Friday, May 13, 2011

Breeding Strategies And Their Applications

Are you a responsible and serious breeder? Doesn't matter which breed. If you are, you will read this article more than once, and study it to learn from it. If you aren't a responsible breeder, just go to your backyard and do your thing.

About the author
Professor Dr. Peter Friedrich is the President of the German Kennel Club, Verband Für Das Deutsche  Hundewesen, VDH.
The English version of this UR article is reprinted in full below with permission.  You can also click the link to view in the original format. German version click here.

Breeding Strategies And Their Applications
Revealing The Fundamentals
The serious breeder is demanding and wants to employ well thought out breeding strategies for the good of his stock. Such strategies are built by defining goals, collecting relevant information, planning matings, checking the outcomes and evaluating their achievements. Taken together, the breeders apply classic problem solving strategies. This is not easy, but it is the only way to achieve progress, as I would like to illustrate in the following discussion. Let me begin with a brief summary. This is not to denigrate personal inspiration or intuition: this is equally important and, in fact problem solving and intuition complement each other exceptionally well.

Breeding Goals
There are many fundamental reasons for keeping and breeding dogs. One wants a lovable companion; the next dreams of winning competitions and others are primarily interested in aesthetic appearance. The difference is that the objectives of breeders are more varied. The breeder who is interested in the agility scene naturally makes different breeding decisions to someone whose aim is to stand in the Best in Show ring at an international dog show. The mechanics may be the same but the final result will vary depending on the aims of the breeder. However, within the world of pedigree dogs the most important common denominator is the breed standard with its structured descriptions, some of which are precise although others are vague. Experience has shown that there is often little consensus on the way the wording of these standards is applied: how they translate from the written word into the reality of each breed. This is most evident where standards have changed little over decades but where the dogs themselves, including champions as seen in good drawings and photographs, look very different at the beginning of the twenty-first century than they did in the middle of the twentieth century.

Photo 1 shows a Dogue de Bordeaux of the early 1980s that was highly celebrated in my home country. Today’s champions look different. Admittedly, this could be due to inadequate expertise on the part of the German judges of those days because Dogues de Bordeaux were very rarely seen in shows then.

Photo 1: Times are changing: this is a
Dogue de Bordeaux that was highly
celebrated in Germany in the early 1980s.
(Photo courtesy of Peter Friedrich)
The expectations of potential puppy buyers have also played a role in this respect. Moreover, the way and the degree to which dog breeds are integrated and accepted into society is not dictated solely by the choices made by those who wish to have a pedigree dog. The tolerance of all those who are decidedly skeptical about dogs can have an effect
on the survival of entire breed groups, as we all must painfully experience time and again.
Extending certain standards to take temperament into account would make a significant and positive difference to public perceptions. It would certainly not be counterproductive. If we therefore agree that breeding goals in practice result from formulation and interpretation of the standards, considerations about health and behaviour, buyer expectations and society’s realities, then we should also all be prepared to realize that problems may also occasionally arise. These are the subjects of this article but first I would like to develop the analysis. If you agree with me so far and perceive a specific image as complete and well-rounded, then I must draw your attention to a serious misconception.
So far, my focus has been on the individual dog, but if we survey the particular characteristics of entire breeds i.e., closed reproductive communities, are not taken into account, then it will not be possible to achieve positive long-term results.

But let us start at the beginning.

