We need experienced breeders

RECENTLY I spent the day amusing myself by watching some of the excellent videos produced by dogworld.tv. If you haven’t seen them yet, it really is worthwhile. They are fascinating to view and are of excellent quality. Even my painfully slow broadband speed managed to cope without encountering problems. The speed is capped at half a megabyte because I’m such a distance from the exchange so many of you may have a faster speed on your smart phones than I manage to get on my landline!

I was particularly enthralled by the interview featuring Andrew Brace with Bill Browne-Cole prior to Bill’s judging best in show at Blackpool last month. These knowledgeable and erudite ‘died in the wool’ dog men briefly discussed a number of topics, ranging from CC allocations, the judging system and breeding policies. I would so like to hear their opinions in more depth and hope this might be considered for the future.

One of the subjects touched on was line breeding. This has most certainly been very effective for Bill’s Travella kennel of Wire Fox Terriers.

For those who don’t know, his father - also Bill - started the kennel in the 1920’s and the success has continued on. It is possibly the most successful WFT kennel of the last two decades or more. Bill has an in-depth knowledge of his breed and this is the foundation of his success.

Last weekend, I had a visit from a very dear friend who is now in her late eighties. Yvonne Horrocks was a successful breeder of Irish and Gordon setters using the Carek affix. I have been in the very fortunate and privileged position of having her as my mentor and guide in all canine matters for a great number of years. She also has an in-depth knowledge of the breeds she holds so dear, so naturally much of our discussion during her visit concerned dogs!

Although I don’t have exhaustive knowledge of many breeds, I do firmly advocate the judicious use of line breeding. Breeders like Bill, Yvonne and many others know most if not all the dogs that appear in a pedigree for many generations. This doesn’t just mean they know the names written on a bit of paper but they actually have first hand knowledge of the dogs. By undertaking an honest assessment of the virtues, faults and any other information available about the dogs in the pedigree, they have an excellent foundation of knowledge from which they can make sound breeding decisions. This is the way it has been done for decades.

Just prior to Yvonne’s visit, we received a statement issued by the Irish Setter Breed Health Council giving the information that another form of late onset PRA (LOPRA) had been identified in Irish Setters. Breeders of Irish Setters have been at the forefront of rising to the challenge of inherited disease for many years and have worked very successfully with the Kennel Club and the Animal Health Trust in attempts to ensure the sound health of their breed.

Of course, we must all strive towards producing the healthiest pedigree dogs possible and this has definitely been the aim of Setter breeders. I use the more generic term of ‘setter breeders’ as I know the amount of hard work and heartbreak encountered by Gordon breeders after the discovery of LOPRA in recent years.

Both setter breeds are basically very healthy and it is devastating that each time a health hurdle appears to be overcome, another is discovered. The task faced by breeders is exasperated by further research indicating the incidence of carriers in both breeds is high - in Gordons over 50 per cent and initial estimates in Irish are 30-40 per cent.

The advice given by the AHT is: the mutation is recessive which means that all dogs can be bred from safely but carriers and genetically affected dogs should only be bred to DNA tested, clear dogs.

At the end of February and beginning of March there were some excellent articles by Prof Steve Dean writing in his ‘Vets Viewpoint’ column in Dog World. These outlined the breeding possibilities of dogs classified as carriers or affected in hereditary diseases caused by recessive genes.

He also said ‘Genetic science, the use of coefficients of inbreeding and estimated breeding values, can all play their part in choosing breeding stock but they are not the only tools available. We have eyes, hands, experience and knowledge to apply too and all of these factors should be used, for as we seek to avoid one problem we can so easily and unwittingly create another.’

DNA tests are wonderful tools and can be a great asset to any breed. However, we must all learn to use the tests correctly and never throw the baby out with the bath water. This is especially important when the incidence of carriers caused by recessive genes is high.

The DNA tests can give us answers about specific health concerns but we still need breeders with the in-depth knowledge of the breed to guide and help with our long term breeding plans or we risk losing everything it has taken decades to achieve.

I would also like to add how sorry I was to hear about the death of Dr Malcolm Willis. He was another true dog man, always available to help and advice. Over the years, he very patiently explained many genetic matters for me. I still use his books for reference and I always had the greatest respect for his opinions. He was another who stressed we should never throw the baby out with the bath water.