Posts Tagged ‘dog breeding’

The effects of inbreeding are not the same in all breeds. Remember, it is inbreeding and then rigorous selection process that causes gene loss.  Different  inbred breeds have experienced the loss of different genes, and this is why we get some variance on the effects of inbreeding between different breeds. Some breeds handle it relatively well. Others come very close to extinction. (And many have actually become extinct.)

To illustrate these differences, it will be necessary to look at some case studies. I deliberately chose two breeds that have origins in the very recent past; both of these dogs were developed after the Second World War. Both were developed in Central Europe– one in capitalist West Germany and the other in communist Czechoslovakia. Both are the result of crossing established kennel club breed, and both were intensely inbred to establish type.

The two breeds are the Cesky terrier and the wolf-chow. As we shall see, the two breeds have very different experiences as they have been inbred. Because inbreeding almost killed it, one of them had to have the infusion of another breed to save it. And when that other breed was added, it became a new breed. The other still exists as it does, although there have been outcrosses with one of the parent breeds, it still has high levels of inbreeding.

The Cesky terrier was founded in 1949 in communist Czechoslovakia. The communists took control over the country 1948, and the breed founder, František Horák,wanted to create a hunting terrier that the “new socialist people” could take hunting the forest.  He wanted a small dog that could fit down nicely down

Horák began with a cross between a Sealyham dog named Buganier Urquelle and a Scottish terrier bitch named Scotch Rose. Only one puppy survived to adulthood, Adam Lovu zdar. That dog was trained as a hunting dog, but he was accidentally shot before he could produce any puppies. So Horák repeated the breeding, and six puppies were produced. One of these was Balda Lovu zdar, who was bred back to his mother, Scotch Rose.

And that began a long period of intense line and inbreeding with the Scottish terrier/Sealyham crosses.  Horák had worked as an assistant with geneticists at the Czech Academy of Sciences, so he was well-versed in Mendelian genetics. He rigorously selected for conformation and working characteristics, and the result was the only working terrier to develop in the Eastern Bloc.

Of course, we can criticize Horák for inbreeding, but Czechoslovakia at the time was not a place that was full Scottish terriers and Sealyhams for breeding. Many of the dogs that were in the country before the war dead, and during the war, no one was breeding from them. And to make matters worse, Czechoslovakia, as a communist country, was now cut off from the West, where most of the terrier blood was. Horák had to establish his breed with a smaller number of dogs than he might have liked, and to establish his line, he had to inbreed.

Today’s Csesky terrier is quite inbred. Many individuals have COI’s above 80 percent. However, the breed has no known genetic disorders, although the dogs are slightly susceptible to Scottie cramps. However, the breed does appear to  have issues with cancer and has a median lifespan of 8 years, 5 months. (One should be careful about that one study. It has an n=9. For the purposes of this post, let’s assume they do have issues with cancer.)

This breed is a good example of what rigorous selection can do to an inbred population. Because Horák and his successors were likely engaging in something very similar to natural selection upon this population. These dogs were selected for their health, vigor, size, floppy ears, and pack mentality. It is a sort of cheetah-lite selection process. Many working dog breeders who swear by breeding close and rigorously selecting are engaging in similar process.

And over time, the dogs were bred away from certain deleterious recessives. That is why the breed has no obvious genetic disorders.

However, continuous inbreeding still had an effect upon the breed. The high cancer rate in the breed is very likely the result of inbreeding depression. The breed likely has little diversity in the MHC.

Now, in the 1980’s, a Sealyham was crossed into increase genetic diversity in the Cesky.  Dogs that have this influx of Sealyham blood are called “Line 2″dogs, which differentiate them from Horák’s dogs, which are designated as “Line 1” dogs.

Although this breed has been selected against genetic disorders, it still has experienced the effects of inbreeding depression. It was only because of that rigorous selection process that genetic disorders were selected against.

One should not use the case of the Cesky terrier to assume that very tight breeding is okay. In that one instance, a very tight breeding program was able to work because of the selection process– and because the breeders miraculously did not select away or select for genetic diseases.

But even with that luck, they still have issues with cancer.

That is why many Cesky terrier breeders are trying to find ways to reduce COI’s in their breed. Even if the breed has survived and has thrived (in a relative sense) through very tight breeding, it does not mean that it will work in every case or even the majority of cases.

Dogs have not evolved inbreeding tolerance. The only wild dog population that has been able to survive exteme inbreeding has been the San Nicolas Island fox, which was able to survive and maintain a diverse MHC through balancing selection. The wolves of Isle Royale were once touted as being a great example of a thriving inbred population. That is no longer the case.

Generally, dogs do not do well in inbred populatons. As a wonderful counter-example to the Cesky terrier. the story of the wolf-chow is more indicative of what happens when domestic dogs are very tightly inbred.

A German named Julius Wipfel had always been fascinated by northern sled dogs. He settled in Weinheim, Baden-Württemberg, after the Second World War with his young wife. He then went looking for a dog. When he found a spitz-type dog at the local shelter, he jumped at the chance to take him home. The shelter said the dog had accompanied Canadian troops that had been occupying Mannheim. Maybe this was a ploy to get Wipfel to adopt the dog. Maybe this dog actually was a Canadian Eskimo dog. But whatever he was, the dog, who was named “The Canadian, ” had a profound influence on Wipfel. In Wipfel’s mind, he was the ideal sled dog of the northern type. He had very a “primitive” characteristics. He bonded very strongly with his family and was quite aggressive toward strangers.

When the Canadian died, Wipfel purchased a wolfspitz (keeshond) bitch. Like many of her breed, she was sweet and gentle– not at all what Wipfel wanted.

It was only after reading about a Chow-Chow/German shepherd dog cross in Konrad Lorenz’s books that Wipfel got the idea to breed Chows to wolfspitz.

He began breeding chows to wolfspitz and trying to build a club around these dogs. He called the breed the “wolf-chow.” However, he had a very hard time getting people to want to breed from them, and it became difficult to set traits.

