A new Animal Welfare Act will be in force in Finland next year. The Act is intended to define harmful animal breeding more precisely and clearly than the current Act. The aim is to steer animal breeding in a direction that takes greater account of animal health. According to the draft law, animal breeding should aim at the production of viable, functional and healthy animals.
The Finnish Kennel Club (FKC) is committed to promote the health and well-being of dogs. Therefore, the FKC considers the 'Big Picture' of dog breeding, by
- monitoring and quantifying breed health
- providing Estimated Breeding Values (EBVs)
- working closely with breed clubs
- monitoring genetic diversity
- offering a tool for reducing use of popular sires
- being willing to introduce cross-breeding when needed.
For example: The importance of genetic diversity for dog breeding and dog health has been discussed and acknowledged in Finland for a long time. There's a long history of open studbooks in some of the Finnish national dog breeds, to keep gene flow into the breeds possible. Also other tools have been used, such as crosses between breeds and restriction of the use of popular sires.
Open studbooks are promoted in the FKC general breeding strategy:
3.7.4. Open studbooks as well as crosses of breeds and breed varieties
The breeding use of landraces is encouraged by enabling the introduction of unregistered dogs to breeds that have populations of original, unregistered individuals in the breed's birth or development country or in the surrounding region. The procedure detailed in the Dog Registry Guideline also allows for dogs, which are registered in non-FCI-approved registers, to be introduced into breeds. DNA identification will be recorded for all dogs, which are introduced into a breed.
In domestic breeds, dogs representing landraces in Finland and in the surrounding region can be introduced to the breed. Different populations of the breed can also be crossed at the initiative of breed associations.
The most effective tool for maintaining genetic diversity has been used since the early 2000s: restriction of the use of popular sires. Tens of breeds have a limit in the number of offspring registered for individual (male) dogs.
The first crossbreeding program was approved by the IPFD founding partner Finnish Kennel Club (FKC) for the German Pinscher in 1996. Since then there have been programs for the Barbet, the Brasilian Terrier, and the Kromfohrländer.
The most recent crossbreeding program has been approved for the Kooikerhondje. Programs for the French Bulldog and the Cavalier King Charles Spaniel are being planned.
The FKC General Breeding Strategy for all breeds states the following:
If a breed's average effective population size over the last 3–4 generations, taking overseas populations into account, has been 50 or less when calculated on the basis of inbreeding rate, or 200 or less when calculated using a formula based on the number of breeding dogs, the genetic variation of the breed should be increased through breed crosses and/or the introduction of native breed dogs.
Crosses of breeds and breed varieties can also be approved if a breed or one of its varieties threatens to accumulate such a large number of serious defects, diseases or disease genes that it makes the testing of breeding dogs for all these conditions impossible, and the breed does not include a sufficient number of healthy dogs, with a breed-typical behaviour, to enable breeding. The same procedure can be followed if the breed's original working traits have been lost and there is a desire to reintroduce them to the breed.
The third situation, which permits the making of breed crosses, is an effort to repair the conformation of the breed's dogs. If the conformation of a breed's dogs is not healthy enough to enable normal mating, breeding can be continued by crossing the breed with another one that has a healthier conformation; the method here is to pair a bitch with a healthier conformation with a male from the original breed in the combination.
Plans for breed crossing and opening of studbooks will be drafted in cooperation between breeders, the breed association, the Finnish Kennel Club and the breed's country of origin. The Finnish Kennel Club has separate guidelines for the practical realisation of breed crosses.
(See the FKC document 'Instructions for implementing and monitoring crosses between breeds': https://www.kennelliitto.fi/lomakkeet/instructions-implementing-and-monitoring-crosses-between-breeds. The FKC has also made a video introducing its' careful crossbreeding practices. In the video below, the Chair of the FKC breeding committee, Dr. Kirsi Sainio tells us about the advantages crossbreeding can bring to a breed.)
Key to the success in Finland is:
- an open mind about how to breed dogs
- a commitment FIRST to dog health and wellbeing
- education of breeders on ethical and sustainable breeding
- provision of statistics and data to support breed health efforts
- transparency in the health information on dogs
- collaboration with breed clubs.
This is an approach that could be followed by other kennel clubs, especially in this time of great scrutiny from society.