And not all dams and sires with 'clear' test results will be good choices for breeding.
Oh, would that life and breeding decisions could be made easy! But every experienced breeder knows that nothing is simple. Breeding and inheritance and health and temperament are very complex issues - each on their own - and combined they constitute a puzzle with no guaranteed solutions. With the increased availability of genetic testing, with its media-inspired aura of high-tech infallibility and direct-to-consumer marketing campaigns, there has been a rush to embrace it as THE most important pre-breeding test. It is probably underpinned by the vague hope of breeders that IF they spend their money and do all the possible genetic tests, they will have fulfilled their 'due diligence''. Many of my colleagues and I have repeatedly reminded the breeding community that, in spite of genetic testing being an extremely important decision-making tool, it is crucial that attention be paid to conditions that are considered important for a breed - regardless of whether there is a 'DNA test' for the condition, or even any test at all The Big Picture is crucial.
I described in another blog a genetics symposium in Canada in November 2019. During discussions with committed breeders, at we came to some very important questions. For example, everyone says they want healthy animals with good longevity. But think about these items before you nod your head:
- How many breeders could say that those are the primary criteria they use when selecting mating pairs?
- Is there good evidence in your breed that the main focus of breeding has been on producing healthy, long-lived offspring?
- When breeders choose inbreeding or line-breeding is it to improve health and longevity, or, more likely, aimed at fixing specific traits, often to do with appearance?
These questions are not meant as any judgement but to provoke critical, rational, logical thinking about breeding decisions which are, for better or worse often influenced by something else. Primarily, people need to look honestly at the history and culture of breeding and admit that, as for anything in life, a) saying and wishing and hoping is not doing; and b) you cannot achieve a theoretical or even heartfelt goal if your actions are in direct opposition to its achievement. I say I am committed to being slender and fit and then spend all my time in front of the computer and maintain a deep and satisfying relationship with potato chips. But at least I am not shocked when the slender-fit thing just doesn't happen.
Our IPFD friend and collaborator Ian Seath posted another recently called 'Health-tested does not mean healthy'. And rightly highlights that health and longevity (or 'healthgevity') is a function of many factors beyond breeding or genetics. Owners must do their part to maintain health and not push all blame for ill-health to breeders. E.g. the well-loved, but morbidly obese Pug in this shot, had, by nature and breeding, specific health risks, all, no doubt aggravated by its body condition. All stakeholders in the health and welfare of individual dogs and breeds need to contemplate their roles and take responsibility.
More coming on the topic of health testing and health, soon.