Archive for October 2008

A beginners guide to inbreeding and line breeding

October 28, 2008

My thanks to Sue Bowling for allowing me to quote extensively from her article

 

First and foremost I should emphasise that line breeding is the cornerstone of selective breeding. Selective breeding has given us cows that give the maximum amount of milk, sheep that give the maximum amount of wool, chickens that lay eggs almost every day and the most beautiful dogs in the world. There is nothing wrong with line breeding but it is like using a satellite navigation device – if it is not used intelligently you land up in Richmond, North Yorkshire when you intended to go to Richmond in London! If you are to use line breeding intelligently you have to know the basics. I hope that this short article will help.

What are inbreeding and line breeding, and what effect do they have?

In genetic terminology, inbreeding is the mating of two animals who are related to each other. In its opposite, out crossing, the two parents are totally unrelated. Since all pure breeds of animal (including humans) trace back to a relatively limited number of foundation ancestors, all pure breeding is, by this definition, inbreeding though the term is not generally used to refer to matings where a common ancestor does not occur within a five-generation pedigree.

Breeders of purebred livestock have introduced the term ‘line breeding’, to cover the milder forms of inbreeding. Exactly what the difference is between line breeding and inbreeding tends to be defined differently for each species for there is no ‘formal’ definition. Inbreeding at its closest applies to what would be considered incest in human beings – parent to offspring or a mating between full siblings. However, uncle-niece, aunt-nephew, half sibling matings, and first cousin matings are called inbreeding by some people and line breeding by others. Under normal circumstances if this was the only example of close breeding in a five-generation pedigree what is called the ‘inbreeding coefficient’, expressed as a percentage, would be so low as not to be significant. But three things need to be taken into account. The closer this relationship is to the first generation of the pedigree, the more often it occurs and the relationships of the other sires and dams in the pedigree all result in an increased percentage.

What does inbreeding (in the genetic sense) do? Basically, it increases the probability that the two copies of any given gene will be identical and derived from the same ancestor. The higher the inbreeding coefficient the more likely this is to happen. The technical term is ‘homozygous’ for that gene. The ‘heterozygous’ animal has some differences in the two copies of the gene. Remember that each animal (or plant, for that matter) has two copies of any given gene (two alleles at each locus, if you want to get technical), one derived from the father and one from the mother. If the father and mother are related, there is a chance that the two genes in the offspring are both identical copies contributed by the common ancestor.

This is neither good nor bad in itself – but consider, for instance, the gene for PRA (Progressive Retinal Atrophy), which causes progressive blindness. Carriers have normal vision, but statistically, if one is mated to another carrier it is likely that one in four of the puppies will have PRA and go blind. Inbreeding will increase both the number of affected dogs (1 in 4) and the number of genetically normal dogs (3 in 4) so inbreeding can thus bring these undesirable recessive genes to the surface, where they could be removed from the breeding pool – you do not breed from the dogs which go blind – although a proportion of other dogs in the litter will be carriers. This will only matter if they are mated to another carrier, of course, but it demonstrates the complexity of the problems

Unfortunately, it is still much more complicated for we cannot breed animals based on a single gene – the genes come as just two packages: one in the sperm and one in the egg. So you may be able to eliminate one undesirable pair but the very fact that the animals will be becoming increasingly homozygous (which may quickly improve some characteristics) is also likely to bring other undesirable combinations to the surface.

Sewell Wright developed what is called the ‘inbreeding coefficient’ in the 1920s. This is related to the probability that both copies of any given gene are derived from the same ancestor. A total outcross (in dogs, probably a first-generation cross between two purebreds of different, unrelated breeds would be the best approximation) would have an inbreeding coefficient of 0. As we have seen, they would still have common ancestors many generation back so would still be homozygous for some genes shared by all dogs so even though the inbreeding coefficient = 0 even matings between unrelated pairs can still throw up genetic disease.

