United We Stand?

by Tina M. Barber
June 2005

Many breeders have often discussed health issues within their chosen breed, but not much was ever done about tracking, or analyzing specific breed data.  Although a few individuals tracked the diseases that were discovered within their breeding program. As a rule, not enough dogs were tracked in order to get a clear picture of what diseases were lurking within their lines.  If some type of pattern appeared to be surfacing, gossip & innuendo would spread like a wildfire and other breeders would quickly go into hiding in order to protect their kennel name! The entire process proved to be completely unproductive for all parties concerned.

A) The breeders were unable to discover specific carries of certain diseases within their lines, so that they could easily work toward eliminating them.

B) The poor dogs themselves would suffer because without a clear plan, more affected dogs were born continuously.

C) The future owners had no way of knowing what kind of vet bills, and emotional trauma they were about to encounter!

Then in 1998, George Padgett, a man before his time, wrote a book that was going to turn the canine world upside down!  Control of Canine Genetic Diseases made its way into the homes of breeders from coast to coast!  At last they had something that they could understand and use to improve the health of their dogs!!

Dr. Padgett was an advocate of "open registries" that are willing to track complete health data on individual breeds <<Accurate calculation of risks is always dependent on full knowledge about the dogs involved in a pedigree, which of course, is the reason open registries are so important in disease control.>> Of course this is the ultimate scenario, but a lot of breeders are just not willing to "air out" their dirty laundry to all of their competitors!  Some BYB are often unscrupulously vicious and can be extremely competitive in order to sell their pups!  Although the REB's (long term breeders) are usually willing to share information about their specific lines with others like them, they tend to shun the idea of being openly exposed to the gossip mills that are spurred on by the "goo goo eyed" newcomers that are often only interested in just selling puppies for some extra cash!  They tend to look upon the established breeders as competition (instead of mentors) and will do anything in their power to tarnish their reputation!  If they can discover that a certain stud is a 'carrier' of a particular disease, they instantly tend to go on a feeding frenzy, like a bunch of starving piranhas! Instead of being productive members of a club for the future benefit of their chosen breed, they manage to create so much dissension among the members that spin off groups become inevitable, thus creating even more animosity that ends up accomplishing nothing productive for the breed itself.

Fortunately many of the stronger clubs have forged on, despite internal adversity.  If you do a search on the web you will be able to find many breed clubs that have pioneered Health Surveys for their chosen breeds and gained tons of valuable information!!! 

<<That amounts to over a 45% response rate. According to our survey advisor, Dr. Padgett, the typical response rate is between 25 and 40%. You did great!>>  http://clubs.akc.org/btca/health/update.htm 

The results (especially the charts) are extremely interesting, and I would like to encourage everyone reading this article to visit their site! http://www.papillonclub.org/PapillonHealth/PapillonSurvey2002.doc

<< Approximately 1,600 questionnaires were mailed to ACC members in the US, Canada, and Europe.  In total, 657 completed surveys were returned. >>

<< The BMDCA conducted a breed-wide health survey from August, 1999 through January, 2000. During that time 1322 surveys had adequate information and were included in the Summary, only ten surveys submitted had inadequate information for inclusion in the Summary. 1063 surveys were completed on dogs alive in 1996-1997 for inclusion in Dr. George Padgett’s talk at the 2000 National Specialty. >>

<< Among IGCA members, there was a 50% response rate for the questionnaire. Approximately 25% (282) of the total questionnaires were returned. Surveys were received from 41 states with California, Florida, Texas and New York the most common.  >> http://www.italiangreyhound.org/health/slater.html

Eliminating Genetic Diseases in Dogs

<< We have learned the hard way that "having papers" means very little, if anything, about the genetic health of a purebred dog.  >>   http://www.goldendoodles.com/id247.htm

<<Now a bit of history from me: Margaret Slater, D.V.M., Ph.D., from Texas A&M, spoke on breed health surveys at the 1997 AKC Canine Health Conference. She indicated that for a true evaluation, the response to a breed's health survey from pet owners, show dog owners, and pet-store puppy owners must reach the 70% to 80% level. She concluded that accuracy in identifying health problems is the key to success of any survey. >> http://www.irishterriers.com/itca/healthresults.htm

 Another report worth reading is the Akita Club's health report!! 

