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Science vs Good Sense in Dog Breeding
Goran Bodegard - Sweden
(Reprinted from "Sighthound" March/April 1982)
(The following article was originaly published in "Sighthound" in the March/April 1982 edition and is reproduced here with permission of the Publisher of the Sighthound)
The basic task for Natural Science is to study nature, understand and explain it, and that way draw conclusions on how to influence and control it. This sequence is very evident to us in the medical field where the inner knowledge of a disease and its patho physiology provides us with means for interfering and treatment
But what about dog breeding and genetics? It is not rare that genetic scientists consulted by the dog world give pretty strong advice against all forms of inbreeding. They seem to base their opinion on a totally different basic view than is prevalent among breeders aiming for better show dogs. The advice given by the genetic scientists heads for sound breeding in the respect that defects should be avoided and only strong vitality is to be aimed for. This is important for instance in beef cattle breeding and so on.
It is difficult to make a genetic scientist really listen to what we - in show dogs - all know about the advantages of inbreeding. A vast amount of experience and good sense and wisdom is very often totally disregarded since it is not presented in a well documented statistical way. And still some of our wisdom can be rather easily understood if a bit of scientific thinking is applied to it
The dangers of inbreeding are mostly very well known by the experienced breeder. If your line has some nasty defects that you know of, it is wise not to inbreed if you do not want them to crop up. But still the only way to try your line for possible bad traits and defects and to really get rid of them is to inbreed every now and then. If a breeder can stand that a litter will present him with the genetic bad truth of his dogs he must inbreed. lf he wantst o get rid of the bads he must not stop after his first "experimental" inbred litter but go on with the good ones from that litter even if there were shockers and malformations in the others of the litter. It is important to remember that it is not dangerous to inbreed of course, especially not if the breeder's morals are high enough to prevent him from presenting the results of his experiments on the market When this stage of experiment is passed he can very proudly present to the world the result of his work. If an inbred litter is very uneven regarding types, quality and specific traits that must be taken as a proof for a wide genetic base in the parent generation and there should thus be little risk for inbreeding depressions. If continuous inbreeding has produced very even (and at the best very good) stock one might think that future breeding and planning should be very easy because one is tempted to say that what we have in front of us in the dogs also must be the whole genetic truth.
This may be so but some people have noted that very inbred good dogs sometimes produce very bad ones when put to another strain and the progeny does not make sense showing things which certainly are not to be seen in either of the parents and their families. This is due to the fact that close inbreeding and selection for some generations not only "cultures" a certain genetic purity of good but even possibly cultures some genetic repression of bad things which still are hidden although not visible due to massive repression of it When such an inbred dog is put to a bitch without his repressive genes, the progeny can show traits from the dog which have not been seen for generations.
This may be a reason for the common knowledge that some types and strains do not "blend" although it is not easily understood from the looks of the parents themselves. An attempt to improve one's stock by using a totally unrelated dog to a pure strain because he has got that specific quality wanted might lead to a horrible first generation due to cracking up of the effect of the repressing genes in the pure family-and few dare go on from this litter of shockers and the poor breeder knows that his family did not blend. Such experiences (expensive and frustrating as they are) often put an end to attempts to improve and further give inbreeding a bad reputation even though the outcross litter was full of vital and healthy, although ugly, animals (beacuse there were no good ones and that was what we aimed at). At the best the breeder of the pure family at least now knows that his family of dogs still carries hidden bad traits which ordinarily do not show because of the repressive genes and that can, of course, be handled too.
A couple of years ago at a big banquet after the Stockholm International Show, I was placed at the table next to one of the great English breeders of gundogs. I was very content since I have a big liking for this special sort of person. This elderly English lady possessed the unique combination of refinement and strength, experience and sense. She was just rearing puppies from her 36th generation and although one of the all time greatest in her breed, she noted jokingly that "obviously I have not done that well since nobody has poisoned my dogs yet I asked her what she thought was important in successful dog breeding and she replied, "The bitch line! I always keep the best bitch in a litter even if there is a dog puppy, if I cannot keep them both.
I could not help feeling tired at this comment There again this unscientific talking about "bitches" and "bitch lines" I had the choice to say either that it was interesting to hear and drop the subject or fight her a bit with my scientific approach. This particular lady induced me somhow to choose the second alternative and I started a lecture on mitosis and mejosis and inheritance of equal amount of genegtic substance from father and mother and so on.
She listened politely and then said that all that might be very true but still she had found a good bitch to be a better breed animal than a good dog and that she was not going to change her views or ways of making use of them because there were scientific arguments against it "Maybe science does not know the hole truth and there is more for science to learn.
A male is made up of his genetic basis as is the female. The male however will get his genetic anatomy modified by his special hormonal situation - as well as the female by hers. However, in show dogs, we often look for certain qualities which might be the ones added by the male hormonal influence (proudness of neck, a little extra length and exaggeration here and there). A male showing all of the show dog qualities could either have them due to his basic genetic substance or due to the modification produced by his hormonal influence. A bitch. on the other hand, showing all the "extras" is likely to really have them genetically based and thus be able to pass them on to her progeny. Could it thus be that the good bitch is a better breeding animal due to this kind of reasoning? What you see in a bitch is most likely to be genetically there since she is not helped by her hormones in this way, and perhaps this is not necessarily so in the top show male. (A basset breeder once said that some of the best show bitches who were competitive with the males were very irregular in their seasons and very often did not conceive and he drew his own conclusion for this when he heard the reasoning above.)
Another one of these little old ladies who seemed to "know how" but never scientifically proved what she knew, was a beautiful lady from the Continent. She too was working on a high numbered generation and was equally successful. I asked her why she thought the bitch line was so important She said that she did not really know but she had found that "quality" was only securely inherited on the bitch side. When she was planning a litter she always looked for a maternal uncle or maternal nephew for her first choice as stud dog. If the bitch to be mated was full of quality herself she did not mind the uncle or nephew to be a bit coarse (on the contrary that helped to add or preserve a good combination of quality and substance she thought). She would rather take a coarse uncle or nephew if the bitch was full of quality but lacked in substance than picking an unrelated dog with even an optimal combination of quality and substance. She was very eager to point out that if your bitch line had lost its quality it was much better to start all over again with something new than to try to rescue it because what is gone is gone when it does not show anymore in the bitches and is not hidden somewhere in the unseen genetic substance.
"Quality" is a very difficult concept to define but most of us know what we mean with it - although a lot of us have different and personal views on what we prefer and consider quality traits. (Which may be a good explanation for why certain breeders seem to stick to and breed a very particular and "own" type of dog.)
If one combines the experiences and wisdom of these two ladies, I think it is possible to not only accept and respect what they say, but to understand a little. Surely in many breeds, breeding based on males is very successful and the "bitch-line-thinking" does not seem to be of great importance. But there are many more breeds where the successful breeding can be traced to this kind of thinking no matter what genetic science says about inheriting equal parts from mother and father and the dangers of inbreedings.
There seems to be rather little organized and published knowledge on inheritance of the good things in dog breeding. This in spite of the fact that a lot of breeders "know how" to breed and improve and how to void. That is indeed a pity because as the English lady said ". . - there is more for science to learn."
It is indeed a sad thing when genetic discussions among dog people end up at the level of blaming that dog for having produced that fault or that bitch for having given all the points. There is so much more.
Goran Bodegard - Sweden
. (Reprinted from "Sighthound" March/April 1982
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