An inbreeding coefficient of 100% is rare in mammals and would result if the only matings practiced over many generations were between full brother and full sister. A mating between a brother and sister from unrelated parents would result in an inbreeding coefficient of 50%. A mother/son (or vice versa) or father/daughter (or vice versa) mating would result in a breeding coefficient of 25% assuming that there were no other related matings in the preceding generations. A cousin-to-cousin mating actually gives a relatively low percentage (6.25) but other related matings would affect this figure – perhaps substantially. However, Dr Malcolm Willis, one of the most experienced geneticists in the world of dogs, has said that the average inbreeding coefficient in pedigree dogs registered with the Kennel Club is actually only between 4 and 5% but, of course, the long term effect of many generations of a breed on the same register will mean that today’s dogs do have a higher chance of passing on deleterious genes simply because, as explained at the beginning of this article, there were relatively limited number of foundation ancestors.

As a general rule, very close inbreeding in domestic animals cannot be maintained for many generations because it generally results in loss of fertility – apart from any other genetic disease which may become apparent. .

To ensure genetic health breeders need to select pairs in such a way that the inbreeding coefficient of the offspring is kept as low as possible commensurate with the adherence of stock to the breed standard. One way of doing this is to use the method often adopted in other countries: that is breed from animals which ‘look’ the same (heterozygous) as distinct from what we tend to do in the UK which is to breed from animals which are genetically similar (homozygous).

Another key is to constantly move away from families known for possessing deleterious genes – a method practiced by knowledgeable dog breeders for generations.

You can download a programme from the Internet called GENEs which was written by Dr Robert Lacy which will enable you to calculate the inbreeding coefficient of any mating (assuming you have the full five generation pedigree) quite easily. The programme is free but has some restrictions. Go to http://www.vortex9.org/genes.html to download it.

Genetics is an immensely complex subject and this is but a simplistic introduction. Much more can be found at http://www.highflyer.supanet.com/coefficient.htm including the formula for working out inbreeding coefficients. It is:

 

Welcome Jemima

October 19, 2008

I am delighted to welcome Jemima Harrison to You Tube. She appears to have joined to be able to comment directly on my talk about her television programme Pedigree Dogs Exposed. I am very pleased she did so and she and I and the others who have taken part, have had some stimulating discussion. Unfortunately, the long term damage the programme inflicted on pedigree dog ownership will not easily be undone and this saddens me as I believe that dogs are good for people and are an important element of the cultural fabric of our society.

 

That said, the programme highlighted many important issues which both the Kennel Club as an organisation and I, as one of many, many individuals, have been working on for years. For the record, I published the Dog Directory with Joe Cartledge in 1974, I wrote the Dog Breeding Diploma in 1982 and All About Mating Whelping and Weaning in 1986. Since then I have lectured to students and breed clubs and written extensively on good breeding practices so I have been on the side of the reformers for many years. The KC virtually ignored these problems until about ten years ago but since then has worked hard (often against the perceived self-interest of some of its own members) to make improvements. They have not been unsuccessful but they would be the first to admit that there is still much to do. I am afraid Jemima’s programme gave them no credit for the effort they have made and the considerable sums of money which have been given to the Animal Health Trust, among others, to improve the situation.

I do not challenge much that was important in the programme but the statistics quoted and the way in which clips were used so selectively to support Jemima’s contentions, resulted in a programme that was biased and distorted. I strongly object to this type of journalism, which is sensationalist in every sense and took advantage of naïve breeders and an inexperienced Kennel Club that allowed its senior spokesmen to walk into the traps set. By carefully editing short sections from long interviews – the Kennel Club gave over three hours of interviews to the programme – and masquerading as ‘scientific’ while bringing in emotionally charged elements such as the suffering of dogs and the gratuitous clips of Nazis and discussion of eugenics the programme implied that all pedigree dogs were ‘falling apart’ when this is demonstrably not true. The programme fell far short of the balance and objectivity which has for so many years been the hallmark of BBC reporting.

