I read that because of much interbreeding, Collies started to develop behavioral problems. Collies now are not among the most owned dogs. This same article (I wish I could remember the source) stated that behavior was one of the reasons for it’s decline in popularity.

  88. Marianna says

    I have a question. I heard the AKC will register a brother and sister pairing with an “extra” charge. Can anyone say if this is true?

  89. says

    Welcome to the club of dog bloggers who are concerned with genetic diversity!

    Being a biologist, you might appreciate my more scientific, numerical, take on what’s going on with dog breeds. There’s a LOT of bad information being spread by the fancy (the Cheetah anecdote is one of them) and I’m taking them on lie by lie in an “Inbred Mistakes” series.

    That series and other genetics and health posts can be found here:

    I look forward to your thoughts and welcome to the club of awakened dog lovers who want to see these issues being looked at and addressed instead of stigmatized and hushed up.

    – Christopher

  90. Beth says


    I brought up the cheetah “anecdote.” Firstly, I assure you its true and a cause for concern. It’s not “bad information” and the cheetah genetic bottleneck has been a well-known issue for people concerned with wild animal populations for a long time. I first read it in one of my wildlife magazines.

    “When geneticists looked at the amount of variation within the genes of the cheetah, they found that cheetahs exhibit much lower levels of variation than other mammals. In most species, related individuals share about 80 percent of the same genes. With cheetahs, this figure rises to approximately 99 percent. The genetic inbreeding in cheetahs has led to low survivorship (a large number of animals dying), poor sperm quality, and greater susceptibility to disease. Inbred animals suffer from a lack of genetic diversity. This means cheetahs lack the ability to adjust to sudden changes in the environment, such as disease epidemics, and have unusually high susceptibility to certain viruses.”

    ” Some of the decline in the cheetah’s genetic diversity is accounted for by its specialization through natural selection. The decrease in genetic diversity resulting from natural selection has benefited the species’ survival as it has made the cheetah better adapted to its environment. However, the effects of this occurrence are small when compared to the effects of the inbreeding that occurred 10,000 years ago from a population bottleneck. ”

    So if you want to take something on “lie by lie” you might not want to start with the cheetah “anecdote” of mine, which is good information and not “bad.” Thanks. :)

    Secondly, I’m hardly “the fancy”; I’m a pet owner with two neutered pets and a rescue cat.

  91. says


    What happened with the cheetah is that it was able to survive the inbreeding depression issues and get rid of deleterious and lethal recessives in its gene pool. That genetic bottleneck happened thousands of years ago and under the conditions of natural selection. It normally doesn’t work that way. Take Tasmania Devils. They have very low genetic diversity and are being destroyed by a mutant transmissible cancer for which they have no ability to fight. With the cheetahs, natural selection culled out most of the bad genes. That doesn’t mean that cheetahs are fine. If a disease like the Devil facial tumor disease popped up, they would be doomed.

    Domestic dogs do not have the same natural history as cheetahs. Wolves have very strong inbreeding avoidance behavior. Even inbred populations of wolves will try to find new blood quickly, as was the case when a single wolf showed up on Isle Royale in the 1990s.

    Further, domestic dogs are inbred and then experience artificial selection, which is a much, much poorer selection process at selecting against disease. Breeders have been trying to breed out diseases in domestic dog strains for decades, and even if they succeed, they very often wind up doubling down on something else. For example, in the 80’s, it was decided that golden retrievers had a hip dysplasia problem– and they did. So they bred for good hips. And hip dyplasia has decreased significantly in the breed, but while doing that selective breeding, they unintentionally selected for susceptibility to several forms of cancer.

    There are many false analogies going around about dogs and inbred populations of other species. A friend of mine did a very good analysis of them. My favorite is the San Nicolas Island fox analogy, which sounds like the death knell for this criticism. Unfortunately, most of the people who use that analogy forget that the foxes used balancing selection to keep their MHC/DLA genes more diverse:

  92. says


    I make it a policy to keep most of my discussions on my own blog, as to not hijack someone else’s thread, but if you’d like more information on the Cheetah and why it’s not a supporting bit of evidence for keeping the levels of inbreeding we have in dogs, I’d suggest this post (and the one linked there in to DesertWindHounds) at Retrieverman:

    Cheetahs are not a thriving population, they have an infant mortality rate upwards of 70% and the male Cheetahs sperm counts are 1/10th the levels of cat relatives. These two observations alone negate them as a model for dog breeding.

    Yes, bottlenecks are a natural phenomenon. So are mass extinctions. I think you’d agree that we want better for our dogs than what nature can provide, and certainly no worse.

