The Responsibilities of Dog Breeders – and Breed Clubs
As most of us know, dogs, and purebred dogs specifically, have genetic disorders – often, the more popular the breed, the more extensive the genetic disorders are. We attribute the downfall of many breeds to the lack of knowledge or caring by “backyard” breeders, who breed for quantity rather than quality, with little or no regard to the health and background of the sire or dam. In Italy, we personally know of very little incidence of genetic disorders in the Bracco – perhaps because there is, indeed, very little disease, or possibly because there is not much discussion or acknowledgement of any problems that actually do occur. Recently, however, breeders are beginning to radiograph adult dogs before selling them.
Recently, we’ve been very interested in this book (excerpted below) because we were told by PennHip, (a group similar to OFA, but more exacting in its standards) that Dixie and Giana, our two young Bracco bitches who were next in line for breeding, are un-breedable. Each dog, unrelated to each other, has hips that are poor enough that PennHip rates them as unsuitable for breeding.
Excerpts from Control of Canine Genetic Diseases by George A. Padgett, DVM, recently deceased.
….. Historically, control of genetic disease was never part of the responsibilities of a breed club, so the vast majority has never done anything about genetic disease……. If we wish to do anything about the control of genetic diseases on a breed-wide basis, we have to add a dimension to the role of breed clubs…..
…..Some of the things a breed club should do to enhance the ability of club members and other breeders to control genetic disease follow:
1. They should generate a list of genetic defects occurring in their breed by surveying members and owners. This list should be made available to members and breeders and the mode of inheritance of each trait should be listed if it is known.
2. They should form a committee to assess the impact of each trait on the breed.
3. They should advocate the registration of dogs and bitches affected with genetic defects and those known to carry genes for these traits (dogs and bitches that produced the trait or that are offspring of affected dogs) in an open registry.
4. They should advocate the registration of dogs and bitches known to be free of the genes for various undesirable traits.
5. They should develop lists of dogs known to be affected with or that carry genes for a given trait that are available for test matings, and this list should be made freely available to breeders and members.
6. They should determine which defects should be attacked on a breed-wide basis.
7. They should develop a brochure (or webpage-LC) discussing the diseases that occur in their breed, giving clinical signs, methods of diagnosis – including special equipment required, age of onset, mode of inheritance and potential treatments – and prognosis. This brochure should be made readily available to every club member, breeder and owner of dogs of the breed.
8. They should develop a brochure discussing the rationale of the various systems that can be used to control disease and how to handle carriers and potential carriers of the various traits.
9. They should strongly support those breeders and owners with the honesty, courage and foresight to openly register dogs affected with genetic disease, because there is no hope for control without knowledge. They should clearly state that the ethical course is to openly discuss dogs with defects or those that produce defects when selling a show dog, breeding prospect or stud service. All the peer pressure at their command should be used to support open registration, if their goal as a breed club is to bring their dogs as close to perfection as possible, as stated in the club’s constitution…..
And a few more comments from Dr. Padgett:
…. Almost no one talks openly about genetic disease in purebred dogs…. That’s why genetic disease is common in purebred dogs; almost nobody talks about it openly…..If we go to a dog show, we may see anywhere from a few hundred to several thousand dogs, and all of them are normal, pretty good specimens of their respective breeds……Nobody talks about dogs with defects. You don’t see dogs with defects. It’s not hard to pick up the idea that nearly all dogs are normal….If you don’t see that there is a problem or you don’t know there is a problem, it is easy to think that there is not a problem.
…..If most dogs carried no defective genes or only one defective gene, genetic disease would be common. You could avoid it with ease. The problem in dogs that compounds the situation is that we also have “matadors.” Matadors are dogs that produce large numbers, perhaps hundreds or even thousands of offspring. These dogs spread their genes over an entire breed so that not only the number of defective genes carried is high (although no higher than in people), but the frequency of genes for a given set of traits is high (those traits carried by the matadors.) As a result, with many traits in dogs (unlike in people), the risk of producing a given defect is just as high with an outcross as with inbreeding.
….What can I do about this as a breeder?