Our canine success story has set standards. Our capacity for open self criticism, however, does not always impress everyone to the same degree and we must appreciate this and work on it. This also applies to the standards and how they are interpreted. My personal conviction is that every standard and every customary way of interpreting the standard should be reviewed again and again at regular intervals and tested as to whether they can be harmonised with the key concepts:quality of life (as is abundantly evident with the Dachshunds in Photo 2), longevity, social compatibility and type of breed. High quality of life for the dog must absolutely include good health, fitness, agility, capacity for communication, fertility, the ability to mate naturally and tolerance to a variety of foodstuffs. In addition, long established and possibly questionable standard specifications demanding characteristics conformation and temperament – such as an extremely broad head that can cause problems when the dam gives birth, or marked social nervousness militates against social acceptability – should be reconsidered. Traditional ideals do not always harmonize with the living conditions of modern life. On the other hand, uniqueness should not be sacrificed without good cause, especially when it is as beautiful as the Ciobanesc Romanesc Mioritic, “Don‘t give up Apuseni”, shown in Photo 3 whose qualities should be recognised and retained. There are certain cases, however, where I see no alternative but to compromise. Even when what is written in the standard seems reasonable, the zeal of particularly highly motivated breeders and breed judges to achieve a certain appearance may be unacceptable. In this instance it is time to take countermeasures.
A breeder may be standing astounded in front of his whelping box, marvelling at one of his purebred puppies that has been bred true but which, unfortunately, is not officially recognized. Photo 4 shows a short-haired Afghan Hound named “Kouros Senorita.” Setting reasonable, well-developed goals is an essential part of applying breeding strategies responsibly.
Longevity is, without doubt, an important goal, but our information is nonetheless still inadequate in this area and we should welcome the increasing interest of universities in researching this topic. I would like to dedicate a separate section later in this discussion to the positive role longer-lived dogs could play in this regard.

My appeal to breeders to adopt a self-critical attitude also leads me to consider external critics and comments. Most of them approach us respectfully but some are disingenuous, propagate untruths, report onesidedly or are seduced by dishonest self-interest. But bad experiences must not prevent us from thinking constructively.
Photo 2: Quality of life par excellence:
high spirited Dachshunds the way they
should be. (Photo courtesy of A. Görtler)
Photo 3: An original beauty: Ciobanesc
Romanesc Mioritic named “Don‘t give up
Apuseni.” (Photo courtesy of Peter Friedrich)
Regardless of whatever is held against purebred dog breeding, it cannot hurt to try to understand the views of outsiders and to think about whether we should not – after reviewing each particular case and if the argument is convincing – be prepared to backtrack or change our view. We should consider that external criticism might be helpful – not always – but in some respects. The primary complaints brought against us are in the areas of hereditary diseases, inbreeding, extremities of type and conformation, too great an emphasis on dog shows, poor temperament, insufficient phenotype diversity, presentation, breeding intervals for bitches and conditions in breeding kennels. At first sight, it looks as if we are dealing with an exclusively rational, calculable phenomenon and that we are involved in an objective discussion on equal terms. Fortunately, this is very often the actual case, particularly when the condemnatory opinions are coming from scientists and are coupled with constructive suggestions.
A more special case, however, is the role of mass media with all its own rules. This can be damaging but disputes can blow up within their own ranks as a paradoxical reaction to the alleged injustices. Here is a true opportunity to reach satisfying solutions.

How do those responsible for breeding get the information they need for their breeding programs? Where important facts of individual animals are methodically registered and documented, there are three distinctive types of actions that stand out from the rest: breeding suitability tests (körung), performance tests and dog shows. The latter are wonderful attractions with many positive functions. The like-minded meet, talk shop and compare their dogs. But they are not always the best choice as the primary basis for breeding planning. Appearance is too one-sidedly emphasized, temperament is given too little attention, and they provide too little certainty on health questions to build a basis for planning matings. If the results of performance tests are taken into account in addition to the show results, the situation improves. These provide more information as to functionality. But there are still significant gaps in the information gained. Thoroughness, however, can only be attested when breeding suitability is determined in its own right and at special events during which data on health, temperament, pedigree and appearance is collected and evaluated - and where this data is then used as the starting point for coming to justified conclusions. There is nothing to be said against subdividing the overall procedure into modules that are worked through session by session instead of conducting the whole procedure in one session. Much more important is the validity, completeness and reliability of the procedures.
Let me at this point go into more detail regarding conformation, before discussing health and temperament. What takes the most time when judging? For the stacked dog we look at it closely. We feel its body with our hands. Studying the dog’s movement is usually based on a comparatively short observation phase where the dog gaits and is inspected from the side, rear and front. The criteria most commonly used to judge this phase are geometric such as stride length, parallelism and ground clearance. The other important and dynamic aspects of daily life such as agility, elasticity and ground coverage are often given very little attention.

