Reflections on judging Dachshunds in Denmark

I was privileged to be invited to judge Longhaired and Wirehaired Dachshunds at the Danish Dachshund Club’s (DGK) regional championship show in Silkeborg on May 19th. The club had invited 3 judges, Charlotte Jacobsson and Jill Rhodin from Sweden, plus me. There were two, back-to-back, shows; one in the morning and one in the afternoon and the day ended with a combined series of Best is Show challenges.

The venue was a park beside the river and the Committee had created 3 large, well-mown, grass rings so there was plenty of space to see the dogs moving. There is no wet-weather accommodation like we would normally have in the UK, so exhibitors and judges have to prepare for all eventualities. On the day, we had sunshine and in the early afternoon the biggest issue for the dogs was the heat and lack of shade, particularly in my Wire ring. I think, for that reason, some dogs were not able to show to their best advantage and it was a long day for the younger dogs who were in the ring late in the afternoon.

There are well-known differences between the FCI Breed Standard and ours in the UK; the main one being the length:height proportions. The FCI requires 1.7-1.8 to 1, whereas we allow for a slightly longer body at 2 to 1. Additionally, the FCI standard specifies the body depth and ground clearance, with a requirement for one third ground clearance and two-thirds keel to withers. Our standard simply asks for “enough ground clearance to allow free movement” and this is usually interpreted as one quarter.

Under the FCI, there are 3 sizes of Dachshund: normal, miniature and kaninchen although the terms do vary from country to country. Instead of assessing them by weight, they are defined by chest circumference. At the start of the day, exhibitors had an opportunity to have their dogs measured to ensure they were in the correct size classification. In fact, nobody needed this to be done and once dogs are over 15 months, their size has been agreed to confirm where they should be entered. In the UK, the challenge for Miniature Dachshund exhibitors is to breed a dog that fits the ideal weight of 10 pounds (4.5kg) and ideally does not exceed the desired maximum of 11 pounds (5kg). While UK judges at most shows are able to use scales to weigh the Minis, this is simply a guide and being over 11 pounds cannot be used to disqualify a dog. The UK weighing system does make it more challenging for breeders of Minis because breeders of standards don’t have to ensure their dogs are in the ideal weight band of 20-26 pounds (9-12kg). We have therefore seen the development of very big (too big) standards who may look impressive but are a long way from the working origins of the breed. I think that, with measuring, the danger is that breeders could end up aiming for a more “tubular” shape rather than the desired oval front. Having said that, my view of the dogs exhibited in Denmark was that they mostly did have a good oval ribcage and adequate depth of chest. The requirement to measure combined with the FCI ground clearance guide also helps to avoid the grossly exaggerated depth of chest and short legs we see on some UK Dachshunds.

In most of the classes at Silkeborg, the dogs would not have looked out of place at a UK show and could easily have taken top honours. In the Longhaired classes, the more compact body proportions and good ground clearance meant the dogs looked very much in balance and able to move freely. Their coats were also more moderate than many in the UK and I presume this is because, to win top honours as a champion, the dogs also have to achieve a working qualification. Any dog with excessive coat and feathering simply wouldn’t be fit for that all-weather function.

In the Wires, I am well-used to looking at Scandinavian-type dogs as we have 3 Norwegian imports at home. Therefore, it was a pleasure to see classes filled with dogs with relatively consistent proportions and type. There was certainly more uniformity of type than we see here in both Standard and Miniature Wires. Coats on the Wires were, like the Longs, almost universally good with harsh double coats and very few that were soft or profuse. I assume that the interest in working these dogs means breeders won’t tolerate incorrect coats.

I felt the Kaninchen dogs were perhaps the most difficult sized variety to find the same quality as in the normal and miniature sizes.

The structure of classes at the show is slightly different to here in the UK and each dog is graded. Baby puppy classes for dogs between 3 and 6 months are scheduled and these dogs can be awarded “Very promising” or “Promising” or “Less promising” grades. Puppy classes are for dogs aged 6-9 months, again with 3 gradings of promising. For older dogs there were Junior, Open, Working, Champion and Veteran classes.

