Dog World, December 2011

As you read this, Christmas will have come and gone and providing the postal service hasn’t let everyone down and delayed delivery of your Dog World, you may well be taking some time out from making your very final preparations to celebrate the New Year in the next few hours.

I’m sure you have all already managed to find time to savour the content and beautiful photos included in your Dog World Annual. Each year, this publication is always eagerly awaited, much sought after and treasured for many years. The varied articles give a really excellent overview and insight into the previous years events and many make very thoughtful reading as it chronicles the highs and sometimes lows on the show scene. It’s so easy to forget exact details of even very recent events, so it’s useful to have as a reference source as well.

The photos and adverts are stunning and portray beautiful examples of breeds. I do think the style of breed adverts has changed a lot over the years. As technology has improved, the quality of photos has come on in leaps and bounds and allows everyone to showcase their photos. I just love spending time going through the Annual and it helps keep me entertained through a lot of dark winter days and evenings up here.

One thing I have noticed is that hardly anyone puts the breeding of the dogs in their adverts these days though. At one time it was the norm to include sire, dam, date of birth, breeder etc. This also applies to breed club Year books, another much sought after set of publications. Surely this information is still important? But maybe it’s not as necessary these days as again technology has taken major steps forward and all the information is readily available on the Internet for anyone who chooses to look it up?

Health test results are something that can also be found with a few keystrokes on a computer keyboard so doesn’t tend to be included so often nowadays. Health test results and knowing the dogs in pedigrees are all vital pieces of information for breeders – I’ve said it before and no doubt will say it many times again, you need to know what is behind breeding stock before you can move forward.

I’m always surprised at how there often seems such a little grasp of the very basics of genetics and the detail behind some of the health testing schemes. In this day and age you would expect people would have more knowledge, as information is more readily available, not less. The Internet provides a lot of material on almost any subject and emails can produce fairly instant results, so you don’t have to wait patiently for replies in the post as they did in days gone by. Care should always be taken as sometimes records on the information highway are not as accurate as you may think and should be double checked as much as possible before being treated as gospel.

There are also many books on the subject of genetics – one of my own particular favourites is ‘Practical Genetics for Dog Breeders’ published in 1991 by Malcolm Willis. This is an excellent foundation read and I would heartily recommend it. Unfortunately I don’t know if it’s still available but certainly if you can manage to get hold of a copy, it’s a very worthwhile investment.

The hip scoring scheme has been in use for over 25 years in many breeds, yet someone asked me recently for an explanation of it. This was not someone new to dogs or dog breeding; he was actually quite experienced but he just has breeds that have never really been considered to have a problem with hips, so scoring was not generally thought necessary in that breed. However, as everyone seems to be jumping on to the bandwagon of being expected to health test for everything available, some in his breed – and perhaps some members of the general public who were thinking of buying pups, were beginning to expect it simply because a scheme was available.

I was able to give him some of the bare essentials about the scheme as I’ve had my dogs scored for quite a considerable number of years now. Don’t get me wrong, I thoroughly endorse getting as much data and/or testing for as much as possible to try and ascertain the genetic health status of any dog before breeding. But, are we expecting such a lengthy health test checklist that we are going to make breeding virtually impossible?

Now that I’ve gradually worked my way round to health tests etc, I see Best of Breed winners in the 15 high profile breeds are required to have a clean bill of health before being able to continue to compete at group and general championship shows. Additionally, before a champion title can be confirmed in these breeds, the same checks will be undertaken. The vets carrying out the inspection will be looking for clinical signs of various problems. But, what happens with inherited disorders that don’t necessarily show clinical signs? For instance, what will happen as far as hip scores are concerned? A dog can be radiographically dysplastic but not necessarily exhibit clinical signs of the disease. Or late onset eye diseases? A dog could be a Carrier, perhaps even Affected, but again will show no clinical signs. I know there are already calls from some quarters who feel this should be extended to all breeds and they firmly advocate that every dog should have a clear health certificate before finally being awarded a title. I don’t disagree with the theory of these sentiments – I simply wonder how a fully level playing field can be achieved.

The Kennel Club is facing quite a daunting task to satisfy the ever increasing number of diseases being identified across a huge cross section of different breeds. I certainly don’t envy it the task and hope that all breeders will try to support it in its attempts to address these matters.

Show breeders have as a general rule been at the forefront of being proactive concerning health testing their dogs. Sadly, in the past this has not always been the case with those involved in the working disciplines; I know that in some breeds it took many years to practically drag them kicking and screaming into routinely hip score breeding stock. At the moment, from test results published to date, the same reluctance appears to be shown with further health tests. I sincerely hope this will be seen to be rectified in the very near future.

Of course, there is also the massive percentage made up of ‘commercial breeders’ who do not show, work or become involved in any of the disciplines we are familiar with – they simply ‘breed dogs’. Bringing these farmers into line will always be an uphill struggle as money and profit is the prime factor to them. The people who simply feel their dog should have a litter – probably to whichever dog is available rather than suitable, will also need to be properly educated to the intricacies of many health tests – genetics are unlikely to be something they will even consider. It is going to be very difficult to find solutions that will be suitable for a ‘one size fits all’ scenario and it will be interesting to watch how this develops over the coming New Year.