- Created on Monday, 28 November 2011 02:00
- Last Updated on Thursday, 01 December 2011 22:10
- Written by Matenaar, Christa
The DLC’s breeding program was suggested to us by Prof. Dr. Walter Schleger of Vienna. We met him in 1982, when he addressed an assembly of the keepers of the stud books of the different breed clubs of the VDH, dealing with genetics and the dangers of inbreeding.
Our personal contact with him came only later, but once it had been established it ended only when he retired from the University. The rebuilding of the Landseer breed within the DLC would have been impossible without his help and good advice. It is to him that Landseer breeders owe the astonishing development of their breed during the subsequent thirty years.
The breeding method which he recommended to us was a long term program for the whole population of Landseers within the club, aiming at the reconstruction of all genetical information transferred from parents to children. The decisive factor was a wise choice of breeding: partners had to be as unrelated to each other as possible so as to produce a litter of sound and lively puppies.
Professor Schleger underlined the fact that fitness in the breed as a whole as well as in each individual can only be preserved if we have full genetical information. But breeding to type often enough involves inbreeding, and inbreeding inevitably produces a reduction in genetical information. This reduction leads to inbreeding depression which means that fertility, vitality, vigour and growth are diminished. These effects should be avoided by every serious breeder.
Professor Schleger illustrated his exposition by revealing what had happened to the well known breed of those most beautiful horses in Vienna, ‘The Lippizaner’. They excel in their beautiful movement as they perform the figures in High School, adored by crowds of tourists. As a result they have been inbred over many generations especially to produce these beautiful movements. But inbreeding leads inevitably to a point of no return and one day this point was reached. The Lippizaner could no longer produce living foals: most of the young ones were born dead. – Then it was that the help of the geneticists of the Veterinary University of Vienna was urgently needed. Professor Schleger was the director of that institution at that time, and he proposed to those responsible for the stud farm to follow a highly specific and elaborate breeding program which included the whole world-wide population of that beautiful breed of horses. – In the end the Lippizaner were restored to health by means of that breeding program, although it took several years and was at the cost of some of the beauty in their movments. But they did survive and now do produce beautiful living foals.
When my husband and I outlined to Professor Schleger the problems of the pure bred Landseer, he proposed to us a similar program in a simpler version. We could not include the whole world-wide Landseer population; we were responsible only for the Landseers of the DLC which is only one group among others. However, we could try and start the program on the small scale of our club, and so it was done. We began in 1985 and bred according to the program until the present in 2010, that is to say for twenty-five years. The success of the program cannot be denied if we compare our dogs of today with those we had in 1985 The improvement is beyond any doubt.
The program works for the whole group of Landseers in the club, not just for a single kennel or for an isolated breeder. Each breeder contributes to the realization of the common program and profits – on the other side – from the contribution of other breeders to it. Together breeders realize the amelioration of the breed.
The basic instrument for the amelioration is the pedigrees of the dogs to be mated. It is necessary to establish a five generation pedigree for each dog. When the two partners have been chosen, the two pedigrees are put side by side, and then we have a six generation pedigree for the future litter. But only five generations are of interest to us, the sixth not being of so great an importance. For the calculation of the Inbreeding Coefficient and the Ancestor Loss Coefficient we should always use a five generation pedigree.
We begin with the calculation of the Ancestor Loss Coefficient. The prospective five generation pedigree of the new litter should be checked for names that turn up twice or more among the ancestors: each ancestor contributes with its individual genetic information to the genetic make-up of the new puppies. However, one and the same ancestor can only contribute one and the same set of genetic information, so, if anyone turns up twice in the pedigree, it is only twice the same contribution coming from that individual. That is why a dog or a bitch, turning up more than once in a pedigree is reckoned to make only one contribution. Therefore we do not have 62 different contributions of individual sets of genetic information although a five generation pedigree would contain 62 individuals if we had 62 different names.
But, we do not have 62 different ancestors, and so we must count the double names and make a new calculation: 62 – 5 = 57 There are only 57 different ancestors which contribute to the genetic information of the new litter. We divide 57 by 62 = 0,919 Expressed as a percentage that is 91,9% instead of 100%. We would have 100% of genetic information if we had 62 different ancestors on the pedigree, but we have only 57 instead of 62. Therefore there is not 100% genetic information but only 91,9%. This is called the ancestor loss coefficient.
After having calculated this we want to find out the inbreeding coefficient. It is normally calculated by the method of Mr. Wright. To do it by hand is complicated. Today we have very good computer programs which do the calculation exactly. The inbreeding coefficient should be as low as possible. For a dog breeder it should not exceed 5% at the utmost. The lower the better for the resulting litter and for the vitality of the puppies.
The breeders of the DLC have decided to keep to 3,5% IK and to 85% AVK as limits in their breeding activities. Better indicators are very desirable and are much appreciated, but they are not always within the reach of the breeder. The amelioration of the breed rests a permanent task and is by far not yet completed.
In the five generation pedigrees which the DLC prints out for his breeders the two numbers indicating the Ancestors Loss Coefficient (AVK) and the Inbreeding Coefficient (IK) are indicated together with each dog. On the front page of the pedigree are found the numbers relating to the puppy which the breeder offers for sale. Inside the pedigree are found those numbers mentioned together with the degree of HD by each name turning up in the pedigree.
When the DLC started its breeding program it was not at all easy to reach a good norm concerning AVK and IK. Quite the contrary. It took years and a good breeding plan over several generations to produce good results. But the effort was not in vain. Breeders cooperated willingly because they saw the results. The dogs became more reliable in their reproductive faculties, developed a better resistance against sicknesses of all kinds, and their general appearance approached closer to the standard than it had ever done before. HD was reduced and now seems to be no longer a real problem in our breed. Torsion of the stomach which had been a great problem in the beginning disappeared more and more. Many dogs with a sound and correct anatomy were to be seen at shows. Character and general behaviour improved as well, and there was displayed the sweetness, docility and gentleness which is generally attributed to the breed.
Veterinarians often say that the Landseer is STILL a sound and not yet degenerated breed. They are not aware of the fact that the Landseers are AGAIN a sound and well bred strain of dog. They have been restored to soundness, vitality and their original good looks by wise and well-planned breeding. It is the great task of all breeders to keep this wonderful result of great effort, and not to fall back into the old practices which led the Landseers into degeneration and isolation. In the long run dogs cannot be successfully bred without maintaining or achieving a very low inbreeding coefficient. Any fitness test will confirm this old wisdom and experience.
Another detail of this breeding program is that the use of stud dogs must be kept in proportion with the number of litters registered each year. No dog should contribute more than 10% of the litters born in one year. The DLC has had about 30 litters per year for quite a time. Consequently, the matings per dog were limited to 3 in one year. Most of our dogs did not have even 3 litters each year. This was necessary to produce enough puppies which were not or only far related to each other. We wanted to progress in our breeding program and not fall back into old ways and their problems.
Instead of lamenting over necessary restrictions we should remember that all of the zoological gardens of the world use this breeding program for the survival of animals in danger of extinction. For breeding they try to combine partners for as little related to each other as possible in order to restore the necessary genetic information. Many young animals bred in this way could be restored to their normal life in the wild. – The Landseer should be kept at the height of his beauty and soundness by the wise management of breeders and of the clubs into which they are organized.
Königswinter, October 3rd 2010