His original breeding program required a rotation of different mating combinations of different wolfspitz and chow crosses and setting traits through selective breeding.

However, such a breeding program required lots of different dogs to be bred, and because West Germany was a mostly densely populated urban society, not many people wanted their dogs to be part of the breeding program.

Wipfel then came in contact with Charlotte Baldamus. She was a refugee from East Prussia who had many years of experience breeding poultry strains.  Now, in breeding animals for agriculture, the metric is very different from breeding pets. The metric for productive animals is the market for meat, eggs, or milk. Inbreeding to produce these animals is fine, simply because no one expects a chicken or a dairy goat to live out its full life. With dogs, we expect so much more. We want them to live out their full lives, and in doing so, we allow them have the potential of experiencing different genetic disorders.

Baldamus began an inbreeding program for wolf-chows. It required fewer breeding dogs and fewer generations to set type, and the results were very much what she was expecting.

However, as the program continued, COI’s got higher. This was exacerbated when the whole breed was essentially built upon one red stud dog.

The dogs looked like what they wanted, but they were of no use as sled dogs. They also begant os show signs of an inbreeding depression and hip dysplasia showed up for the first time. Wipfel wanted to cross in Samoyed dogs, but Baldamus did not want any new blood.

It was only when Konrad Lorenz, who had admired this breeding program because it was based upon his own work, suggested that Samoyed be added into the breed. Wipfel did so, producing a litter of black puppies– and Lorenz purchased one. Black puppies shouldn’t have been a surprise. Samoyeds are black-skinned e/e’s. For some reason, the e/e genotype makes the Samoyed white instead of cream or gold, as we see in golden retrievers.

But when the Samoyed was crossed in, the primitive temperament that Wipfel wanted to hold onto disappeared. The Chow’s strong bonding tendencies were swamped with the friendly and gentle natures of both Samoyeds and keeshonds/wolfspitzes.

When the breed was officially recongized, the Chow fanciers club refused to allow them to register the dogs as “wolf -chows.” So it was decided to incorporate the Samoyed influence in the breed’s name, calling them Eurasiers to reflect the origins of their ancestors in Europe, Siberia, and China.

The wolf-chow was not selected for working characteristics as the Cesky terrier was. It was selected for appearance only. And the selection process for the wolf-chow did not select against disease. Without an understanding of which genes are associated with which disorders, selective breeding at this time was a crap shoot. The Cesky terrier breeders had been lucky that they selected against genetic disorders. The wolf-chow breeders were unlucky in their roll of the dice.

And they were not rigorously selecting for health. They were breeding dogs as if they were poultry.

And the results were not good.

Most dog breeding in Western countries would involve the selection pressures in the wolf-chow. Very few breeders are engaging in rigorous selection that would produce a dog like Cesky. Even if they are breeding for health, the dogs are not going to undergo that selection process.

Many working dog breeders use something like the Cesky breeding strategy. They even make their bitches whelp outside in doghouses or steel barrels so that natural selection also acts upon their breeding programs.

And that is one way to select against genetic disorders.

But over time, inbreeding is inbreeding, and some effects of an inbreeding depression still pop up, such as the Cesky terrier cancer rate.

Now, most modern dogs are not bred in the same way that wolf-chows and Cesky terriers were. Most dog breeders use line breeding techniques, but the results can be similar, though far less dramatic in the short run.

The truth is that inbreeding and the selection process can cause no problems in terms of the health of a dog breed or line. It can also cause very real problems for a breed. Our understanding of dog genetics is still not complete enough to understand why it causes problems in some cases and not in others. And even if our understanding is better than it is now, we can still have surprises. The genome has many surprises for us, especially when we think we know it all.

For that reason, as a precautionary measure, it is best to see inbreeding as something to avoid and genetic diversity something to promote. And even if things wind up being okay for a time, it does not mean that something might go wrong someday. (See the Tasmanian devil’s story to see why.)

One can use stories in which animals, including other domestic dog breeds, have done relatively well through inbreeding. However, the only dog I have found that has an even half-way good outcome from inbreeding is still experiencing what appears to be an inbreeding depression. We cannot base our whole model for dog breeding off of this one case. History has shown that when dog loose genetic diversity, the have experienced more like that of the wolf-chow than the Cesky terrier.

The risks are just too high to ignore the COI and diversity within the MHC/DLA genes in domestic dogs. And just because it worked out once (kind of) does not mean that it will work in every case or even the majority of cases.

And just as it appears to work at one point does not mean that there are no long-term consequences.

Both of these breeds were founded from small numbers of dogs out of necessity. The were both created in social and economic situations in having large kennels was simply impractical.

Most of our kennel club breeds are actually derived from breeders who did have many, many dogs to choose from and the founding populations were actually quite large. And very tight breeding was not often pursued without using outcrosses, which often came from lines produced in the same kennels.

Inbreeding was a way of establishing a breed quickly with just small numbers of dogs.

Because of these factors, most modern dogs have gone this same direction but at a much slower pace.

But the story of these two breeds should tell us what could potentially happen with genetic bottlenecks– even when things appear to be going fine.



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Christopher Landauer has performed more analysis on Lloyd Brackett’s theories.

It was he who got me looking at “the formula,” which seems so ubiquitous as the preferred “recipe” for linebreeding for many dog breeders.

Although it is not necessarily a way of driving people to select from just a few elite sires, it is the logical conclusion of his line-breeding formula.

It is somewhat amazing that Brackett believed that outcrossing was so dangerous to a line. I  am fairly certain that no modern breeder line breeds with so much trepidation about bringing in new blood.

(I could be wrong about this assumption.)

One should keep in mind that although the hypothetical dog named Brackett  has a COI of 6.25%, a real world breeding within a closed registry breed would likely have a higher COI than that. Most of these breeds have a very finite number of founders, and if breeders are selecting from these elite sires to produce the majority of puppies, the COI’s go up really quickly.

