Inbreeding in Dogs Part II

Wow. What an interesting and informative set of comments in response to my last post, thank you so much for taking the time to write; I have learned a great deal just from reading some of your comments. I wish I had a couple of days to do nothing but research this topic. (But here’s the good news: I WILL have time this summer once the new booklet is out, and I’m going to use that time to learn more and substantially revise the section on behavior and genetics in the Advanced Canine Behavior Seminar this October.)

I could write for hours too on this topic, but I’ll summarize some of my own thoughts here, in hopes that this important discussion continues.

Let me address the issue of inbreeding from two perspectives: 1) the resultant lack of genetic diversity caused by inbreeding and 2) the potential of increasing the frequency of deleterious genes in an inbred population.

As a biologist, I was trained that a lack of genetic diversity is usually problematic in any biological system. Both biotic communities and populations of animals and plants tend to be more stable if they have not suffered from a lack of diversity. For example, the infamous potato famine was caused by a reliance on one variety of potato that did well in Irish soils but turned out to have no resistance to the fungus that caused potato blight. Once the disease took hold, and because so many Irish were reliant on the potato for sustenance, 750,00 people died and two million left for other countries. If there had been a variety of types of potatoes used around the country the disaster would not have occurred.

That is an extreme example, and granted it is from the plant world, but in a general sense (I’ll get back to that caveat later), genetic diversity makes a population more stable, or more able to withstand challenges from disease, extremes of weather or other significant changes in the environment. Animals that reproduce by cloning, and thus whose young are exact replicates of the parents, only thrive in highly stable environments. Indeed, it is argued that sexual reproduction (which is energetically expensive, risky, messy, etc) evolved as a way of creating genetic diversity … each individual has a unique genotype that results in a population in which some individuals are more suited than others to cope with environmental changes; changes that are unpredictable but, in most environments, are inevitable.

The second problem caused by a lack of genetic diversity in a general sense is the increase in frequency of recessive genes and or mutations. These genes are very rarely advantageous and there are numerous examples of diseases, structural deficits and congenital problems associated with small gene pools. For example, medical researches love to find isolated populations of people who have a high frequency of an otherwise rare disease, because that makes it easier to find the genes associated with it, study it and attempt to find a cure.

So, how does this relate to our dogs? Answer: we don’t really know. Seriously, we are in desperately need of good research on this topic. But we do have some guesses: One of your colleagues sent in a link to a study done on the highly inbred wolves who live on Isle Royale in Minnesota. (Thank you Jeff.) Researchers estimate that 58% of the wolves suffer from a serious deformity of the lumbosacral region, with 33% showing a severe malformation of the spine that causes partial or complete paralysis. 100% of the dead wolves that they have found for the last 12 years have displayed bone deformities.

Yes, of course, dogs aren’t wolves, but there are so many examples of breed specific abnormalities that appear to be related to a doubling up of recessives: hyperuricemeia (bladder stones) in Dalmatians, a defective MDR1 gene in collies and aussies, a much higher frequency of PRA and hip dysplasia in some breeds rather than others, etc etc.

What to Do? Should everyone run out and start breeding Border Collies to Border Terriers? (I know, some people do for Flyball dogs!) No, but I think each breed club has simply got to focus more on health than on the “purebred” aspect of their breed. Many of the comments in my previous blog mentioned the Dalmatian club’s and AKC’s lack of acceptance of a line of Dals that were bred to bring in the normal gene: one pointer was introduced into the line, and then an entire line of many generations of dogs that look and act exactly like Dalmatians were bred. But the breed club and AKC refused to accept them as Dalmatians.

What is a Breed, anyway? Here’s the bottom line of what I want to say about this issue: For years, a “breed” was a group of dogs who generally looked somewhat similar and acted in a similar way. They often came from the same locality (thus,  Border Collies from the Border Counties between Scotland and England), but they were bred primarily for function, not for looks. Indeed, you can still register a dog with the ISDS who looks anything vaguely like a Border Collie IF it behaves like one around sheep. I learned from your comments that Hanoverian and Oldenburg horses can be bred together IF they look and behave as the ‘other breed.’ “Alaskan Huskies” are not considered a breed, because any breed who can add to a dog’s strength, stamina and drive is welcome. But that’s what ‘breeds’ used to be: a group of animals who behaved in a particular way. IF it was found that bringing in genes from another location or breed was helpful, it was done without any controversy whatsoever.

My favorite “breed” story is from Ray Coppinger, who tells the story of looking for breeding stock for sheep guarding dogs in the Anatolian mountains. He was looking for an Anatolian shepherd, and found a man with a likely looking brown dog walking behind a group of sheep. Ray asked the man “Is that an Anatolian Shepherd?” The guy looked at him for a minute, and said “Are these the Anatolian Mountains?” In other words…. we’re in Anatolia, the dog is with sheep, so of course it’s an Anatolian Shepherd you idiot! Ray also tells another story of looking for a Great Pyrenees and finding a breeder who took him to the barn to look at a new litter. The litter contained several all white pups, some black and white and some all black. The owner picked up the white ones and said “These are the only Great Pyrenees, the others are another breed.”

So should breeders randomly throw up their stud books? No, I would not advocate that for a minute, but IF there is a real or potential problem related to health or behavior, then absolutely breed clubs should be looking at ways to solve the problem by looking at the genotypes of their breed. Some clubs, very much to their credit, have done this: Basenji’s in this country were derived from a tiny number of dogs until the club went out of its way to import dogs from Africa, for example.

Ah, so much more to talk about. I’m going to save some other aspects of this issue (Are mixed breed dogs really healthier than purebreds? Can you breed for function by looking at structure and movement?) for later, but hopefully this will continue the conversation. I’d love to hear more examples of what breed clubs are doing to promote the long term health of their breed. Some good ones were already mentioned in the previous post’s comments, but I’ll bet there are more.

One last point before I move on: I know that this topic brings up many controversial and loaded issues, and I want to express my gratitude for the courtesy and intellectual curiosity that so many of the comments exemplified. It’s my belief that we desperately need more open-minded discussions about many issues in the dog world (and the world in general, but I won’t go there), and I am grateful for all of you who commented with such grace and civility.

MEANWHILE, back on the farm: It’s sunny and gorgeous right now, after a chilly morning with frost on the grass and daffodils. You gotta give the daffs credit: they have lived and thrived through multiple freezes, a serious hail storm, sleet, and hot sun (just one day). But they look great, probably because the cool and wet weather has preserved them, and because somehow they miraculously survived the hail (I’m still not sure how that happened, except that it didn’t last too long here, but had me flying outside in the middle of the night to move the car.)

True confessions: I still need to grade 12 papers today, have 97 emails in my inbox and need to work on the exam for next week BUT, it’s GORGEOUS outside and I’ll be inside all weekend and there’s a flower bed begging me to weed and mulch it. I might just have to play hookey for an hour before I get back to work. Have to admit though, I’m yearning to work Willie on sheep in this perfect cool weather. Oh well, August will come soon enough, hey?

Here’s a photograph that I took a few days ago that feels like a perfect metaphor for life right now: Beautiful flowers surrounded by prickly raspberry thorns. The thorns can rip you to shreds–if you’ve ever tried to cut them out or pick berries in a wild patch you know what I mean– but they also produce one of my favorite foods later on in the year: black raspberries. Flowers for the heart, berries for the body, and thorns to remind us that life is always full of challenges.


  1. Steve Shaffer says

    There was a case in the horse world (Arabians as I recall) where breeders were selecting for the floaty trot, strictly for show purposes. After a little bit they wound up with foals that could not stand up and walk, no matter what was done. Postmortem exam found that the foals had no cerebellum, as in it was physically missing not just dysfunctional. I couldn’t tell you if there was in-breeding involved though that is likely. Nonetheless, even tinkering with breeding by selecting for a specific criteria is fraught with unintended (fatal in this case) consequences.

  2. says

    You asked: Can you breed for function by looking at structure and movement?

    My answer is no…just look at the confirmation Border Collies…they may look like Border Collies in the ring but put them in a round pen with some sheep and tell me if they still look like “Border Collies”. I’m willing to bet those dogs wouldn’t look anything like my Border Collie that would probably never get anywhere in the confirmation ring when working sheep (she’s about 30lbs, red merle with blue eyes and pricked ears). In order for a Border Collie to work sheep (its original function) the dog needs to have natural instinct…you can’t get that by breeding only for structure and movement…

  3. says

    Very interesting post. I have Chinooks, a rare American breed of sled dog, and a breed that has multiple significant genetic bottlenecks. Due to the rarity of the breed and a known 4-dog genetic bottleneck, breeders initiated a controlled cross-breeding program with the UKC over 17 years ago. Purebred Chinooks were bred to dogs closely related to those believed to have contributed to the original formation of the breed almost 100 years ago (a Sibe, a Malamute, and a GSD). Offspring from the outcrosses were bred back to purebred Chinooks, and at the fourth generation if descendants passed health tests and are evaluated by a judge as meeting the breed standard, they are conferred purebred status. Dog club politics threatened to keep these dogs out of the AKC, but a couple of years ago the Chinook community managed to thrash out a solution (basically inclusion is better than exclusion!) and allow AKC registration for these dogs.