  93. says

    It’s taken me some time to decide to weigh in on this topic. First, and as an aside, AKC does not develop breed standards. The individual breed club writes and amends its own standard and, once approved at the Club level, submits it to AKC. So AKC did not smash in the bulldog’s face — its own breeders and breed club did that.

    So — my flame suit is on! My theory is that I will leave my breed better than I found it. I health test all my dogs. When a new test is developed (for instance when the Degenerative Myelopathy test became available in 2008), I test even the retired, spayed and neutered dogs to help gather numbers to make the statistics useful. If a dog doesn’t have a lovely, working temperament, and demonstrable good health, it does not need to be part of our gene pool. Generally speaking, dogs that are in the fifth generation or further back in a pedigree will not influence the appearance of puppies. However, by line breeding on that particular dog, one may refresh the characteristics that one is seeking. Line breeding and inbreeding are not the same thing. Inbreeding (mother/son, brother/sister, father/daughter) should be done very sparingly and only with the very best specimens that exhibit physical excellence as well as sound temperaments and solid health credentials. The purpose of inbreeding is to fix in place certain desirable characteristics.

    My dogs have a purpose — they are herding dogs. They are also beddogs, therapy dogs, agility dogs, obedience dogs, tracking dogs, and, yes, show dogs. To continue their ability to perform all their tasks well and comfortably, those of us that breed them, have an obligation to look at every facet of the dog, to take two steps backward if need be — before we move forward again. We are the member of the partnership that can read, reason, and plan — and that’s what we should be doing in order to meet our obligations if we choose to bring more of the breed into the world.

  94. L.M.F. says

    Its so ironic to me when people talk critically about how others should breed their dogs, who have never tried it. If you never had children would you be able to judge how other people raise theirs? Same problem. Dogs and children will make a fool out of you sooner or later despite your very best intentions. If you haven’t run into health or temperament problems in dogs you haven’t breed breeding long enough. The best anyone can do is select excellent foundation stock, constantly get better at spotting and weeding out faults, and hope that there is something appropriate to outcross to if they reach a critically low number of animals in their breeding program and lose a desired trait. All the while hearing a general disdain and hostility from the general public for your hobby. A lot of AKC clubs are dying off because the members are getting old and new people are not interested in the amount of heartache and effort involved in breeding dogs. Even doing a lousy job it would still require quite a bit of heartache and effort. Caring for a decently large group of dogs is a 24/7 365-day job and you don’t have easy ways to take a vacation. Most municipalities no longer even allow a handful of dogs in one household to sustain a breeding program, so you have to move to the boondocks or hope that enough other people nearby have your breed or will cooperate with you to keep it going. Even with a popular breed I have seen outcross, linebred, and inbred litters with the same random assortment of problems. Luckily I feel that I am making progress but the image of “perfect breeder” who pumps out endless puppies with no faults is more of a pipe dream for me than a realistic goal. One consolation is that although I and my dogs do not pretend to be perfect the people who like the breed are willing to still seek me out and get one because the supply from pet stores and large-scale commercial kennels keeps going down. Hopefully genetics will advance so the best animals can be cloned cheaply. Then the influence of environment will become much more apparent to people and perhaps with understanding of the whole dog gene pool the experimental aspect of every litter will be tipped more in the breeder’s favor. Right now luck plays a huge part of it.

  95. Barb says

    Great discussion. Worthy of time and attention. I would like any discussion of this type to begin with a definition of inbreeding, linebreeding, and outcrossing. Just so we’re all on the same page.

    Almost everything else that I have to add to the discussion has been added. Except maybe that breeding is a crap shoot. Always. I am not a breeder, but some of my best friends are. :) Claudia Waller Orlandi, Ph D, author of ABC’s of Dog Breeding, What Every Breeder Should Know!, has enlightened me on some of the complications of breeding.

    As the owner of three PWDs who were all born of parents with the requisite health tests, I have to say that requisite health checks may lessen the occurrence of some health issues. However, not all issues are lessened in all the puppies. The crap shoot factor.