Breeding Suitability Qualification (Körung)
It is, therefore, indisputable that there are good reasons for special breeding suitability tests with extended suitability criteria and clear documentation made accessible to the public. Two health-related variables should be looked into on this occasion. There are DNA findings on the one hand that are related to hereditary diseases, and on the other hand, the results of clinical studies on hereditarily influenced pathological characteristics – always on the precondition that grave disorders play a role for any particular breed. This is the only reasonable approach to take toward developing a diagnostic basis for the application of systematic breeding strategies. To a certain extent, behaviour patterns should also be examined. Breed specialists could also use the occasion to analyse the dog’s pedigree, which should not normally lead to formal decisions but contribute to informal discussions. It is easy on such occasions to let the dog show movement patterns other than the ‘trot’, such as those mentioned in the previous para
Photo 4: Do you recognize the breed? You can find the
answer in the text. (Photo courtesy of Barbara Thiel)
graph, and to evaluate them with respect to their significance for future breeding. There are certainly many differences between dog shows and a körung (a specialist event designed to judge a dog’s suitability for breeding). One of them, however, is extremely important. If it is not understood, disastrous mistakes can be made. The influence of presentation skills on the körung evaluation should be minimal. At formal dog shows, handling is nearly always taken into consideration and affects the overall judgment about the dog. At a körung we want to reach conclusions regarding the genotype, based as far as possible, on what our senses tell us and what the medical findings show: the other end of the leash is of no help to us in these matters.
In Germany, French Bulldogs are currently making history in a very commendable way. In order to prevent the drawbacks of brachycephaly, the French Bulldogs are subjected to a kind of fitness test. Their heart condition is assessed by a veterinarian and both pulse rate and breathing are checked. They must then walk or run one kilometer within a prescribed amount of time. Their heart, pulse and breathing are checked again immediately after the exercise phase, and then checked once more five to ten minutes later. Only those that pass the test without problems are permitted to be bred from. Pugs (Photo 5: “Sunshine Pug Knock Out”) and other breeds are also benefiting from this new procedure. It fits seamlessly into the guiding principles already presented, according to which the keywords on the day of evaluating the dog for breeding suitability: quality of life (for the dog), longevity, social compatibility and type of breed.

In the jurisdiction of the German Kennel Club (VDH), every dog that is to be used for breeding must pass a limited temperament test. These things take time so the project is still in its introductory phase. Nonetheless, the majority of clubs have already adapted their practices to the requirement. With many clubs, changes did not need to be made because they had already made them on their own initiative. We can therefore, surprisingly, already summarize the first results. Nearly all of those involved report good results. This is no coincidence, but is due instead to a methodical approach: breed-specific, biologically well founded, standardized tests were created. Owners know what is expected, learning goals have been clarified and preparatory courses exist.
Only extreme cases of poor temperament are taken out of the breeding programs during the test and it is recognized that we are only seeing random samples of the dog’s temperament, which are not necessarily representative of the dog’s normal behavior. It is therefore sensible to repeat the test. The heritability of temperament tendencies is tested but the extent to which they are influenced by heredity is not given too much weight. All test situations are conducted in a positive way and specially trained personnel are employed. In the meantime, no one any longer takes on the attitude that was particularly unpleasant at the beginning. This consisted of falsely believing that the dogs and their owners should be forced to be subjected to always new, never experienced and completely untrained situations during the character or temperament test. This was allegedly designed to test only the purely genetic influences on temperament and not what the dog had learned through its experiences and training. That, of course, is nonsense.
Learning plays a role during development and experience and in all environmental circumstances. Fortunately, this does not distract from attempting to assess temperament. There was considerable confusion at the beginning due to misunderstandings of the objectives but theses have largely now been overcome. Quality-assured procedures are in place and positive results have already been achieved with the dogs, with kennel and in discussions with politicians. Effort and reward are now reasonably balanced.

