It’s in their DNA

We get into genetics…

For many many years, we have been dedicated German Shepherd owners. Only once did we stray, and that was with our Border Collie, Jack. We really needed a sheepdog and the shepherds just didn’t have the knack.

Each and every dog we’ve had has been unique, and we’ve loved them all. It has always been our dream to one day breed a litter, but up until now, we never felt we had dogs of the right temperament.

Along came Toby and changed all that. He is smart, maybe too smart, good-natured, and equally importantly he has good hips and elbows.

We finally thought we had found the perfect dog to breed from. We looked around for a bitch that would be suitable and were lucky enough to find Tilly locally. She is a year now and will soon be hip scored. If she passes, the endorsement will be lifted on her pedigree.

But before embarking on any breeding programme, and because we have had two shepherds who have suffered from DM (a non-painful, progressive disease of the spinal cord that usually results in hind limb paralysis), Daisy is going it through it currently and it’s heart-breaking, we decided to look into genetic testing.

We found a lab that provides this – Animal Genetics – and ordered our testing kits. We were testing for DM, specifically the SOD1 gene. There has been a huge interest of late in genetic testing, and it seems people are not always delighted with the results.

Just like on detective programmes, when the kits arrived, we swabbed the insides of the cheeks of Toby and Tilly, then they were posted off to the lab for testing, along with details of their Kennel Club registration numbers.

Within a week we received the results in an email and as others have discovered before us, we were devastated by the results.

Tilly was clear, no problem with breeding her, she was very unlikely to ever suffer from DM. However, Toby, our precious Toby, was a carrier!

What did this mean?

If he is bred with a clear bitch, he has a 50/50 chance of producing puppies that are carriers. NOT at-risk puppies, just carriers like him.

We were very upset and started talking about neutering. We have been through this horrible disease twice now and wouldn’t wish it on anybody else.

However, we have done further research and listened to advice from other breeders.

If we breed him with Tilly, he could produce carriers, but these carriers would not be at risk of DM. We could have them genetically tested and identified, place endorsements on the pedigrees of the carriers so that they could only be bred with a clear dog. Any future owners would be fully informed, it would all be up there on the Kennel Club website, and it must surely be a good thing that they would know they are getting a dog that is practically guaranteed not ever to have DM?

There are other important issues to be considered in breeding and temperament is one of them. Toby and Tilly both have excellent temperaments, and we would very much like to perpetuate that, weeding out the highly strung, flighty, dare we say, aggressive dogs.

At the moment the jury is out, we haven’t made up our minds one way or the other, and until Tilly is hip scored, we can’t take any decisions. But just recently the Kennel Club published a press release on the powerful long-term impact of DNA tests on dog diseases and appears to indicate that selective breeding using DNA testing is the way forward for responsible breeders.

And as DNA testing can bring good news as well as the not so good, we know Toby will never need a wheelchair, we decided to order a test kit for Archie. At least if we find out now that he is “at-risk” we can take some measures to slow down the onset of this terrible disease.

How we wish now that we had known in advance for our Daisy.

 

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