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Inbreeding Scanner Devised for Pedigree Dog Breeding

31 July 2015

NETHERLANDS - To prevent inbreeding, the breeders of pedigree dogs need to work together, researchers from the Livestock Research and the Centre for Genetic Resources think.

Researcher Jack Windig has developed a simulation programme for breeders that is designed to reduce the genetic defects suffered by pedigree dogs.

"If all and sundry," said Mr Windig, referring to the owners of pedigree dogs, "want to have their bitches covered by the champion, we’ll have a major problem."

The gene pool will be too small, inbreeding will be significant and the number of genetic defects will be considerable, he said. Mr Windig advises the Dutch Kennel Club, the umbrella organisation for pedigree dog associations, on how they can improve the health of pedigree dogs.

Of the popular golden retriever breed, some 2000 puppies are born every year in the Netherlands. Every year, the five most popular male dogs sire a quarter of those puppies.

"The male animals determine the inbreeding," says Windig. "The most popular male dog ever in the Netherlands, born in 1989, had 857 offspring."

By referring to the family tree registered by the Golden Retriever Club Netherlands, he was able to establish the kinship of the dogs and calculate the extent of inbreeding in the population.

Using his own computer simulation tool, he was then able to establish which measures will reduce inbreeding. An obvious one would be that the breeder seeks a mother and father who are not genetically related, but this measure does not work over the long term.

"The next time an unrelated male dog becomes very popular, there’ll be another increase in inbreeding in the next generation. It is better to study the issue at population level," said Mr Windig.

For this reason he has calculated the average kinship of all golden retrievers that can be used for breeding in the Netherlands with every other dog of the same breed. This information is now being published by the Dutch Kennel Club.

Breeders can enter their desired father or mother animal and receive advice in the form of a green, yellow, orange or red traffic light. Red or orange indicates a large increase in the inbreeding among the population; yellow and green, a much lesser increase.

Over the longer term, this will help breeders to avoid the genetic defects found among the pedigree dogs. Mr Windig reported the success of his approach this month in the Journal of Animal Breeding and Genetics.

Mr Windig’s methodology is already being applied to a handful of dog breeds in order to better manage the kinship and to reduce genetic defects.

In the case of the golden retriever, for example, muscle disorders are an issue.

In addition, there are projects intended to track down and breed out genetic defects using DNA typing. In that case, too, it is not wise to breed generation after generation with a few male dogs who don’t carry the defect, warned Mr Windig.

Rather, the aim must be to maintain sufficient variation of mothers and fathers at population level, otherwise another defect will crop up instead. "Every animal has genetic shortcomings. Generally speaking, they are rare, but not if you start breeding with a limited gene set."

Mr Windig has collaborated with Kor Oldenbroek from the same centre to write a Dutch-language book on the subject, 'Breeding pedigree dogs: dealing with inbreeding and kinship'.

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