Pairing Rules for Mating
Through a democratic process a majority consensus to set up rules that are compulsory for mating stud dogs and bitches and that permit or recommend certain combinations and prohibit or at least advise against others, can be agreed. Six typical constellations are currently used in actual practice. I would like to propose an additional one in the section titled “Old Dogs – New Opportunities” later in
Photo 5: Pug “Sunshine Pug Knock Out“:
brachycephalic and full of life.
(Photo courtesy of Karin Grambitter)
this discussion. A common prerequisite for all of them is to keep a watchful eye on the development of entire populations and not just on individual animals.
1. Excluding Hereditarily Questionable Animals from Breeding. Excluding individuals from breeding that exhibit a hereditarily influenced disorder – or a disorder for which we believe this is probable – is better than nothing. But it’s not really that much better than doing nothing at all. A moderate co-variation of phenotype and genotype may be on our side, but it is more advisable and also feasible to optimize the approach.
The principles of relationship and the knowledge of blood lines
open up possibilities that get us farther.
2. Estimation of Breeding Values. (ie: statistically derived probability values). This method was developed to optimize the breeding of stock animals. A classic example of its use is the increased yield of milk cows. It is also relatively promising of being successful with dogs under certain conditions. The method uses a mathematical model to calculate a key value with respect to a certain characteristic for every individual animal and this value is considered to be an approximation of the probability that the dog’s germ cells will pass the desired characteristic to its offspring. This is always a probability estimation based on a Gaussian distribution. The mean value for all animals of the population is 100. A value greater than 100 means above average likelihood that the characteristic will be passed on, and values below 100 mean less likelihood. Input data for the method is measured values or quantified examination findings. The calculation also incorporates data collected from parents, grandparents, siblings and other relations. It thus makes a cautious conjecture of the genotype starting from the phenotype.
Normally, a maximum value is defined for a planned pairing, where the addition of the breeding values of the parents (divided by two to make it easier to understand) should not exceed this maximum. A gradual suppression of undesirable phenomena – such as hip dysplasia – down to an insurmountable lower limit has been achieved successfully many times with the help of the breeding value estimation method, as shown for example in Photo 6 where you see the Rottweiler named “Perle vom Sternbogen”. The method can also be taken into consideration when the characteristic (or group of characteristics) appears to move step by step from low to medium and strongly to very strongly, or even better,
scaled in intervals (such as bone thickness) and is based on a polygenic (or otherwise complex) hereditary process. In addition, appearance of the characteristic must be able to be detected objectively and reliably, and data should be collected for a high percentage of the entire population.
The strengths of the ‘breeding value estimation’ method are in suppressing hereditary diseases. In my experience, however, it has not proven itself useful for conformation characteristics such as body
height or depth of colour of the eyes, which is due in part to undesirable side effects. By drawing breeders’ attention to characteristics with breeding value, there is the danger that one-sided and detrimental selection effects will develop with regard to other characteristics. Health, social compatibility and conformation in all of their differentiation can be adversely affected, even when extensive educational measures have been implemented.
3. DNA Analysis Tests. If fully-developed direct DNA analysis tests are available for monogenic-related hereditary diseases with an autosomal recessive hereditary trait, i.e., those in which a mutation of one gene is the cause of the disorder and the disease only exhibits symptoms when both recessive alleles (gene from the father and gene from the mother) code correspondingly, then this is a huge advancement. This allows individuals who are either homozygous affected (both alleles critical),
heterozygous (one allele critical, so-called “carrier”) or homozygous normal (no allele critical) to be separated from one another, and then preferably only homozygous normals mated with each other. There may also be good reasons for mating a homozygous normal with a heterozygous.
DNA tests, enabled polyneuropathy in Greyhounds (Photo 7: Tahuara’s Autumn Sun) overcome recently. A direct gene test identifies changes (mutations) in the genes themselves, and an indirect gene test identifies associated markers, which is much less reliable. DNA analysis tests only require material from the dog itself but not from its
Photo 6: Successful application of the breeding
value estimation method is attested by the
Rottweiler. This is a female from a performance
breeding program: “Perle vom Sternbogen”.
(Photo courtesy of Peter Friedrich
relations, which is an enormous benefit. So far, so good but it can still get complicated. Should the market offer direct gene tests for a whole series of hereditary diseases that can affect a certain breed, it must be carefully weighed to what extent these should be taken advantage of. If all of these tests are applied rigorously, this could result in an extreme reduction of the genetic diversity of the breed, which would not benefit anybody. It should, therefore, be taken into consideration to what extent does the breed suffer from a particular disorder and how widespread is it. Selection decisions should be dosed correspondingly high or moderately.
4. Genomic Selection. In dog breeding, genomic selection is today (2011) not yet ready for widespread use and is thus still a future technology. If follows the principle of comprehensive genetic typifying based on markers, which could provide a highly effective tool for influencing heritable characteristics in the next step of the breeding strategy. Whether its use with canines will be free of negative side effects remains to be seen. This method also does not require information on the dog’s relations.
5. Inbreeding Management. If inbreeding is practiced for a breed often, extensively and continuously, i.e., the individuals that are mated with each other are often and consistently closely related, then this can, and very likely will, lead to deleterious effects. The majority of individuals of the breed can be at risk of loss of fitness, which can manifest itself as increased susceptibility to diseases, reduced fertility, reduced vitality, lowered life expectancy and a variety of other problems. This phenomenon is easily underestimated due to the fact that the first generations of the offspring of such closely-related inbreeding pairings may often appear to be in excellent condition. This, however, does not mitigate
the long-term overall negative effect of this phenomenon on the larger group, but it does deceive the observer whose point of view is restricted to only a small part of the entire population. The sons and daughters of closely-related inbreeding pairings, for whom reasonable partners are chosen in the next generations, can produce unaffected offspring.
