Pedigree dogs – thinking outside the box!

The Animal Care College – caring for people caring for dogs

I’ll be more enthusiastic about encouraging thinking outside the box when there’s evidence of any thinking going on inside it -Terry Pratchett

I must first make it clear before beginning this article that I am committed to pedigree dogs. They have the advantage that, if they are well bred, owners know what they are going to look like, what their temperament is likely to be and how big they will grow. There is also an exceptionally wide choice of size, weight, substance and what we have come to refer to as ‘breed type’. In some ways I regret the rapidly increasing number of pedigree breeds recognised both here and abroad. It is probably my age, but it certainly seems to me that many of them are very similar to those already well-established and some are certainly so closely allied that it is difficult to tell them apart. One of the tips I give my students is that if a dog comes into the ring and it reminds you of another breed (a Marema having the characteristics of a Pyrenean for instance or an Alaskan Malamute being so small that it reminds you of a too large Siberian) then it is very unlikely to be a good example of its breed. Part of the appeal of a breed is its distinctiveness and if its characteristics are not genuinely distinct then one wonders what the point of having it is. Back in the late 60s when I came into dogs there were less than half the number of breeds which are now recognised. That many of the new ones are beautiful and individual, I cannot deny, but looking at some I wonder whether those who imported them really looked at the range of breeds which were already available.

However we cannot complain that it might have been better not to have started from where we are. Apart from in the autumn, clocks should not be turned back and we must deal with situations as they arise. One of those situations is that mankind is permanently looking for something different in their lives whether it is a new gadget, a new kitchen, a new fashion or a new breed – and there are many in the latter category who have turned their attention to dogs which, for one reason or another, better fulfil their expectations. Guide Dogs recognised many years ago that a combination of Golden Retriever and Labrador were better suited to the needs of those unable to see than either breed separately so such a cross makes sense. But quite how the fashion for deliberate crossbreeds of many pedigree dogs came about is not clear. What is clear is that the numbers are increasing rapidly and that many owners, much as we would like to condemn them for exploiting pedigree dogs or for making money, are concerned breeders who take their responsibilities very seriously.

Almost by definition all pedigree dogs are in-bred

One such person has contacted me after reading an article I wrote some years ago to help people understand the difference between line breeding and in-breeding. All pedigree dogs are inbred a certain extent but I believe a line can be drawn between matings which do not affect the general genetic health of the breed in the long term and those, which although being acceptable, require great deal of knowledge and understanding if they are to be successful. The article is read by between 100 and 150 people each day and many ask questions and post comments. I try to answer them as fairly as I can but if you have a look at the post (www.davidcavill.wordpress.com) you will see that some of them are quite bizarre. However a recent discussion resulted in an email in which you might be interested.

Tracy breeds Doodles in the United States. A discussion occurred on the site recently about the stability of cross pedigree matings and whether any research had been done into their long-term health. She writes: ‘I have been breeding Doodles for about 8 years. Our experience has been very consistent. We have Sadie, a beautiful Silver Beige Doodle that we kept from our own breeding. I fell in love with her colour, and just couldn’t help myself. She is an F1b, with her mother being a Standard Poodle and her dad being a Doodle from our first litter.

‘Fast forward, and we mated one of the resulting bitches with our Golden Retriever a year or so later.  Their offspring had wavy coats but with almost no curl. And they all did shed.  Not greatly but enough that it was quite noticeable to their owners.

‘Since that time, we have bred her with our AKC Standard Poodle male. They produce, very consistently, curly coated pups who do not shed at all.  We have noticed that the more “watered down” the genes of the Poodle get….the more shedding.  The more “watered down” the Retriever genes get….the less shedding.  If non-shedding is what is desired, you must use a poodle since that is where the non-shedding comes from.  In this lady’s case (here she is referring to a previous post on the site), she would be creating F1’s by using the poodle. If she used a Doodle that was an F1b, and had more Poodle than Retriever, the shedding might be less.

‘I also have finally figured out how to get Parti Doodles in my breeding. They eluded me for years! I bought a Parti Poodle because I wanted to get some Parti Doodles in the mix.  From every mating, there were only solid colours. Then I stumbled upon the combination.  Parti is a recessive gene that must be present on BOTH sides in order for Parti babies to be born. Nobody told me that!!! And my research produced no information about how to create them. So my Silver Beige Doodle is the offspring of my Parti Poodle with the recessive gene.  My Poodle stud is white, but has Parti’s, Tuxedos and Phantoms in his bloodline.  He also has the recessive gene. Every mating between the two of them results in half of the litter being Parti. 

‘Thanks for your response!! You do a great job of answering people’s questions!!  Your services are greatly appreciated!!! (But why some people want to do such close breeding is beyond me!! Why chance it?’ (I have left in the last paragraph for, apart from it being nice to be appreciated, her final comment regarding close breeding indicates that she is as clearly as concerned as all responsible breeders will be that there is too little understanding and appreciation of the damage that a narrow focus on specific traits can cause.)

There are perspectives in dog breeding other than our own

More importantly, I would like to draw attention to the fact that we should not dismiss breeders of dogs of which we might not approve, whether they are Jack Russells or Doodles, lightly. It is all very well taking the moral high ground in some vague ivory tower and banging on about the purity of the breed but there is a real world out there with real people who have similar concerns to us but simply have a different perspective.

We need to recognise that there is a ‘market’ for dogs: it is broad and complicated, not just because people want a pet dog but because they have specific images in their minds about what they want. They may be fascinated by a particular breed (I cannot understand why everybody does not want a Finish Spitz but must accept that most people do not!), want an animal which will in some way enhance their status or just need a plaything to keep their children occupied. It would be good if small responsible breeders could fulfill all these demands but we simply cannot. The result at worst is puppy farming and illegal imports but at best (apart from the responsible pedigree dog breeder of course) the hundreds of people like Tracy who are fulfilling a need in a different but responsible way. It is surely much better that they should be encouraged to provide good quality puppies than we demand government bring in more legislation which we know from experience will be flouted and avoided.

Let us hope that the various Kennel Club working groups and those for whom they will be reporting, do not demonstrate Terry Pratchett’s concerns.

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