  96. Christa McElroy says

    Wow, what an awesome amount of information and opinions – I have learned a lot reading this thread. I just wanted to chime in here and add my experiences. I have rescued and rehomed purebred and “sorta kinda might be” purebred rough collies for over 20 years. We do not see dogs from ‘responsible’ breeders come into rescue. Responsible breeders take their dogs back, but we do get a lot of dogs with papers. The worst health issues (collie eye anomaly, PDA heart valve defect, horrible skin allergies, etc.) seem to me to be most prevalent in the dogs that were obviously bred for ‘fashion’ — the thin head, the white factor, etc. I think that the backyard breeders, for the most part – certainly not all of them, are not knowledgeable or perhaps don’t care about the long term health of the offspring vs the ‘cute factor’…. Combine this with a public more concerned with price than quality, toss in a good deal of ignorance, and here we are. Breed Rescues up to our eyeballs in sick, expensive (and usually middle aged) dogs.

    I also feel that the dogs’ diet has a lot to do with allergy development, early joint problems and related issues, as what is going on with them seems to mirror what is going on with humans as the desecration of our foodstuffs moves farther up the chain…..

    A complex issue, indeed, and I think there are a lot of facets to the solution.

  97. Greta says

    So glad someone with, I hope, some clout is finally taking on this issue. I have been singing this song for years.

    The fact is, we can breed types that will look different by breeding for function. They will not all be medium sized brown dogs. Appearance based standards — ANY appearance based standards — are bad for dogs, period. Closed stud books are bad for dogs, period. It’s not really going to get better until the breeding community as a whole accepts this. Breeding the best dogs you can within a closed gene pool is great for the individual healthy dogs you might be able to produce but bad for the larger gene pool.

    One of the best breeders I know posts every breeding animal’s health certificates on their website along with videos of the dogs and every puppy in the litter working. The breeding stock are selected purely on the basis of function, health, and temperament. No one cares if they do or don’t have a white ear. All the dogs are mixed breeds. They are stellar at what they do. At this point, I have essentially no interest in purebred breeders who make “maintaining purity” a priority.

    It’s taken me years to get to this point. Fact and science have degraded my former received opinions (“good breeders are out to better the breed, look for show champions in your lines, etc.”) into something completely different. I do not *want* show champions in my dogs’ lines — I consider it a way to guarantee that breeding for mental and physical health was compromised along the way. Yep, I know that offends, but it’s necessarily true.

    I have great respect for traditional breeders trying to do the right thing by their lights. It is hard work, and certainly these good breeders are better than the thoughtless ones. I still have to assist clients who want to get a dog from a pure breeder and I try to help them find good breeders who think hard, will take dogs back, and are open and truthful about their dogs. But I finally realized that “good breeding” actually has nothing, zero, zilch, nada to do with “purebred.” If my clients are interested, we talk about it. Meanwhile I’ve been shot down in flames more times than I can count by ignorant, hostile breeders who truly have zero understanding of population genetics. Many seem to live in a hall of mirrors — there is no reality but that reflected back at them by other mediocre breeders who parrot the same stew of misinformation at each other while lamenting me as a PETA mole. They deny what all biologists and all livestock breeders take as a given. How sad is that? It is very tiring. Thanks for bringing it up, Trisha. You are a brave woman.

  98. Cindy D. says

    “Ellen Pepin Says..regarding Collie temperament…April 28th, 2011 at 2:37 pm.”

