Wednesday, January 6, 2016

Purity, Pure Breeds, and the need for Outcrossing

Don't worry, he's from a long line of champions.  Link
Everyone loves a good joke at the expense of the poor stupid inbred hillbilly.

Actually, no, I hate those jokes, even when the punchline is just implied.  Even typing these lines make me remember the exploitation of "Honey BoBo" and I start to feel a little rage.

Of course my favorite X-Files episode, Home, also featured inbred hillbillies, at least they were given some respect as agents of fear as well as disgust.  Plus, they escape arrest and probably moved into a neighborhood near you.  I like survivors.

I only bring up our fear and disdain of inbred humans to make a point, over the course of multiple generations inbreeding brings genetic defect whether the subject of the inbreeding is European royalty or your dog breed of choice.

The breeds we have now did not step off of the ark.  They do not date to the middle ages.  Most of them have histories of about one hundred years and those with longer histories were not inbred exclusively until the beginning of the 20th Century.  What changed?  The popularization of the nutty idea of eugenics by Charles Davenport.

Managing a breeding program with a goal other than "purity at all costs" requires use of inbreeding and outcrossing.  
Purity at all costs is giving us shrinking genetic diversity, sick dogs, and is unsustainable.  We can outcross and still retain all the characteristics we love about any given breed of dog, but first we have to deep six the monopoly of AKC and return breeding authority to women and men who breed dogs for vigor, for health, for capability in the field, and not just for a piece of paper that symbolizes "purity."

Out-crossing does not mean allowing chance to produce a world of undifferentiated mongrels.  It means breeding for performance and not depending upon a pure lineage as a short cut.  It means finding breeders who actually hunt their dogs.  It means refusing to buy dogs from breeders producing dogs dead at age eight.  In some severe cases, it might require an extensive program to return a breed to health.  Best to get started earlier rather than wait.

Some people are starting to get the idea.  I am proud to say hunters are starting to spread the word.

Most of us take animal breeds for granted. There have always been labradors and springer spaniels in our lives, and we assume that there will always be. The truth is that these familiar breeds are seriously endangered, their future genuinely in doubt. Breeds aren’t natural: they have been created by selective breeding that has lessened the animals’ genetic diversity by ensuring that they reproduce true to type. The breeds we are so familiar with today were fixed by breeding father to daughter, even brother to sister. 
Today such levels of inbreeding have been outlawed by the Kennel Club (KC), which refuses to register puppies from such close matings, but that doesn’t stop unscrupulous breeders from following such practices. The name on the pedigree may not be the genuine sire. An equally serious problem is the overuse of popular and successful stud dogs, ensuring that a high proportion of dogs in a breed are closely related. Whatever the cause of the inbreeding, the end result is the same: dogs that suffer a high burden of hereditary disease, and this is why outbreeding is so important.
You can read the science here.

What are dogs for?  From whence does their value spring?  Sure, a sick dog can love, but so can a healthy one.  An inbred dog can hunt, but for how many more generations?  Hunters, most of us mongrels ourselves, can lead the way.  When you're looking for the next generation of hunting companion ask questions about breed health.  Find a breeder making careful and educated use of outcrossing.  If you are a breeder, do the extra work of folding in genetic diversity..

Try to change the way things are and you will experience some resistance but future hunters are depending upon you.  It is time to bring down the final bastion of the eugenicists.

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