I was appalled so I posted my feelings on You Tube to help redress the balance. The response has been extraordinary. In just five days my talk was viewed almost 3,500 hundred times and there have been many supportive comments. Others have been less so but most have suggested that I was challenging the information in the programme. I have challenged some of it, certainly, but my main concern has been that the approach was entirely one sided and ignored the fact that many breeds do not have genetic defects in any case and that selective breeding, rather than genetic disease, have made just as significant a contribution to those problems discussed. And selective breeding is easily reversed – a much more sensible and realistic approach.

What is more we humans are riddled with genetic defects. Kettles and pots come to mind. We now know that epilepsy, arthritis, shortsightedness and many forms of cancer all have a genetic component and as these are very common in humans (who do not generally breed closely) the simplistic ‘all inbreeding is wrong’ approach of the programme is not as relevant as it would first appear.

You can see and hear my series of talks on this issue by clicking on the picture at the top. There are many long discussions on the comments section which go into more detail and you can read Jemima’s comments and my replies.

 

Thank you for listening thus far and thank you Jemima for making the programme. I just wish it could have been made with the old fashioned virtues of fairness and balance. In the comments on my You Tube website, Jemima says that ‘There is no requirement of me as a programme-maker to give equal weight/airtime to opposing views.’ I think that sums it up and that is the problem. The public relies on the BBC above all other media organisations throughout the world, to set the highest standards of reporting. Are not fairness and balance obligations for programmes such as this? In this programme I believe the BBC has fallen short of those standards and I hope that my contribution has highlighted the problems created when they are set aside.

Lies, damn lies and statistics

October 15, 2008

I would like to demonstrate to you how unreliable statistics can be and why many of the figures quoted in the recent programme Pedigree Dogs Exposed are unreliable

The programme flung statistics around like the cream pies in an early silent movie. I was told that the programme had been ‘meticulously researched’: if this was the case some indication of how unreliable statistics actually are should have been included. It is not just that they are subject to misinterpretation but as the collection of data which make up the final figures can be so very different the results are almost always incompatible with other sets of figures. You can listen to  this talk at http://uk.youtube.com.user/davidcavill

As an example of how inaccurate statistics can be, let us look at the numbers of dogs that are estimated to reside in Britain. The Pet Food Manufacturers Association (PFMA) website states that in their latest survey there are 7.3 million dogs in the UK in 2008. They say 75% of those dogs are pedigree dogs (although do not define whether that means those dogs are registered with the Kennel Club), 11% are ‘cross breeds’ and 14% are ‘mixed breeds. My immediate reaction is that 7.3 million is not a realistic figure and 75% being pedigree dogs is very unlikely. Why do I think this? Well, the PFMA researchers also asked where the dog owners obtained their pets. 16% said ‘from a private advert in a newspaper’, 7% said ‘from a pet shop’, 8% said ‘through the Internet’, 25% said ‘from a friend’ and 16% said they obtained their dogs from a breeder. The rest, 32% said ‘from a rescue centre’. Now this is where the high total may come from – the number of puppies available from rescue centres is actually very low and as most dogs are adult before coming up for rescue many would be counted twice and some might be ‘recycled’ several times. What is more, dogs from a rescue centre are allocated a ‘breed’ by the staff so many who look a bit like, say, a Border Collie or a Border Terrier would be counted as pedigree even if they had no papers.

There is more. In 2007, the Kennel Club registered 270,707 puppies. In relation to 7.3 million this means that the registered pedigree dog population is about 43%! This is long way short of 75%. There will, of course be many dogs which are classified as having a ‘pedigree’ by their owners even though they are not KC registered but is it likely that they comprise 32% of the canine population? A much less scientific method is to observe the dogs appearing at your local veterinary surgery. You will find that the numbers of pedigree compared to mongrel dogs is about 50/50, and this probably reflects the proportion of pedigree/crossbred dogs in the county as a whole.