Brackett assumes that all outcrossed dogs have severe defects, and the only way to get rid of defects is to tightly breed.  It doesn’t usually work that way.  If a defect is recessive, breeding out the recessive trait can lead to a doubling down on another recessive defect– one that no one knew existed because it was very rare for two dogs to be homozygous for the recessive alleles causing the defect.

It becomes the genetic whack-a-mole.

In my perusing of the breeder website, I found a piece that talked about how wonderful it was that Scottish terriers no longer were as commonly affected by von Willebrand disease. So much were they hooting about this, that they forgot to mention that the average lifespan of Scottish terriers had decreased within the past decade. The Brackett notion that one can “improve” the health and quality of dog through very tight breeding has been wrong.

You might be able to breed out certain genetic disorders through very tight breeding, but you will never get rid of all of them. And the only thing one can do is develop ways of shuffling the genetic deck against a dog developing genetic health disorders that are caused by recessive genes.

Of course, that leave out all the MHC stuff that seems to way over Lloyd Brackett’s head.


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Jock Richardson sought virtual immortality by breeding from Wiston Cap so many times.

In an insightful post at the Border Wars blog, Christopher Landauer discusses an important aspect of the dog culture. It does not matter what the aspect of the dog culture it is, but this aspect seems to be the main force that drives people into doing things that are a bit risky for the long-term viability of whatever strain is being produced:

Each hobbyist seeks immortality through the dogs he or she produces, and each hobbyist would like a little notoriety within the designated community.

These two forces are quite destructive. Take the culture of trial border collies, which celebrates Wiston Cap, even if over-using him as a stud had definite health and genetic diversity consequences:

Jock Richardson didn’t have a crisis of conscience after he cashed the 10th check for studding out Wiston Cap and he didn’t quit after the 100th check. He cashed over 388 such checks and Wiston Cap sired over 1,900 registered puppies. I assume that the only thing that stopped Wiston Cap from impregnating as many bitches as possible year round until his death was probably a venereal disease that made him sterile. At some point nature says ENOUGH long before human-kind figures this out. His progeny stopped abruptly several years before his death.

Wiston Cap wasn’t in the dark ages, he lived in the 1970s and his owner died only 10 years ago. Would we praise a repeat performance today or would we condemn it?

No one owns “the breed” and altruism doesn’t exist, so individual ego, self aggrandizement, and desire for immortality through fame trumps the greater good. People whose greatest accomplishment in life is in their dogs do exist and asking them to take their last bow before they have to be dragged kicking and screaming, or in most cases whimpering, from the spotlight, is unseemly. We don’t criticize these people, we put their dogs on our logos and name awards after them. We give them glowing obituaries and make sure that any mention of the breed includes at least one or two homages to their dog. Everyone seems to know that Wiston Cap carried the gene for a red coat color, but no one seems to know that he also carried CEA.

The culture at large rewards this sort of thinking. In the AKC, top producing studs are lauded, as if  a few studs producing as many offspring as possible is somehow good for the population genetics of these breeds.

The problem with dogs is deep within the systems in which these culture exist. They reward competitive values over good sense, and people live in a fantasy world in which the best way to win is to breed from the dogs who do win.  It is almost Lysenkoist to believe that one can breed show dogs or working dogs by breeding from an elite set of studs. Different genes interact with those of different dams, and those things that make those studs so special may not be expressed when bred with a particular dam.

And never mind the parts of the dog that are not inherited but have to be learned through careful training or developed through good nutrition and conditioning.

But even having a good Darwinian understanding of dogs doesn’t stop this very destructive part of the culture.

Dog culture simply is not collaborative enough to encourage the preservation of genetic diversity, and within every culture, there are always people who have nothing to do but pull out daggers against someone who does something they don’t like.

I’m sure they are in every part of society, but in dogs, it seems that it’s those people who wind up having the power, the ones who use bromides and harassment to keep things going their way, and the ones who stand in the way of reform.

Not all people in dogs are like this, and even within the leadership of various clubs, there are people who understand these problems and want to correct them.

To correct them, however, would cause a great shift in what people do in dogs. Landauer explains what this change in breeding ethics would have to look like:

It requires a breeding ethic in which you don’t only select just one offspring from a parent to carry on the legacy. This isn’t hard for males, but few females have more than one significant offspring. Popular sires have no problem creating multiple distributed copies of themselves in the gene pool, but it’s a rare female who has 10 registered children who all have sustained lines.

We don’t have to breed 10 puppies from each litter though, as long as we have breed a diversity of puppies in the past. If a sire and dam both came from litters where just a few of their brothers and sisters were bred, the genetic diversity from the grandparent dogs will be preserved in those cousin lines and the need to preserve those genes in this litter is greatly diminished.

This is why preserving genetic diversity is a community endeavor. No single breeder can accomplish this. No line of dogs can be a universal outcross. No one litter can by itself can capture enough of the genome.

But in most so many strains, breeders select only a handful of puppies as breeders. A few even sell the majority of their stock already spayed and neutered.

This, of course, allows the individual breeder to have a lot more power over his or her strain. It is good for virtual immortality.

It is terrible for genetic diversity, and if we actually wanted to work toward more genetically diverse dogs, breeders would do much more to encourage their puppy buyers to get into this.

And to allow those buyers a bit of freedom to be experimental with their breeding choice.

But that means that the breeder of the original dogs have to let go a bit, and that means less of a chance at virtual immortality within the designated dog culture.

Of course, one could get virtual immortality by encouraging people to increase genetic diversity within a chosen breed and help the long-term viability of the breed and of the species at large.

However, those virtues simply aren’t rewarded within the dog cultures.

But it’s high time they were.

If people actually understood the  looming crisis with MHC/DLA genes in domestic dogs, I don’t see how anyone could think that the current way of doing things is fine.

But then again, I’m an outsider.

Within the fancy and the trial cultures, denialism is the most important thing. Various biologists and geneticists who become part of these clubs seem to forget much of what they learned in school or what they say must be done to save various endangered species.

