I wrote previously about the value of the KC’s Genetics and Diversity reports which were published in September 2015. By way of summary, these tell us, for each breed:
- Annual trends in KC Registrations, which clearly highlight the diminishing popularity of some breeds (e.g. Cavaliers, Smooth Dachshunds) and the scary increase in popularity of others (e.g. French Bulldogs, Pugs, Mini Smooth Dachshunds)
- The Effective Population Size (EPS) – a measure of how many unique animals are in the breeding population (and nothing to do with how many dogs are being registered)
- Trends in the Coefficient of Inbreeding (COI)
- Use of so-called Popular Sires, which typically results in a loss of genetic diversity in a breed
Each report includes data on 25 years of registrations and, taken in the round, rather than cherry-picking individual elements of the data, provides a unique insight into the current situation faced by each breed.
In this article, I want to reflect on how these reports might be used and who should be using them.
For successful, sustainable, change (read “improvement” and “breed conservation”), there are five requirements:
- Pressure for change – does anyone recognise the vulnerability of a particular breed?
- Vision for change – do people have an idea of what “good” would look like?
- Capacity for change – are enough people in the breed prepared to invest time and effort for the benefit of the breed (even if it is at the expense of their personal ambitions)?
- Actionable first steps – do people know what actions they can actually take, that will make a difference?
- Reinforcement and recognition – how will success be identified and built upon, to drive more of the desired behaviours?
Is your breed “vulnerable”?
One of the great things about the KC diversity reports is that they give us a potential framework to assess breed vulnerability, using the various parameters investigated. Here’s an example; note that the criteria are for illustration only and would need to be more fully developed in collaboration with population geneticists.
|Registration Trend||COI (Current Mean)||COI Trend||EPS||Popular Sire Use|
|Declining (>25 p.a.)||>25%||Increasing||0-25||Extensive; increasing|
|Declining (5-24 p.a.)||12-24%||Static||26-50||Extensive; static|
|Increasing (5-24 p.a.)||2-5%||76-100||Moderate; increasing|
|Increasing (>25 p.a.)||0-1%||>100||Moderate; static|
What would good look like?
The answer to this depends, to some extent, on where your breed is starting from. If you have declining registrations, an adverse trend in COI and extensive use of Popular Sires, your desired end-state is likely to be quite different to a breed that is growing in popularity.
Using the “vulnerability grid”, you could make some decisions on what is necessary and potentially achievable for your breed. You might need to put some brakes on the use of Popular Sires, or find ways to introduce more dogs into the breeding population (remember my article on “pet power”).
Does anyone want to address your breed’s challenges?
Breed conservation can only be tackled by collaboration between breeders initially, and then by action taken by individual breeders. There needs to be a consensus on the answers to the first two questions (above). Different breeds might reach this consensus in different ways. Some have active Breed Councils, Health Committees and Breed Health Coordinators; others hold regular breed conferences and seminars. A review of the diversity data needs to get on the agenda at an appropriate forum where it can be discussed and prioritised.
What actions can actually be taken?
The KC’s website has a page devoted to “managing inbreeding and genetic diversity”. There aren’t that many “levers that can be pulled” to influence genetic diversity. The columns in the table below show the main approaches available, with rows showing some of the available options (which range from the “denial” options to the “nuclear” ones!):
|Manage Popular Sires||Use COIs before Breeding||Use Clinical Health Tests||Use DNA Tests||Use Sub- populations||Use a different breed|
|Don’t restrict use||Don’t consider litter COI||Don’t carry out health tests||Don’t carry out DNA tests||Inbreed to a line/ family||Don’t outcross to another breed|
|Provide guidance only||Breed above COI average||Ignore health test results||Don’t breed from Affected dogs||Breed to other lines||Outcross to another variety of the same breed|
|Recommend limits for use||Breed below COI average||Take health tests results into consideration||Don’t breed from Carrier dogs||Breed to dogs from another discipline (e.g. working)||Outcross to a different breed|
|Set rules for use||Only breed from Clear dogs||Breed to an imported dog|
|Only mate Affecteds/ Carriers to Clears|
Some of these are options that can be influenced or regulated by the KC and Breed Clubs, while others are choices available to individual breeders.
Unless breeders wake up to the implications of the past 25 years’ breeding strategies as demonstrated by the KC’s reports, we will see the inevitable consequences of Darwinism in action. Some breeds are already defined as “vulnerable”; the KC reports highlight others that really ought to be implementing conservation programmes. If we were looking at Pandas, Rhinos or Tigers there would be worldwide conservation programmes in place and global cooperation. Breeds such as the Otterhounds have already recognised this risk and are trying to do something about it.
How do we reinforce the right choices?
It seems unlikely that any type of “regulation” of breeding practices along the lines recommended by the FCI would be acceptable to, or popular with, UK breeders in most breeds. Whether any degree of self-regulation is likely to happen, I doubt. I fear that the desire to use the latest, greatest, import or top-winning dog and an obsession with winning in the show-ring will outweigh any considerations for the future viability of most breeds.
We are going to have to “nudge” people in the right direction by making the consequences of “good” and “bad” choices more visible. How about:
- Including COI data on KC pedigrees and puppy registration documents
- COI data for each litter listed in the Breed Records Supplement
- ABS accolades for litters bred below the breed median COI, rather than number of litters bred
- Annual reports of Popular Sire usage in the Breed Records Supplement – no. of puppies sired and average litter COI
- Annual reports of EPS and COI changes
- Annual awards for breeds/clubs/breeders making the most improvement in improving genetic diversity (some new categories in the Pawscars or the dog press “Top …”?)
