Hard and Fast Breeding Rules

January 20, 2009

On e-lists and on blogs, there is much discussion about the role of OFA and PennHip in determining soundness of dogs.  I have some pretty strong opinions on this topic, springing from my history with two breeds.

 In the beginning, I bought a German Shepherd bitch to show and breed.  I did it all wrong in terms of investigating the breeder.  Although her pedigree was decent — line bred on an excellent producer — as she grew, she exhibited the less desireable side of the pedigree.  The worst thing, however, was that her gait became somewhat halting when she was about three years old. I had her x-rayed and her hips were the pits (I think that is a scientific term).  Because she was our pet, and our family loved her, we did surgery so that she would be comfortable.  We road worked her moderately to keep her muscles strong.  She was never bred. 

We had been bitten by the show bug, however, so we bought another bitch.  This one came from a show breeder who did xray her breeding stock and religiously submitted to OFA.  She was sound and produced our first champion.  For fifteen years we bred litters and showed dogs.  I worked so hard at exposing puppies to strange sounds and lots of stimulus, and to my kids.  Two young boys equal lots of strange sound and stimulus.  We placed some wonderful pet puppies who grew old and loved by their families, and we had moderate success in the show ring.  I always x-rayed.

Life changes and when my heart dog grew old and eventually died, I did not replace him.  I was traveling with my work, my kids were out and about, I was long-since divorced.  I couldn’t put my heart and soul into raising puppies.  However, like anyone who has loved dogs, after the passage of a few years, I had to have another dog in my life.  This time, however, I decided I wanted a smaller package.  I had ownerd a parti-colored cocker and a pem (along with the shepherds).  I didn’t want the cocker grooming (and vocalization) or the pem’s sharpness.  I’d met Cardigans.  I loved their sensibility and big-dog attitude.  So I looked for a Cardi breeder.  I waited a year for the puppy.  I had decided I did not want to show in conformation, but wanted a dog for companion and performance events.  The puppy I got was happy, biddable, outgoing, friendly, and handsome.  I began raw-feeding him when I got him at eight weeks. He’s never been kenneled, always had natural surfaces on which to trot, we never did any agility. Nonetheless, he is so dysplastic.  When I saw his preliminary x-ray at 13 months, I burst into tears.  There already was flattening and almost no socket on one side.  At three and a half, you can see it in his rear movement.  Despite all those precautions, I know it’s only a matter of time until we can’t do all the events he loves.  Of course I neutered him.  I love him dearly.

So, what did I learn?  I certainly learned that hip dysplasia can be crippling in the smaller breeds as well as in the big dogs.  I vowed to x-ray my own dogs to determine whether they’d be permitted to participate in agility and herding.  I decided not to breed puppies.  Chase finished his Championship so quickly, and while he was so young, that I’d not yet done any health testing.  I made the decision to run all the tests available and to xray him.  I also did PennHip which, in his case, does not appear to match his OFA preliminary rating.  My decision: if he didn’t earn good health credentials, then he would not be available for breeding.

I know that breeding only x-rayed dogs whose hips are within the range OFA considers “passing” is no guarantee that any of their offspring will have good hips.  I also know there are environmental issues that affect youngsters’ joint development.  However, I firmly believe that the more information we have about what’s inside the dog, the better decisions we can make over the long term.  I also believe that doubling up on any fault is sure to reproduce that fault — and that includes poor hips.

I’m not buying into the theory that our dwarf dogs do not have hip problems, or that bad hips do not affect the Cardis as they do larger breeds.  Perhaps one day we will have a DNA test to tell us what markers are linked to hip dysplasia so we can take that into account when breeding, but until we do, I’ll use the tools that are available to try to reduce the incidence of what is a crippling disease — even in our breed.

My aunt always watched scary movies through the buttonhole of her sweater so she wouldn’t see all of the “bad stuff”.  We cannot breed sound, healthy dogs that way.

  1. Jean says:

    WELL SAID I Agree with you 1000%

  2. dawn says:

    I agree as well, testing is a tool to be used to determine the total picture. I also agree that perhaps neither Pennhip nor OFA are 100% accurate for cardis, but they can’t get any more information to learn more if no one submits either. I just think that the more information we can get the better choices we can make. But then I have bred one litter and really dont plan on any others too soon, so my opinion probably counts little. On the other hand, I wont buy a puppy with unknown parent hips. Again, my opinion only.

  3. Julie says:

    Very thoughtful post. Having watched two shepherd mixes grown old with DJD I would not wish it on any animal. I am hopeful that with exercise, diet, preventative suppplementation, and chiro my boy who’s one hip is rated mild (I think) will never display.

  4. I agree — more information is always better. (Except if it’s about me, in which case I don’t want to know it.)

  5. Shelley says:

    You know I’m totally with you on this but you also know that Bullsh*t baffles brains.

    I desperately want to post that the reason that I x-ray so religiously is that the dog I bought from this person who argues so vehemently that “Cardis don’t get HD” was so severely dysplastic that she could barely walk the last two years of her life.

    Because I bought into his story for so long I had bred 3 generations before discovering I was passing on a severe genetic problem and I’ve become a demon on hips ever since.

    But he’ll continue to pontificate….

  6. Holly says:

    Very good post Penni! I hope you don’t mind but I did reference it in my blog.