No one seems to understand that contrived genetic bottlenecks are no better than natural ones.

The former are superior because they are the ticket to fame and immortality within a cultural construct, and the latter are bad because they will kill endangered species.

But they are both bad.

It’s just that the former get reinforced within the human culture that we think they are good.

To solve these problems, we are either going to have to change the culture or start our own competing culture. The public seems to be receptive to changing things. People are skeptical about the various cultures already. We just have to provide something else– something more collaborative and science-based.

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The Dowager Empress Cixi wrote  a standard for the breed.

The Chinese wanted to turn their dogs into lions.

Westerners then turned them into animate cushions.

This piece tells us the conditions that allowed the modern fancy to develop.

The Industrial Revolution and the subsequent democratization made it possible for people to have both wealth and leisure time to spend money on breeding dogs with very little real economic utility.

The Pekingese was the dog of the Chinese nobility. It was bred to look like a lion and to be so short-legged that it would never run off.

Sound similar to the old Chinese tradition of foot-binding?

Women had their feet bound so that they would never be able to work.

It was a perverse way for wealthy men to show their love for their daughters.

I’ll make sure you’re deformed, so you’ll never have to work. And that will show the world that I have enough money to keep a wife who can sit around the house all day and be pretty.

In a sexist culture that viewed women as baby-makers and as workhorses, causing deformity was seen as both a term of endearment and a symbol of one’s economic success and power.

Of course, we in the West are no different when it comes to these customs.

Why else do we breed dogs that are so horribly deformed that they cannot breathe, run, mate, or whelp properly?

They are symbols of our own wealth and power. They are also symbols of our technological advancement, for they show our prowess in things like AI and C-section techniques.

We are advanced enough and wealthy enough that we don’t have to have all of our dogs working. In fact, very few of our dogs actually work at anything.

So we can breed all sorts of dogs for symbolic purposes.

Why do we do this?

It all goes back to Veblen.


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This is a depiction that appears in Stonehenge’s Dog in Health and Disease.

Gowan’s Billy and Minnie are often circulated in Italian greyhound literature.

However, Billy’s pedigree, which Stonehenge extols, is often left out.

He was quite an inbred little thing, but Stonehenge does little but talk about his wonderful conformation.

This little piece tells us that the early fancy was obsessed with Bakewell’s system of breeding in and in.

Contrary to the scoffers, Italian greyhounds did have a purpose. They were little rodent catchers and were often crossed into ratting terriers to increase their speed. The Manchester terriers and the English white terrier had some Italian greyhound or whippet ancestry.

It is often said that Italian greyhounds are Italian, but that’s mainly because they became very popular in the states that made up Renaissance Italy. These dogs were always quite common in the courts of various nobles throughout Europe.

I seriously doubt that Billy’s ancestors were involved in anything but being pets and show dogs.

And the quest for perfection meant that his ancestor named Bill would appear so many times in his pedigree.

As one might expect, modern Italian greyhounds do have inherited health problems.

I’m not singling out this breed for being inbred. I just found Billy’s pedigree in that old book and laughed. Here was perfect example of the worst kind of inbreeding we all denounce in the blogosphere, and it was there from the early days of the fancy.

It was axiomatic that one would breed in-and-in to win.

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What mechanism drives the popular sire effect?

The answer is complex, but in the end, it can be reduced to two simple quests:

Breed for superman and breed from superman.

One of the most interesting factors that drives the most used sire effect is something called “prepotency.”  That’s the ability of a sire to produce quality offspring over a wide range dams. The only way to prove this ability is to breed to as many dams as possible.

On the Border Wars blog, Christopher Landauer, explains that

[t]he greater theory of Prepotency is bunk: that superman sires should be able to overcome any problems in the dam, ideally the female being but a vessel to produce perfect copies of the sire.  What isn’t bunk is the very real effect of rising homozygosity: the more homozygous the parent, the less variation in genes passed along to the offspring.

The culture celebrates stud dogs. Simply because a males can have many, many more offspring that females, sire have a greater influence on the gene pools than dams do. If one has a great stud dog that has superior traits in either phenotype or behavior, one has the ability to affect the greater development of the breed as a whole.

The owner of a good stud dog has great power, and with this power comes responsibility.

As a whole, this problem has not really been given careful consideration within the various fiefdoms, principalities, and cliques with the greater dog culture.

The goal is to produce that superman dog. One that has such superior traits in whatever utility he is needed for and to have him replicate those traits when bred to so many different bitches.

That is where power comes from within these dog culture systems.

If you have a stud dog that is totally awesome, one can really control the breed–for more than just the present generation.

Top producing sires are quite feted, at least within the AKC system. (Here’s the record for AKC St. Bernard sires. The healthiest breed ever, right?)

That is a problem.

So how are we going to solve this problem of the popular sires?

There are some answers, but they are almost all contrary to the prevailing wisdom and cultural mores inherent within these systems.

Line-breeding and inbreeding are the best ways to produce offspring that are relatively similar in whatever way one desires.

It takes a bit more skill to produce the exact qualities in more heterozygous stock.

And we can’t mention the idea that we might want to open registries to allow new blood in.

That idea is either universally p00-pooed as it is in the big multi-breed registries or  given lip service as it is in the JRTCA and ABCA, which are, for all intents and purposes, Potemkin open registries.

The only real open system with dogs is one that exists for racing sled dogs, which doesn’t even have a central registry system. You simply breed what runs hard and long  in very cold conditions with what runs long and hard in cold conditions. That really doesn’t exist anywhere else in the greater dog culture, although the feists and curs still exist within something like it, even as they are all being standardized into breeds.

Domestic dogs possess great genetic diversity. However, in the West, it has been sequestered into various breeds or strains. (In the East, well, as we have seen in China and Japan, they have simply adopted the Western system.)

Besides opening the registries, we have lots of things we could do but are so politically impossible to do on a large scale.