- Eliminating Control Schemes that reduce genetic diversity by preventing breeders from registering puppies unless they are from DNA Clear parents
It’s not the KC’s responsibility to make change happen; they have provided the data and can influence the direction of change, but it’s down to breed club communities and individual breeders to act now for the benefit of their breed.
We would like to thank everyone who has been so kind and generous in congratulating us on Foxy’s third and crowning CC, which he won at WELKS 2016. Subject to KC confirmation, Foxy is now Champion Zlowfox Av Larhjelm at Sunsong (Imp. Nor.).
Foxy won all three CCs under Breed Specialists; Di Moate, John Bennett and Jason Hunt. His 3 Reserve CCs were won under all-rounder judges. Thank you to all of them for thinking so highly of Foxy.
Special thanks also go to two wonderful friends: Carolyn Davies who introduced us to Foxy’s breeder and, of course, Lars Hjelmtvedt for allowing us to have Foxy. We chose him from a photograph at just 8 weeks old and it was obvious then that he was going to be a stunning dog.
Not only is Foxy a success in the show ring, but he’s a lovely dog to live with; probably one of the best we’ve owned. He has a laid-back temperament and loves his walks and his cuddles.
Today, the Afghan Hound Association held its “Hounds R Us” Seminar at Chieveley, Berkshire and around 50 people enjoyed an action-packed and varied day of hound education.
Susan Rhodes welcomed everyone and immediately handed over to the first speaker, Pat Sutton, who had the challenge of explaining “scent over sight” in 15 minutes. Pat talked about the difference between ground-scenting and air-scenting hounds and ended up focusing on the Beagle. She told us they worked primarily with their heads held up, scenting the air, unlike Bloodhounds and Bassets who keep their noses to the ground. As Beagles need to be able to be out working all day, they require good angulation to give them a long stride, together with a good nose and a “big brain” to process all the information from their noses.
Viv Phillips was the second speaker and she introduced us to the Grand and Petit Basset Griffon Vendeen which are both scent hounds. They are built to be able to work in rough terrain, hence the coats and are meant to “give tongue” when on the trail. This was a term which some were unfamiliar with, so Viv had to explain the loud shreeking noise they make (and which most of us Dachshund owners are all too aware of). These breeds use their noses all the time and work with their heads in the air. They need good feet, with firm pads to be able to work in Winter over snowy ground. They also have a role to drive prey back to the hunter to shoot. GBGV were described as very fast runners who could easily out-run a pack of Foxhounds. Amusingly, like Dachshunds, they are a breed that you usually have to wait for patiently, in the hope that they will come back and find you, which they invariably do in their own good time.
I was the third speaker and talked about the diverse range of functions which Dachshunds are able to perform; covering den hunting (underground), searching and trailing, keeping at bay and retrieving. I discussed the two extremes of their function; working underground and working above ground, both of which lead to very specific conformational requirements. Much of a Dachshund’s function is determined by its front construction; a well-angulated front allows the legs to fold and permit the dog to crawl when underground, as well as dig. Above ground, a well-angulated front enables the Dachshund to reach far forward and push well back when covering the ground. A dog with straight shoulders and short upper arm will be less capable of covering distance unless it uses more energy, compared with a well-angulated dog. Good ground clearance is also essential and the current Breed Standard does not call for a dog that is “Long, Low and Level”.
Claire Boggia spoke about the Greyhound, one of the oldest known UK breeds which was even mentioned by Homer and in the Bible. She explained it is a dog bred to chase and the power for its short extreme bursts of speed come from the rear quarters. Claire said they don’t work with their heads held up, so the practice of “stringing them up” in the show ring is completely counter to their way of working. She showed a great video clip of a dog in action which illustrated what happens to the topline and legs, in motion.
Jean Clare took us through the function of the Borzoi and carefully explained its topline which is very roached when in full flight. She showed some pictures to illustrate how the breed had not changed significantly over the past 100 years and emphasised the need for exaggerations to be avoided in the show-ring.
Finally, Susan Rhodes shared her views of the Afghan and focused, in particular, on the topline and hind quarters. This is a breed that requires good feet and agile pasterns which act as the suspension for it to maintain an easy trot for miles, over sandy ground and up into snowy foothills. A couple of pictures of dogs from Afghanistan illustrated variations in type, but were not markedly different from many of today’s UK dogs (other than in presentation, of course). She ended with a video showing two Afghans chasing each other in a garden, emphasising their speed and agility.
After lunch there were opportunities for people to participate in a variety of classes where aspiring judges could get their hands on the various different hound breeds.
All in all, this was a busy day with lots of learning for everyone. Congratulations to the AHA for such a great day and for all their hard work (and good catering too!).
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More than 4500 people have visited and viewed my April Fool’s Day blog post about “revisions” to the Dachshund Breed Standard! That’s a record for my blog.
The post was shared widely on Facebook and generated lots of comments, as well as making a lot of people smile. A few people were about to combust spontaneously until they realised what the date was. Apparently, a fair few of the proposed revisions were close to the reality of what some judges already think is correct.
For the avoidance of doubt, the Dachshund Breed Standard is unchanged and can be read here.