    We recently participated in a genetic study with Mars Symbioscience, and the entire Chinook population (purebreds and those descending from the outcrosses) had 371 haplotypes (on a study of 25 chromosomes). Purebred Chinooks had 202 – in comparison, a comparable analysis of GSDs, Malamutes, and Siberian Huskies showed 649, 479, and 598 haplotypes respectively. For Chinooks, that is a 46% increase in haplotypes by introducing just 3 dogs into the genepool. Interestingly, we also compared the outcrossed dogs across the generations, and by the third generation, they fit genetically completely with the purebred Chinook DNA signature.

    At the same time we did a longitudinal health study – the results are still being analyzed by a population geneticist, but initially indicate that the crossbred dogs and their newly purebred offspring have a reduced incidence of hip dysplasia and seizures.

  4. says

    So…is Willie better?

    I agree, an absolute fascinating conversation. Even a lay dummy like me learned a lot.
    (Thanks, Christine!)

  5. Beth says

    I so much appreciate your raising the subject! I want to clarify that if my other comments in the first post sounded like I thought any inbreeding that breeders choose to do is absolutely ok just because they choose to do it, that is not the case! I think there can be huge problems with too much inbreeding, but so can there be huge problems with out-crossing if it’s done badly or for the wrong reasons: Hence my comment that if a pug can’t breathe because it’s face is too short, does it matter if that trait came from two sire lines or two hundred?

    My question is what levels of genetic diversity are needed for health, and how much have we lost? Saying that all border collies genetically add up to 8 distinctly genetically different collies tells me absolutely nothing, because I have no basis of comparison. How many genetically unique grey squirrels are there? Probably tons, because they cover a wide range of climates and habitats in the wild. How many genetically unique Emperor penguins are there? I have no idea. If I had to guess, I would imagine not very many (or not as many as the squirrels) because they occupy a very specific niche with an incredibly narrow range of traits that allow survival.

    Health-wise, the grey squirrel is much more likely to survive major changes to its habitat because it’s (probably) got more variability. But if you isolated a population of squirrels in the Antarctic, they would probably either all die OR very rapidly narrow their gene pool to include only those specific genes that allow survival in such a unique habitat.

    Breeders of dogs are breeding Emperor penguins, not grey squirrels. In other words, they want a dog that exhibits a narrow and predictable set of behaviors and a specific appearance. They DON’T breed for an animal that will be widely adaptable to a huge range of behaviors. Doesn’t that sort of selective breeding always result in genetic narrowing? It seems to do so in the wild, with highly specialized and isolated populations of animals naturally showing less genetic diversity. Yes, this DOES make the animals more prone to disease and less adaptable to environmental changes. But it also allows incredible specialization, where an animal can thrive in a situation that most animals would find difficult to tolerate. Similarly, we have dogs that thrive in situations that a wolf would find intolerable. A wolf could not sit in a boat for hours doing nothing then spend three hours bringing back ducks in freezing cold water (lab), or hours herding sheep without every attacking one of them (border collie) or spend all day hunting foxes with a pack of strange dogs and chased by horses which it ignores completely (fox hound) or…. well, I guess that makes my point.

    We are all in favor of genetic diversity, yet my guess is if someone bought a Border Collie that ate the sheep, well that would be a bit of genetic diversity we would not be in favor of. Nor the genetic diversity that made the seeing eye dog fight with another passing dog, nor again the diversity that made the Shih Tzu slink away at the sight of people.

    The “founding stock” of dogs was the wolf and it had lots of diversity. But we got rid of all the genes that didn’t suit us in each line of dogs. And that left not so much diversity. In dogs with large founding populations, we still get narrowing. We get it in field lines and show lines. Why is that? Probably because one line or two proved to be the best at what the dog was bred for, and so over the years that dog’s great-great-great-great grandchildren got bred to a lot while another dog’s great-great-great-great grandchildren did not. My own Corgi has a sire from overseas. I saw a picture of another Corgi on a breeder’s site and thought she looked strikingly like my own. At first glance they did not appear related on the top at all, and only slightly on the bottom. But on further inspection, the sire line of the imported dog traced back to British lines that are already quite common in American pedigrees, so even honest attempts to outcross just end up bringing back the same old lines. Much of the genetic narrowing has occurred since the fancies took over and closed the stud books, but it’s also true that after WWII much of the original stock had been lost or forgotten and so some breeds have very narrow gene pools to begin with, and so do all related breeds that we might outcross to.

    I guess all I can come up with is let’s not be hasty. More study is definitely needed. When health problems are rampant it’s one thing, but when they aren’t we might think we are fixing one problem only to open up a whole new set of problems. Genetics is not yet well-understood. Most all Corgis are either carriers or “affected” by DM, yet most Corgis never get DM. So if breeders outcross to get rid of the DM gene, what if something desirable was riding along with it and gets lost along the way? What if another gene is unwittingly introduced which, say, increases the risk of IVDD— which seems much more prevalent in some other long-backed breeds than in Corgis ?

    Too many questions, not enough answers.

  6. Beth says

    And another thought: Trisha is absolutely correct that the idea of closed stud books in dogs is relatively new (though not totally new; some cultures kept what we would consider closed stud books on various animals for a long time).

    But…. and this is a big but!…. how the failures were dealt with is not so socially acceptable any more. A farm dog who hazed sheep would be shot (still will be in serious sheep-working cultures). If the new blood that was brought in did not work, entire litters would be drowned. With increased genetic variability (and yes, likely increased genetic health) comes decreased predictability. How do we handle that, with our relatively new “dogs are family” sensibilities?

    I think the subject reminds me most of the comment on free trade: we’re against free trade when it costs us jobs, but all for it when it brings us great tv’s and cameras…..

  7. Eric says

    I sincerely hope this remark doesn’t come off wrong. But, as an outsider to the breeding/show dog world, some of us wonder why genetic diversity isn’t THE primary factor in breeding decisions.
    I know you are breeding for certain traits, but shouldn’t health be the number one trait (as it is for children, for instance)? If appearance is the primary concern (as it appears to be), than who cares if your dogs grandpa looked different? Of course, the papers that come with the dog are the ONLY thing, negatively affected by the fresh blood.
    Every body wants “the best”, but inbred ain’t it. Health, personality, temperament and even looks are way more important than pedigree. I am sorry, but obsession with pedigree is just stupid.
    Every unhealthy dog I have ever had or every dog which needed constant pharmaceuticals was “pure bred”.
    Dogs are 30-40lb. animals. Anything else is stunted growth or oversize for the frame it evolved on naturally. Either one is more likely than not, to have negative consequences. Why exacerbate them with recessive genes?
    And don’t even think of disagreeing with me or my well adjusted mutt dogs will knock you down and lick you to death.

  8. AnneJ says

    The stories from Coppinger reminded me of a true story of Aussie breed history. This was not so many years ago since it’s a young breed. Some breeders would leave tails on the black ones and they would be Border Collies, and dock tails on the merles, those would be the Aussies of the litter.

    No, of course you can not breed for function only by looking at structure and movement. To test for function the dog has to function. How could you breed for certain behaviors without putting the dog in the situation to express the behavior and seeing if it meets the working standard? For example, a heeler. Sure a dog can be built to be able to drop to the ground and bite at the same time, but whether he will want to do it, and whether he will still want to do it after being kicked by a cow, that has nothing to do with structure.

  9. says

    A very awesome discussion for sure – with a lot of great replies from all points of view.

    I agree that it would be tough to breed function only by looking at structure and movement . . . but honestly, if a breed isn’t built correctly or moving well, how can it work? We have a big divide in American Cockers between the field dogs and the show dogs (similar to the divide in many Sporting breeds). The show people think the field dogs are ugly, and the field people think the show dogs are lacking in instinct. The truth of the matter is, current show-bred American Cockers have one major impediment to working in the field, and that’s the obscene amount of coat that many of them carry. With that being said, a show Cocker *should* be able to work in the field if shaved off and trained appropriately . . . it’s just that most conformation people aren’t into the performance aspect of things. In our breed, it’s commonly stated that “Form follows function” – which basically means that the dog will be built for the job it’s bred to do.