The notion that we should really worry about how genetically diverse the various bloodlines are is simply a major affront to the prevailing wisdom.

Diversity means less predictability.

I have read dozens of dog books that extol the main virtue of the purebred dog: we know what we’re getting when we pick a certain breed.

That means that somewhere there must exist a happy medium between preserving genetic diversity and producing dogs that have a relatively consistent phenotype and temperament.

I think the answer may lie with the boxer/corgi hybridization program. There a naturally bob-tailed corgi was bred to white boxer. And within just a few generations of breeding back, dogs were produced that looked and acted just like boxer. But they had natural bobtails. (With country after country banning tail docking, is this really such a stupid thing to consider?)

If a breeder can do that with two breeds that are as different as boxers and Pembroke corgis, then one surely would be able to produce a consistent phenotype  and behavior with the use of two similar breeds.

Just a little variance on just a few genes separates the different dog breeds. It is one reason why dogs change type over just a very short period of time. It is also why wild wolves vary so much in appearance and have always done so.

But it is hard to think like this, when the culture is all about breeding for superman and breeding from superman.

To have a superman means that one’s breeding program is immortal.

To breed from a superman means that one gets a bit of the super gene and over time, the breed will become more consistent in type and temperament.

Until the inbreeding depression sets in.

But that’s as long way off.

It is better to have results as soon as possible. That’s how one wins. That’s how one gets closer to immortality within the breed.

This is the quickest and surest way.

The other way, well, that requires a  some more work, a little bit more study, and lot more commitment to actually produce. It requires tolerating some variance and maybe a bit of mediocrity to reach a better goal.

It is not a short-cut. It is the harder way.

Which is why the number of breeders who actually consider genetic is actually quite low.

It’s not the fastest way to breed for superman.


Everyone should check out that post at Border Wars, not just for the discussion of prepotency, but for the really good graphics that explain what inbreeding is and what it does to the population.

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Recreating defunct breeds and strains is an old obsession in the dog world.  The earliest historical record I can find of people trying to save and restore a breed occurred in the late eighteenth century, when the great “wolf-dogs” began to disappear. There was a mass scramble to find Irish wolfhounds in various parts of Ireland in order have a workable bloodline.

Of course, the Irish wolfhound was still around when it was decided to restore and preserve it. The same cannot be said for the ancient Eurasian spitz dog.

Before I begin even discussing the particulars of its reconstruction, I must make some points about the existence of this dog. The first of these is that there was probably no single ancient Eurasian spitz breed or even landrace from which all of these spitz-type dogs descend.

But it is something that makes a good romantic story.

The well-known zoologist Konrad Lorenz extolled he virtues of puppies resulting from a cross between his German shepherd dog and his chow bitch. This cross occurred when Lorenz was firmly pushing his since disproved theory that dogs were derived from two different species of wild dog. German shepherds and all of the other tractable dogs from Europe were believed to be derived primarily from golden jackals. The chow and the other extremely aloof yet extreme loyal breeds were believed to be derivatives of the wolf.

After the Second World War,  German named Julius Wipfel took in a dog that had been accompanying Canadian troops. The dog was named the Canadian, and it often conjectured that he was an actual Canadian Inuit dog or something like one. This dog made a very strong impression on Wipfel. He was very different from the typical Western European dogs he had known. He was intensely loyal and protective, but he was also very intelligent. When the Canadian died, he purchased a Wolfspitz (Keeshond) bitch.  Of course, she was nothing like the Canadian. She was a typical Keeshond, very friendly and quirky. (Wolfspitz is usually spelled “Wolfsspitz” in German. For my purposes, I’m dropping the possessive “s,” which looks weird in the English language.)

It was around this time that Wipfel read of Lorenz’s chow/shepherds, and he began to think. Now, this is always a dangerous thing. Wipfel had experienced life with a dog he believed to be a Canadian Inuit dog, and as is often the case, an experience with one profound dog can totally shape one’s understanding of what a dog or type of dog should be. His mind was also full of Lorenz’s dog theories.

And out of that melange of ideas, came the decision to breed the Wolfspitz with the Chow Chow. He tried to register his dogs as “wolf-chows,” but the chow and wolfspitz clubs refused.

He also got involved with Charlotte Baldamus, a woman who had become an expert in producing purebred poultry. Wipfel needed someone with practical experience to help him found his strain.

Baldamus was a follower of Robert Bakewell’s breeding philosophy. Breed “in and in” to establish desired characteristics in your line. However, after several generations of breeding “in and in,”  Wipfel was warned to add new blood. He consulted with a geneticist at the Institute for Breeding and Genetics of Domestic Animals at the University of Göttingen, who told him to find some new blood soon.

It was decided that the Samoyed would be the outcross. Although I can find no evidence that the Keeshond is related to the Samoyed, they are related in original utility. Both are originally derived from herders. The Keeshond’s ancestors were the German and Dutch farm spitz, which herded stock and killed vermin. The Samoyed’s ancestors were the dogs that helped the nomadic Samoyedic people herd reindeer. The dogs do have similar temperaments, although the Samoyed is more independent. They are both generally docile animal that are often recommended as family pets.

Of course, at that time, no one was recommending the chow-chow as family pet. They were bred in China for a variety of purposes, but the most infamous reason is that they were meant to be edible. The dogs bond very strongly to just a few people and are quite protective of their families. This breed has a reputation for aggression that has since subsided in recent years.

By adding Samoyed to the line, the Eurasier’s breeders were essentially choosing to create a more docile breed than the typical chow chow of that time period.

And it worked.

It was not long before this breed became relatively popular in the German-speaking world. The breed was popularized as being based upon the work of Konrad Lorenz, who was something of a celebrity and public intellectual. This connection was made stronger when Lorenz offered his words of support to the breeding program.

Today’s Eurasier is often recommended as a family pet. It is a docile, tractable dog that bonds very strongly with its family. Although Wipfel wanted to created a dog that was something like the Canadian, he actually created something new. The growing West German middle class had a new breed to purchase for their families.