However, we must all understand that there is a LOT more involved in locating and researching any specific disease in your breed!! 

Let's take a moment to read "Collecting and utilizing phenotypic data to minimize disease: A breeder's practical guide," a very important article written by Rhonda Hovan on the AKC website.

For decades backyard breeders have only looked at their dogs' phenotype, while "old timers," aka REB's, have had the foresight to maintain additional data on all of the puppies they produced--thus providing them with the KEY they would need in order to improve their gene pools! The LMX program developed at Shiloh Shepherd kennels in the early '70's was instrumental in sufficiently reducing the incidence of CHD in the GSD stock being bred, in order to establish an entire new breed!  However, upon  opening the doors to other breeders who failed to provide complete LMX data on the litters they produced, in less than 7 years the incidence of CHD in the Shiloh Shepherd increased from 2% to 11%.

Many individual breeders may claim to be "testing" their dogs, and they proudly list the results on their websites but that data is insufficient! Even the OFA will clearly admit that dysplastic dogs are still being born to OFA parents, at an alarming rate!

<<In an attempt to compensate for these inherent flaws with common phenotypic tests, many breeders have long realized the importance of gathering test information  on more than just the prospective sire and dam of a litter. Because standard pedigrees include only direct ancestors such as parents, grandparents, great-grandparents and so on, these are the relatives on which breeders usually focus when seeking additional health information. It is not uncommon for conscientious breeders to build pedigrees which are described as "three generations clear" for a disease, meaning that the sire and dam, the 4 grandparents, and the 8 great-grandparents have all tested phenotypically normal. Yet such breedings may produce less than satisfying results, as the disease genes may still be present, and affected offspring may still be produced.>> http://www.offa.org/hovanart.pdf.

The problem? Insufficient data. The solution? Vertical pedigrees.

<<Fortunately, there is an additional way of utilizing phenotypic test data which improves the likelihood of producing predictable results. It involves a different method of building pedigrees.>>

<<A pedigree can also be constructed vertically, most easily using a three column format. A vertical pedigree of "Dog A" begins page left with Dog A and all of his full siblings (from one or more litters).  The central column lists his sire and dam, and their full siblings; with the right column doing the same for the four grandparents. Clearly vertical pedigrees can include many more first and second generation relatives than do traditional horizontal pedigrees.>> 

<<The broad data base that is accessible using vertical pedigree analysis gives breeders accurate information about any trait that cannot be tracked in a direct manner. Whenever multiple genes and/or other complex modes of inheritance are involved, a larger sampling will be more likely to contain enough individuals to indicate a pattern. Accuracy, then, is dependent upon accumulating phenotypic information on as many of these direct and indirect relatives a possible. >> http://www.offa.org/hovanart.pdf.

Please take a moment to study the charts on pages 3-4 of this article. It is apparent that although the stud with "Fair" hips may appear to have a greater risk of producing CHD, his percentage of failed hips is actually a lower percentage than many others. 

Just knowing that the sire of your pup has an OFA number does not ensure you of a healthy puppy! If you want to calculate the risk this pup may have for CHD, you will need a lot more information!

For example, if "Romeo" is OFA certified and has produced a total of 68 pups with a variety of bitches but you can only find OFA data on 4 of them (1 good, 1 fair and 2 failed), there is no way for you to know how many of the others may have failed their X-rays! While "Big Boy" may be listed as producing 5 pups with CHD, thus appearing to be a poor risk, if you look at the rest of the data you may discover that he has sired a total of 208 pups, with 65 rated as having fair hips, 35 rated as good and 20 rated as excellent. Now which stud would you rather bet on?