    I really don’t disagree with the suggestion of outcrossing (whether it’s a different line or a different breed altogether) in order to enhance genetic diversity and to work on health issues. For some breeds, such as the Chinook (mentioned above) it can work very well, as long as the fanciers ALL realize that it is being done for the good of the breed.

    I’m looking forward to reading your comments about whether purebreds are truly less healthy than mutts . . . I have my own thoughts on that, but I consistently get told I’m full of BS.

    Thanks for the very thought-provoking posts everybody!

  10. says

    Anatolian Shepherds have an open studbook, which means we can bring in dogs from the country of origin and register them with the parent club and their offspring can be AKC registered as purebreds.
    However they are considered a landrace, bred for function and not to a breed standard in their country of origin and there is considerable variety in looks and sizes. For being a very large breed, they generally live quite long with many of them living 12 years or longer. Unfortunately the genepool in the AKC population is rather small with most of the dogs being more or less closely related. Thanks to our open studbook each year several new dogs are imported and added to our genepool. I am glad we have this opportunity.

  11. says

    I was recently at an Ian Dunbar seminar where he made reference to the Golden Retriever population in America and that all GR’s emanate from just 8 sires. I think I’m repeating that correctly. I think it is commonly known that GR’s can have a higher incidence of lymphoma. I’m not stating any of this as an expert – just repeating what I heard. This is indeed an interesting topic.

  12. trisha says

    Oh, so much to say, and have to leave Willie in the hands of my great farm sitter again, but I do want to add that I totally get how difficult it is to be a great breeder. I bred BCs for several years, and I agree that until you’ve done it you have no conception (pun not intended, but I’ll take it) of how difficult it is, and that is it impossible to breed perfect puppies every single time. I also know that the issue of whether anyone should breed at all is also very controversial.. I’ve addressed it before and will again, but for now (gotta go help take care of my sister-in-law in hospice), just know that I absolutely do not believe that all breeders are irresponsible.

  13. Erin says

    Amazing discussion of a topic that needs to be discussed.

    The comments Karen posted about the Chinooks were a fascinating read. I was pleased and interested to see 4 generations of controlled breed after the introduction of the other breeds that offspring were genetically Chinooks. That breathes hope for those that may want to do the same for their own breed.

    I have Border Collies and to me my dog’s function is what makes him a Border Collie, not his form or his pedigree. I believe if you breed for function, form in a rough sense will follow. You can’t have a dog work a job day in and day out with serious conformation flaws or health issues, his physical soundness is important. You also can’t have a dog with serious mental flaws work a rigorous daily job. Essentially function/work will cull the dogs that have the most serious physical and mental flaws. Finally, it seems to reason if you are breeding for a specific job your dogs will probably end up essentially looking similar outwardly.

    Recently a good friend and wise stock dog trainer preformed a basic AKC instinct testing day for the local AKC Border Collie club. She blew me away by telling be she had ZERO dogs pass. The test consists of dog broke sheep in a small round pen and to pass the dog had to sustain interest in the stock for 2 minutes. I remember feeling very sad when hearing this. To me these dogs, no matter their looks or linage weren’t Border Collies.

    One thing a friend that shows Scottish Terriors and I often toss around is that it would be nice if some of these purebred show ring types would be required to have intermediate level working titles on their dogs in order to finish their conformation championships. There is nothing sadder than a terrier that wont go to ground, a gun dog that wont hunt and a stock dog that wont herd.

  14. Dewitt Gimblet says

    Stacia, I started to watch the video you posted the link to, but couldn’t bear to watch more than a few minutes this morning. I can’t imagine any lover of dogs watching it without their eyes tearing and their blood boiling. While inbreeding results in a limited gene pool and and therefore associate risks for the population, the problem becomes much, much worse when breeding is done to create traits that are detrimental to the physical health of the breed (e.g. extremely brachycephalic dogs) or when what are clearly genetic defects are ignored because they are associated with a desired trait (e.g. syringomyelia in King Charles spaniels). While the issue of outbreeding dog breeds is important, I think the issue of irresponsible breeding within existing gene pools is the larger problem.

  15. Beth says

    Trisha, how stressful to be dealing with a critically ill loved one and a sick dog, too. I hope all goes as well as can be expected for such situations.

    I read just recently that until not too long ago, there were only “Spaniels.” The small ones were called Cockers and the medium ones Springers, and the rare big, heavy ones were Clumbers. I can see the virtue in that.

    I can also see the virtue in predictability. One of the biggest reasons there are dogs in shelters is owner abandonment. Sometimes that is due to truly irresponsible owners, but sometimes that is due to owners who mean well who get in over their heads. We had a true mutt when I was a kid; my mother’s cousin had a cockapoo who had a litter sired by “unknown stray.” No idea what dad looked like, or if indeed there might have been two or three dads to the litter.

    Our pup ended up looking very much like a cockapoo, though a bit smaller and thinner (more on the poodle end of the scale). Black with a white blaze and about 16 pounds with a wavy non-shedding coat.

    Her littermate brother ended up being a medium-sized brown dog.

    What that says for genetic health I have no idea. BUT if you were getting a lap dog for your elderly aunt who lived in a condo with size limits on dogs (or said aunt had fragile bones and could not handle a dog over 20 pounds), guess where brown mutt would have ended up?

    I’m a fan of purebred dogs, probably because I grew up in a house with working dogs (bird dogs) and saw that while you can train any dog to flush birds, most won’t work with the enthusiasm of a Springer. And while you can teach any dog to retrieve ducks, most won’t work with the tireless joy of a lab. While a lab might bring back a goose, then again it might not and a Chessie will grin and jump into water with hunks of ice floating in it, again and again and again.

    I hope this doesn’t come across wrong, but for people who just want “a pet”, perhaps the idea of breeding to exacting size and temperament expectations seems odd, but a 35 pound dog can’t bring back an 18 pound goose repeatedly. It’s just not up to the job. I have health issues that prevent me from safely handling a big dog if it were to bolt or pull, so when I picked a breed that tops out at 30 pounds, I did so after exacting research. My slightly oversized 36 pound dog is about the top end of what I can safely handle; had the dog reached 45 pounds I would have had trouble.

    The breeder we used DOES breed for health and she does know what’s in her lines. Corgis are blessed with being genetically pretty healthy. They tend to have bad hips on x-ray but functionally they tend to be sound. They aren’t prone to cancer or eye problems. They do get vWD, but it’s a mild form and easily bred away from (straight recessive). I truly don’t know how much genetic variety there is, but they seem to be tough and hardy dogs as well as mentally sound. Perhaps it’s because the original stock was more of an all-around farm dog and not such a specialist, or maybe it’s because many of the breeders are hobbiests with only 5 or 10 dogs and you don’t see the 100+ dog kennels like you used to see with some of the bigger working dogs. Or maybe it’s just pure luck.

    But sometimes these conversations tend to focus on the handful of breeds that are genetic nightmares. Those are worthy of conversation, and going back to outcross with founding stock would be a great idea in several breeds. Still, focusing on the worst does not let us look at the whole picture.

    Can’t wait for the post on “form vs function” so I won’t try to get into that here; it’s only modestly related to this conversation because you can breed for function and still have tremendous inbreeding (as seen in Thoroughbred racehorses).

  16. Beth says

    Meant to say that the cockers, springers, and clumbers could all be part of the same litter. But imagine by today’s standards buying a “cocker” pup and having the dog grow to be clumber-sized!

  17. Lindsay says

    You said, ” But the breed club and AKC refused to accept them as Dalmatians.”

    You can’t put any blame on the AKC in this case: the AKC did register two of the backcross Dals (a dog and a bitch) as Dalmatians, back in 1981. The DCA voted to oppose registration and notified the AKC. The AKC then rescinded the right for the offspring of the two LUA Dals to be registered.

    It’s important to note that the LUA Dals can be shown in UKC, and more breeders (including those who mostly show in AKC) are opting to include the LUA dogs in their lines.

  18. Tina says

    this is a great discussion. I have owned an AKC registered Yellow Lab and now a GSD mix. My Lab had the best temperament for a family pet, she was sweet, smart, patient, did not have huge demands for exercise. Great with my kids when they were babies until older. On the other hand, both elbows (at 2yo) and knees(1 at 4yo, 1 at 6yo) were operated on. Then she died of lymphoma at age 9. I chose a mixed breed for health reasons…but she does not have that amazing temperament.

    I have been wishing (since all the health issues of our Lab) that there was a breed specifically for a family pet, great health, great temperament, minimal exercise, minimal shed. There is a place for working dogs, but that is not what most families want. They want a companion! Most families spend minimal time training, they just want the companionship that dogs provide so naturally.