I was required to give an Open Critique on each dog. This means verbally critiquing each dog as you go over it on the table and while watching it move. A ring secretary captured the critique on a tablet and I was very impressed with my secretary’s ability to do this, in real-time, in English. As soon as the judge has graded the dog, the critique is available online at the Danish KC website and the exhibitor gets a text messeage with their dog’s critique. It does mean the judge has to use short sentences and allow the secretary time to capture your words. I found this to be a really interesting experience; it is literally going over the dog from head to tail and describing what you see and feel. Exhibitors fully expect the judge to describe virtues and faults and take both with good grace. This process would certainly weed out some of our judges whose critiques say little more than “nice head and eye; moved well”. It is also something that I feel would have merit when training our judges; for them to give a verbal critique while going over a dog in a hands-on session at a breed seminar.

Having gone over and critiqued each dog on the table, the judge watches them move and you continue the verbal critique of movement. When the exhibitor has finished moving the dog, the judge grades the dog (Excellent, Very Good, Good or Sufficient). Additionally, being a championship show, the judge can choose to award the Excellent dogs a “CK” which signifies it is of champion quality. These CK dogs then compete for the CAC (equivalent to our Challenge Certificate).

Prior to judging in Denmark, I had read the WUT explanatory description of the FCI Dachshund Standard which gives guidance on what “Excellent” should mean. If you take the document at face value, I fear that very few dogs would be able to be graded as Excellent. In practice, I understand that most dogs are graded Excellent or Very Good and it is the CK award that separates the dogs which the judge feels are truly worthy of Champion status. Unlike in the UK, it means you can end up with more than one dog from each class able to challenge for the CAC. There are further factors which determine which dogs are eligible for the CAC and exhibitors are expected to let the ring steward know their dog’s eligibility. It’s certainly a more onerous task being a steward under FCI rules and I can understand how much training is required.

I had a selection of beautiful Dachshunds to judge and was very pleased with my top winners. They moved freely, with lovely outlines, and covered the ground with forward reach and good rear drive. They were of a good size for their variety, with super coats and extrovert temperaments. Most would not have looked out of place here in the UK and many would be capable of taking a Challenge Certificate.

I ended the day judging some of the Best in Show challenges, awarding top honours to the Juniors, Champions, Veterans and Working Class winners of each variety. These are awarded in reverse order; 4th, 3rd, 2nd and 1st. My final judging task was to select the Jutland Regional Winners and I had 14 dogs to go over and assess. I had to place these dogs in order from 14th through to 1st! This was difficult and felt quite hard on the lower placed dogs because all of them were clearly quality dogs that had won well previously. Nevertheless, it had to be done and it certainly forces you, as a judge, to be very clear about what qualities you really value. For me, correct movement coming and going, plus holding a good topline with forward reach and rear drive in profile was what set apart my clear winners. I am very grateful to all the owners for bringing their lovely dogs and allowing me to judge them.

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My “Best of Health” article for May 2018 – A review of worldwide KC breeding policies

Best of HealthThis month saw the publication of a paper in the Veterinary Journal titled “Breeding policies and management of pedigree dogs in 15 national kennel clubs”. The authors include Dr Tom Lewis from our Kennel Club.

The authors investigated approaches being adopted by Kennel Clubs internationally and what they see as high priority issues. They issued a questionnaire to 40 KCs and received responses from 15, 11 in Europe and 4 elsewhere (Australia, Mexico, Uruguay, and the USA). The European responses were from Austria, Belgium, Denmark, France, Germany, Ireland, Latvia, The Netherlands, Norway, Sweden and the UK. Also among the authors were Sofia Malm and Gregoire Leroy who I met at the IPFD’s 3rd International Dog Health Workshop last year. They were facilitating the workstream on Breeding Strategies and Gregoire blogs regularly on the IPFD website (dogwellnet.com).

We know in the UK that our KC believes it registers around 35% of pedigree dogs which leaves a large number of breeders and dogs that fall outside its direct influence. I suspect that, historically, the KC and most breed clubs have taken the view that they can only influence dog owners among the registered population. Given the high percentage of unregistered dogs, the question therefore arises: who is looking after their interests? Certainly, in the Dachshunds, with our Pet Advisors among our Health Committee and Breed Clubs who are proactive on Dachshund Facebook Groups, we have taken the view that we need to help ALL Dachshund owners and potential owners. The dogs don’t know or care whether they are KC registered and if we can provide advice to all owners, that has to be a good thing.

The survey results from the 15 countries showed a range from less than 1% to 78% of dogs registered by their KC. The Nordic countries, in general, had a higher proportion of their pedigree dogs registered by their KCs but it’s worth remembering that the total dog population sizes in these countries are relatively small compared with say the UK and USA. The lowest proportions registered were in India, Nicaragua, the Dominican Republic and Hong Kong. The highest were in Finland, Sweden, Iceland and New Zealand. Our KC reported a figure of 35%.