If there are, in fact about 7 million dogs and the average life of a dog is, say, 12 years (the KC survey suggested that of the 30,000 dogs in their report into canine morbidity in 2004 the average age was 11.3 years) this means that approximately 600,000 puppies are born each year and, of course, 600,000 dogs die. Let us now look at the dogs which die each year. We have seen that this is likely to be around 600,000. It is likely that most die (or are put to sleep) because of infirmity or old age. We can have no way of knowing how many are put down because of illness when they are not old but we do have some figures put out by the RSPCA and the Dogs Trust about dogs put to sleep ‘unnecessarily’.

The RSPCA’s latest figures for 2007 say that they put about 6000 dogs to sleep for humane/medical reasons – i.e. they were ill or old. And just over a thousand were put down because they could not be re-homed i.e. they were likely to be a danger to the community. As a proportion of the total number of dogs handled by the RSPCA this is not unreasonable. Putting a dog to sleep is regrettable, of course, but it does not seem an unreasonable figure although it is seriously at odds with the headline grabbing press releases sometimes put out by the organisation which incidentally added £23m to its reserves in 2007.

Dogs Trust began its own Stray Dogs Report’ about five years ago. This report says that in 2007 nearly 100,000 strays were collected by local councils of which 6,700 were put to sleep for want of a home. That is an average of 18 each day but it also means that over 92,000 were, presumable, safely returned to their owners or were still in the care of the local authority at the end of the year.

Quite how these figures are collected is unclear as, in general, Dogs Trust does not take in strays collected by dog wardens although when they have room and the dog is re-homable (for the charity boasts it never puts a healthy dog down) they may take dogs in after the seven day period. On the other hand some RSPCA centres do so – as do Battersea and the city based dogs homes such as Birmingham, and Manchester – so again, some of the dogs might well be counted twice.

Of course, no one has yet begun to define what all these terms mean and each organisation has different methods of compiling the figures so it is virtually impossible to work out what the proportion of strays there are in any given year, what proportion of those strays are put to sleep because no home is available and precisely what proportion of dogs are killed compared to the number who die naturally or are humanely put to sleep to save them pain or stress. There is no doubt there are ‘problems’ with a proportion of all dogs in society but defining that proportion is extraordinarily difficult.

How much more difficult it is then to collect meaningful statistics about genetic abnormalities. The Kennel Club’s research into the reasons why dogs die, makes almost no mention of genetic disease – because, by and large, genetic diseases are not in themselves life threatening. If they were, they would not in any case, as the dogs would die before they could reproduce.

We can certainly identify many genetic conditions but because they are identified does not mean that they are necessarily debilitating. In fact, some may be little more than an inconvenience. Many humans live with being short-sighted, have mild allergies, asthma or are hard of hearing (all of which have a genetic component) with little or no inconvenience. The Cavalier King Charles which went BIS as the CKCS Championship show might well have some indication of disease on a CAT scan but it looked calm and composed and cannot be compared to the poor creature shown on the programme which was clearly in considerable distress.

In its introduction to its Purebred Dog Health Survey (2004) the Kennel Club says ‘The results of this survey and particularly the breed-specific analyses should be interpreted with caution.

This sensible warning was totally ignored by the Pedigree Dogs Exposed programme if it was even looked at. Almost all the statements in the programme were vague. ‘Up to’, ‘estimated’, ‘probably’ and ‘may’ were words attached to any figures. The statement that ‘up to 30% of Cavalier King Charles Spaniels may have the condition’ is not in inaccurate in itself but as the KC’s ‘estimate’ is that the condition ‘probably’ affects about 2% of the breed, it is hugely distorted.

What we do know is that one of the most knowledgeable geneticists in the world of dogs, Dr Malcolm Willis has stated, categorically, that the inbreeding coefficient in the UK pedigree dog population as a whole is in the region of 4% percent and that less than 1% is the result of a parent to offspring mating. This is a breeding coefficient of 25%. To put this in perspective, a cousin-to-cousin alliance, which is not at all uncommon in this county and overseas, has an inbreeding coefficient of just 6.25%. These are the facts.

So any statistics should be handled with care – perhaps all summaries of figures should have a government health warning!

 

How much do you really know about genetics and genetic health?