  19. Greta says

    The question of how you breed for good functioning if you don’t breed for movement and structure is something I have thought about a lot.

    A lot of breeders are fond of the straw-man argument that if we don’t keep breeds pure, then we will end up with indistinguishable middle sized brown dogs. Also, they like to point out that not all dogs of function-bred breeds are healthy, so therefore the whole idea of breeding for function must be faulty.

    What would produce middle-sized brown dogs? Indiscriminate breeding. Letting any dog breed to any dog, for many generations. But no one (that I know of) is suggesting we do that. Breeding for function is NOT indiscriminate — far from it! If we are breeding for “healthy, small, friendly, snuggly dog that has lower exercise requirements, and is not very barky, as a companion for people who live in apartments,” then we will get small, quiet, snuggly dogs who are well suited to apartment life. Not every individual will be perfect any more than any show litter produces 100% perfect champions, but the dogs will still be more suitable for half my clients than any existing breed is at this time. If we stop obsessing about coat length, color, and purity, it would be a whole lot easier to get to the traits of health/small size/cuddliness/quiet-moderate-exercise-needs. And it’s reasonable to assume that consistently breeding for these traits will produce something of a “look,” since appearance traits ride along with behavioral traits. (See Belyaev’s foxes.)

    These dogs will never look like “healthy, medium-sized, very agile, very intelligent dog with extremely good ability to herd skittish hill lambs with low pressure on stock and high biddability at a distance.” We already know what those dogs tend to look like. Border Collies don’t look like they do because someone said, “gee, I think a black and white Irish spotted dog of 40 lbs with a narrower build, super-flexible shoulders, lots of stifle angulation, and a pointy snout is what a good sheep-herding dog should look like, so let’s breed dogs that look like that and hope they can herd.”

    We breed for function, we are consistent, we do not close the gene pool, but we do focus breeding of some related dogs to get the *functional type,* and we will get distinct looks. We need not panic about losing that.

    Now, it’s true that if we breed only for function there is room for health problems to appear. Many health problems appear later in life and otherwise healthy, functional dogs will have been bred before they start showing the problem (cancer, some seizure disorders, hypothyroidism, e.g.). Many dogs *can* work despite milder forms of hip-dysplasia (especially since working dogs are usually well-muscled, and thus stay symptom-free for longer) and later-appearing, milder forms of epilepsy. Many medical conditions are now treated so that a dog could keep working (or showing, for that matter) rather than taking the dog out of the gene pool. (This is another topic someone needs to consider someday.) So if someone wants to assume that the only alternative to “responsible breeding” is to let dogs breed willy-nilly without regard to health issues, then it’s easy to see that breeding purely for working function is not a great answer.

    BUT. Those are not the only two choices? What if we breed for function AND health? What if we test all our breeding stock for all the health problems we can, and then really work them to make sure their bodies work? If we come at hip dysplasia by (a) screening for it as show breeders should, and (b) working the dogs hard to make sure they can work, then we WILL have dogs with good structure and movement. Breeding for structure and movement and hoping that health and function will result is backwards. Period.

    About structure and movement… some GSD people claim the sloped back produces good movement and structure. But those dogs canNOT work — not really. Work is not “can get a CD” or “can get over an agility course prior to age 4,” or “can do a little bitework.” That is not work. An Aussie breeder once told me solemnly that all her dogs work — they all get at least a CD. I eyed her 60 lb, heavily coated bitch — who would not be able to survive a hot California day in the field moving cattle. A deaf, epileptic, three-legged dog on Prozac for severe separation anxiety can get a CD (if allowed in the ring). This does not prove fitness.

    So let’s test for health — we have the tools. Let’s do it. And let’s breed for function. That means defining functions and then actually asking breeding dogs to perform it. Living in a kennel and going to shows is not function, not even if you throw in some recreational herding, carting, or earthdog.

    It’s entirely practically doable, but the collective will of the breeding community is so horrified that I will be surprised if it ever happens, especially in the US, where the perceived right to do anything you want to a dog in the name of private property rights is so intensely ingrained. Sad for the dogs.

  20. Kat says

    I’m following this discussion with great interest. I can’t speak to the subject of inbreeding in dogs but I have observed it first hand in cats. For as long as I can remember my parents have kept a semi-feral cat colony in the barn. The local coyotes, owls, hawks, etc. keep the colony numbers down and the other cat colonies in the area kept the gene pool active and close inbreeding to a minimum. Queens would come in heat and we’d suddenly discover we had a new Tom in the colony. But as the old time farmers retired or sold out the number of out of colony Toms diminished and the health of the colony kittens deteriorated. When they imported a new Tom there was a marked improvement in the health of the resultant kittens. The only variable changed was the amount of close inbreeding.

  21. Carmen says

    Very well said Greta. I agree that only in breeding for function AND health (which in my opinion includes a stable temperament), can we begin to overcome some of the health problems that we see in so many dogs today. Being heavily involved in both dog sports as well as rescue work and fostering, this is such an important issue that my husband and I frequently discuss.

    Trisha you asked for examples of what breed clubs are doing to promote the long term health of their breed… the American Rottweiler Club has mandatory breeding practices for their members which include the following: OFA, CERF and Cardiac clearances for all breeding animals, bitches may not be bred early than 2 years and never more than 2 consecutive heat cycles, stud dogs may not be used before the age of 2, breeding dogs must have permanent identification (microchip or tattoo), and members may not at any time knowingly allow a dog they have bred to remain in a shelter or in the care of a rescue organization. These are a few of the mandatory practices that members must abide by. I also have to add that this is a club that strongly promotes working ability and temperament in their breed (which we so desperately need with all the bad PR). It’s almost overwhelming to attend a National specialty because of the huge display of rott-only activities going on in addition to the conformation showing: obedience, rally, agility, carting, herding, tracking, seiger show, CGC and temperament testing, health testing and clinics, parade of rescue dogs, versatility awards etc, etc. And of course they are always working to promote responsible dog ownership to prevent breed specific legislation. While the practices of ARC don’t prevent backyard breeders from producing unhealthy puppies, it does help to promote responsible breeding practices among show dog breeders involved in AKC.

    I look forward to hearing more opinions on this hot topic. Thanks Trisha!

  22. Beth says

    Jess: Yes I understand that narrow line-breeding and inbreeding produces other problems too. But my point is that when breeders intentionally breed for detrimental traits, then even having a wide gene pool won’t help the dogs. Bassets are too heavy and low to work, not because that is the only gene pool open to Basset breeders, but because those traits are put up in the ring, time after time.

    If people are selecting for types that leave you without a functional dog, that problem will continue even if we open up the gene pool. Opening stud books is not a fix for problems caused by the conscious decision to breed for extreme traits. In fact, careless breeders could use an open registry as an excuse to produce even more extreme dogs.

    Until the show world (and some field trials) stops over-emphasizing extreme traits, we can open the stud book a thousand times and still end up breeding right back down to a tiny gene pool. Many of the breeds that have lots of genetic problems seem to be bred for extremes; extreme friendliness/softness in Goldens and Cavaliers, extreme size in Danes, extreme faces and tails in pugs, extreme everything in English Bulldogs.

    The relentless desire to make dogs that vary so incredibly far from “average”, be it temperament or body type, necessarily causes a narrow gene pool even if we start with a lot of dogs. It seems that the dogs who are expected to exhibit a wider range of acceptable personality traits and a more “average” body type and size are less prone, as a whole, to the serious genetic diseases we see in some breeds. Maybe that’s just my perception and I’m willing to listen to arguments to the contrary, but I see it is not at all a coincidence.

  23. Margaret T says

    Steve is probably referring to cerebellar abiotrophy in Arabian horses. It is a recessive gene that has probably always been there; as has SCID, a recessive immune gene that causes affected foals to die when their own immune systems are supposed to take over from immunity received from the mare’s colostrum. CA has been confused with Wobbler’s syndrome as well which muddied the waters even more. And the affected horses can range from severely debilitated, needing to be euthanized, to mildly debilitated, able to procreate. The thing is, until people learned about genetics, and some began paying big money for these horses based pretty much on their breeding, no one really noticed which horses were causing the problems. So, no, it wasn’t really that breeders caused the problems, but the problems became more recognizable.
    And to the suggestion that health is the only important thing–no. I do not want a healthy dog that bites, thank you. I want a dog with a good, predictable temperament. I want a dog that doesn’t exceed a certain size. I want a dog with good form, but I looked for performance titles as well to show that a dog has the physical and mental ability to work. Responsible breeders exist, and responsible owners who are looking for specific things will seek them out.

