The Norwegian lundehund is one of the most inbred dog breeds in the closed registry system, and I have questioned the wisdom of including this breed into a dog population management culture that celebrates blood purity over health and good science.
Because of its peculiar adaptations for traversing rocky cliffs and squeezing down puffin burrows, there is a tendency in this breed to believe that it is too unique to have new blood added. If you add new blood, the dogs cease being lundehunds– which is actually theological reasoning and is unfortunately all too common in the world of purebred dogs.
All lundehunds alive today derive from six founders, and five of these were all from the same mother.
That is not a very large founding population, and when a breed is placed into the closed registry system and bred to a particular standard, a lot of genetic diversity will be squandered. If you start out with a population that is already quite small, the effects of such breeding practices will be magnified.
This breed has a condition known as “lundehund syndrome,” which is just a shorthand for a variety of gastro-intestinal disorders that affect this breed, which can range from mild issues of malabsorption of nutrients to cancer of the intestines. It is estimated that anywhere from 40 percent to 100 percent of this breed suffer from some variant of the disorder.
There is definitely some sort of genetic basis for the syndrome, but no one has been able to say what might be done to rectify the problem.
Further, the breed is also suffering from a general inbreeding depression, which means the breed is eventually on its way to extinction unless something is done. The breed is rapidly losing its fertility, and without new blood, they may simply become impossible to breed.
And the Norsk Lundehund Klubb (Norwegian Lundehund Club in Norway) has decided to begin an outcross program to save the breed.
The club recently announced that a lundehund had been bred to Norrbottenspets, a small treeing spitz from Norway that is known for its prowess in treeing forest grouse. The club’s announcement reads as follows:
The Norwegian Lundehund Club has initiated a project to increase the genetic diversity of Norwegian Lundehund. This is absolutely adamant now as this very special dog breed is on the verge of extiction (sic). Norwegian Lundehund is one of the most inbred dogbreeds (sic) in the world, and it shows indications of reduced fertility. In the long run, inbreeding depression might be the end of this wonderful dog breed, and we cannot sit still and watch this happen. The first cross has taken place, a Norwegian lundehund male and a female of Norbottenspets. This had to be done by insemination as the male, unfortunately, was too small. The puppies that we hope will be borne in two months time, will be registered at the Norwegian Kennel Club in an x-register, and they will not be sold on the open marked. For all of you that own a lundehund, keep up your breeding programme, as there will be many years until any individual that is a result of crossbreeding will be introduced in the true breed. We hope to save the breed, but we need your help to keep up the numbers of truebred (sic) lundehunds over the years to come. More information will be available on our homepage and fb within a few days.
So when a breed is faced with extinction through poor population management, the only solution is to make radical steps to save it.
Of course, these steps aren’t radical at all. If people were not so accepting of the tenet of faith that blood purity at all costs is a virtue in domestic dog breeds, this breed would be as healthy and viable as any other. New blood would be brought in every couple of generations, and the population would be carefully managed.
But this concept– which is essentially without controversy in the scientific animal husbandry literature as well as the literature on population genetics– is utter heresy in the world of dogs.
To cross breeds is the ultimate sin– something that only done when there is no alternative.
It is really sad that this breed had to come to this point before the Norbottenspets outcross program was accepted.
But the truth is all of these other breeds are in the same boat. They aren’t moving at exactly the same pace as the lundehund, but they are all moving in this direction slowly but surely.
It really is time to drop the blood purity cult.
It’s just not serving the dogs well.