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On preserving the purebred dog

Discussion in 'Dog Discussion' started by Institute of Canine Biology, Nov 27, 2018.

  1. By Carol Beuchat PhD
    In 2015, the UK Kennel Club published a basic genetic analysis of pedigree breeds based on the data in their stud books. This analysis showed that, for many breeds, there were high levels of inbreeding and low effective population sizes. Subsequently, to address concerns that some of their native breeds might be at risk of extinction because of declining numbers, they created a listing of breeds that were vulnerable or at risk. They have subsequently monitored registrations of these breeds and annually update the statistics online.
    Although AKC would have the records for yearly registrations, they don't make those statistics available. Unless breeders or breed clubs compile these records themselves, there is no way to track breed population sizes in the US. Based on pedigree records of a few breeds that I happen to have, however, there is good reason to be concerned.
    I have pedigree databases for a number of breeds that were compiled by breeders and provided to me for genetic analysis. These include the Irish Wolfhound, Afghan Hound, Belgian Tervuren, Rhodesian Ridgeback, and Portuguese Water Dog. I have compiled the information for number of dogs born per year as reflected in the pedigree database, and in some cases I have also recorded the number of litters recorded per year.

    For the odd assortment of breeds I have data for, there is a consistent and very disturbing trend. Since about 2000, registrations are crashing. (Note that the decline in Afghans dates to the 1970s but since about 2000, registrations are dropping even more rapidly.)

    These are not slow declines; they are crashes. And if you extrapolate the lines, the trajectories of these breeds will hit zero in just a few years - less than a decade for some. I'm sure there are breeds with steady or even increasing registrations, but we don't have the data to know. In the UK, registrations of many breeds are also dropping, but at the same time the numbers of Pugs and French Bulldogs are going stratospheric. Perhaps that is the case in the US as well.

    Population crashes have consequences. Genetic diversity is lost, and the rate of inbreeding necessarily goes up as effective and census population sizes go down. We can expect the incidence and number of genetic disorders to increase. Health will decline and interventions by breeders will become increasingly ineffective. It's not a good situation.
    What are we doing about this? Nothing. If AKC is monitoring breed populations, they are not making that information available. Unlike kennel clubs elsewhere in the world that have geneticists on staff to provide guidance to breeders about genetic management, or organizations like the Animal Health Trust with expertise and research capabilities that are available to breeders, in the US it's every breeder for themself. Breed clubs and their health committees make decisions about breeding strategies in the absence of relevant expertise, and more often than not the general strategy is to remove dogs from the breeding population that are afflicted with disorders for which there are no tests (e.g., epilepsy, cancer, immune system disorders, etc).

    I am not aware of any plans to address these problems, by the kennel club, breed clubs, or smaller groups of breeders. In fact, breeders might not even be generally aware of their dire situation. For the breeds with data below, time for action has nearly run out.

    I have argued before that dogs have high value as a genetic resource. Dogs shaped the development of civilization. In many places in the world they are still essential for the special abilities they have for management of livestock, not to mention their roles as service animals, detection of everything from invasive plants to cancer, military and police service, and companions that improve our own health and longevity while they enrich our lives.

    There is plenty of evidence that purebred dogs are not doing well. And we also know that in many cases we are not doing what we can (as for the Doberman). Breeds are about to disappear. Are we going to just let this happen?
    Irish Wolfhound
    • Number of Dogs
    • Number of litters
    Afghan Hound
    • Number of litters
    Belgian Tervuren
    • Number of Dogs

    Rhodesian Ridgeback
    • Number of Dogs
    Portuguese Water Dog
    • Number of Dogs

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