    Ellen Pepin Says:
    April 28th, 2011 at 2:37 pm
    Hi Ellen and bloggers, As an all-breed historian and canine behaviorist, I’ve conducted much research into the history and changes that our purebred dogs have gone through over time. In regards to the Collie, their popularity is documented as emerging in the very late 1700s to very early 1800s first as a working dog, and then as a companion, show, and sport dog (ie., agility, carting, etc.). The physical characteristics of the Collie (often identified as breed type) have been clearly present for a number of centuries. It wasn’t until the advent of dog shows and breeding to a written breed standard (approximately mid to late 1800s)that the breed, as has happened with most all breeds, began to experience more radical change as each breeder began selecting for attributes that they felt most closely came in line with the standard. For working and sporting breeds, we are told that the standards were originally written with the type of work that each breed performed in mind — to move toward the ideal type for that breed which in some cases was also to include temperament and the makeup of an ideal working or sporting dog. With the limitations of the conformation show, field trials, sheepdog trials, and other types of trials and tests were set up. Working dogs were shown, and show dogs were worked. For a very long time, there existed side-by-side our Collies, and also our old-fashioned Collies (not to be confused with the English Shepherd, Border Collie, and Australian Shepherd, all of which contain Collie blood). Sometime during the very late 1800s, it is believed by some (though not documented) that Borzoi blood may have been introduced within the breed. Blood may have crossed both ways — that is, some Collies of that time and into the early 1900s have more pronounced length and narrowness of head some attributing this to the Borzoi. BTW This is NOT the correct head! I personally feel that not all lines of Collies contain this alleged Borzoi blood though I do not have documentation to support this. Perhaps current improvements in DNA testing can help identify contaminated bloodlines and perhaps weed this out. Although, there will of course be some who like the exaggerated modern type. I personally favor a more moderate type of the beautiful, personable, and intelligent Collie. As pertaining to work and show types (put another way, focus on work vs. focus on conformation) it appears that there has long been a challenge to have the best of both worlds, no matter the breed! But, it has been done perhaps if not consistently. If you’ll notice, we’ve now come full circle and now more fully encourage and support trials and tests to help retain and improve the abilities of our dogs. This new trend appeared in the early 1970s, and gained gradual momentum until it took off in the USA in the late 1980s and very early 1990s! To get back to your question regarding the decline in registration numbers as an indicator of Collie popularity ~ The Collie was one of the very first breeds when the AKC started in 1884. From this time until 1979, the Collie was ALWAYS in the Top Ten in registration numbers. Hitting number 1 at one point, and staying in the top 5 for a very long time this popularity took its toll on the breed. Any breed who hits the ranks of the Top Ten is in serious danger of backyard breeders and our “new moniker” of puppy millers (in the past, puppy farmers). It’s not “overbreeding” or “inbreeding” per se, but the breeding of individuals who should never, ever have been bred. In some countries, breed wardens direct the breeding of suitable animals. Not so in most “free” and democratic countries. Unfortunately, undereducated, ignorant people (undereducated and ignorant in the sense of dog breeding for high quality animals) breed anything they can with no care taken in health, temperament/disposition, purity of breeding, etc. All popular breeds have gone through this damage to their breeds, and it takes YEARS and YEARS of by dedicated breed clubs, reputable breeders, and others to cull and repair the damage done. It is reported that the Collie, like the German Shepherd and Cocker Spaniel in similar timeframes, went through similar periods of time to cleanse, repair and heal. This period of time (and, remember it did not affect ALL members of their respective breeds, but pockets as bred by generally the pet-owning public wanting to make a profit breeding dogs) can be ROUGHLY identified as being between 1920 to 1940. It is rare to find a shy (or, rarer yet, people aggressive) Collie. That is one of their absolute best features — wonderful temperament and disposition, wonderful dogs for the family and ESPECIALLY kids! Often called the “family babysitter.” What has really hurt the Collie’s popularity for over 50 years are the beautiful but oftentimes HUGE coats! Many, many people tell me that they would love to have a Collie again — like the wonderful dogs they had as a child. But, they don’t want to deal with the thick (but gorgeous) coats! They are very surprised to find out that we have the SMOOTH COLLIE which is a short-haired version! The Smooth Collie and the Rough Collie can occur in the same litters, and are registered as the same breed here in the USA. They make highly popular and successful service dogs for the disabled, family dogs, therapy dogs, and so on. I’d like to see our breeders follow the standard better by not breeding for too much coat thinking that “more is better!” A moderate coat on a moderate dog would be wonderful. FMI do a search for Collie Club of America or American Working Collie Association. Cheers!

  99. says

    It is so refreshing to see a real discussion of the issue of closed book breeding. Like several of you, I have a graduate degree in biology, which gave me the foundation to reflect on what we are doing in terms of ruining dogs with the limited gene pool of “purebreds”. When I have brought this up in discussions, the pushback is INTENSE! The AKC has such a grip on the breeders that even if they wanted to improve their breeds by outcrossing, they can’t do it and remain viable. My greatest hope is that breeders will realize what they are doing, and create a revolution against the rigidity of their club. It will be the only way we will get dogs that are bred for health, temperament and function. A great book is The Dog Wars: How the Border Collie Battled the American Kennel Club by Donald McCaig… you get quite a good picture of people trying to save a breed from the organization before the breed is recognized, and the way the AKC undermined their attempts.

  100. trisha says

    Diane: Thanks for the reminder about McCaig’s book and the “BC wars.” I was actually part of that battle, unsuccessful as it was. Donald is planning to come by the farm at the end of the month on his way to a trial. It should be great fun, I’ve loved his writing but never met him. Feels a bit like having Mark Twain come to visit . . .

  101. LauraO says

    Lisa B, referring to your April 26th post, that happened to me too. I won’t mention the forum or breed but I was TROUNCED left and right for suggesting it, even though others on the forum had the discussion.

    I suspect those already discussing all knew each other from the show world, whereas I was new. One moderator emailed me privately and threatened, well, she THOUGHT she was threatening me “Do you know you have negative WAGS in your profile?!?!?” Meaning a poor rating.