<<Of course, not all vertical pedigrees will be as clear-cut as in the previous example. Further, diseases other than hip dysplasia may require a different process of analysis. Two of the most important variables to examine are:

1. the frequency of the disease in the vertical pedigree as compared to the frequency of the disease in the breed population, and

2. the location of the affected individuals on the pedigree.>> http://www.offa.org/hovanart.pdf.

So what has prevented the reduction of genetic diseases in most breeds? If we know how to find the key and have the knowledge of how to use it, why haven't we, as a group of conscientious breeders, been able to eliminate/reduce these defects that have been plaguing our beloved breeds? The answer? Politics!

<<...most hobby and competition breeders have admirable intentions, but are faced with a challenging blend of art and science in which one of the most frustrating aspects is the seemingly unpredictability of results. Vertical pedigree construction and analysis is a very powerful tool which can assist in reducing surprises and improving predictability With this method, progress toward one's goals is usually more assured, and the risks of unexpected and potentially devastating disease is decreased. This technique can help breeders build a foundation which can become stronger and more dependable with every successive generation.>> http://www.offa.org/hovanart.pdf.

Multiple registries and clubs have been able to collect partial data on some of the dogs within their gene pool, but continuous infighting among the various factions has prevented them from properly merging this information in order for it to become significantly productive as a whole.

When a breed club has more than one "registry" representing their specific breed, attaining (and merging) sufficient data in order to make significant progress toward eliminating genetic diseases within that breed is virtually impossible!

The key is available, but unless all of the breeders start working towards a common goal with their chosen breed, improvement is going to be impossible.

As noted by canine geneticist C.A. Sharp in his article, Breaking Bread: The Red Hen Approach to Genetic Disease:

<< Even in the case of a database which collects results of all exams, like Penn-Hip and the Canine Eye Research Foundation (CERF), disease incidence will only apply to the reporting population. If a breed is rare and few breeders screen their dogs, the registry’s data will have little meaning. In small-population breeds everyone needs to cooperate to see that most dogs get screened.  [Emphasis added]>>

<< Listings of diseases reported in various breeds are nothing new, but they can provide an inaccurate picture of what is going on. Lists of peer-reviewed journal articles give no indication of how frequent any particular disease is in a given breed  [Emphasis added]>>

Let's take an example from a popular breed that has consistently recorded hundreds of litters born per year.  What Are We Breeding For? Upon examining the data, only 3.43% of all available dogs were ever recorded in the OFA database! Although the % of CHD seems to be relatively "normal" -- how many dogs' x-rays were not submitted because the veterinarian expected them to fail? How many dogs were never x-rayed because the owners did not see any "serious" problem in the way their dogs functioned? Even if they started to suspect CHD as the dog grew older, they assumed that x-rays were not necessary just to prove what they already knew--and some may not have wanted their dog to get a "Black Mark" on their name!

Now let's compare these statistics with the kind of data that the ISSR has continuously collected on the Shiloh Shepherd. 

<< Response needs to be statistically significant. Not everyone must respond, but if only a tiny percentage do or only one segment does so (e.g. pet owners vs. breeders,) the results may not give a true picture of disease incidence. Some parent clubs have rather small membership even though the breed is populous. In such cases, if only members are polled even full response may provide inaccurate data on the breed as a whole.  [Emphasis added] >>  http://www.ashgi.org/articles/breeding_baking_bread.htm

This is the magic key that must be clearly understood if we are to succeed in reducing genetic diseases in our beloved dogs! Without this key, we will most assuredly produce nothing but failure for our breeding programs, and heartaches for many future owners!