1. Set goals for your dogs. What do you want the dogs to do? This may be winning in conformation or Obedience Trials, hunting or working or jut producing quality pets. What the goal is doesn’t matter as much as whether you know what the goal is.
I assume since you are reading this book that one of your goals is to produce healthy dogs and, more important, healthy, winning dogs. In order to accomplish your goal, you need to understand your breed, its temperament, its conformation, its working abilities and every other particular…..
2. Know which disorders occur in the dogs in your line. If you don’t know what diseases you have, how can you prevent them? This means you have to follow up on your puppies. You need to know what diseases develop in your puppies, so you must take the initiative to find out. You may be surprised to learn how many people appreciate your concern about the welfare of the puppies you place.
3. Be honest about which disorders occur in your line. You need to register affected dogs and proven carriers in an open registry. This is the hardest part for breeders: talking openly and letting people know that they have a dog that is affected with, or has produced one or more puppies with, a defect. It is essential that you know where disease occurs if you want to do anything about it, both for your own kennel and for the breed as a whole.
Everyone must remember, especially breeders, (bold-LC) that all dogs carry, on the average, four or five defective genes. So the question is not whether your dog carries a defect; it does – we know that. The important point is what defect it carries. If people tell you their dogs have never produced a defect, their dogs have probably produced only one litter, they don’t follow up on their puppies or, what is most likely the case, they are being less than truthful. These individuals either don’t know their own dogs, or they do know them and are prevaricating. In either case, stay away from them because they can not or will not provide the information you need to produce healthy, winning dogs.
4. Develop a “hierarchy of disagreeability” for the various genetic diseases that occur in the breed as a whole and for those that occur in your own kennel. …Briefly, developing a hierarchy means essentially evaluating the severity of various diseases and their impact on the dog itself and the people that purchase it. This hierarchy lets you decide what to work on, what to prevent and try to eliminate and what to put aside and not worry about, at least for the moment.
If you produce a cryptorchid puppy, one with a blue eye when it should have dark eyes or a crook in its tail, isn’t that better for the puppy, and its new owner, than a puppy that goes blind with PRA (progressive retinal atrophy) or cataracts, is a dwarf or is crippled with elbow dysplasia?
No one wants to produce a cryptorchid puppy; that’s not your goal. But there is clearly a difference in the severity of traits and the impact of these disorders on the dog itself and anyone purchasing it. There is a hierarchy of disagreeability, and breeders and breed clubs must develop one for themselves if they want to put order and sanity into disease control.
…If we want to make any impact in controlling genetic disease in dogs, we must agree that an ethical approach is based on fairness, openness and honesty. While traditions are important to us and should remain important, they should be changed if they conflict with the exercise of our ethics as dog breeders.
Excerpted from Control of Canine Genetic Diseases by George A. Padgett DVM
Back now to Dixie and Giana and their hips, not quite good enough for breeding; this came as a great shock to us. Those who know us have heard us hold forth ad infinitum about the importance of breeding only healthy dogs – we just didn’t think it would happen to us! Rest assured, we both went through all sorts of possible rationales for breeding these birdy, beautiful bitches, but we kept coming back to ethics. We believe everything that Dr. Padgett has stated above. and we are honor-bound to walk the walk, no matter how painful it might be. This means spaying both bitches, placing them in hunting homes and renewing our search for healthy Bracco Italiano dogs to breed.
Interestingly, Giana’s father and mother are both PennHip scored 70%, meaning that they are better than 69% of other Braccos which have been scored. This fact means that one or both parents are “carriers” of the bad hip gene, rather than either parent showing physical signs of dysplasia. This fact is the same in any other bad gene as well – a dog may or may not have physical symptoms of PRA or hypothyroidism – but either way, he may (or may not) be a carrier to the next generation.
Since international breeders are only just starting to monitor genetic disorders in their dogs, it falls to us in the United States to start keeping track of what we all know is out there. Tumors, skin problems, ear problems, hip and elbow dysplasia, gastric torsion, cataracts, heart problems and other issues are certainly in our lines. How we, as Bracco Italiano breeders, decide to discuss the problems, and get them out in the open, will certainly be the next and most important step in preserving this remarkable breed.