  24. Jessica says

    I have been really enjoying this conversation topic and have finally decided to chime in after sitting in the hood in lab for a number of hours today thinking about it… I work with mice. Inbred mice. Not just inbred, but genetically identical mice — you can transplant organs from one to another with no immunosuppression. When we have to cross two backgrounds to introduce a mutation, it takes 12 generations to guarantee a pure background (fewer if you sequence the breeding mice and choose to only breed those that have the highest percentage of the genetic background you want). These mice live in a lab, they are under no environmental pressure, much like our purebred dogs. Different strains of mice have different temperaments, different breeding habits, etc. Unlike dogs, we are breeding for genotype, not phenotype it doesn’t matter to me that my mice are black.. what does matter is that my strain of mice gets heart disease when I feed them a high fat high sugar diet. This reminds me of the comment earlier about breeding for function. If we want a great herding dog, we breed for certain traits, and if the dog comes out pointy eared and pointy nosed, then that’s how a great herding dog will look, and the converse is not necessarily true. I think the problems arise when we breed for fashion. Is a more smushed nose on a pug function? or fashion? sloped GSD back? These dogs didn’t always look like this. Some breeds are getting bigger, some are getting smaller, and when we increase the frequency of some genes in the gene pool, others will tag along that may be deleterious. Obvious recessive diseases should be controlled for, and beneficial genes added as applicable (as seen in the Chinook example), but complex diseases like cancer will be harder to track. Women with BRCA1 mutation have a higher incidence of breast cancer, but not all women with the BRCA1 mutation get cancer, and not all women with breast cancer have BRCA1 mutation. The same will hold true with Golden retrievers (the cancer prone dog that comes to mind right now). With current genetic profiling we MAY be able to find mutations in the Golden genome that contribute to cancer formation, but that identification is only possible because the dogs are genetically similar to begin with. I definitely support the idea of breeding older dogs that have had more time to show any health defects that appear with age.. our dogs are living longer (which is a good thing!) and so are more subject to age-related diseases, and a dog with bad knees at age 4 isn’t going to have the quality of life we want, even if it could retrieve ducks from a pond for hours and hours from ages 1-3.5

  25. says

    Another general point that needs to be made is that opening up stud books is NOT a mandate to mongrelize your entire breed in one generation and turn dogs into a melting pot! This is a horrible straw man argument. No one is suggesting this need be done. NOR, logically would it be done.

    There’s not a single breed club in the world today that forces you to use a given dog on your bitch against your will, just because the club deems that dog of the same breed. So why does anyone expect that if we open up more stud books that someone’s going to force you to breed your precious Terrier to a Retriever just for kicks and genetic diversity!?!

    Opening up stud books is to open up possibilities, not to force behavior. It’s simply to allow breeders today the same tools as were available to all breeds during their foundations, and to allow those breeders to work WITHIN the system versus outside of it.

    That said, open registries are not enough, there also has to be the will to use it.

  26. Mary says

    A word of caution for mutt-lovers: As someone who has worked at a vet clinic for 15 years, we see PLENTY of mixed breed dogs with health problems. Although they may have generally better health, don’t bank on it. And I think the health benefits of a mutt do not extend to the temperament. For example, a responsible labrador breeder breeds for a “bomb proof” dog. That’s why they are so popular with families that have children. Lab mixes, on the other hand, quite often do not have that temperament.

  27. Kat says

    My husband fondly remembered a TV program called The Littlest Hobo about a dog that roamed free befriending people and staying with them until their lives improved then moving on. Since he recalled the show with such affection we borrowed it from Netfix and were watching it last night. The star of the show is a German Shepherd Dog named London and I was astonished at how little resemblance London has to the GSDs of today. London’s repertoire of behaviors encompasses pretty nearly everything a GSD would ever be asked to do, his temperament must be very sound our he couldn’t star in a TV series and given how many seasons the show ran he must have been healthy and yet in today’s breeding standards he’d never be chosen as breeding stock because he doesn’t look right. That seems wrong to me.

  28. Greta says

    I don’t see anyone in this discussion who needs to be “cautioned” that “mutts” are not necessarily without health problems. No one has made this argument and no one who has thought about this thinks it’s true. I question why the point needs to be made.

    As for the temperaments of mutts, well, first, if you compare “all mutts” to “very well bred Labs,” then it’s very easy to conclude that mutts might come out in second place. This is a complete setup and has nothing to do with the big picture. But there are many popular breeds where huge percentages of the breed have serious temperament problems and if we compare those to “all mutts,” the mutts might come up looking a lot better. And then there is a tremendous confound — a lot of mutts *might* come out of environments with crappy early socialization, which can produce learned neophobia and even aggression. If you don’t control for socialization then you have no business making assertions about *genetic* differences in temperament.

    I would really love to have one of these discussions where no one tried to use examples of individual dogs to prove statistical points.

    I would also really love to force absolutely anyone who is going to breed a dog to take and pass a decent class in population genetics. Guess that’s just about as likely to happen!

  29. Frances says

    I think there are two issues under discussion here – one is the breeding to conformation standard, with its tendency to encourage exaggeration of breed traits. There is an oldish saying in business consultancy circles – “What you measure is what you get”, and it has a corollary also well known to dog trainers – “What you reward you get repeatedly”. Breed clubs and show bodies therefore have a huge responsibility to ensure that the breed standards they advocate and enforce do not lead to exaggeration to the point of defect. For most breeds it should not be too difficult to address this within the breed, once breeders are no longer rewarded with top prizes and high prices for extreme examples. The UK Kennel Club is addressing this – too slowly, some would say, and with varied support and cooperaton from the breed clubs. The FCI is also making recommendations –

    The second issue is the limited size of the genetic pool for many breeds – and the diseases and other health and temperament issues that are becoming concentrated as a result. This one is, I think more difficult – it needs a recognition that line breeding is biologically the same thing as in breeding – the difference is one of degree, not substance. It needs a shift in thinking away from only breeding a few “best” examples of each breed to a more inclusive approach, much more focus on COI, and a willingness to look at other similar breeds for helpful traits (as in the introduction of a pointer to dalmatian lines) – while recognising that crosses are just as likely to display the worst of both breeds as the best, and that it can take a number of generations to get back much predictability (you only have to look at the hugely variable poodle crosses – in terms of coat, health, shape and temperament – that have been produced by the “designer dog” craze to see this in action). Most of all, it requires a change of thinking amongst those who treasure their breeds to understand that widening the gene pool is the best way to ensure the long term survival of the breed they love, rather than a “pollution” of their carefully controlled blood lines.

  30. Rachel says

    So I think there are two main problems here. 1. Breeding for extremes to the deficit of health (pug’s squashed face, bulldogs in general etc) 2. Inbreeding, which causes undesirable health problems which may or may not be related to the extreme phenotype (cancer, syringomelia (sp?), epilepsy etc).

    These two things are related in that when you breed for extremes, you tend to cause a bottleneck in the population’s diversity, which increases the rate of inbreeding, which may result in (on average) more genetic health problems. This is the case for pugs, bulldogs, great danes, neapolitan mastiffs, etc.

    These two things are unrelated in that even if you are not breeding for extremes, but still cause a bottleneck (only allowing the top x% of the population to reproduce), then you still increase inbreeding, which may result in, on average, more genetic health problems. This is the case in dalmations, goldens, etc.

    These two things are completely unrealted in that even if you are breeding two dogs that are unrelated to each other, if they have genetic health problems, their offspring are going to have, on average, more genetic health problems than those of two random unrelated dogs. Even though there are no extreme traits or inbreeding. This is the case for puppy-mill / byb mixes.

    My point is that current breeding policies should be changed in that only healthy animals with good temperaments should be bred. Period. And this restriction in the reproducing population should NOT be as extreme as the current restriction in reproducing population suggested by breeding only best-of-show dogs to each other. And in the case of breeds with commonly occuring (but rare in the entire canid population) health problems, outcrossing to other breeds (or mutts) should be allowed. There is no reason to preserve health problems along with excellent traits and it is absurd that people should be offended by that (I’m thinking of the LUA dalmation controversy here).

  31. Rachel says

    Oops – Frances prety much said what I wanted to say – sorry for the redundant info.


  32. Susan Mann says

    With regard to getting back to the “type” after a cross, it takes about 4-5 generations (less when you aren’t worried about being a “show dog” with specific conformation requirements) as evidenced by the Pointer Outcross Project, and also the Bobtail Boxers experiment, which is summarised below. Since this write up, there have been Bobtail Boxers doing very well in the show ring, and winning:

    With regard to AKC and the breed clubs…
    Yes, it is (mostly) the breed clubs, and yes, it was the Dalmation clu b that asked AKC to rescind breeding rights on the LUA dals. But keep in mind that you can’t really separate the two- AKC and the breed clubs aren’t things, they are organizations, made of people, with a lot of overlap in the people.

