My latest Our Dogs “Best of Health” article (January 2015)

The KarltonIndex 2015: “Smoke and mirrors” or “mapping a journey”?

Best of HealthIn 2011 it came as a complete surprise to read in Dogs Today magazine that Dachshunds were ’top dogs’ in the Karlton Index. I had never heard of the KI, or the work of its dog health campaigning originator Philippa Robinson, who wanted to highlight how much, or how little, effort UK breed clubs were putting into improving the health of pedigree dogs.

The 2013 KI report also put Dachshunds at the top, but what I think was most interesting was the fact that so many breeds had made such great strides since 2011 and the fantastic work being done by them was finally getting some recognition.

Philippa has recently launched her publicity for the KI Awards 2015 and tells us that a key part of the programme will be an evaluation of the KI framework. She wants the views of Breed Clubs, Councils, Breed Health Coordinators and breeders and there’s a short survey to complete at

What is the KarltonIndex framework?

The KI is based on an assessment approach which is well-proven in the business world with frameworks such as the European Excellence Model (first launched in 1992) and the Baldridge Quality Awards (USA). The UK’s Investors in People model uses a similar approach.

These models typically adopt the concept of ’enablers’ and ’results’. Enablers are the things you need to put in place in order to achieve the results. There is a cause and effect relationship between them.  All of these frameworks look for evidence of work being done to put the right enablers in place and to identify the progress being made in achieving results.

The KI ’enablers’ are leadership, communication/engagement and participation. KI calls ’results’ impact and looks for evidence that breeds are actually improving health. It is important to understand that the KI only reports that an impact is being made, not necessarily what that impact is.

So, in Dachshunds, we got recognition for the impact we have made on cord1 PRA. We have data going back to 2005 to prove that the cord1 mutation frequency in Miniature Dachshunds has been reduced.  We also have evidence to prove there has been no reduction in average litter sizes over 20 years (which might have been expected if there had been increasing levels of inbreeding).

So far, we have made no measurable impact on Back Disease which is the most significant health issue in Dachshunds.  Our 2014 Health Report shows the first data available to suggest that our Lafora Disease screening programme is making an impact.  The fact we have a screening programme and people are participating in it gets us recognition in the KI enablers, but it’s demonstrable improvement that really counts.

Back Disease (IVDD) is the big health issue in Dachshunds and our Dachs-Life 2012 survey showed that, in some varieties, 1 in 3 dogs may suffer from IVDD to some extent in their life.  We know from research papers that IVDD is as much of an issue in Continental and Scandinavian Dachshunds as it is here in the UK.  That’s really interesting because it shows that IVDD is more a consequence of Dachshunds being a dwarf breed, than because of any exaggeration supposedly caused by a UK Breed Standard.  We also know from DNA research that there are variations in disc calcifications between the three different coats which gives us some encouragement that we may be able to find some DNA marker that may give us an indication of risk.  We have changed the Breed Standard to emphasise that exaggerated length and lack of ground clearance is unacceptable, and we include this in our Breed seminars.  Our approach is evidence-based and we draw heavily on the latest research, as well as commissioning research of our own. We use that evidence to provide people with the best information to use when breeding Dachshunds.

All our work on IVDD gets us recognition within the KI enablers, but we have yet to make any impact.

Is your breed “making an impact”?

Most other breeds are in the same position as Dachshunds; they are putting effort into the KI enablers, but are yet to make much real impact.  In my opinion, there’s also a severe lack of data being collected, analysed and presented by breed club communities for them to be able to demonstrate any improvements.  All those breeds with Hip, Elbow and DNA tests (and enough dogs being tested), should be able to track their annual performance and show whether or not particular health conditions are improving.

How long will it take to make a real impact on health? It depends on what the health issues are.  Diseases caused by simple recessive gene mutations where DNA tests are available can be reduced in 2-5 years (as per our Dachshund cord1 PRA example).  With conditions caused by multiple or complex genetic and environmental factors, improvement is going to be much slower. Health issues caused by conformational exaggerations, or extremes, are likely to be even more difficult to address and that’s why we need to keep working at education of breeders and judges.

So, is the Karlton Index just ’smoke and mirrors’; the appearance of improvement, but in reality no health improvement?  Absolutely not!  You can’t have health improvement without putting in place the enablers. Fact.

Those breeds with health issues need support and resources to implement the KI enablers that are relevant to them. Without these, there will be no real impact on health improvement.  The following well-known cartoon sums it up nicely for me…


So, I actually see the KarltonIndex not as “smoke and mirrors”, but “mapping a journey”.  It’s certainly not a competition.  In a way, I would be pleased to see Dachshunds being knocked off the KI top spot this year because that would encourage us to learn even more from other breeds.  There are many other breeds that are doing great work to move themselves along on their health improvement journeys.  Of course, there are no doubt plenty of breeds who will know that they have no health issues whatsoever and therefore the KI will be completely irrelevant to them because they don’t need to map a journey!

A final thought. Those of us privileged to be in leadership positions in Breed Clubs willingly devote our time, not to get a high score in the KarltonIndex, but to make a difference to the health of our breeds.






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