Don't even get me started #3 Genetics

If you read the title then you will know that this 3rd and final part of my three part series called Don't even get me started is indeed about genetics. There is so much to say about the genetic makeup of a dog that it is mind boggling; there are many different opinions about how to breed better dogs through genetic manipulation. Although I do not breed dogs; at least not at the moment, I do have an opinion on the subject (you know I always have an opinion). For instance; I have spoken with many breeders who are still on the page that genetic inbreeding is the only way to know what you are getting.

Inbreeding: the mating of closely related individuals, as cousins, sire-daughter and brother-sister which tends to increase the number of individuals that are homozygous for a trait and therefore increases the appearance of recessive traits

Inbreeding is the way it has been done for many years; but it is also the undoing of many breeds and dogs. When you breed dogs within the same small genetic pool you lose genetic diversity and breed vigor. What happens when dogs are inbred is that genetic material is diminished; and it is genetic diversity that keeps a line strong and healthy, if strong and healthy specimens have been used that is. This wonderful article written by the renowned Dr. John Armstrong on Canine Inbreeding and Diversity explains a lot. I feel very honored to have spoken with Dr. Armstrong before his passing; he was a man with great knowledge and an even great passion for dogs.

I have seen firsthand the results of inbreeding; low birth rate is the first and most obvious result. When I hear of dogs who should normally have 8-12 puppies in the average litter who have only had 2 or 3; it is the first thing I consider. Health and longevity are also hampered by closely line breeding. Zoos have long known the result of inbreeding and most now put many hours into ensuring that only healthy and genetically diverse animals are used for breeding purposes. Some breeders are now doing the same and these are the ones leading the way of the future.

Mutts are healthier; how many times have you heard this statement? I know I've heard it dozens of times a year. Of course the statement is not a fact but it does have a basis to its origin. Mutts have a great amount of canine diversity although most mutts or mixed dogs do not have any genetic health tests being done on them so no one really knows what is in the mix. It is not suffice to say that out crossing is the means to a healthy dog.

Out crossing: the breeding of two animals with little or no similar relatives in their pedigree.

It is through extensive research done by a breeder who looks to find healthy specimens with little genetic similarities that produces better dogs.

Frozen semen; more and more breeders are going the way of frozen semen. I believe it is a wonderful way to save some of the great dogs DNA for use down the road and to create genetic diversity. Many feel that it is just too far; too much human intervention but are dog breeds not all due to human intervention? Yep. If it were not for human intervention there would be dogs; just dogs in general with no specific breeds of any type. So for the sheer reason that we alone have solely had a hand in ruining them, it should be us that tries to fix the problem. One aspect of frozen semen that I really like is that you can often see the results of good breeding first hand. You may indeed use the semen of a dog who is now gone but lived to 17 years of age strong and healthy. Now that is some semen you want to find.

There is also the aspect that it can be shipped pretty much anywhere giving you a better chance of breeding dogs that are not related. This alone is very exciting. Although some breeders are bringing in dogs from other countries to add to their breeding stock which I believe to be very beneficial. Of course all tests must be done and genetic lineage looked at before breeding but it is very exciting as well.

All in all genetics is very fascinating; at least it is for me. Some breeders are doing it all right; some are just looking at this whole genetic diversity thing and there are still some caught in the dark ages with the mindset that line or inbreeding is the only way. Hopefully somewhere along the way they will see the light; if only for the good of our dogs.


  1. You might enjoy going to Cherden Shelties, clicking on "Articles" and then reading "how to use your Pedigree". Cheryl Anderson is a VERY knowledgeable breeder out in Scappoose, OR who has been breeding shelties for HEALTH and STRUCTURE for decades. Prior to that, her college major was evolution so she knows what she's talking about. She does line breed, but at least she knows how to do it. More and more sheltie breeders are bringing in english and european dogs for their outcrosses. if you study the history of the sheltie in this country and compare the photos of the original imports with photos of the winning shelties of today they look like entirely separate breeds. todays english dogs look more like the original imports... higher and much lighter built. there were/are some sheltie breeders for whom structure is still very important... these are the breeders whose kennels produce large numbers of highly successful agility dogs. but through the years alot of them bred for "the look", specifically a particular shape and structure for their HEADS. and, indeed, by linebreeding they have produced some truly spectacular looking dogs. but the trend today seems to be drifting back toward structure and movement and I'm sure that will ultimately be beneficial to the breed as a whole. they are, in fact, "working dogs".
    keep up the wonderful articles and please try to visit Cheryl's site.
    Clan Duncan shelties is the site of another scientist turned breeder. good information there as well.

  2. Thanks so much Suzanne; I will definitely check out those sites.


  3. I have had shelties for decades but didn't really start "studying" them till 2004. there is a tremendous amount of information out there on shelties. I've been avidly reading everything i could get my hands on for about 5 years and it seems as though I haven't gotten through it all by a long shot. on both Sue Bowling's site and on Sheltie Pedigree Lines you can find pictures of the "old dogs" as well as the "new" ones. You can click those pedigrees all the way back to the original imports and the collie crosses. Sue Bowling's site gives info and available photos for all the Register of Merit sires and the female families and you can trace these dogs back for literally decades. Jean Carmylie of Carmylie Shelties has been breeding for probably 40 years and is another one who has focused as much on structure as a pretty face... although she also got a whole bunch of pretty faces along the way. her site has photos of some of her "old greats" and she has recently used at least one english import bitch as an outcross for her line. this is FUN reading! even for a non-sheltie poodle person! :)


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