Opal’s puppies are 4 weeks old – here are the latest pictures

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Opal’s puppies are 3 weeks old

The pups now weigh between 2 and 3 pounds. The “big boy” keeps getting bigger and they are all happily eating solid food now. They were all wormed for the first time during this past week and, today, we’ve moved their pen into the kitchen. They can now start to experience the sights and sounds of day-to-day life and the other dogs can get used to having them around.

Enjoy the latest pictures.

Battle of the Sexes in the show ring – new research from Australia

A recently published paper has investigated dog show results in Australia and examined the success rates of dogs and bitches at Best of Breed (BOB) and Best in Group (BIG) competitions. Given that the proportions of dogs and bitches at these shows was roughly 50-50, the findings were that males were more likely to take top honours than females.

The paper is “Battle of the sexes in Best of Breed: Sex influences dogs’ success in the show ring” by Wilson, Kaasbarian, Dhand and McGreevy. It is an Open Access paper, available here:

https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/30567298

The study looked at Toy and Giant breeds to see if there were any differences at either end of the size spectrum. The breeds included were: Bullmastiff, Great Dane, Rottweiler, Central Asian Shepherd Dog, Bloodhound and Komondor, representing the larger breeds, and Min. Schnauzer, Pug, Toy Poodle, Smooth Fox Terrier, Norwich Terrier and Norfolk Terrier representing the small breeds.

Among the exhibits included in the results from 18 shows, 48.4% were males and 51.6% were females. The researchers assumed that there would be no reason for there to be more dogs than bitches entered and tested this statistically. (For the nerds, the Chi Squared test showed the actual proportions of males and females was no different to the expected 50:50 split) This is rather different to what I would have expected as, in the Dachshunds, we are used to having larger bitch entries than dog entries.

BOB Winners

Despite the similar proportion of males and females entered, male dogs were significantly more likely to be represented in the Best of Breed winners. Of the 137 BOB awards, 62.8% went to males (41 dogs) and 37.2% went to females (32 bitches). This was a statistically significant difference.

In the Toy breeds, 65.5% of BOBs were won by males and among the giant breeds, 58.5% of BOBs went to male dogs. In the case of the giant breeds, this was not quite statistically significant (p=0.078).

The researchers also separated out the more popular breeds and found that 59.6% of males won BOB and, again, this was statistically significant.

Group Winners

Among the 12 breeds at the 18 shows, there were 19 Best in Group or Reserve Best in Group winners: Pug (8), Rottweiler (1), Smooth Fox Terrier (7) and Great Dane (3). Of these 78.9% went to male dogs and 21.1% to bitches. Given that more BOB winners were males, it wouldn’t be surprising to find more male Group winners as well. However, the researchers corrected for this factor and found the male dominance at Group level was not statistically significant.

Why are there more male winners?

The researchers suggest 4 reasons why dogs might be more likely to be top winners than bitches and they also suggest ways on which these could be tested.

Reason 1: the wording of Breed Standards could offer an advantage to males and judges might be using this to select, preferentially, males. I don’t know much about other breed Standards but my reading of the Dachshund Breed Standard is that it is pretty much “gender neutral”.

Reason 2: Judges might have a preference for males, perhaps because they are, typically, bigger and more impressive. The fact that bitches might be more likely to be “out of coats” as a result of a season, may also be a factor.

Reason 3: The fact that males are stood in front of females in the BOB challenge might subconsciously bias a judge’s choice. They may simply be more likely to pick the dog at the front of the line.

Reason 4: Breeders might not be showing their “best” bitches. This seems rather unlikely!

Does any of this matter?

The authors say that their findings indicate a need for further exploration of this topic and its implications for breeding practices. Interestingly, they suggest that favouring males in the show ring might weaken the so-called Popular Sire effect by creating a larger pool of potential top-winning stud dogs than might be the case if there was a more even balance of BOB titles between the sexes. It is certainly an interesting observation that this male show-bias might also influence breeding-bias and selection pressures in breeding programmes.

It does seem likely that this bias towards males in the show ring could influence breeders’ thinking about what the ideal type might be within a breed. If that winning male type was sufficiently different from that of females, this might mean breeders narrow their choices of types of females to breed with.

If you own a bitch and aspire to get into the Group competition, this analysis suggests you’ve got a harder job than exhibitors of male dogs. Is there a “glass ceiling” for bitches and is it associated with unconscious biases of the judges? The study tells us nothing about the sex of the judges or the dogs’ handlers and that would have been another interesting dimension to investigate.

Finally, we must remember this study was done in Australia and a similar study in the UK might come up with completely different results. No doubt, my UK readers will have their own views depending on experiences in their own breeds.

Nevertheless, it’s an interesting paper that adds a further dimension of evidence that the show world can and does influence the overall direction a breed takes, be that for conformation, temperament or health.

An international approach to breed health improvement – “Best of Health” – January 2019

This year, the International Partnership for Dogs will be holding its 4th workshop. Our Kennel Club is hosting the event which will take place from 30th May to 1st June, near Windsor. The Kennel Club was a founding partner of the IPFD since its inception in 2014 and hosted the first ever meeting of the IPFD Board that same year. Kennel Club Secretary, Caroline Kisko, is the Vice Chairman of the IPFD and our KC also provides the secretariat for board meetings.

A major goal of the International Dog Health Workshops (IDHW) is to promote collaboration and networking. This begins with the reception on the Thursday evening and continues throughout the next 2 days. All attendees are expected to share expertise/experiences and to participate actively in discussions in breakout sessions.