October 13, 2008

 

As an experienced dog breeder, dog judge and teacher, I am going to try and explain the significance and importance of genetic health because it is clear that many people, including those who made the television programme, Pedigree Dogs Exposed, do not have a clear idea of how genetics affects the development of species in general and pedigree dogs in particular. I am afraid it might be boring – but it is important. You can find a video of this talk on my web log at http://uk.youtube.com/user/davidcavill

We all live with genetic defects. I am short sighted and suffer from a number of allergies. My mother is short sighted and suffers from number of allergies too. I have a friend who is epileptic – as was her mother. Another is diabetic and I have just heard that someone close to me has developed breast cancer. All these conditions have a high ‘hereditability’: that is, their genetic component is significant. If you are the direct descendent of someone who has any of these conditions you will not necessarily get them yourself – but the likelihood of them occurring is much higher that it would otherwise have been. Scientists have identified around 3,000 genetic defects in humans and about 300 hundred in dogs.

This is not the place for long explanations but there are some words which have been used wrongly in the recent furore surrounding the Pedigree Dogs Exposed programme and in the programme itself. They have emotional overtones that add to misunderstanding and bias so it might be helpful to go through some definitions.

Firstly a ‘genetic condition’ refers to a physical or mental disorder caused by an absent or defective gene or by a chromosomal aberration. The make up of the genetic material of the sperm and egg is such that the DNA of the resulting embryo is damaged and the development of some characteristics is distorted. Most damaged embryos are detected and are aborted but many are not, so the embryo survives and is born. At this stage the condition may mean the baby will not survive. In some cases the child is severely disabled but in most cases and more commonly the child become an adult and learns to live with the condition, often with the help of medication.

This is not the same as a ‘congenital condition’. This is where the original embryo was fine but suffers damage between fertilisation and birth. The mother smoking, drinking or taking recreational or prescription drugs may cause congenital conditions. The best-known example is the conditions directly caused by the drug thalidomide being prescribed to women who were pregnant.

A mutation is quite different. In genetics, a mutation is a permanent, transmissible change in genetic material as a result of a miscopying of a section of DNA. This can be caused by environmental factors (radiation, for instance) or by the age of the mother or the father because eggs and sperm deteriorate over the years. It is mutation which has produced us! It is the whole basis of evolution and without it we would not exist. But the important point is that is it entirely random. Most mutations have little effect but occasionally one turns up which improves the organism’s chances of survival. To describe any living creature with genetic disability as a ‘mutant’ shows deplorable ignorance from a scientist or anyone who has even a basic knowledge of genetics.

As humans have developed companion animals to be more and more useful there has been a conscious desire to ‘fix’ certain characteristics. At the simplest level it was breeding dogs which were faster to help with hunting and bringing down animals which humans could not catch on their own and later, as nomads become farmers, cows were bred to give more milk for longer periods, sheep for more coat to provide fleeces which would give more wool, chickens to lay more eggs and all them as well as pigs, goats and geese to give more meat. This process, called ‘selective breeding’ is common throughout agriculture

However, ‘fixing’ one characteristic which was desirable could also fix others which were less so. Random liaisons between animals tend to keep their DNA healthy (this is called ‘hybrid vigour’) although, as we have seen in humans, it cannot do so altogether. It is for this reason that most societies forbid marriage between those directly related to each other although many societies are comfortable with a cousin marrying a cousin and if both are fit and healthy there is not normally a problem. And there are plenty of examples where cousin-to-cousin marriages have been contracted down several generations without any difficulties. The reason is that what is called the inbreeding coefficient (the measure of how close two people are genetically related to each another) of a cousin to cousin relationship is just 6.25% and for most couples in this position there is little likelihood of serious genetic defects arising although, of course, there is always a risk. However, most relationships have an inbreeding coefficient of much less that 6.25% – but because of the complexity of human DNA many children are still born with genetic defects. Most are minor although there is always the chance of something very serious – but this can happen between people who are not at all related. Genetic defects are in our genes and will sometimes occur. This is very simplistic, of course and there is an array of mechanisms which result in specific conditions such as haemophilia (which is caused by a sex-linked recessive gene) and others where the recessive is expressed on both sides of the DNA.