    And the AKC has refused to allow some breed clubs to do outcrosses!

    The whole premise behind AKC- that of closed stud books, and maintaining a breed, most of which were originally based on a function, now based on conformation, is faulty. In addition, AKC has kept a tight lid on pedigrees, selling on ly 4 gen pedigrees, making it harder and more costly for breeders to know what is behind dog they may be considering breeding to (I figure they know their own!)
    Many European Kennel Clubs provide much more relevant information, allowing breeders to make better choices.

  33. trisha says

    I’m slammed with other work today, but I just wanted to re-iterate what others have said so eloquently, that it is important to keep the issues separate: 1) limiting the genetics of a breed (what biologists call “inbreeding,” whether it’s called “inbreeding” or “line breeding” – it’s all a form of breeding closely related animals, just with varying levels of intensity), 2) purposefully breeding for traits that can lead to physical challenges in specific breeds (skin folds, extruded eyes, etc.), 3) evaluating the structure and movement of a dog for function, when the function is taken out of the picture. It seems so common, in discussions of controversial issues, to combine and conflate different issues, and that tendency does not serve us well. So keep up the informative and thoughtful discussion her and on other blogs, and thanks so much for the references to other sources.

  34. Joh says

    2 points popped in my head while reading you post
    1. yes inbreeding can cause problem

  35. Beth says

    I agree that breeding for extreme traits is a separate issue from inbreeding/narrowing the genetic pool. However, I believe they necessarily relate to each other.

    You can have extreme inbreeding without breeding for extreme traits, true (and we do see that, especially in breeds that were nearly lost and have been resurrected).

    But it’s very difficult to maintain extreme traits without lots of inbreeding. The further you get from the genetically average dog, the fewer dogs there will be in each generation that exemplify the extreme trait that is being sought. And so you need to keep breeding back to the same few founding lines to maintain the trait.

    Another way of looking at it is that most pug-crosses don’t have those super-short noses, but most lab-crosses still look awfully lab-like. The more generic lab form is easier to breed toward and so you SHOULD have lots of acceptable pups in each generation to choose as breeding stock. Dogs with very specific forms or behaviors are a lot less likely to be able to meet that standard, which naturally limits the breeding stock.

    So I think you can talk about bottlenecking without having extreme features, but it’s hard to talk about extreme features without talking about the resulting bottleneck. And the herding behavior of a Border Collie is, for instance, extreme enough that you get lots of inbreeding even though the dog is bred for a very generic form. Whereas the retriever behavior of a lab, while exaggerated, is not so extreme. Many untrained mutts will enthusiastically chase a ball for a long time. Not many untrained mutts will give sheep “the eye.”

  36. Beth says

    Just thought of a much shorter way to say what I’ve been trying to say:

    I think many of us, with a little time, could start with a bunch of mutts and in a relatively few generations end up with a dog that was sort of lab-like in function and form. Soft mouth, likes to bring stuff back, likes to swim.

    Can you imagine trying to create a Border Collie without using other Border Collies? I can’t think of another dog that exhibits the bc “eye.” I can think of lots of dogs that like to swim and bring stuff back.

    The end result will be lots of line-breeding, or not many border collies. Because if the eye were that easy to breed for, it would be exhibited in other herding dogs and it’s not.

  37. Frances says

    Interesting point, Beth – although I suspect that there are many dogs who have an element of “the eye” – it is just expressed in a different way. My papillon, for example, will point game – not as obviously or extremely as a Pointer, but the behaviour is there in nucleus. My toy poodle will stop and stare at cattle and sheep, and do play run arounds (or at least she did, until I trained her out of it!) – again, nothing like as complete behaviour as a Border Collie, but the gist is there. What would be really interesting would be to see whether a breeding programme that took “basic brown dogs” and bred them for their ability to help with managing a herd of animals over a century or two produced dogs that looked like Border Collies. Not that anyone would need to, of course – there are many breeds closely related to Borders (Bearded Collies, Rough Collies, Smooth Collies all spring to mind) that could widen the gene pool while keeping the function.

  38. jackie says

    I love this discussion!

    Cross dogs from two inbred breeds each with genetic diseases would not neccessarily be detrimental to the health of the crossbred puppies, particularly if the two breeds chosen were not themselves closely related:

    (1) Since the majority of deleterious genes are recessive, the puppies would only have problems when both of the parent breeds carried the same recessive gene.

    (2) In some cases even if the two breeds had similar clinical diseases the puppies will not always be affected, since symptoms can be caused by more than one gene – for example deafness in humans.

    (3) If diseases are caused by a combination of genes (multifactorial), which is very common with problems that express themselves to a varying degree (eg HD), theoretically the genes from the two breeds could be complementary and reduce the incidence in the crossbred puppies. (Which is why exceptionally tall humans usually have relatively normal sized children, for example. I have no idea whether this would actually work for HD or any other specific dog condition.)

    (4) General inbreeding depression should be largely relieved by crossing two unrelated breeds.

    (5) Hybrid vigour is a well established phenomenon in livestock. However with dogs we will never observe it in the normal population as there are too many confounding factors caused by differences in rearing, feeding, socialising etc. (Not always in the pure-bred’s favour, if the pure-bred is reared at a puppy mill, and the crossbreed by a loving owner.)

    PS Interesting thoughts about the ‘eye’. I have read that the ‘eye’ is part of the natural predatory sequence of the wolf (in Brenda Aloff), so although it might take longer to reconstruct than the labradoralike I don’t think it would be impossible.

  39. Margaret T says

    One problem breeders have is that they have to consider more than the next generation. While the F1 puppies of an outcross might not have the phenotype of the recessive gene that causes problems, they can still be carriers. If we have a genetic test, genotype can be determined, but there are many conditions that are genetic that cannot be tested today. Tomorrow might be a different story. =)

  40. AnneJ says

    Eye is evident in several herding breeds, not just Border Collies. Kelpies, Australian Shepherds, Beardies and Australian Cattle dogs also can have eye. Of course, all these breeds are ultimately related if you go back before strict stud books were kept. Pointing breeds also show a degree of freeze and stalk behavior which is like eye. Eye is a refined form of the hunting behavior of wolves.

    This is my dog Hank, considered strong eyed for an Aussie, but I was told he was “plain working” by a Border Collie trainer. I think there is just a difference of degree of eye in the herding breeds that are actually still used for work, not presence in some and absence of the trait in others.

  41. Dana E says

    “Can you breed for function by looking at structure and movement?”

    I am a avid lover of the American Pit Bull Terrier. One of the great things about the APBT is that for so long it was bred for temperament and drive. You got a dog with an awesome temperament that was able to do whatever job you asked of it. Granted that the main function of what the dog was bred for originally (dog fighting) is no longer what the dog is used for (by law abiding people with souls anyway), the temperament, drive and determination of the dog is what makes it a Pit Bull dog.

    Now that certain coats and colors of these dogs have become more popular (the red noses and the “blues”) you are beginning to see more skin issues and allergies as well as less than desirable temperaments in certain dogs. Although for the most part, I have seen VERY FEW ABPTs with bad temperaments.

    I think you genuinely lose what the dog is for by breeding SPECIFICALLY for conformation. Dogs aren’t pieces of art and furniture for us to look upon, they have drives and jobs and are here to share our lives with us. You lose a little bit of the dog when you breed specifically for looks.

  42. Beth says

    The closest I’ve seen to a BC eye in a non-BC was actually a young chocolate lab. He would get down in predator pose and stare when other dogs approached. It was his odd way of initiating play but it was very off-putting. He seems to have outgrown it.

    Kelpies have eye but most seem to have descended from one strong-eyed female border collie prototype; from the breed histories I’ve found, they are intensely inbred if you go back far enough, with the common consensus that most all trace back to the founding female.

    There is some level of eye in other collies, but most other herders are generally classified as loose-eyed and upright. AnneJ, Hank does seem to be showing a lot of eye on your page (and what a lovely dog!).

    However, if you wanted to establish a line with consistent eye, you’d be starting with a small gene pool again. It IS a normal part of the hunting cycle, but it’s usually a brief part that then escalates up to chase/grab/shake. So other herding dogs will show it but only briefly, not so consistently.

    If you outcross, do you then lose the eye? Maybe you don’t. My suspicion is though that one generation of outcrossing is then generally followed by several generations of intensive line-breeding to regain the desired traint, thereby lessening much of the outcrossing benefit to begin with.

    English pointers and the setters show the closest thing to BC eye when they are on point. But I was also under the impression that pointers are very closely bred as well? Maybe I’m wrong on that point, though. I would think if you were starting from scratch and wanted a herding dog with strong eye and couldn’t use Border Collies, you’d probably want to cross out to field-line setters and then work back in.

