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Posts Tagged ‘German shepherd dog’

Dare’s Embark

dare floppy ears

Dare’s DNA analysis came back from Embark.  She is clear of all genetic diseases that the company tests for, and she is not a carrier of any either.

She does not carry long-coat. There was possibility that she did, because long-coats occur on both sides of her pedigree.

She does, however, carry for recessive black. One great grandsire was a black dog.

dare coat embark

Her genetic COI is 32 percent:

Dare COI Embark

Remember that this breed is derived from very tight breeding at its foundation, and having a COI this high is to be expected.

In the MHC/DLA genes analyzed, though, she has high diversity, so she should have a good and effective immune system.

mhc dare 1

mhc dare 2

Her deep ancestry is pretty typical of European dog breeds. Her mtDNA haplotype is A361/409/611, which is very common in German shepherds.  It part of the A1b haplogroup, which has been traced to the original domestication in Central Asia and entered Europe during the Bronze Age.

So we can find out lots of interesting things about purebred dogs through these DNA tests. Not only do we know a lot about her risk factors and carrier status of certain diseases, we know a lot about her deep ancestry as well.

 

 

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Papers

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beowulf

Humans have an aversion to inbreeding. We find the idea of two humans from the same family marrying and having children quite disgusting.

We also know that wild dogs have strong inbreeding avoidance behavior. Wolves and African wild dogs generally avoid mating with blood relatives. Most domestic dogs will mate with their relatives without reservation, and inbreeding has been a tool that dog breeders have used for centuries to establish type and promote homogeneity in their strains.

I have been a critic of inbreeding domestic dogs, but I now realize that I was cherry-picking the science a bit and playing up to human aversion to inbreeding to give a fully nuance and accurate understanding of what inbreeding can do to domestic dogs.

Inbreeding does tend to reduce MHC haplotype diversity over time, which can make dogs more susceptible to various maladies.  It also can increase the chance of deleterious recessive alleles from being inherited homozygously.  All of these are potential risks from inbreeding.

However, I would be remiss to say that inbreeding has not always been a horrible.  Indeed, certain breeds have been founded through a rigorous inbreeding and selection process that surely cannot be thought of as entirely disastrous to the strain.

A few years ago, I came across a book called Working Sheep Dogs: A Practical Guide to Breeding, Training and Handling by Tully Williams. In the text, Williams refers to Kyle Onstott’s work on dog breeding in which Onstott mention an experiment at the Wistar Institute involving rats. A “Miss King,” writes Onstott, bred rat siblings for twenty generations with a strong selection for vigor and stamina, and after twenty generations, she produced a strain of rats that were longer-lived, larger, and generally healthier than the average laboratory rat.

Onstott was a dog breeder and novelist, and his book on dog breeding was considered revolutionary when it was published in 1962. It is called The New Art of Breeding Better Dogsand I have been trying to get my hands on a copy.  However, I was able to glean from the names mentioned in Williams’s quote of Onstott that the “Miss King” of the Wistar Institute is Helen Dean King.  Dr. (not “Miss”) King was one of the early researcher on the question of inbreeding, and one of leading lights of the Wistar Institute’s rat breeding experiments.

I was able to find her study in which she was able to create the super rats strain through inbreeding, and yes, she was able to do so through rigorous selection for vigor.

In dogs, it is difficult to find a similar experiment, but then I realized one was quite literally staring me in the face.

Most are unaware that German shepherd dogs are all quite closely related to each other. Yes, they appear to have a lot genetic diversity, because we have all these quite different working and show-bred forms, but they all derive from a very similar inbreeding experiment to the one that Dr. King performed at the Wistar Institute.

Max von Stephanitz based the breed upon a Thuringian sheepdog named Horand von Grafrath, which he then bred to Bavarian and Swabian/Württemberg sheepdogs. He then tightly bred upon the progeny. Indeed, the entire breed is based off of three grandsons of Horand. They were Beowulf, Pilot, and Heinz von Starkenburg. They were bred mostly to other descendants of Horand, and there was strong selection for temperament and vitality in the population. It is in these foundations of the breed that wolf may have been added, but the breed still derives from these three grandsons of a single dog.

We can have lots of debates about this in the comments, but the German shepherd dog as an entire breed is fairly healthy for a large breed dog.  In that inbred population, the deleterious allele that leads to a degenerative myelopathy was part of the founders, and the breed itself does have that issue.  Some eye issues were also part of the founding population.

However, if inbreeding were always such a terrible thing, every dog in the breed would be a genetic basket case. Regardless of what one might think about show dogs, the working police and military dogs derive from this exact same inbred population, and it would be folly to say these dogs lacked vigor or were universally unhealthy and unsound creatures. Indeed, it can be argued that the most useful dog ever bred was the German shepherd dog. It has that much utility in a variety of situations.

Now,  I am not saying that inbreeding problems don’t exist. I am saying that we need a nuanced understanding of what inbreeding can do to dog populations, and it is not universally a horrible thing.

Inbreeding and rigorous selection can be a good thing for a strain.  Of course, I know there are breeds that do need some genetic rescue. The Doberman pinscher was founded in much the same way as the German shepherd, using a much more diverse group of domestic dogs in the foundation strain. However, the breed suffers so much from inherited DCM that it an outcross program could very well be justified.