Most pedigree dogs are ‘line-bred’; that is they are mated to members of the same family although seldom very closely. In fact, the average breeding co-efficient on the Kennel Club registry is between 5 and 10%. Inbreeding where fathers are mated to daughters or vice versa or mothers are mated to sons or vice versa) is not common: less than 1% of puppies on the KC register are the result of inbreeding which is defined as being anything mating with a breeding coefficient of over 25%. A common rule of thumb for dog breeders is ‘line-breed two generations and then outcross’. Basically this means that in each two-generation ‘layer’ of a pedigree you will find the sire and the dam of the puppies more than once but in every third ‘layer’ you would find a dog which was not repeated anywhere.

In dog breeding, responsible breeders will try to select dogs and bitches which are good examples of their breed and, these days, most will ensure that their stock is not carrying serious defects. This is not true of everyone, of course – and I am afraid that those who breed large numbers of puppies without the expertise and care the dogs deserve, often have little regard for their health and welfare.

However, what was not made clear in Pedigree Dogs Exposed was that there are two quite separate issues here. They are ‘genetic conditions’ and ‘conformation’. Although they are connected it helps if we look at them separately.

As we have seen with other companion animals, is relatively easy to change the conformation and performance of an animal by selective breeding. Frisian cows are bred primarily to give milk – their flesh is not very suitable for meat and most meat from Fresian cows ends up in meat derivative products such as pies, sausages and dog food because it would look very unappetising on a butchers counter. At the other end of the scale, Aberdeen Angus give exceptional meat but their cows give little milk.

When countrymen wanted dogs which would go to ground and flush out vermin they were able to produce dogs with the right conformation by selective breeding very quickly. In fact, it has been shown in experiments at the turn of the last century that, given a group of mongrels, a breeder can produce a creditable example of any breed within five generations. You like the idea of a hairy dog with a flat face? Just collect some small, hairy mongrels and mate them. Select those puppies with the shortest muzzles and mate them. Continue the process and you very soon have a Pekingese! The Dobermann and the Leonberger and our British Gundog and Terrier breeds were all ‘created’ in just this way. It is simple and it works. However, it is possible to take a specific characteristic too far as has happened with some breeds and this will inevitable lead to problems of conformation. This is not the same as deleterious, damaging genetic conditions. Bear with me.

As you change the conformation of the dog by selectively breeding them for shorter legs, longer bodies, more skin or deeper, wider and rounder chests, the rest of the dog’s anatomy is stretched or compressed to fit. Up to a point this does not matter. As I explained in my previous talk, so long as the dog can eat, breath, walk and run, mate and whelp normally then its conformation and head shape is unimportant. But once its conformation affects those natural behaviours then however attractive the breeders and potential owners find the look of the breed, their conformation should be modified. It is easy – you just reverse the process. You do not have to start again. Four or five generation is all it takes.

However, in getting a desired conformation there is a tendency to use the same small group of dogs and if they have a deleterious genetic condition, a disease, then this will become endemic within that breed. This is what has happened with dogs which should be perfectly sound from the point of view of their conformation. It is usually because breeders have relied on too narrow a gene pool – and in some of the smaller breeds this gene pool is very small. These conditions are more difficult to breed but it can be done by introducing dogs from outside the breed into the breeding programme.

This can and has been done (with Kennel Club approval, I must add) and I am sure that in the next few years it will be done much more often. But I must emphasise that although some of these genetic diseases conditions are serious and, of course, very distressing for the owner, the majority, like short-sightedness in humans, are a minor inconvenience which can be treated or managed. So the incidence of a genetic condition in a breed does not mean all the dogs are ill or damaged. Some will be, I am afraid but for many or most their dysplasia or patella luxation is nothing more than a minor inconvenience. Few dogs die of genetic disease. If is serious they do not survive beyond the womb in any case

And it is also important to note that for many or even most breeds, deleterious genetic conditions have a very low incidence. They are there, just as they are in humans and in other animals but, in general, they are as fit and healthy as any mongrel you might take home from a dog rescue centre.