    Wow. Negative wags. And I was supposed to lose sleep at night?
    That, plus having people post that they were googling my name and seeing me on vegetarian, made me conclude more than ever, the show folks were full of nervous nellies who were losing their minds.

    Not all breeders are like that, but there clearly are plenty.

    And yet now I volunteer for rescue for this same breed, happily. Who is the dog lover here, I ask?

  102. LauraO says

    @ Diane Gibbons, I have my Master’s in bio and lord forbid I mention it, and yes that too, gets some breeders defensive.

    “Oh, so you think an edu-KA-shun replaces experience?!!!”

    Uhhhh, no, not necessarily. But it’s not worthless either. Why so defensive?

    Interested in that book you mention.
    I was told that the Australian kelpie walked away from AKC recognition. I was also told show kelpies show with the American Rare Breed Association here in America, and further, that the purpose of that organization is to get breeds AKC acceptance. I hope that is all not true. Show and working kelpie folk are split as it is; I tend to lean on the working kelpie side. But acceptance of even show would be disheartening to me.

    When BCs and ACDs were accepted, my heart sank each time.

  103. Rebecca Rice says

    Fascinating discussion, and one that I have pondered ever since I adopted a rescue greyhound. Most of the dogs that I grew up with were mutts. Great dogs, perfectly happy with the life that we gave them. My greyhound suits me, and I do get a thrill out of watching her run, because she is a gorgeous dog that failed miserably as a racer. But she’s not a better pet than the mutts.

    I hear a lot of people calling for “breeding for what the breed was meant to do”… but that raises a sticky issue for me. How many of the breeds are actually suited for our modern world? The vast majority of dogs in the US are pets, and many of the traits that define breeds are not necessarily well-suited for being a house pet. For example, I hear people complaining that dobermans have been ruined as a breed…. because they have been bred to be friendlier and less intimidating. That border collies have been ruined…. because they have been bred to reduce the need for hours and hours and hours of exercise. And I was roundly jumped on in a forum for casually proposing that maybe, possibly, breeding for short-haired Yorkies might be a good thing, since I have never seen one outside a show ring that wasn’t clipped.

    So, is it better to let Dobermans die out as a breed, or to create a dog with a Doberman’s looks but not their “traditional” temperament? Is having a happy, healthy dog that looks like a Border Collie but has no desire to herd anything a bad thing? I am not sure what the right answer is. Not breeding for extremes is an obvious, easy answer. And I believe that good breeders try and carefully screen would-be owners to ensure that it will be a good match. But the reality is that there is a limited set of people who need a good retriever, or herder, or sled dog, and a whole lot more who want a dog who looks like a retriever, or herder, or sled dog, but doesn’t act like one.

    It’s an issue that I think my breed is going to face in the near future. The greyhound race tracks are losing money, and slowly going out of business. In a decade or two, it’s likely that they will all be closed. What happens to the breed then? The show lines are bred for extreme appearances, not performance, and have a very small population. There are people breeding “desert dogs”… greyhound crosses, meant for coyote and rabbit hunting, but they definitely don’t care about the “look” of the breed, being mainly about the practical purpose of catching the prey. And I wouldn’t say that all of them are necessarily good breeders, either, since many abandon the dogs that don’t do well at it. And in most places, hunting rabbits and deer with dogs is illegal, and there is little other reason for having a dog that runs 40+ miles per hour. I’m hopeful that people will continue to breed them because of their sweet calm natures, general health, and lovely looks, but I do not know what is going to happen, and how much of a bottleneck there is going to be.

  104. Jodi says

    Well, here’s a conundrum for you to puzzle over. My fiancee and I met over rescue puppies. His a black and tan male (unregistered lab whose father was reportedly a champion duck dog and whose mother was an unregistered ‘miscolored’ lab) mine a red female from the same litter. Long story short, my female was scheduled to be spayed when she came into heat. My vet told me that we would have to wait six weeks as they would not spay her until well after her heat. Despite our diligence, ONE time in that six weeks the dogs were accidentally alone together for ten minutes. We are now expecting puppies. Our vet has not stated any fear about the soon to be parents being litter mates and did not encourage us to terminate the pregnancy (which we would have done had there been a fear of genetic problems with the puppies). However, everyone under the sun who is not educated in animal husbandry, has felt the need to tell us that our puppies could be retarded and or deformed. The parents are both healthy and extremely well mannered dogs. The generation BEFORE them was not in any way related. What do you think?

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

You may use these HTML tags and attributes: <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <s> <strike> <strong>