  43. Beth says

    By the way, I don’t think it would be a bad thing to go back to having a more general class of “collie” and have a greater mix of loose-eyed and strong-eyed herders in the same litters. Indeed, my understanding is that not nearly all field-line Border Collie pups pass the initial tests to determine if they’ll be satisfactory herders.

    It would be a fundamental shift away from our concept of what to expect when we are looking for a dog, though…. and it could also in its own way result in more dogs ending up in rescue.

    Every solution opens up another set of potential problems. That’s where it comes down to weighing risk vs benefit in individual breeds.

    Should the stud book be opened up for Cavalier King Charles Spaniels? My opinion is probably yes; there are so few healthy ones to choose from.

    Should it be opened in Pembroke Welsh Corgis? Probably not, there’s probably no need.

  44. Greta says

    I love the comment that the sick wolves were not bred because no breeder would breed an animal with “any” problem. First, who cares that they were not “bred”? The point is that their choice of mates was so limited that there was no choice but to breed sick animals, and this is EXACTLY what happens a great deal in show/purebred breeding. Second, it’s absurd to say that a breeder would not breed any animal with a problem. It happens all the time. For example, what some call “rage syndrome” in Springers apparently became widespread exactly because of heavy breeding of two (closely related) Westminster winning Springers with a terrible temperament defect. This means that owner-directed aggression, which in all other breeds studied is higher in working than show lines, is higher in show lines of Springers than working lines. Pretty powerful effect! If dogs with defects are not being bred by reputable breeders, how do we explain the radical increase in epilepsy in many breeds, or the widespread incidence of a truly awful, crippling disease, syringomyelia in Cavaliers? OF COURSE these dogs are being bred.

    Now the purebred advocate’s knee-jerk response to this is to say that a “reputable” or “responsible” breeder would not breed these dogs, but that’s a tautology. It is simply saying “a reputable breeder is someone who would not do X, so if someone did X we can automatically conclude they were not a reputable breeder,” and THEREFORE, according to this argument, they don’t count and we can’t hold them against all the reputable breeders. Thing is, “X” is a variable in this discussion — it refers to “won’t take puppies back,” or “vaccinates the puppies three times before age 8 weeks” or “feeds Ol’ Roy” or “breeds dogs who do not have performance titles,” or “breeds dogs who carry the vWD gene” and MANY other values of X. X is always defined for purposes of the present argument, not in any objective, exteriorized way. I don’t know of any perfect (in my eyes) breeder, though I know some who are damned good according to all my personal, very high standards. One of those is the breeder of my BC, and another is the the owner of my BCs’ sire, who all do an incredible job… and nonetheless, my dog has epilepsy, which basically first appeared in this generation, in this particular cross.

    I think the “reputable breeders do or don’t do X” formulation needs to be omitted from these discussions as it means only what the speaker wants it to mean and does not add anything whatever to getting to a common goal. I would love to have a discussion about this where, whenever someone has conclusively disproven a repeated point or meme, that point or meme was not allowed to be made again. This would force folks who rely on them to come up with some other argument and then waste a lot less time.

    Changing subjects to “eye,” I am sure eye could be recreated even if we had no BCs. It is part of the predatory sequence. I think it would take a long time, however, because of its extremely inherited. Herding style and ability depend on inherited traits far more than ANY other working trait in dogs studied so far. True big field herding cannot be trained to a point of usefulness. It can be bred.

    AnneJ, I will look at Hank’s page. Is he out of Vest lines? I am not a pedigree junkie, but I do know that the Vest dogs (there are quite a few in my area) are high-eye for Aussies.

  45. em says

    It looks like several people beat me to the point, but I was going to pipe up and say that Otis the great dane is capable of exhibiting ‘strong eye’ in some circumstances as well. Unlike the border collies I’ve known, though, he is very sensitive to it himself and reserves it for specific circumstances (communicating a challenge to another dog, blocking the movement of animals or (very rarely) people, and stalking prey both in play and for real). He’s very sensitive to eye contact from other dogs and people. One of his big challenges in the obedience class was that he haaates making direct eye contact with people, but one of his great training strengths is that he can follow my gaze to coordinate his actions with mine with particular skill.

    I don’t know what to make of the fact that Otis can use ‘strong eye’ with skill (one of the only examples of successful cat herding that I’ve ever personally witnessed) but is generally reluctant to do so, never lapsing into a stare as an unconscious behavior. Maybe that’s part of the difference? Almost all dogs seem to use eye contact to communicate, one way or another. Maybe ‘eye dogs’ were selected because they use challenging eye contact a lot of the time, as a default, rather than as a conscious behavior.

  46. says

    Extreme conformation fads and genetic diversity are 2 different, sometimes related, issues. But they are not mutually exclusive nor will issues in one necessarily deal with the other.

    Bringing in new blood doesn

  47. Greta says

    The stud book should be opened for ALL breeds, even those that are relatively healthier at this point in time. A closed stud book is a closed gene pool, and there are really no breeds that have a large enough effective breeding population to avoid genetic bottlenecks down the line if the stud books stay closed.

    Failure to understand that is killing our dogs.

  48. AnneJ says

    I agree with you Greta. Until recently there was opportunity to get unregistered Aussies (if looked enough like an Aussie) into the studbook of ASCA through hardship registration. Now it is closed, which I voted against and thought was a bad idea. There were too many people shouting about “breed purity”, which overode the “genetic diversity” side. The latter included some well known and long time breeders too.

    And yes, Hank has some Vest, but they are not the majority of his lines. His Inbreeding Coefficient is 3.28%, very low, when the best estimate of breed average is 13.4% (for non zero dogs).

    12.5% is about equivalent to a half sibling mating if they shared no other ancestors. The higher the number, the more inbred.

    Scroll down to “what is this F= percentage thingy” under FAQ to see more about that.

  49. Margaret T says

    A serious question for those of you who would open stud books for all breeds: Would you also allow anyone to utilize the outcrossing, assuming the market would take care of any problems, or would you limit that ability to someone who has shown some kind of responsibility for breeding in the past? (I’m envisioning things like crossing very aggressive dogs with very large dogs.) Would the breed registry have to approve in advance? Would anyone? I can certainly see the advantage of accepting dal-pointer crosses bred back to dal appearance without the health problems as pure-bred. I can also envision some nightmares.

  50. Beth says

    Margaret T, your question is an important one. Problem is, “the market” takes care of problems with dogs by way of euthanasia.

    I’m just wondering who would approve outcrosses, which ones would be approved, or if anyone could breed whatever they wanted? It sounds like some want some small outcrosses to address particular problems, while others seem to be hinting at the elimination of what we consider purebred dogs altogether.

  51. AnneJ says

    Anyone can already breed what ever they want. People are creating new breeds, and crossing old breeds all the time. Breed clubs don’t sanction it, or accept the dogs for registration, but people create their own breed clubs if they want.
    One newly created breed is here:

    If outcrossing to other breeds was done within an established AKC breed club, I would think it would have to be pretty controlled and for a good reason, not just bring in whatever dog someone felt like.

  52. says

    AKC is pretty much making the DCA allow LUAs in… so the DCA will be discussing this again this summer. I think it’s pretty much, allow LUAs in or else for the DCA… so we’ll see. Many people are opposed to it, and many people are for it. People feel like they look so different but in all honesty, you probably couldn’t even tell looking at them anymore. Sure, smaller spots may be evident, but spots aren’t supposed to be any larger than a half dollar… but our dals now are becoming blotchy with huge splotches all over them. Some people want indicators in the AKC registry of which dogs are LUA so they can choose to use them or not. I think that is a grand idea. I think the AKC is mostly worried about, when they register them, everyone is going to want a part of these dals to stop the uric acid problem, many of the same lines will be bred to, and in the end, it will close the dalmatian lines even more. It may seem like the AKC and the DCA aren’t thinking whats best for the dogs, but something has to be done to make sure overbreeding of these LUAs doesn’t occur. I’ve spoken to the lady who has started the LUA and non LUA breedings over in Europe, there are tons of cataloging she has to do to ensure this doesn’t happen over there… I guess we’ll see what happens!

  53. Beth says

    Monica, you mention a very good point. If outcrossing is going to be done for genetic health, it really should be done on a broad scale with dozens of dogs bred out to avoid another bottleneck as everyone seeks the outcross.

    Same thing happens when an overseas stud is brought in; my own male Corgi’s sire is from overseas and it seems that a huge chunk of the Corgi people sent a bitch to him and kept the pup back for breeding. So now the “outcross” line is all over the place in just one generation…..

  54. LauraO says

    There are so many wonderful comments here, I am tempted to reply to EVERYONE! But then I would look up one day and see it was New Year’s 2012. LOL!