Go to a dog show and see for yourself

Pedigree dogs exposed programme Exposed

October 12, 2008

This talk appears on You Tube at http://uk.youtube.com/user/davidcavill

My name is David Cavill. I have bred pedigree dogs for over thirty years and I judge many breeds both in Britain and all over the world. I have also worked extensively with rescue dogs too.

In my lectures on breeding and judging dogs there is a major section at the beginning of my talk about how dogs came to be as they are and it might help those who have assumed that everything in the recent television programme Pedigree Dogs Exposed was ‘gospel’ that there is another side to the claims which it made: another side which shows that many of the statements made were seriously distorted and designed just to grab headlines. ‘Headlines’, of course create a bandwagon and many individuals and organisation have jumped on board. In this the producers were extraordinarily successful.

Firstly a few facts: a groomer friend of mind sees dozens of Cavalier Charles Spaniels every month and has never seen a dog with the symptoms described in Pedigree Dogs Exposed – which is not surprising as the incidence is estimated to be about 2%. The programme stated that the incidence was ‘up to 30%’. This is not, in itself, untrue but implies a proportion which is it approximately fifteen times the correct figure!

Several people have called for the Boxer shown in the programme to be put to sleep and even for the owners to be prosecuted for cruelty in that they are keeping an epileptic dog alive. The truth is that the dog is under successful medication and fits ‘about once a month’.

The statement by the RSPCA Vet has been criticised by senior members of his own profession. It is inaccurate and untrue and the RSPCA has since had to withdraw support for it.

The incident of dogs with an inbreeding coefficient of 50% (that is mother to son or vice versa or father to daughter or vice versa) is less than one percent. The average inbreeding coefficient of pedigree dogs on the Kennel Club registry is less than 5%. To put this in perspective, if someone marries their cousin (a very common occurrence in many human societies) the inbreeding coefficient is just 6.25%

There are many other examples of the way in which statements have been taken out of context to ‘prove’ the allegations made in the programme. Beverly Cuddy is a past master of the technique. She is a friend of mine, incidentally but with a long history of prejudice against pedigree dogs for personal and political reasons despite the fact that she is, herself a championship show judge of Bearded Collies. She says in the programme ‘ pedigree dogs are falling apart’. I suspect that this quote was taken out of context for it is demonstrably not true as anyone who goes to a dog show can see for themselves and I delighted to say that she, like the RSPCA and Dogs Trust, has found it necessary to publicly modify their stance.

This is not to say that there are no serious problems within the world of pedigree dog breeding: there are and they must be addresses. But the truth is very different to the message which Pedigree Dogs Exposed tried to deliver which was that all dogs were damaged or crippled. Firstly, though let us see if we can understand the way in which ‘the normal’ translates to ‘the exaggerated’ and, finally to the ‘deformed’ in the breeding of animals.

In my lectures I begin with a picture of a mongrel, which I describe as an unexaggerated dog. It is about 14 inches high at the shoulder, a little longer than it is high, neither heavy or thin and with a medium length single coat similar to that which might find on a working Irish Setter. When I was one of the senior managers at Battersea this was typical of hundreds of dogs we were asked to re-home (times have changed but that is anther and longer story). Whether it is typical of the dogs that hung around human encampments in the days when most of us were nomadic travellers I do not know. I suspect that semi wild dogs then were leaner and ‘racier’ but what I am sure of is that if you left a thousand of our 21st Century pedigree dog and bitches together in and enormous enclosed game park and let them loose, a large proportion of dogs similar to the one I have described would be the result after four or five generations of breeding,

