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BREEDING ETHICS & TRANSPARENCY

While many potential puppy owners go for the look of a certain breed, many people don’t tend to dig deeper into the health or pedigrees of the parents.

You may think, pedigrees and health testing – that’s all a breeder’s job – why should I be concerned as a puppy buyer? 

It’s not always enough to have the basics completed, such as hip/elbow x-rays and DNA testing. It certainly helps, but the most common health issues in dogs aren’t always things that breeders can test for.

 

The most common canine diseases (mixed breed and purebred dogs) seen by veterinarians include allergies, hip/elbow dysplasia, heart disease, cruciate ligament disease, patellar luxation, cataracts, hereditary cancers.

Dog’s lifespans are only a fraction of our own. This means when we lose our best friends, we grieve as they are a human family member. Shouldn’t genuine dog lovers, including breeders want them to stay with us as long as possible?  If we as breeders we can be proactive and make a positive difference for health and longevity, why wouldn’t we?

As times goes on, modern science can assist breeding programs in developing more DNA tests, but at this point, it can be somewhat limited.  For example, recently it came to the attention of White Swiss Shepherd breeders that there was problem in their breed with Cerebral Hypoplasia. Thankfully, was a DNA test was recently developed for the breed and many breeders are now testing for it, which is good news.

Some of the most common health issues cannot be determined via a DNA test and that brings me to the point of genetic health databases.

As a potential buyer, you may want to understand the likelihood or risk of your puppy being affected by any health issue, so asking questions about this subject should certainly not offend a breeder.

What about this? If you think your breeder is ethical or serious about their dogs, ask them whether they contribute to, or are a part of a breed club that tracks and reports health issues in a database. If not, ask them why not. Health databases are a crucial tool to track health issues and traits and a great way for breeders to reduce the incidence of health issues in dogs.

I have conducted, used and contributed to such health and genetic databases long before the Lykos Wolfalike breed and found it to be an incredibly helpful tool in making the soundest breeding decisions. 

 

Without honest breeders willing to research and contribute, there is a high chance of breeders doubling up on recessive traits and producing affected dogs and high numbers of carriers.

Personally, I keep records of any health issue (whether it be genetic or not) so I know what pops up in my bloodlines and what I need to work on.

When people chat to me about puppies and ask about the health of the breed and bloodlines, I tell them what things have come up to date. I’d rather that potential puppy owners know that I’m happy to chat about these things, rather than act like my lines are perfect – because in reality – no bloodline is perfect!

 

Statistically speaking, a dog carries at least 8 genetic diseases! They may be ‘clear’ on their DNA report, but again, the most common diseases can’t always be tested for.

Sticking your head in the sand and pretending your lines are perfect, does not reflect well on any breeder.

On the other hand, using reported health information to denigrate a breeder is reprehensible and is the exact reason so many breeders choose to hide genetic information. It does not do any breed any favours.  

 

So far, like most breeders, I have produced a handful of undescended testicles in males – very common across all breeds unfortunately.  I have also had 2 cases of dogs who have developed different types cancer at the age of nearly 6 years old. There are reportedly another 2, but no reports have been received. This 4 acquaints to 3% of dogs out of 130.

In the Lykos Wolfalike Council of Australia, dogs hips are assessed and graded with additional consultation with Dr Ray Ferguson BVSc, who has also received the Australian Medal of Honour for his service to the veterinary industry. Along with reviewing hips/elbows, Ray also consults on planned matings in line with current breeding legislation, using the data recorded and provided by its breeders. As a breed the Lykos Wolfalike is fortunate to be supported by a professional with extensive industry experience such as Dr Ferguson. 

I (and my puppy owners using my lines under my prefix), have officially produced 2 dogs with borderline/mild hip scores (i.e. scores between 10-26 via the AVA method). For the most part, these dogs were from hip scored parents, grandparents so the higher scores were not expected.

 

With hip scores, outliers do occur, even generations of excellent scoring parents. If the issue did not have a polygenetic/ mode of inheritance combined environmental factors, it was easy to eradicate – but it’s something all breeders need to be aware of and consider in their breeding programs. 

The higher hip scores acquaint to only 1% of pups and takes into consideration the many pet-only dogs that have been x-rayed and scored. To date, progeny directly from this line are coming back with no issues. Additionally, the total average hip score of all dogs (pet or breeding and that I have used) is a great low score of 5 (out of 46 dogs x-rayed). So that makes 35% of dogs being x-rayed from my breeding program.

It used to be mandatory for all puppy owners (even pet only owners) to x-ray their dogs at 12-18 months as part of the health guarantee, until a few people kicked up a big fuss about doing it in the past couple of years, even though they signed a contract to do it.  I’ve never had an issue with this when breeding White Shepherds for 20 odd years, but it seems nowadays people aren’t as honourable when it comes to these sort of things, even if it is of benefit to the dog to know the status of its hips.

So, does it make me (or anyone else for that matter) a bad breeder if I have produced a few % of dogs who have reported health issues?  I don’t think so? Breeders who can openly admit and discuss it and aim to improve the health in that particular bloodline, makes them brave and committed to forward planning for improvement.

When breeders work together and track the health in their dogs and pups, they make an informed decision to try and reduce the incidence of recessive genes in a gene pool and improve the probability of healthy genes.

 

Breeders should be able to do this without the fear of being targeted by trolls, trouble-makers and the online ‘dog mafia’ (who are usually people with chips on their shoulders for one reason or another).

So many breeders stick their heads in the sand when it comes to having produced health issues, which is why I have always shared the article “OMERTA:  The Breeders’ Code of Silence" by Sierra Milton (Originally published in The Canine Chronicle 2004) on the Articles and Information page on my website. I feel that it’s such a significant issue within the dog breeding community.

 

Ask for pedigree information

I have also noticed that many breeders will not advertise the pedigree of their dogs, which I personally find a bit strange.  I have always had links to the parents, grandparents etc on my website or listed on a public database, but have also added 3 generation pedigrees on my puppy pages when advertising a litter. I have found that breeders who don’t divulge pedigrees, usually have something to hide.

There are many breeds suffering from issues due to inbreeding and line breeding, as some breeders don’t know or research their lines and double up on hidden, recessive faults.

If there is a random deleterious recessive mutation, it can quickly spread throughout the bloodline, if not the entire breed. Excessive inbreeding or linebreeding (especially when done without care, knowledge or purpose), increases the risk of genetic disorders.  It can create inbreeding depression, which means a reduction in fertility, vigour or overall health.  An inexperienced breeder should never do such a mating, without the guidance and support from a mentor or someone very experienced with the actual bloodlines being used.

Closely related parents produce predictable offspring because there is less room for variation, but if the common ancestor/s carry recessive genes, especially that of which cannot be tested for, those genes have a higher risk of resulting puppies or further down the line.

‘Hybrid Vigour’

Some people believe that mixed breeds are healthier due to a thing called ‘hybrid vigour’. This is not something that I personally believe and I have seen evidence of myself.  Mixed breeds can have the same recessive traits as purebred dogs, which also pass down faulty genes to the next generation. In some cases mixing more breeds can increase the incidence of bringing in additional genetic issues into a breeding gene pool.  

At the end of the day, the proof of a breeder's true ethics and what is being developed in terms of pedigrees and health, will be evident by breeders who are open and transparent about their breeding programs.

Article Copyright - Brooke Taylor 2023

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