One size does not fit all

When I wrote about the discussions at last year’s IDHW, I specifically commented on the international and cultural aspects that can significantly influence the choice of approach that will work for a Breed Health Strategy and the likely compliance from breeders and owners. This latest paper reinforces those comments. It is clear that what might work in the Nordic countries with smaller pedigree dog populations and a high compliance among breeders, is almost certainly not going to work in the UK, USA or Australia. That’s not to say we can’t learn from each other but a simple “cut and paste” solution that assumes “one size fits all” is doomed to fail. Each Kennel Club and each Breed Club needs to understand not only their specific challenges and priorities but also the context within which they are operating.

The paper goes on to discuss the different issues each of the KCs prioritised. It should be no surprise that exaggerated morphological features and inherited disorders ranked as the most important issues. It has been obvious for at least the past decade that these issues are significant and are not going to go away. The evidence that some breeds need serious action is overwhelming and anyone still calling for more data is, in my view, simply in denial. In the UK, we have seen the formation of the Brachycephalic Working Group whose report and action plan was published last year. To me, this seems like a model for collaboration and practical steps that the diverse range of interested parties (stakeholders!) can sign up to.Our KC ranked issues in the following order (most important, first): exaggerated morphological features, inbreeding and genetic variability, inherited disorders, puppy farming, legislative constraints to breeding, dog behaviour and economic constraints to breeding.

Health and breeding recommendations

Individual Kennel Clubs’ responses to these issues are also discussed and we can see how widely adopted different approaches are and the proportion of breeds these cover. “Health recommendations prior to breeding were provided for more than half of the breeds in 11 countries, health status for breeding was required in 10 countries, and the maximum numbers of litters or/and puppies produced by a single dog were restricted in seven countries. Three countries indicated they do not have any specific restrictions on choosing mating partners, while another three countries reported that specific restrictions on choosing mating partners were implemented for all breeds.” Only 1 of the responding KCs said they have no health recommendations in place prior to breeding. It’s not possible to tell from the paper or its supplementary data which countries place restrictions on choosing mating partners or the limits on puppies produced by a single dog (so-called Popular Sires). Similarly, we don’t know how compliant breeders are where these rules exist or their impact on dog health or genetic diversity.

Austria, Sweden and The Netherlands have breeding strategies covering all of their breeds. Five countries reported that they provide Coefficient of Inbreeding information online for 100% of their breeds (presumably that includes our KC via MateSelect). Three countries provide online advice mating tools for all of their breeds. The paper says that our KC provides EBV data on Hip and Elbow Dysplasia for 28 breeds (Sweden does this for 42 breeds). What’s interesting here is that there is a wealth of expertise available around the world and there should be many lessons learnt that can be applied to help KCs catch up, where they need to. I’m sure some of those lessons learnt would relate to the design and implementation of software solutions, as we often read about how easy or difficult it can be to navigate and find health or pedigree information in different countries. Applying those lessons learnt won’t necessarily be easy, particularly when KCs have legacy IT systems that really weren’t designed to meet the needs of today’s breeders or to cope with the newly emerging data and breeding tools.

Learning from each other

One of the other analyses was the pairing of countries with similar question response profiles. Our KC was most similar to the Danish KC and, perhaps surprisingly, France and the USA were paired. Uruguay/Mexico were also paired, as were Austria/Germany. There is potential for cooperation between these pairs of countries because of their similar responses. However, they might actually find equally useful insights by looking at countries with whom they have little similarity. Apparently, the French KC has already benefited from learning about our Mate Select system to develop their online database.

My main takeaways from this paper are (a) that the issues facing Kennel Clubs and breeders of pedigree dogs around the world have a lot in common and (b) that, by taking an international perspective, there is huge potential for more joined-up solutions to be developed. Solutions will necessarily cover access to and sharing of information on pedigrees, health conditions and test/screening programmes. In terms of creating real change and breed health improvement, I think the key will be the development of Breed-specific Improvement Strategies (Breed Health & Conservation Plans in the UK). Sharing these documents internationally could prove to be a critical success factor in accelerating the rate of improvement in dog health, particularly if we are able to learn what works and what doesn’t in different countries and cultures. Readers will not be surprised, therefore, to see me conclude that I believe the International Partnership for Dogs has a major role to play over the next decade.