Occasionally the phenomena of “inbreeding,” “small gene pool” and “low genetic diversity” are lumped together, but this does not quite reflect the true state of affairs. The term gene pool is used to designate the collective group of all of the different genes of a closed population. It can be very large or impoverished. With a large gene pool, one always has the option of rejecting inbreeding, because there are enough less closely-related partners to choose from. But this is not an automatism. Misguided breeding habits can ignore the opportunities provided by a large gene pool although inbreeding is unavoidable with an impoverished gene pool because it is difficult to find breeding partners who are
only distantly related to each other.
If a notable number of individuals of a population exhibit distinct differences in their genetic makeup, then this is referred to as high genetic diversity. Many animals thus have a lower degree of relationship in this population. The logical connection to inbreeding is obvious. Line breeding is a relatively mild form of inbreeding. Incest breeding is an extreme form of inbreeding. Father/daughter matings and the mating of similarly closely-related mammals are coupled in a statistical sense with significant health risks and are therefore prohibited by law in some countries. The degree of inbreeding of a reproductive community is not the primary cause of hereditary diseases, but inbreeding where there is little genetic diversity is a catalyst so-to-speak for the propagation of hereditary diseases. Imports from across the world, organized by dedicated dog lovers often lead to a valuable enrichment of the gene pool.
Photo 7: Polyneuropathy in the Greyhound
was conquered through gene testing.
Here you see“Tahuara’s Autumn Sun”.
(Photo courtesy of Barbara Thiel)
But this does not have to be limited to informal initiatives. The question becomes, “If formal solutions are indicated, how can excessive inbreeding in a closed population be administratively avoided?” There are two effective approaches. The first is limiting the number of matings of stud dogs in order to curb the inbreeding-increasing practice of so-called matador breeding, which is where only a few famous male dogs are mated with an extremely large number of females. When used in conjunction with an assessment of the offspring, mating limits can serve to make quality assurance even more effective. The second uses two easily calculable mathematical parameters for which maxima can be defined. The inbreeding coefficient (IC) indicates the probability with which the two alleles of a gene could stem from one and the same ancestor. If we assume that the ancestors were not related, then the inbreeding coefficients are as follows for the pairings shown: father with daughter: offspring has an IC of 0.25 (also expressed as 25 percent); brother with sister: offspring has an IC of 0.25; grandfather with granddaughter: offspring has an IC of 0.125; half-brother with half-sister: offspring has an IC of 0.125; first cousins with each other: offspring has an IC of 0.0625. There will be different results in practice depending on how many generations are taken into account in the calculation. The ancestor loss coefficient (abbreviated in German to AVK) is the percentage of ancestors that are actually different in the dog’s pedigree relative to the highest possible number of non-identical ancestors over a given number of generations.
The inbreeding problem is inevitably much more complex with rare breeds. It may become necessary to take further-reaching interventions into consideration, such as crossbreeding programs. One rare breed, of which I have personally encountered only amazingly robust individuals, is the Australian Stumpy Tail Cattle Dog (Photo 8: “Kippilaw Converted”).
6. Crossbreeding Programs. At present, there is an increasing number of inquiries and applications from breeders and breeding clubs related to the systematic crossbreeding of varieties and breeds. The incentive for this is almost always the desire to reduce the proven degree of inbreeding in a population. A transfer of genes from one population into another occurs with canines not only through artificial selection.
Please look at the black Timber Wolf (Canis lupus lycaon) in Photo 9. His dark colouring stems from a domestic dog, as genetic analyses have proven. Somewhere in the wild, an adventurous male dog probably made his way to a female wolf at just the right time and then further down the long line of generations probably only male wolves were involved in mating but did not suppress the dog gene responsible for the black colouring because it contributes to a functioning adaptation to the environment. Crossbreeding is discussed very controversially among dog lovers. Some speak of intentional improvements, others of bastard propagation. Logically, however, polarization does not contribute to a professional assessment of the situation and this does not always come to the same conclusions. Let me differentiate between the crossbreeding of varieties that differ only in size, the crossbreeding of varieties
Photo 8: Rare breeds need special attention: Australian
Stumpy Tail Cattle Dog “Kippilaw Converted”. (Photo courtesy
of Peter Friedrich)
Photo 9: Where did the black coloring of this Timber Wolf
(Canis lupus lycaon) come from? You can find the answer in the
text. (Photo courtesy of Quartl)
that do not only differ in size, the crossbreeding of breeds that are of similar origin, and the crossbreeding of breeds with geneses that have developed over a very long time.
For the crossbreeding of varieties that differ only in size, let’s take the German Spitz as an example, rules should be created for categorizing the offspring into the different varieties. This should be easy enough to do. With varieties that differ in coloration or marking patterns, breeders sometimes get into trouble with groups of dogs that genetically do not quite meet the standards. There are black Great Danes (Deutsche Doggen). There are fawn Great Danes (Deutsche Doggen). There are white Great Danes (Deutsche Doggen) with black splashed patches well distributed all over the body, having the appearance of being torn. But disqualified are Great Danes (Deutsche Doggen) with fawn splashed patches well distributed all over the body, having the appearance of being torn. This does not make outcrossing any easier. Not long ago, the Eurasier was created by crossing Wolfspitz, Chow Chow and Samoyed – a true stroke of luck as Photo 10 shows. He can be given blood transfusions from any of his own original breeds without any serious complications. If the desire is to cross genes from foreign breeds into breeds with a genesis that has developed over a very long time, then my opinion is that it is absolutely necessary to start with a test population separated from the main population. Only when this has proven suitable after long analysis phases, should it be taken into consideration to introduce this crossbreed into the original population. Our breeding regulations, unfortunately, do not yet take such problematic situations adequately into account. This is where we still need to take action. The strict binding of the CACIB awards to a genetic separation of varieties is in my opinion also outdated.

