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Dogs: Stray Thoughts on Purebred, Hybrid and Random Bred Dogs

Dogs in our society fulfill a variety of roles such as vermin catcher, herder, protection, hunting assistant, companion, and many others. The individual characteristics of the dog affects its success in filling these roles. And even when the primary role of the dog is to be a companion, its ability to be successful as a valued companion depends upon how well the qualities of the dog match the needs and abilities of the person. The success of the dog as a companion lies in large part on such things as size, coat care needs, activity level and behavioral idiosyncrasies. The very same qualities that are desirable for one person can be undesirable for another. Thus the ability to place a puppy in the right home depends in large part on the ability to predict these qualities.

Every dog has genetic characteristics. Those characteristics that you can see are "expressed". Every dog has both expressed and unexpressed (hidden) genetic characteristics. Those characteristics might be appearance, structure, temperament, etc. When dogs are mated the genetic material of the male and female are mixed. Some of the qualities seen in the puppies will be the same as seen either the male or female. And some of the qualities seen in the puppies may be different from either parent, the unexpressed characteristics. Those unexpressed characteristics might have been seen in the grand parents, or great grand parents or even further back. In the absence of DNA testing, the ability to predict the characteristics of the puppies depends on knowing what characteristics have been seen in the ancestors. With some important exceptions, the more often a particular characteristic is expressed in the ancestors, the more likely it is that the same characteristic will appear in the puppies.

Generally speaking the goal in creating a purebred dog is to achieve a high level of predictability of characteristics. For most purebred dogs the original creation of the breed was driven by the desire to be able to both predict the characteristics, and the enhance them in a particular desired area. The fastest and most reliable way to achieve this predictability is to clearly identify the desired characteristics, select individuals most closely expressing those characteristics, breed from dogs with a well known background, and to breed from dogs with backgrounds most often showing the desired characteristics. Breeding for the desired characteristics isn't enough. The breeder also has to avoid breeding dogs that show undesirable characteristics.

To most effectively assist in breeding for predictable qualities a breeder creates a "stud book" in which detailed records are kept on each dog. The stud book tracks the breedings, and the results achieved. It helps the breeder identify individual dogs that are most likely to contribute to the desired goal, and very importantly which individuals are more likely to diverge from that goal. The breeder's ability to predict the qualities of the puppies is directly tied to the breeder's level of knowledge about the ancestry of the dogs to be bred.

Breeding from a limited range of dogs increases the rate at which specific genetic characteristics are expressed. It increases the rate at which a female with a particular unexpressed characteristic will be paired with a male of the same unexpressed characteristic, resulting in puppies that show (express) that characteristic. Breeding from a limited range of dogs results in increasing consistency if the dogs expressing the undesirable characteristics are removed from the breeding program. Reaching that consistency can be further accelerated by removing from the breeding program dogs that produce puppies showing the undesirable characteristics. In a vacuum

When multiple individuals participate in breeding of purebred dogs it is necessary for all to have ready access to this stud book information. Thus arose the various breed registries. The core of a breed registry is to record the parentage and lineage of the dogs.



To effectively breed and maintain predictable characteristics

The highest level of predictability is achieved when the breed records reveal not only what is obvious by looking at and working with the dog, but also what is hidden in the genetic material.

There are more than 400 dog breeds recognized by various kennel clubs throughout the world. The existence of breeds brings to dogs the potential for consistency of characteristics. This, in turn, has the potential of making it easier for people to find dogs with the characteristics they desire. And if the dog meets those expectations then it is more likely to stay in the home.

In theory a breed name is like a brand name, it should tell you something about what is inside. And with responsible breeders that is pretty much what happens; the dog will not only have the appearance of being of a particular breed, but the behavior and temperament will also have fairly consistent characteristics. But for the majority of breed registration organizations a dog is identified as belonging to a particular breed by its parentage, not by its actual characteristics.

Unfortunately the vast majority of the public is more interested in the skin, than what is inside. One characteristic people desire is to have a dog that is both rare and and yet "recognized" with "papers." This has encouraged the creation of a number of "registries" that offer "papers" based on not very much.

I've not heard any evidence that mixed breeds are necessarily any healthier than purebreds - lots of supposition, but no evidence. I think the key to healthy dogs is knowing the backgrounds of the dogs to be bred. Are they free of hip dysplasia, elbow dysplasia , PRA, heart problems? Labs and Goldens have many genetic problems in common and if you just put one of each together without checking for the existence of those problems in the lines of each I'm not at all sure why one should expect to get a healthier dog.

If I were to be looking for a dog from a breeder I would only purchase a dog from a breeder who used great care in breeding. That means I would expect the breeder to understand the rudimentary genetics of important genetic diseases (to the extent of mainstream knowledge) and to test both the parents for diseases that might be expected to show up in the breed. For both breeds that includes hip dysplasia (hip x-rays required for screening), heart problems and more. I would expect the breeder to be aware of the health histories of at least the parents and grandparents of the sire and dam, and also many of the siblings of each of those generations. I would want also some independent evaluation of the temperaments of the same. If the breeder is not taking positive steps to detect and avoid genetic disease then they are not someone I would care to support. Careless breeding is not a kind and loving thing to do to a dog. Breeding on blind faith alone is careless breeding at its worst.

I also would purchase only from a breeder who shows true commitment to trying to keep dogs out of shelters instead of adding to them. That means the breeder commits to requiring that if person takes a puppy, then later decides that they cannot or will not provide what the dog needs the breeder takes it back, even if it is an old dog.

And what about a breeder who says they do all the testing etc? Sorry, but I want some evidence. For example, if they aren't submitting results to an independent health registry, such as OFA, then they aren't making it easy to track overall results. One reason bad breeders don't like to use such registries is that it may reveal missing dogs. By that I mean that if a breeder only submits results on their dogs that pass it is easier to notice. They submit the dogs that pass to make themselves look responsible, but they still breed the dogs that don't. And if the breeder is making claims about great temperaments where is the evidence? There are a lot of dog activities that require great temperaments. And most leave some kind of evidence beyond the breeder's say-so. Since most activities allow mixed breeds there is no excuse for not having outside evidence of good temperament.

Mostly I cannot see buying a dog from a breeder unless I had very specific needs. If that were the case predictability would be very important and a mixed breed dog just can't provide the same kind of predictability as a purebred dog bred by a careful responsible breeder. In my case I would much prefer to take a dog from a shelter or rescue than to do anything to support the people whose dogs end up dying in the same. If you work full time you will not be spending enough time with the puppy to get any socialization/training benefits over a rescue or shelter dog. If you have no strong need for particular breed characteristics I strongly encourage you to adopt a dog that will otherwise die.

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Copyright © 1998-2003, Diane Blackman     Created: March 3, 1998     Updated November 12, 2007    

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