AWSA was one of  the prominent forerunners in this field!  Even though the population for this breed is still relatively low, this club managed to collect data on over 1,000 dogs!!  <<Approximately 34% of these dogs came from breeders; the remaining 66% came from pet owners. Of the 1,000 dogs, 40% (401 dogs) were affected with one or more of the 57 Genetic Defects listed on the chart; conversely 60% (599 dogs) were unaffected. All of the genetic traits listed on the chart were reported in at least one dog. Remember that in Dr. Padgett’s book, "The Control of Canine Genetic Disease," he listed 138 diseases for the German Shepherd Dog. So, while 57 diseases for our dogs may seem like a lot, it falls way short of 138. >>   http://www.awsaclub.com/healthgenetics/surveyreport.htm

The Shiloh Shepherd Dog Club of America was so impressed with their efforts that we used their basic guidelines to conduct our our Health Survey 2000.


<<To begin with, as most of you know, our survey listed the same diseases that were mailed out in the AWSA questionnaire. Aside from the 8 Behavioral Problems listed, we also had 15 other categories with a total of 142 various diseases listed. To date we have received reports back with only 46 (out of the 154 possible) diseases potentially effecting our breed. This is GOOD news, since ALL breeds have defective genes. We are not concerned with proving that our dogs are genetically perfect, but with learning just what defects we DO carry and how often they appear! With this information, we can track back the sources and avoid breeding CARRIERS of the SAME defects, thus reducing the incidence of these problems within the entire breed! >> Health Survey Update January 2001

In  conclusion,  we  have  always known that as a group of dedicated breeders we have a problem!  Genetic Canine Diseases have not decreased, if anything, spurred on by heavy line breeding and extremely high RC factors, the incidence of these diseases has actually increased!!  Yet by utilizing all  of  the  new  tools  that  we have at our disposal, we MUST make every effort  to  work  together,   using these keys to significantly improve the health of future generations!

Yet political strife and personal breeder conflicts have prevented even some of the strong clubs from making enough serious progress in the right direction.

What can we all do to assure that our beloved canine companions will receive the healthy future they deserve?

1. Buyers must insist on proper documentation. Don't be fooled by sites that list health reports on the parents! Contact the open registries and order Vertical Pedigree Reports! If the sibling data (for 3-4 generations) is not there, refuse to encourage such a breeder by giving them your hard earned money for a potentially unhealthy dog!

2. Make sure that your breeder is a long term member of that particular breed's parent club! The AKC can give you a listing of officers for their chosen clubs. Contact them and request honest information about your potential breeder!


Warning!  If you are going to be dealing with "Rare" or designer breeds, plan to spend a lot of time investigating your chosen breed! Don't forget--


A well educated consumer will be much happier in the long term!


3. Insist on getting your dog's papers from a reputable registry!

I have heard many people make statements like "He's just a pet, I don't care about papers." This can be very dangerous thinking because unscrupulous money grubbers can charge outrageous prices for the "knock offs" they are selling!

All puppies are cute at that age, but if you have chosen to purchase a ______ (you fill in the blank) then there was a reason behind your decision? Maybe you wanted the security of getting a well bred pet that had a predictable temperament and appearance, within the parameters of that breed's standard. 

So why would you be willing to pay an exorbitant amount of money for a mixed breed (often puppy mill) pup that has no legitimate registry affiliation?

For more information please visit Registries: What Are They and Rare Breeds: What Are They?  

This article was written by Tina M. Barber (2005)
 as part of her educational series on canine health and genetics. 

Please read The History of the LMX (Litter Mate X-Ray) Program, (a fore-runner of the vertical pedigree program) which was developed by Ms. Barber in the 1970's and used in the development of the Shiloh Shepherd Dog. Littermate Information (LMI) reports may be ordered from the TCCP for any ISSR Shiloh Shepherd.

Publication History:

Article written by Tina M. Barber, June 2005, for the Shiloh Shepherd Learning Center.  Originally printed in the Shiloh Shepherd Learning Center: June 2005.

| Health Survey 2000: A Word from the Breed Founder | Health Survey 2000 Update | Health Survey 2000: Final Report | What Are We Breeding For? | Another Breeding Tool | Puppy Producers: What Are They? | Proper Puppy Socialization | Where Do Pets Come From? | Practical Genetics | Inbreeding: When Is It Too Much? | Coefficient of Inbreeding

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