What is it they say about “statistics”? – my April 2018 “Best of Health” article

There seem to be endless discussions about the evidence for or against the prevalence of health conditions in specific breeds of pedigree dogs. The “front line” of these battles over data has been among the Brachycephalic breeds in the past 12 months. Numerous other breeds crop up for debate with a predictable regularity (GSDs, Cavaliers, Dachshunds, BMD, Flatcoats – the list goes on).

To use that dreadful cliche, “at the end of the day”, there is no single RIGHT answer for the prevalence of any given condition, or conditions, in each breed. The published answers are very dependent on who is doing the research, what their objectives were, how they designed the study, what dogs were used as sources of data and, finally, how the data was analysed and presented.

This month, I want to focus on that latter aspect; how the data was “manipulated” and presented. However, with an eye on unanticipated consequences, please don’t use this article as a checklist of ways to spin your data. It would be better viewed as a starting point for being curious (sceptical?) about studies that are being published and data that is being presented.

What answer would you like?

Cherry-picking is probably the easiest way to spin data; simply select the results that support your case and ignore the rest. It is not unusual for research studies to come up with different answers to previously published material. For example, Packer et al (2012) studied the relationship between body length and back disease (IVDD) and concluded that the longer and lower the dog, the higher the odds of it having IVDD. That clearly plays to an agenda that links exaggerated conformation to health issues. A subsequent analysis of a much larger dataset collected by the Dachshund Breed Council also published by Packer et al (2015) did not reproduce those findings. It would be wrong to cherry-pick the latter study as a way of justifying exaggerated conformation (particularly when our Breed Standard calls for moderation in body length and asks for sufficient ground clearance).

The Cobra Effect occurs when an incentive produces the opposite result to the one intended (also known as “perverse incentive”). A classic example here would be the decision to publish the results of a screening programme to showcase dogs with, for example, good hips and to show an overall improvement in scores over time. If owners choose only to submit “good” scores for publication, the published results will give a false impression of the state of the breed.

False causality occurs when you assume that if 2 events occur together, one has caused the other. There is, for example, data that suggests Pugs with a higher Body Condition Score tend to have a higher risk of BOAS. It might be unwise to conclude that “being overweight causes BOAS”. It may be more appropriate to suggest that there is an association between being overweight and BOAS, and therefore good husbandry advice to owners would be to keep their dogs at an ideal body condition score. Having said that, we know that being overweight is generally unhealthy and leads to all sorts of adverse health outcomes!

Don’t be surprised by contradictory results

Sampling bias is a great argument for anyone who wants to challenge a set of results. In its purest sense, it means that the sample chosen is unrepresentative of the general population. For most canine studies, the reality is that particular sampling frames were chosen either deliberately or by default and the results will inevitably reflect that decision. The sample frame might be “pet dogs”, “show dogs”, “dogs seen at first opinion vets”, “dogs seen at referral practices” and so on. That’s one reason why it is perfectly possible for apparently contradictory results to be obtained.

There are other aspects of sampling bias which can affect the results obtained in a survey or research exercise. There may be Area Bias which means the geographic origin of the sample is not representative of the whole population. For example, our 2015 Dachshund Health survey includes data on about 90 Australian Dachshunds. This group has a high prevalence of skin conditions compared with UK dogs and this is likely to be an area bias related to climate and environment.

Self-selection bias is perhaps one of the most used “excuses” for results being challenged. The argument is usually along the lines of “people whose dogs have been ill are more likely to respond” or “you can’t rely on show people to report honestly, if at all”. Both of these might be true and would lead to biased samples and results.

Social desirability bias occurs when people don’t want to admit to doing something that is perceived to be socially undesirable or, in the case of their dogs, is undesirable for the dog. Typically, owner-reported estimates of a dog’s body condition underestimates the degree to which dogs are overweight and the amount they are fed. Similarly, owners may report an overestimate of the amount of exercise their dog gets; e.g. 40 minutes is rounded-up and reported as “an hour”.

Of course, adding in a sampling bias to your data collection is an important consideration if you want to lie or mislead with your study results!

