Canine Genetics

This is the last installment of three; they all go together like a puzzle.  So if you have read the two previous days blogs then this is the final one in the trilogy.  There is so much to know about breeding and I for one like to leave it to the pros.  Much has been done wrong in our breeds of today but with good breeders we may be able to rectify some of it.  It is the ones that are pumping puppies out left, right and center who are truly doing the damage.  People breeding dogs with no knowledge of what their dog is passing down to the future.  Sadly it is not good what is passed on which often leads to much heartache in families when their dog becomes ill or worse.

There is so much to say about the genetic makeup of a dog that it is mind boggling; there are many different opinions about how to breed better dogs through genetic manipulation. Although I do not breed dogs; at least not at the moment, I do have an opinion on the subject (you know I always have an opinion). For instance; I have spoken with many breeders who are still on the page that genetic inbreeding is the only way to know what you are getting.

Inbreeding: the mating of closely related individuals, as cousins, sire-daughter and brother-sister which tends to increase the number of individuals that are homozygous for a trait and therefore increases the appearance of recessive traits

Inbreeding is the way it has been done for many years; but it is also the undoing of many breeds and dogs. When you breed dogs within the same small genetic pool you lose genetic diversity and breed vigor. What happens when dogs are inbred is that genetic material is diminished; and it is genetic diversity that keeps a line strong and healthy, if strong and healthy specimens have been used that is. This wonderful article written by the renowned Dr. John Armstrong on Canine Inbreeding and Diversity explains a lot. I feel very honored to have spoken with Dr. Armstrong before his passing; he was a man with great knowledge and an even greater passion for dogs.

I have seen firsthand the results of inbreeding; low birth rate is the first and most obvious result. When I hear of dogs who should normally have 8-12 puppies in the average litter who have only had 2 or 3; it is the first thing I consider. Health and longevity are also hampered by closely line breeding. Zoos have long known the result of inbreeding and most now put many hours into ensuring that only healthy and genetically diverse animals are used for breeding purposes. Some breeders are now doing the same and these are the ones leading the way of the future.

"Mutts are healthier"; how many times have you heard this statement? I know I've heard it dozens of times a year. Of course the statement is not a fact but it does have a basis to its origin. Mutts have a great amount of canine diversity although most mutts or mixed dogs do not have any genetic health tests being done on them so no one really knows what is in the mix. It is not suffice to say that outcrossing is the means to a healthy dog.

Out crossing: the breeding of two animals with little or no similar relatives in their pedigree.

It is through extensive research done by a breeder who looks to find healthy specimens with little genetic similarities when bred together produces better dogs.

Frozen semen; more and more breeders are going the way of frozen semen. I believe it is a wonderful way to save some of the great dogs DNA for use down the road and to create genetic diversity. Many feel that it is just too far; too much human intervention but are dog breeds not all due to human intervention? Yep. If it were not for human intervention there would be dogs; just dogs in general with no specific breeds of any type. So for the sheer reason that we alone have solely had a hand in ruining them, it should be us that tries to fix the problem. One aspect of frozen semen that I really like is that you can often see the results of good breeding first hand. You may indeed use the semen of a dog who is now gone but lived to 17 years of age strong and healthy. Now that is some semen you want to find.

There is also the aspect that it can be shipped pretty much anywhere giving you a better chance of breeding dogs that are not related. This alone is very exciting. Although some breeders are bringing in dogs from other countries to add to their breeding stock which I believe to be very beneficial. Of course all tests must be done and genetic lineage looked at before breeding but it is very exciting as well.

All in all genetics is very fascinating; at least it is for me. Some breeders are doing it all right; some are just looking at this whole genetic diversity thing and there are still some caught in the dark ages with the mindset that line or inbreeding is the only way. Hopefully somewhere along the way they will see the light; if only for the good of our dogs.