Of course, the dog was sold as a recreation of something ancient. Supposedly, a dog with Samoyed, Chow, and Keeshond blood would be something like the ancient ancestor of all three– a breed that once roamed Eurasia with bands of nomads for thousands of years.

Wipfel also had designs on producing a line of sled dogs from his breeding program. After all, he believed the Canadian was a sled dog. However, I have not heard of any major sled dog teams that use Eurasiers or Eurasier crosses. Perhaps these exist in Europe, but I have not heard of any in North America.

But whatever Wipfel wanted, the Eurasier is now a family pet. It supposedly is like those dogs of yore that once followed nomads across the continent. However, it is really a dog that was developed to live one of Europe’s most densely populated countries. It is more at home in the suburbs of Berlin and Munich than roaming those ancient steppes and forests. It is as domesticated as we are.

(More on Eurasiers here)


Wipfel was inspired to create his breed after experiencing life with one dog and after reading some of Konrad Lorenz’s writings. I would like to say that those influences have no effect on me, but of course, I would be in denial.

I think a lot of what influences my views on golden retrievers is my experience with one field-line golden that was very driven and very smart.  She lived to retrieve. If she was called a golden retriever, that would be an understatement. There was no such thing as refusing to retrieve. The joy of doing so was reward enough for her.

She was also leggier in framed and darker in color than many goldens are today,  and she  possessed thinner features than one typically sees in show dogs. She was a brilliant animal, very easily trained and very well-versed in the vagaries both human and dog communication. I never once saw her fight another dog, but she did have her ways of getting them to do what she wanted. She also responded very quicky to both human words and body language.

In Lorenz’s formulation, she would have been an aureus dog, but I liked to think of her as a “golden wolf.”

I also have been influenced by the book Merle’s Door.  The dog in that book is a retriever cross of some sort, and his behavior is very similar to hers, with one notable exception. He doesn’t like to retrieve at all.  However, he relates to people, dogs, and other animals in much the same way as my first golden.

I suppose we dog people are always a bit influenced by romance and nostalgia. I think those influences are healthy, but they are only acceptable if they are sublimated to a simple understanding that the dog is an organism with it own needs for a healthy gene pool and its own “being presence.” I am not so sure we can call that “being presence” a mind, but it is a close approximation.

Dogs also exist within the cultural and economic conditions of their time period, which is why I don’t think we can recreate the St. John’s water dog and the Irish wolfhound probably isn’t the animal you want to use when you go to Alaska on a wolf hunt. The selective pressures that produced these animals disappear or are distorted once the exact conditions no longer exist.

I don’t think my romance and nostalgia would ever lead me to do what Julius Wipfel and his colleagues did. After all, that project cost a lot of money and took decades to perfect.

But I can’t say I’m not influenced by these same forces.

Dog people wouldn’t be much without some romance and nostalgia.

It’s just got to be kept in perspective.

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From Discovery News:

Why did the rattlesnake cross the road? It didn’t, says new research, and that may be a problem.

New DNA analyses of rattlesnakes in New York State finds that even minor roadways deter snakes from crossing the road to breed. Populations are becoming isolated from each other by roadways, which may threaten their future.

“We worry for the health of these populations because connectivity is so key to responding to environmental pressures and avoiding inbreeding,” said Rulon Clark of San Diego State University, who led the study published in Conservation Biology. The reduced genetic diversity that results from inbreeding makes populations less resistant to diseases or other disturbances.

Groups of up to dozens of rattlesnakes hibernate together in common dens, which serve as a home base. Come spring, they leave to hunt, and males strike out for neighboring dens to mate with females before returning to their home dens for winter.

The males’ visits to nearby dens provide the genetic mixing necessary to keep a population from becoming inbred.

Clark and colleagues wanted to test whether roads were affecting the males’ mating journeys. They collected blood samples from timber rattlesnakes in 19 different dens in different regions of New York State, including dens separated from each other by roads and others with uninterrupted forest between them.

The researchers analyzed selected gene sequences that mutate quickly from generation to generation to determine how related different snakes are to each other and whether certain dens are mixing with others.

The team found that dens without roads between them acted as a single, connected population, while populations separated by roads showed signs of significantly reduced mixing.

“These roads have been in place for maybe nine or 10 timber rattlesnake generations,” Clark said. “That’s not a long time, but even in that relatively short time frame, we found some very strong patterns. It’s somewhat disturbing to see how quickly the populations lose genetic diversity when they become isolated by these roads.”

Other studies have found that species including bobcats, coyotes and bighorn sheep also change their behavior to avoid roads, with consequences for gene flow. But rattlesnakes may be particularly susceptible, because they avoid roads, and when they do try to cross, the consequences are often fatal, Clark said.

“When they do venture across, they move extremely slowly,” he said. “If they’re disturbed by noise or vibration, their natural response is to freeze and rely on their natural camouflage to hope they won’t be detected. With cars, that’s exactly the wrong response.”

It may be possible to help male rattlesnakes complete their conjugal journeys by building underpasses with surrounding fences that help shepherd the snakes under the roads, the researchers note. Appropriately timed road closures during the migratory season could also help.

Kenneth Dodd of the University of Florida in Gainesville agreed that roads are a threat to wildlife, especially snakes, and that methods to help animals cross roads safely should be implemented.

At the same time, Dodd thinks other forces are at work in explaining the genetic differences among rattlesnakes in this area. Dodd was part of research that analyzed some of the same dens as the new study but found less dramatic effects.

“It’s more complicated,” he said. Small population sizes and localized differences in habitat and topography may also be contributing to the separation of populations, not just roads, he explained.

“We believe that the roadway contributes to genetic structuring of the population, but it is not the sole driving force.”

Yes. I know it didn’t say a word about West Virgina, but not only is the timber rattlesnake our only endemic rattler, it is our state reptile.

In retrospect, I don’t know if that was the best choice.  It is hard to get people to appreciate a place that celebrates a venomous reptile.

