Many breeders find the companionship of their purebred dog so rewarding that they feel they would like to mate their dog, to continue the bloodline or keep a puppy. The Embark Canine Health Summit was a full two day virtual event where breeders, researchers, veterinarians and dog fanciers all came together to discuss how breeding implications can affect canine health. Read more about the Embark Canine Health Summit in this blog post. A notable panel discussion considered four common mistakes and pitfalls that breeders could fall into.
1. Find the Right Veterinarian
Whether you breed dogs with dreams that they will become sport champions, Westminster Dog Show winners, or companion pets, one thing that unites both dog breeders and veterinarians is a desire for dogs to be healthy. Dr. Greer stressed how important it is for breeders to not only find a mentor, but a veterinarian or geneticist that can help them sort through the science and make smart and informed decisions about the dogs in their breeding program. Dr. Bonnet referenced how veterinarians and breeders can have a better understanding and share tools. Breeders may be concerned about one or two breeds. Veterinarians cannot be expected to know over four hundred breeds and all their problems and diseases. Ms. Hastings encourages breeders to seek a vet who also breeds dogs and makes an effort to explain findings outside of medical veterinary terms. Both groups should work together and understand where the other is coming from.
2. Preserve Genetic Diversity
The panel suggested that when selecting mating pairs, breeders should minimize inbreeding in the population. At the breed and population level, breeders should keep as many breeding animals of both sexes in the gene pool as possible. Some common mistakes include using dogs with similar genetics over and over again. The popular sire effect can occur when only 10% of the males in a generation are bred. Thus 90% of genetic variation is not passed down to the next generation and genetic variation is lost or is minimal. Learn more about popular sire syndrome from this article from Tufts Cummings School of Veterinary Medicine. Dr. Greer said that “Carriers are absolutely instrumental in genetic diversity.” Contrary to popular belief, puppy carriers can be a sign of a good breeder since they show genetic diversity.
3. Healthy Inside and Out
Just because a dog looks attractive, doesn’t mean it’s healthy. There is no question that breeders can breed beautiful dogs. Dr. Bruce Barret asked the question “Are [the dogs] dying early of heart disease, immune disorders or just dying early?” Breeders can research and ultimately modify or move away from that particular genetic linkage to stop dogs’ early mortality rate. Think about the big picture: the dog’s appearance, breed type, and how they want the dog to live. Breeders could be perpetuating not just the beautiful phenotypic dog, but also passing down genetic diseases. Consider testing breeding pairs and puppies for genetic health conditions to avoid continuing diseases in future generations. Dr. Brenda Bonnet wrote a blog post inspired by the Canine Health Summit about the big picture in the dog world where she goes into further detail on this topic.
4. Be Honest and Transparent
All the panelists agreed that breeders should be honest with themselves and breed a line of dogs they want to live with everyday. It is critical that breeders first make sure that the dog is functional and healthy. Breeders were challenged to produce healthier, longer living dogs instead of a physical characteristic, a specific style, or structure. Dr. Brenda Bonnet said “You can’t just say ‘I care about health and longevity but I’m selecting for a big head and a beautiful coat’ and think you are going to get health and longevity.” Dr. Bruce Barret talked about how important it is to be transparent with your vet, “If you don’t let your vet know about the problems in your line, there is no way for the vet to help you.” Provide transparency by using genetic health and COI testing, and share test results with fellow breeders including clears, carriers, and at-risks, (not just the clears) so you can meaningfully collaborate to improve the genetic health of your pedigrees. Read this blog post to learn more about genetic health testing.
All the panelists agreed that breeders have to consider many factors in their breeding programs to make informed decisions, and it’s critical to know how to include genetic health testing as part of that process. Dogs are a big part of any family and we all want them to live the best lives possible, from breeders and veterinarians to pet owners and all dog lovers. Breeders can incorporate the above four steps as part of a responsible breeding program and contribute to the long term health and wellbeing of their breeds.
We appreciate your commitment to improving canine genetic health, and we look forward to seeing you at the next Canine Health Summit for more insights on breeding practices. Meanwhile, if you would like to be notified when you can register for the next canine health summit, please contact us at firstname.lastname@example.org. If you are interested in learning more about the canine health summit, watch the videos of this panel and other presentations.