But those of us who advocate rationalism and science in understanding and caring for dogs must keep an open mind. We must look at all the objective science and avoid appeals to human prejudice.

That’s what I’ve tried to do here. I am correcting some of my earlier errors, and I hope this helps lead to a more nuanced view of the subject.

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dare stacked

The little Tasmanian devil is turning into a little lady.   She’s about to enter the “teething ears” phase in which she will look quite ridiculous.

 

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dare platz

Dare is learning very quickly. She has learned the difference between “sit” and “platz” (I prefer the German for her for that command), and the difference between the markers “yes” (you did the right thing!) and “good” (keep doing what you’re doing, like remaining in a sit or down position). She also has a good enough puppy recall that I can call her off the cat, which is her favorite playmate.

She has tons of ball drive for a puppy. She is already fetching toys and bringing them back to hand, which is amazing considering how many golden retrievers I know that have no natural or play retrieve to speak of.

I really enjoy training this breed. I find them far easier than any gun dog.

She is also learning valuable lessons from other dogs. If she gets rowdy playing with the whippets and runs over sleeping Erika, Erika will correct the puppy for her rudeness.  She has acute awareness of other dogs’ body language.  She respects the elder dogs, but she also enjoys playing with them.

She has a genetically sound temperament, but she is getting the upbringing she truly deserves to become a super dog. I cannot be prouder of this little pup.

fetching dare

 

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gsd wolf

So in the early days of this blog, I was wrong about something.  I wish I had never written a word about German shepherd structure and hips,  because I was essentially parroting nonsense that I’d read somewhere without asking for documentation. The rear angulation of the dog is not related to hip dysplasia. There are plenty of dogs with “extra: rears that have OFA excellent hips.

Also, although one can get worked up about “hock walking,” no one is actually intentionally breeding a German shepherd to walk on his hocks. The goal is to produce flowing side movement, where the dog opens up in the rear and shoulder.  Some dogs may walk on their hocks, but if the dog is just going to be a pet, it’s not a major welfare issue. We have some studies on GSD longevity that show that skeletal and spinal issues are a major reason why they die, but those studies do not provide a break down about the dog’s actual conformation or if the dog died of a condition called degenerative myelopathy, which is a genetic condition that results in the dog’s spinal cord degenerating when it is an older dog.

I know there will be people who refuse to believe a single word I’ve written in these two paragraphs, and they will comment away about what an idiot I am for changing my mind. I honestly don’t care. I have looked at the same evidence you have, and I don’t find it convincing.

At the same time, though, people who have written and promoted the position that I once held about German shepherd structure have unintentionally set the breed up for failure in pet homes.

When we go on and on about how terrible the show dogs are, the pet buying public will naturally turn to breeders who have dogs that lack the rear angulation. The vast majority of German shepherds bred without this angulation are those bred for bite-work or for bite=work competitions. These are wonderful dogs.  It was one of these dogs that turned me into a lover of the breed.

But they are not for everyone. These dogs have lots and lots of drive. They are smart. Some have really high defense drive and little social openness. Some poorly-bred ones are sketchy, and yes, some poorly-bred show dogs are sketchy freaks too.

But when the best dogs of this type are very high drive dogs and the worst are potentially dangerous, you are setting the public up for a disaster. People are getting super working dogs that need constant work and training just to feel content in the home, and the owners work 40 or 50 hours a week.  People are also getting dogs that are neurotic and potentially dangerous.

This is not what most people want when they get a German shepherd, but because people like the me from a decade ago would go on and on about the “crippled” show lines, it has become received wisdom that the pet buying public should not buy a dog bred for conformation.

This is problematic, because most people would be better off with a conformation-bred dog. The reason is that dog shows themselves do place several unintentional selection pressures on breeding stock. A show dog is forced to deal with many, many dogs and lots of people walking around. All of these dogs are intact. Some may be in heat.  Further, every show dog must accept fairly extensive grooming (even whippets!, and they must be able to receive an examination from a judge.

A dog that has a poor temperament simply cannot go through these selection pressures, and although there are dogs that have weird temperaments that do succeed in the ring and do get bred, the general average is for a dog that is far more mentally stable than the typical pet dog.

Also, because no one is breeding show German shepherds to break through windshields to get bad guys, no one is breeding for crazy drive and pain tolerance. The show dogs do have a quite a bit more drive and a need for exercise than the typical pet dog, but their needs are much easier for the typical family to meet.

I say this as someone who loves working line GSD and who will happily own another. I say this as someone who deeply cares for this breed.

But I think we have done a poor job by our constant haranguing of the show dogs in this breed. It is not serving the breed, the dogs, or the public well.

And it is also creating divisions between breeders, the people who should be standing together to ensure that every puppy goes into a loving home and that our favorite disciplines and activities for our dogs remain legal.

So I do feel a lot of guilt for what I have written. The best I can do is correct the errors from here on out.

And if you want a pet German shepherd, check out a breeder who specializes in good conformation stock. You’re far more likely to get what you really want than if you deliberately go searching for “straight-backed” dogs on the internet. The really ethical working dog breeders will steer you away from their dogs anyway, but the working dogs aren’t the first place to look for a pet.  I’m sure there are working GSD breeders who are getting tired of the inquiries from people who are just seeking pets.

So all this rhetoric about crippled show dogs has done a very poor service to the breed. I am deeply sorry that I participated in it.

 

 

 

 

 

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