Then this article really steps in it:

The timber rattlesnake was selected for the state reptile designation by a group of Hampshire County Middle School students. Their teacher tells me he would have picked the box turtle. However, the rattler isn’t a bad choice. Aside from the obligatory snake-handling church jokes it might generate, the timber rattler is a lot like a true West Virginian.

The timber rattler is generally not aggressive, but when you mess with one–be ready for a fight. The rattler lives its life in rugged confines and is an apt mountain survivor. The rattler is often reviled and misunderstood, but always commands respect.

Yes, and they are apparently quite inbred because they won’t leave the hollers where they were born. Do we really want to have that animal representing our state?

I was hoping they had a good reason to make them the state reptile. Maybe it would make people appreciate them more and not want to shoot them or chop them up with hoes and shovels (a very good way to get bitten).

But no.

I just hope they make the mountain cur the state dog. One politico wants the beagle (which is from England!) to be the state dog. The mountain cur fits the bill very nicely, and it’s native to the Trans-Allegheny West and the Ohio Valley.


All joking aside, this article shows that there are real consequences to reduced genetic diversity in the wild. These timber rattlesnakes are very much like breeds in a closed registry system, and the biologists are very worried that they could suffer some problems from their depauperate gene pools.

If biologists think about these issues when dealing with the conservation of wild animals, why is it so hard to get dog people thinking about them?

I suppose it is an apple to oranges problem. These snakes represent biodiversity, and they have some role in the ecosystem. Dogs are mostly pets. They have no utility beyond the emotional benefits they give their owners.

But if we are thinking about this long term, dogs and timber rattlesnakes aren’t that different. They are both organisms with genes. They are animals that are still subject to Darwinian pressures, even if we shield dogs from most of them. Dynamic gene pools allow animals to survive changes in the environment. That’s why sexual reproduction evolved. This type of reproduction creates diversity that allows these animals to be more resistant to these changes.

Of course, I’m not predicting some collapse of  domestic dogs that result from environmental changes or epidemics. But it is a possibility. And at some point, reduced genetic diversity leads to very low levels of fertility. And then dogs would become like giant pandas or cheetahs. I hope it doesn’t get that bad, but that is where this will all lead if we are not careful.

And then we’ll have to find some other canid to domesticate and turn into a new dog. Black-backed jackals get my first vote, and bray foxes get my second. (Modern wolves are just too hard for the average person to handle, so I don’t think we should consider them. And coyotes are paranoid. Not good candidates at all.)

Of course, I hope it never comes to that.

But if we can worry about genetic diversity in a poisonous snake, I think we at least owe it to our dogs to at least give the diversity and sustainability of  their gene pools some consideration.


Now, I would be remiss if I didn’t mention another aspect of West Virginia’s relationship with the timber rattlesnake.

I don’t know if you’ve heard of these churches, but we have congregations in West Virginia that pick up snakes. Because these are Pentecostal churches, there is a lot of movement going on (and speaking in tongues). When you add people holding venomous snakes, it gets a little interesting.


Jolo is in McDowell County, West Virginia, which is the southernmost county in West Virginia. It’s where Homer Hickam, Denise Giardina, and Jeannette Walls grew up.

And before you start stereotyping, Obama beat McCain there.

West Virginia is a complex place. It gives some of us complexes.

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What do dog breeding and economics have in common?

They are both dismal sciences.  They appear to have little in common, but the truth of the matter is they actually share a certain amount of similarities that leads to me to make some analogies. I am not a trained economist, but I am a political scientist, who has been trained in some economic theory. If I get something wrong in this post, it is because I am not an economist by trade and because I am oversimplifying for the purposes of making an analogy.

When Thomas Carlyle described economics as “the dismal science,” he was actually writing a very bizarre and racist essay on why the British Empire needed to re-institute slavery in the West Indies. He contended that slavery was better for the moral development and economic security of the people of  the West Indies. However, there is some suggestion that his critique of Malthus, who wrote about the virtues of letting the “excess” poor starve to death, may have been where he first called economics a “dismal science.”

But I think the reason why it is called a dismal science today has very little to do with Carlyle.

One part of economics looks at the various trade-offs associated with policies and decision. The best known type of this analysis is the Cost-Benefit Analysis (CBA), which has been used in the US since the 1980’s for budgeting purposes. The ideal economic policy is one where the costs are totally outweighed by the benefits. The problem with doing these type of analysis is we don’t always have “perfect information”– that is we don’t know what all the real costs and benefits inherent in the policy or decision are, nor do we know what these could be in the future.

That’s why things get to be dismal. Even before the formal CBA became part of many policy making decisions, economists were always looking at costs. When one policy is pursued, another is not or some “horrible” is risked. Because we don’t have perfect information, the best economists are always looking for these potential costs and pitfalls in order to get the best information possible.

I think the Eagles got this issue best with this line from the song “Lyin’ Eyes“:

“I guess ev’ry form of refuge has its price.”

And if you think about it,  it fits– although economists would change “price” to “cost.” (Price has a very different meaning in economics.)

Harry Truman once said, “Give me a one-handed economist! All my economists say, ‘On the one hand on the other.'”

And that’s exactly how economists think.

But in a weird way, it is also how dog breeders think.

At least that’s been my experience.

Every possible decision that a breeding program makes has consequences– some of them negative and some of them positive. This is the “micro-economic” equivalent of dog breeding.

Every breed club or registry makes policy that also has also consequences for the breed at a much more macro-level.

Dog breeders want to produce dogs that 1. have good temperaments, 2. have good health, and 3. have some qualities that make the dogs superior in either conformation or some defined behavioral trait.

There are lots of ways to do this.  If one wants consistency, one line breeds. If one is really experienced and wants certain traits established in a line, close line-breeding and inbreeding can be used. One can also use those methods to cull out particular genetic disorders and conformational faults. This is actually what is described in most dog breeding manuals.