    I agree with Trish that not all breeders are automatically irresponsible by simply choosing to breed. I DO wish there would be a revolution where people would choose to breed w/o caring about AKC conformation shows. Why do you need AKC registered dogs or parent club approval to feel good about what you do? Wouldn’t the loss of the pressure to get that “CH” in front of your dog’s name open up the possiblities for concentrating on healthy, functioning dogs?

    If I look at a breeder and try to decide who is “good”, I don’t go by AKC titles. I look for health, longevity, and stable temperament; and I DON’T expect “stable temperament” to mean every pup from every breeder of every breed, is a cookie cutter, lobotomized pup with none of the quirks that evolved from that breed’s purpose in life.

    Breeders of all breeds are breeding more and more for the SAME aspects that will fit with families, because while breeding for that “goal” pup they are worried about what to do with the excess; the puppies they have no desire to keep. They sign an agreement to take back puppies
    that don’t work out for families, but they hope like heck that the families don’t actually call.

    Again, not all breeders have this attitude. But I have met MANY who do.

    Forget AKC and the status quo, and you can bring the Bull terrier back to the leaner, taller dog with a normal nose. You can make the Aussie Heeler less boxy again, and every border collie in the ring doesn’t have to look like a long, low B&W teddy bear. The 2011 BC entries at Westminster were so IDENTICAL, I thought I was hallucinating.

    And you can put the wonderful GSD back the way it was, and make Von Stephanitz stop rolling in his grave.

  55. LauraO says

    Oh, I have to add something else. When I was looking for a dog, I had to consider my real life. I am single, live in a one bedroom apt in the city, and work 8 hours a day. I LOVE herding breeds more than any other group. Many of my dream breeds to own include them; groenendaels, Heelers, and kelpies became a new addition. I am now looking at koolie and English Shepherds.

    Realizing my life made the reality of owning one of these seem dismal, I looked at Rhodesian Ridgebacks; the only hound on my dream list. Again, energetic, but adaptable, relatively non-barky ( though booming when they DO bark), protective, and laid back in adulthood with SUFFICIENT exercise.

    I looked at pups and adoptable adults for a year. I also was on a Working KElpie list just to learn. I love learning about breeds even if I never get a member of them in my life. There are too many to own them all after all.

    Well, guess what? I have an Australian Working Kelpie now. Why? How? My dog comes from real working lines, and was meant for work. BUT…he is aan anomaly; he is not a good sheep herder!!!! Whatever happened in his life, he just does not stay on the sheep when the going gets rough.

    He IS…a dog with an incredible ability for extended down time, yet say the word and he is out running and playing like an athlete. He can hike all day, or sleep all day. My choice. He rarely barks indoors, is good around other dogs ( not interested, but good), loves people but has a small fear of shrieking bouncy little kids; we are working on that.

    He is in nosework and agility and doing well. He loves to DO things, learn new tasks, yet is undemanding. Granted, I spend hours a day exercising him almost every day, but it’s for 3-5 hours, not 8, 10 or 12, and he doesn’t go ballistic when things are slow. I was told a proper kelpie SHOULD be calm during down time. Maybe American breeding or other sorts of breeding is changing that? I dunno.

    What I DO know is, individual personality makes as much a difference as breed. If a family REALLY admires a breed for many traits but cannot accomdate all, if they REALLY care, I think they should wait for the right fit. Let breeders continue to breed for function and health true to the breed’s origins, and let the flukes fall where they may, and then families can snap THOSE flukes up.

    And any family that waits that long to get their pup, is likely one that will keep that dog for life.

  56. Sheri Cassens says

    I would agree that the current common practice of restricting the gene pool to only “purebred” dogs within a recognized breed and inbreeding as well, has become a hazard to dogs. I applaud the Dal breeders who gave up the conformation ring in exchange for breeding healthier Dals. Health IMHO includes mental as well as physical traits.

  57. Cora says

    Such a fascinating discussion! I think my feelings are aligned with those expressed by LauraO and Frances; a lot of the problems arise on the market-end of the dog world. Breeders are rewarded financially for producing dogs that have health problems because the people buying them don’t always consider health and temperament until it’s too late. I often find, in my extremely un-scientific experiences, that among the general population of people who get or want to get dogs, that people fall in love with and buy a dog based solely on his/her appearance, knowing little about general breed temperament and nothing at all about the individual being purchased (in some cases for a princely sum). For example, I know someone who fell in love with Bernese Mountain Dogs, longed for one for years, finally got one as a rescue (previous owner couldn’t handle him), only to find out that they’re known for being quite strong-minded (stubborn?), as hers definitely was. Surprisingly, in all the years she dreamed of owning one, she never found out that they’re known for strong-mindedness, in fact, they were bred for it (working independently as they did guarding sheep, not like a Lab who was bred to work alongside a person). She spent a great deal of energy, time and money training him into a pretty good dog, only to be heartbroken (and financially strapped) when he developed a terrible illness (whose name is escaping me, but it’s well-known in that breed) and died at age 3.

    The point I guess I’m trying to make is that there seems to be a huge chasm between the people who are in this for the love of the dog/breed and those who are in it for the money. That’s where the real change needs to happen, but unfortunately, like in most parts of life, the ones who most need to change are least likely to seek it.

  58. Thea Anderson says

    Letting dogs choose their own sex partners would not produce “a bunch of medium-sized brown dogs.” Mixing genes is not like mixing paint: sexual reproduction produces much more variability than that. Human beings chooses mates from around the world, but mixed-race human children are not all light brown and curly-haired and identical.

    When we humans choose our own mates based on sexual attraction, we do so by scent, even if only subconsciously. Humans’ body odors are the phenotype to our various genetic immunities, and each person’s scent is as unique as their fingerprints. We are sexually attracted to people whose body odor indicates that their genetic immunities are different from our own, in order to have resilient babies who are protected against a variety of diseases. People whose genetic immunities are similar to our own seem too familiar, too much like our immediate family, prompting our instinctive revulsion against incest. Isolated human and wild animal populations are thus able to preserve their genetic fitness, even in small populations, by consciously or subconsciously choosing mates based on the information encoded in body odors.

    Conscientious dog breeders can look at inbreeding coefficients and MHC (i.e. genetic immunities). But if bitches are allowed to choose for themselves, they will use their smart noses to sniff out the most eligible sire. Natural selection is far more sophisticated here than inbreeding coefficients: its tool is the exquisitely keen discriminating abilities of a dog’s nose, powered by the strongest biological imperative in the world. If dog breeders are dead set on breeding to conformation standards, they might at least let the bitch choose among two or three sires instead of bypassing natural selection altogether.

  59. Janice says

    Late on the scene here. I was looking for some material related to Ray Coppinger and landed here.

    Trisha, in the posting you have an error you might want to correct… it was not the Great Pyrenees but the Maremma in the part where you state: “Ray also tells another story of looking for a Great Pyrenees and finding a breeder who took him to the barn to look at a new litter. The litter contained several all white pups, some black and white and some all black. The owner picked up the white ones and said “These are the only Great Pyrenees, the others are another breed.”

    The book has a photo of the Maremma litter. (Dogs: A Startling New Understanding of Canine Origin,Behavior & Evolution)

    Ray Coppinger was primarily interested in the dogs that were still landraces, so he did not use Great Pyrenees. Ray, because of his background in the sled dog work he did, wanted to go to the source for the LGDs he used in his studies. He chose several landrace breeds for the Hampshire College Livestock Guardian Dog project which he founded with Lorna, his wife.

    The Great Pyr, Kuvasz and Kommondor were used in the USDA project which more or less took in any domestically born, donated dogs for their LGD studies.

    Ray is still involved with flock guardian work today and has developed an interest in the Maluti dog of South Africa. Like the original native Indian dogs of North America the Maluti is a landrace of native dogs found around the Lesotho Mountains of South Africa. Some of them are successful as flock guards while in the low lands, the Malutis are used in hunting and don’t have the same aptitude to be flock guardians. Africa is needing flock guardians to help in wild life conservation so Malutis, Anatolians and various other dogs are being employed to help protect herds in an effort to prevent reactive illegal poaching of the big cats and other predators which occurs when livestock predation is a problem.

    I enjoyed your post!

  60. jtg says

    Inbreeding is far less important than selection. Inbreeding with selection produces far above average dogs any other type of breeding is guess work starting over each and every mating. The family of hounds that I have are bred very, very tight for over sixty years. They are very healthy with a long life span. The litters are small around 5-7 but those are far and above the average and they always breed true to type.
    The problem is you cannot teach selection from a book, very few have an eye to pick the best ones for breeding.
    So they use junk science and blame it on inbreeding.

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