Why should this be? Firstly some of the breeds would not survive into the second generation because they would not be fast enough to catch game or get to ‘kills’ in time so would not be able to hunt and feed themselves while others would not be able to mate or whelp naturally so there would be no puppies from these breeds. Of the rest some would be more adept at foraging for food than others and, if the space were varied enough, it would not be long before the dogs most adapted to specific environments would migrate to those areas where they would have the best chance of survival. So you would have some variety in size, weight and conformation (and temperament, too, of course) but a sizeable number would be like my Battersea mongrel: perfectly adapted for the widest type of terrain. Of the more specialist types you would see some leaner, with longer legs and deeper chests, others, probably fewer, would be thicker set and be heavy enough to bring down slower but bigger animals: our mongrel would do well from the scraps left by those other groups as well as being fast enough to catch small (and often elderly or ill) game.

Now bring in a human dimension, To begin with ‘man’ refines and improves what he has, but essentially, dogs that can be helpful survive and those that cannot are rejected and either are killed or become household pets and children’s’ playthings. Remember the same process was also going on with other domestic animals – cows were being bred that would give more milk for longer, sheep for thicker coats to give more wool, pigs for more piglets in a litter which would grow to maturity with more lean meat and less fat – the process was not confined to dogs.

As far as dogs are concerned a few types were developed for more specialist uses over the millennia. Dogs for herding, dogs for war and dogs for hunting (for fun rather than for food) but eventually people began to use the extraordinarily flexible chromosomes of the canine genome to produce animals radically different to ‘the norm’ in just the same way as breeders of cats, horses, budgerigars, pigeons  and roses for that matter have done for centuries.

Dogs became longer, shorter, taller, thicker set, shorter muzzled and lower to ground in terms of conformation, and hairier, smoother or slacker skinned, wrinkled, double coated, fancy tailed, fancy eared and multi-coloured in terms of their individual characteristics.

I emphasise that I have no problem with any of this but there is a point when the changes introduced militate against the best interests of the dog in terms of its health and welfare. My talk asks the deceptively simple question ‘Where is that point?

I hope I have shown that it is not unreasonable to breed specialist dogs for our own pleasure and/or for the pet owning public so long as they are well cared for and remain fit and healthy.

A breeder may feel, aesthetically, that they would prefer their dog’s ears to be a little more upright, longer or better set; they might want the eyes darker or the coat longer; they might want more or less of a stop or a broader or narrower width of skull – all of these characteristics are ones which are peripheral and acceptable. Coats can be washed and groomed easily so they are not an issue whatever you think of Poodle cuts of the length of the coat on a Yorkshire Terrier, but under normal circumstances, skulls cannot be enlarged, bones cannot be lengthened or shortened, livers and lungs, hearts and throats and eyes and noses cannot be replaced so these are the physical characteristics where ‘the question’ becomes important.

I offer you this definition: as soon as an animal is finds it difficult to eat or chew ‘normal’ food, has difficulty in breathing under all normal circumstance, finds it difficult to keep up with its owner at a brisk walk, cannot under normal circumstances mate or whelp naturally or they die well below the average age one expects a dog to die, then it is important that breeders take a long, hard look at what they are doing.

This has already happened in many breeds and the Kennel Club has put pressure on many others to take action. The Chow Chow is an excellent example: from being a dog with real problems with its conformation, eyes and muzzle it is now, in the UK at least, a pleasure to judge. And in terms of temperament, the Kennel Club brought in a regulation almost fifteen years ago that if any dog bit within a dog show the dog would be banned permanently from showing and all its progeny banned permanently too. The effect was immediate and the incidence of dogs biting people or other dogs at a show is now very rare.

Pedigree Dogs Exposed has forced the hand of the Kennel Club and I know the Chairman and others, including Kennel Club staff, are actually pleased to be given this lever to force through further improvements.

But it must be made clear that the proportion of dogs affected in these ways is relatively small. The vast majority of pedigree dogs live long healthy lives and, in fact, there is no statistical difference in the life span of pedigree dogs and mongrels. If you go to any veterinary surgery the number of pedigree dogs and mongrels you will see are equally balance – about 50/50 – the same as the proportions as in the population as a whole!

Go to a dog show: see for yourself.