However, there are negative consequences to doing this. Over many generations, the genetic diversity of a line becomes weakened. One can experience what is called an inbreeding depression.  Over time, the animals lose their fertility and ability to thrive. However, it is very hard to observe this phenomenon unless one has been in a breed or strain for a very long time. Inbreeding depressions are ultimately comparative, because the fitness and fertility is something that is reduced over time. If one does not know what the original fitness was, one cannot see the inbreeding depression. However, that does not mean it is not real.

So one should be open to outcrossing with other lines. Because of the way most registries operate, one can only breed with other lines of the same breed.

However, here’s the “on the other hand.”

Outcrossing does increase genetic diversity. However, it can also introduce bad things you didn’t see before. Maybe the other line has a hidden genetic disorder that the breeder suddenly introduces into his or her line. Or maybe the other line has traits that interact very poorly with the genetics of the original line. Maybe the dogs are developing bizarre conformation, or they simply lose their working abilities. It is always a “horrible” that exists when bringing in new blood to counteract the effects of line breeding and occasional inbreeding.

Such problems that result from outcrossing are what is called an outbreeding depression.Outbreeding depressions happen whenever crossing two populations results in offspring that are either poor fits for the environment or task at hand or results in offspring that are unhealthy.

Here’s a good example of an unplanned outbreeding depression–my “golden boxer.” This dog was a terrible guard dog, as one would expect from a golden. However, she was a terrible swimmer with no retrieving instinct.  She had the traits of both breeds. It’s just she had them in ways that were incompatible with either being a retriever or being a watch dog. The boxer line she from which she came had a very high amount of osteosarcoma, and it is from that disease that she died at the age of 11. Her “inbred” dam was a golden retriever who made it to the age of 14.

Now, these same consequences exist at the registry and kennel club level. However, the consequences at this level affect more dogs and affect the entire population in the registry or kennel club for the long term.

We can keep registries closed and allow breeding only with dogs in those same registries. We will be able to maintain some consistency in type and behavior over the entire breed or strain. In performance registries, we will get consistency in the desired behaviors. We will also be able to get some handle on the genetic diseases– at least in the short-term.

We can also allow breeders to breed from just a select few studs, which produce huge chunk of the puppies born per generation. This also will allow the breed to have consistency in type, behavior, and disease.

But at some point, these genetically depauperate breeds and strains are going to experience trouble. The inbreeding depression problems will pop up, and reduced genetic diversity always makes the immune system weaker over the long term, which can mean digestive issues, skin problems, and maybe even  increases in cancer.

So what can what can registries do about this problem?

Well, they can open the registries. That will allow a gene flow between populations again, and it can take care of some of the problems. It can reshuffle the genetic deck so that dogs don’t get exposed to negative recessives. It can eliminate some of the problems associated with the inbreeding depression. Over the the long term, it is likely that it could have very real effects on these gene pools.

But there are problems here, too.  One is that the consistency in conformation will disappear, and if one breed is known for its working ability and the other is not, it is possible to introduce nonworking characteristics into a strain. This is also an outbreeding depression but at a much larger level.

Let me make myself clear: I am in favor of opening up the registries. I do not think in that in the long term the breeds are all that viable.

But when I say this, I’m also aware that there are potential negative consequences to doing this. The most obvious of which is the breeds are not going to be as consistent in type and behavior, and the other is that if related breeds are used as outcrosses, the differences between related breeds are going to become little more than theme and variation on the same dog. I am willing to accept some of that.

And I am also aware that we are not going to breed out genetic diseases. It’s impossible. All organisms have genes for bad things. It’s just the way things are. One can line breed and inbreed to cull these diseases. I think this is illusory in the long term, because at some point, the diseases caused by negative recessive are going to line up and a whole new disease will pop up. It’s not a matter of if. It is a matter of when. And what are you going to do? Line breed and inbreed until you get rid of that?

In the long-term, breeders would be better off focusing on genetic diversity rather than trying to breed out everything, but of course, that has all the possible negative consequences I’ve just mentioned.

Also, not all genetic diseases are recessive or can even be answered with simple Mendelian genetics. With those, the answer is far more complex.

And all of it is complex.

I think it ultimately comes down to how much variance a breeder can tolerate and how consistent a breeder wants to be with his or her line. In the old days, this was actually much easier, for breeders kept their own distinct lines, which they would use as outcrosses every couple of generations. Most breeding today is a collaborative effort, and that means dealing with another person’s desires and goals. Different people will have different ideas about how much variance will be tolerated in the dogs.

So what is the solution to all of this?

I think the solution in the end is to give breeders more freedom to use whatever breeding system they feel is appropriate. I’m not for banning inbreeding and close line breeding, but such breeding cannot exist within a closed registry system. It is asking for trouble over the long term. If we are to maintain a closed registry system, then we are going to have think hard about how many litters a stud can sire and how often a breeder should outcross.

But still, we have to keep in mind that breeding “in and in,” as Bakewell did, and outcrossing both have positive and negative aspects. Those of us who advocate for greater genetic diversity in dogs and more open registries should at least admit this reality, and we should also admit that opening the registries doesn’t always solve the problem and can have some negative consequences.

I think that if we tried to talk like this, we might be able to get a dialogue going.  And if we have a dialogue, maybe we can actually come up with ways to solve these problems.

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About half of all Tristanians have asthma.

It has a genetic basis, as you’ll see in the film.

What happened here is a good example of the founder effect. A high proportion of the original settlers had asthma, and because the settlers have intermarried, a very high percentage of the population have asthma.

This is actually not that different from what we’ve done with domestic dogs.

But instead of putting them on an isolated island that has little access to new bloodlines, we have made a closed registry system. In effect, the closed registry system is like setting up hundreds of Tristan da Cunhas.

If human populations were all like Tristan da Cunha, we’d be in a lot of misery. Each population would be highly susceptible to all sorts of diseases. Each would probably have its own disease. It wold be very bad for us.

Yet we seem to think it is perfectly fine for domestic dogs.

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