Old Dogs – New Opportunities
Information for breeding strategies is usually gained within the context of breeding suitability assessments for conformation, temperament tendencies and health data when the animals are one and a half to three years old, four years at the most. During this period, our representatives of their breeds normally present themselves in truly top shape and are perceived by laymen and expert observers alike as especially attractive, which is entirely in keeping with the omnipresent emphasis in our society on everything youthful. At the same time, they are on the verge of their own personal development into fertile, caring mothers and virile stud dogs.
What do we do with the facts and assessments gained? We normally use them as the starting data from which we attempt to deduce – as best we can – the genotype, i.e., the genetic makeup hidden from our sensory perception but starting from the phenotype, i.e., external appearance and temperament. Particularly when extensive data on siblings and ancestors can be incorporated into the calculations, the prospect of success with such a procedure is quite good. Typical difficulties arise, however, where individual characteristic dimensions are heritable only to a relatively small degree, i.e., are hereditarily influenced, or were subjected to unusual, intense environmental influences, in extreme cases traumas, which may even have occurred during the sensitive ontogenetic phase in the womb where development of the single cell organism takes place. Unfortunately, there are still significant gaps in the information we have about this stage, which will not be filled as long as we rely only on the data of relatively young dogs. Conversely, by taking information we can only gain from relatively old dogs into account, we can contribute significantly to improved decisions either for or against using certain purebred dogs for breeding.
The genes of a twelve-year-old Saluki that still enjoys a high quality of life in the circle of its family and playing with other dogs have at least proven that they are constituted such that the dog’s anatomic structures and organ systems still function well at an old age, which is certainly not true to the same degree for others of its breed. It would be of special interest to see such genes present in future generations.
One could, therefore, make a general attempt to give the genes of longlived studs and bitches the opportunity to be propagated. I will briefly summarize the modalities that are available that would, for example, make it unnecessary for an older bitch to endure the strenuousness of whelping again. But first, let me say a few words about very special areas of information and use heart diseases as an example. If we were to
Photo 10: The Eurasier has its origin in a systematic coupling of
Wolfspitz,Chow Chow and Samoyed. (Photo courtesy of Thomas Post)