I attended the 3rd IDHW in Paris in 2017 and was privileged to be invited to make a short presentation on our work in the Dachshund Breed Council to develop and implement a breed health strategy. I also took part in the breed-specific health strategies workshop and this year I have been asked to help with the design and facilitation of that part of the programme.

As with previous IDHWs, the majority of time is spent in interaction: limited plenary talks have been chosen to highlight Themes; most time is spent in smaller group breakout sessions.

There are 5 main themes being tackled this year:

1)   The concept of ‘Breed’ and how it influences health and welfare in dogs. How attitudes to the definition and understanding of breed affect actions for health; the history and future of outcrossing; public perception; conservation vs. development of breeds; the role/ influences of breed standards; judging for health/function not just appearance; experience in other species.

2)   Supply and Demand. The reality of sourcing – national vs. registered/pedigree populations; commercial breeding: the reality; new developments in health and welfare management; ‘rescues’ / marketing; the role of different stakeholders.

3)   Breed-Specific Health Strategies: By breed, nationally and internationally. Defining and sharing tools to support the work of breed clubs.

4)   Genetic Testing for Dogs: Selection, evaluation and application of genetic testing: building expert resources for genetic counselling / IPFD Harmonization of Genetic Testing for Dogs (HGTD) initiative; coordinating across stakeholder groups; latest developments in genetics and genomics.

5)   Exaggerations and Extremes in Dog Conformation:

a)   Health, welfare and breeding considerations; review of national and international efforts, on all fronts (consumers, show world, breeders, judges, vets, etc) since 2012 – what has been achieved?; brachycephalics; other existing and emerging issues; overcoming polarization and conflict, resolving science and emotion.

b)   Education and Communication – Past practices may not have achieved desired outcomes. What are tools and techniques to promote human behaviour change? What can we learn from other fields?

“In God we trust, everyone else must bring data” – Dr. Edwards Deming

In 2017, one of the themes was “Show me the numbers” and some people might wonder why this has been dropped for 2019. It was obvious from the discussions within that theme in 2017 that it was actually cross-cutting, meaning it was a key aspect running through all the other themes. So, we can take it as read that improvement in any of the themes on the 2019 agenda will have to be underpinned by the availability of good data and evidence.

The format of this year’s workshop is slightly different from 2017; there are 4 interactive plenary sessions taking up a large part of the agenda on 31st May. These include short presentations by renowned experts from around the world. Nick Blaney, who heads up our KC’s Dog Health Group is among the speakers.

All change please!

I’ll be particularly interested to hear the presentation by Suzanne Rogers who is a Director of a consultancy: Human Behaviour Change for Animals (HBCA). I’m pleased to see she will be speaking about communication to promote change. When I spoke in 2017, I started by saying that dog health improvement was not a scientific, veterinary or genetic problem. My view was (and still is) that dog health improvement is a continuous improvement and change management problem. It is something we have to work on continuously and we can expect to see incremental improvement (rather than step-change) only if people behave differently. By “people”, I mean owners, breeders, exhibitors, judges, vets and everyone who directly impacts on the dog system. That is why it’s a change management issue. It’s also no good each of those groups acting independently in their own silos without thinking about how they could be collaborating with others in the system. The Brachycephalic Working Group is one example where a multi-stakeholder approach has been taken in order to produce a plan that has a broad consensus of support. We’ve seen too many campaigns by individuals and groups that simply alienate the people who have the potential to make improvements happen. That is still happening and it feels like lessons aren’t being learnt. I therefore hope Suzanne will be able to bring some new thinking to this year’s workshop. The HBCA website lists 4 pillars for change: the process of change; the psychology of change; the environment for change; and ownership of change. The importance of these has, in my opinion, not been sufficiently well recognised, understood or addressed in many breed health improvement efforts.  

Breed-specific health strategies

At the 3rd IDHW, participants in this theme agreed that effective and sustainable implementation of health strategies requires innovative solutions to many different challenges. Provision of sufficient reliable information was agreed as critical, for both situational assessment as well as health screening and DNA testing of dogs. Considering the design of breed health strategies, the group agreed that it was important to identify and balance the major issues for each individual breed and give guidelines on how priorities could be determined for each, while still allowing breeders discretion to make their own decisions within an overall framework of requirements and recommendations.

The general conclusion was that there is no “one size fits all” solution for developing breed-specific health strategies and that the most effective interventions would need to be adapted according to the specific context of each breed, nationally and internationally.

This year, the activities for this theme will include:

  • Clarifying what we mean by a breed health strategy, by reference to currently available examples
  • Understanding the challenges facing breed clubs, such as how to get started with a breed strategy, how to maintain momentum and how to accelerate progress
  • The role of Kennel Clubs in the wider context (national and international), such as advocating for breeds, influencing legislation and providing resources for clubs and breeders
  • Identifying and sharing currently available resources and tools to address these issues
  • Identifying gaps in current capabilities (approaches, resources, tools) and how these might be addressed

It’s a lot of ground to cover in the 3 working sessions but, if 2017 is anything to go by, participants will bring a high level of knowledge and energy and leave with a clear sense of the priorities and tasks to be undertaken over the next 2 years.

You can find out more about IDHW4 here: https://doghealthworkshop2019.co.uk/

Opal’s puppies are 2 weeks old

The pups are 2 weeks old and have had their toenails clipped for the first time. They have all put on weight and the big dog is now 2 lbs.

Sadly, yesterday one of the bitches died so Opal has slightly less work to do with just 4 of them. The little girl had started looking a bit limp and wasn’t feeding. Despite the efforts of the vet to help her, she didn’t make it. The joy of puppies is sometimes tempered with such setbacks but, hopefully, the others will be fine now they’ve got through the first 2 weeks.

Anyway, enjoy the pictures!

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