Averages can hide a multitude of sins

Finally, the use of Summary Statistics can be misleading. Calculating an Arithmetic Mean (average) may hide a large amount of variation and/or multiple causes of that variation. Dachshunds are generally considered to be a long-lived breed and were used as one of the breeds in a recent GWAS project comparing the genomes of long and short-lived breeds. A look at the age of death (AoD) histogram for the breed shows a Mean AoD of 9 years but this is skewed by the number of deaths due to IVDD. On average, these IVDD dogs die at 6, whereas all other causes of death occur at an average age of 10.

Age_of_death_2010-12.png

The most worrying misuse of summary statistics I have come across is the choice of the denominator in the calculation of the mean. Say, for example, a large multi-breed population survey of 1,000,000 dogs explores a health condition which is known to be prevalent in particular breeds. The prevalence in the total population might be just 1% (10,000 dogs). If there are 20,000 examples of one breed and, of those, 1000 have the condition, it would be misleading to say the prevalence was 0.1% “among dogs”. The most meaningful calculation is to report that the prevalence is 5% “in that breed” or that it is 50 times more common in that breed than in dogs on average in the sample population of 1 million. We need to understand whether health conditions should be addressed at the level of dogs in general, or if they are breed-specific. Both types of issue exist and masking breed-specific issues by reporting population prevalence is simply avoidance and denial.

So, next time somebody shares some statistical analysis with you, approach it with curiosity and try to figure out if they have some ulterior motive to manipulate your opinion. It might just be their lies, damned lies and statistics (to quote Disraeli).

This article was inspired by “Data fallacies to avoid” published at http://www.datasciencecentral.com

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Almond’s puppies are 7 weeks old – latest photos

Hard to believe the pups will start going to their new homes in a week’s time. They’ve had lots of visitors over the past few weeks and all seem pretty chilled about life. They’re off to the vets for microchips on Thursday. Very well-behaved puppies and very good about going outside to toilet. Pity the weather’s been so bad and they’ve not been able to spend more time playing outside.

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KC launches Critique-writing App

In a surprise announcement and following hot on the heels of the new KC Academy course on critique-writing, we understand that an App is also to be launched on 1st April. This will enable judges to auto-generate critiques and submit them automatically to the dog press.

The Press Release says:

Following the KC’s downstream reorganisation and adoption of a cloud technology platform we have grasped the opportunity to develop an innovative app for judges. The app draws on a vast database of historical critiques and uses these as the basis for generating a new critique.

Once the app has been downloaded to the judge’s smartphone, they simply select the breed and, for each class, choose the age, sex and colour of the winning dogs. The judge will then select an overall quality grading (Excellent, Very Good, Good or Average) and the app will auto-generate the critique. This has the added benefit that all critiques will now be punctuated correctly and will be free from spelling errors. No longer will we see CCs incorrectly punctuated as CC’s or conformation mistakenly written as confirmation.  

There will be 2 versions of the app; a free version which will include sponsors’ adverts and a paid-for version in which users can turn off advertisements. The paid version will have additional levels of functionality and choice for judges so they can select elements of the Breed Standard and apply the grading to clauses they wish to include in the critique. Judges could, therefore, focus on head, coat, movement or temperament, for example, in their critique.

The database of critique elements has been through a rigorous Quality Assurance process in order to weed-out meaningless phrases currently used by lazy and incompetent judges. This will ensure critiques exclude:

  • Nice head and eye
  • Lovely colour
  • Moved well
  • Well-handled
  • Unlucky to meet x on the day
  • What more can be said about this top-winning dog

A spokesperson for the KC said: “It is within a bandwidth of reasonable expectation that all judges should download and make use of this app. We need to drag judges into the 20th Century; the use of quill pens and parchment is no longer good enough for critique-writing.

“We also see this as an opportunity to generate some upside revenue with in-app purchases and sponsored adverts. These adverts need not necessarily be just from commercial vendors; we expect exhibitors will also wish to advertise their top-winning dogs so that judges can see these dogs and what they have won, prior to actually judging them.

“The design of the app has been future-proofed. Eventually, entry details will be available in the app so that judges can select their winners and email the results and critique directly to exhibitors without the need for anyone to travel to a show.

“Further apps are planned and include one for KC members which will allow them to order their drinks and lunch from the comfort of their home, before travelling to Clarges Street. At some point, a home delivery service will also be available so that members don’t even need to travel to London. This will free-up space in the dining room, effectively increasing capacity.”

To download the app, search for DogCrApp in the Apple Store or Google Play Store. As a Special Offer, the paid-for version of the Critique-writing app will be available FREE on the morning of April 1st 2018.

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