have all two-year-olds of a purebred dog population undergo a heart examination, we would with today’s state of cardiology technology be confronted with relatively few pathological findings. If we were to conclude from this that the breed in general has healthy hearts and further measures were not needed, we would be making a serious mistake. It could be quite possible that if we were to conduct an ultrasonic heart examination of the same dogs when they were six years old, there would be many more pathological findings and corresponding selection measures would be absolutely required, alone for reasons of protection of animals. Considering the state of today’s research, limiting heart examinations to relatively young dogs must be seen as true malpractice. Heart examinations at the right time, on the other hand, are of great value. This general principle applies in like manner to a countless number of other characteristics. On the other hand, however, not all characteristics require a re-examination at a significantly later age. Hip dysplasia, for example, appears not to require a re-examination at an advanced age once this has been done in younger years. One could also easily find a number of examples in the category of criteria that can be conclusively judged at a relatively early age, but this would go beyond the scope of this discussion. Please let me now come to the following conclusion based on what has be said so far.

I propose that old breeding-certified or formerly breeding-certified dogs, both studs and bitches, that appear to us to be still healthy, lively, to have intact movements and to enjoy a sustained high quality of life, be systematically acknowledged via a kind of certification, more precisely, by awarding them the additional designation “Senior Certificate” which would also be published.
Breeders would then be more likely to learn of the existence of such animals, in which they may possibly be interested, and could include this knowledge in their breeding plans should it appear advantageous to them. It would be conceivable to increasingly use still virile Senior-Certificate studs for breeding, and also to increasingly use not so old studs and bitches for breeding that have a more than coincidental number of Senior-Certificate studs and Senior-Certificate bitches in their ancestry and at the same time do not have any conspicuously short-lived ancestors. In the latter-named manner, Senior-Certificate bitches could still positively influence the gene pool in an indirect way when their use for breeding can no longer be expected of them. The same applies to studs that have in the meantime been castrated. Those who are considering whether they want to have puppies from their own bitches or whether reasons of common sense speak against it, and those who are looking for the best possible partner for their bitches, would have additional criteria on hand for making their decisions, in addition to the information already available. Moreover, the relative frequency of Senior-Certificate dogs of a particular breed, i.e., the percentage of Senior-Certificated animals relative to the entire population, would provide significant information with regard to the state of the population as a whole. That by itself would be an advancement because at present, there is virtually no breed for which we have an overview of the distribution of life expectancies, their arithmetic means and the causes of death.
The considerations presented here strategically complement the established repertoire of breeding control measures, which often focus simply on excluding unsuitable dogs from breeding, whereas the basic orientation of the Senior Certificate concept works in the sense of a special recommendation. Are there any undesirable side effects to be expected when implementing the Senior Certificate concept; is there anyone for whom it would be uncomfortable? I hope that is not the case, because only those breeders come into question, who are working in good faith but through no fault of their own are not achieving the results they themselves desire and are embarrassed by this fact, but also particularly those who run dubious puppy mills where the dogs are relatively short-lived and who deliberately and at all costs want to prevent this fact from becoming known.
The details will, of course, need to be clarified before this concept is put into practice. On what occasions and under what conditions will

Photo 11: Hovawart „Enzo vom Amorhof“:
Ten years old and still a feast for our eyes.
(Photo courtesy of Barbara Thiel)

Photo 12: “Mayssa Schuru-esch-Schams” enjoys her Sloughi
life. (Photo courtesy of Barbara Thiel)
the senior dogs be evaluated? What would be sensible age limits for the different breeds? It is logical that these age limits would be defined differently for Fox Terriers than for Leonbergers.

In conclusion, I want to emphasize how seamlessly the Senior Certificate concept fits into the basic idea that the breeding goal is not to produce the single, prize-winning animal with all of its merits at the focus of interest, but to achieve a positive development of the entire breed population with its particular strengths and weaknesses.
Selection of relevant characteristics of the large group, such as the spread of their phenotypical characteristics and their genetic diversity would, therefore, be of highest priority. I consider longevity to be one of the most important criteria in this conjunction. Every single pairing, when chosen from the perspective presented here, would be ultimately measured by how beneficial its potential could be for future generations and not alone by whether it produced a champion from its ranks for the winning circle.

Taking a Closer Look
As we have seen, there is an abundance of intellectual tools that can be a blessing for any breed when used correctly. Standards revisions, breeding value estimations, gene tests, temperament assessments and Senior Certificates are only a few examples. It is up to us whether we use them sensibly. If we are prepared to do this, we cannot get around making elementary preparations. Both individual dogs as well as large parts of their corresponding populations must be thoroughly analyzed, which will certainly be an exciting project for true dog lovers. It will also be part of our canon of obligatory duties to follow up every single measure taken. Once we have defined rules for breeding activities, we want to know whether the effects strove for have come to fruition and negative side effects have been held to an acceptable level. Competence, taking on responsibility and hard work must go hand in hand. And if all the tools named here have been properly understood and employed, then they do not at all stand in the way of the creative intuition mentioned at the beginning of this discussion, but rather complement it excellently. Please note that I am speaking in my discussion here to those who are serious breeders, do not take breeding lightly and demand the highest standards – for the good of the dogs who are then able to fully enjoy their lives, such as “Mayssa Schuru-esch-Schams” shown in Photo 12.

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