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"Wiping Out" genetic disorders

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Eileen: "Hmm. AKC breeders often test for CL and TNS; you are probably including them when you refer to "all health tests.""


Autumn: I include CEA/CH, CL, TNS, OFAing and CERFing


Eileen: "But I bet you can't name one working breeder who has ever produced either disease."


Autumn: No I can't, I didn't claim I could. In fact I disagree with the popular theory by some conformation people that working breeders breed unhealthy dogs. I still think that the health tests should be done though, until they are completely wiped out.


I'm singling this out because this is another topic in which I believe you may be showing your inexperience. Again, lack of knowledge is not a bad thing. But, in my opinion, not being willing to learn from those who have paved the way for you in these matters, is a bad way to go about life - and especially forging new ties in a community (that of the Border Collie breed) which might not be as large as you think.


I do not believe there are any serious and responsible breeders in the working world, certainly, who believe clinical testing should be used as a way to aggressively eliminate recessive genes from our gene pool.


As an example which does not get into the tricky area of whether a particular condition exists in the working gene pool or not, take late onset deafness. This condition appears to have a genetic factor, possibly. If a marker is identified and a test produced, most likely certain lines will make testing for the marker routine, as well as a scattering of working breeders who wish to check for the marker, "just in case."


The extent of the condition in the breed should quickly become apparent. If inheritance is recessive, by no means will anyone suggest culling carriers. Instead, the test will be used to find "Normal" mates to select from. Even an affected dog with superior genes to contribute, can be bred to a normal mate, with the understanding that the subsequent generation must all have every potential mate tested also.


There are complicated reasons one can't just go on a witch hunt against genes in a population. The ideal is to produce dogs that are as sound as possible without threatening the variety of the breed. The best way to do this is to select for all-around performance rather than a laundry list of conditions for which we happen to have clinical tests.


Those tests are valuable for screening for problems, and as above, ensuring the gradual, natural reduction of a gene in the population. But they should not be used as a "Good House Keeping Seal of Approval" to identify breeding stock as "healthy."


You can test your dog for all the conditions you named above (and the ones CERF looks for). And you can still have an unsound dog - your dog may have exercise intolerance, thyroid issues, soft tissue weaknesses, unsound feet, low endurance, epilepsy, or unilateral deafness. He may even have issues with impulse control, reactivity, or aggression or shyness under pressure.


But my dog will be trained to the Open level, and work in all weather, year round, having to keep up with the sheep, run and jump and twist hard, go from full throttle to stop and back to his feet in a split second - over and over, take a hard knock or two, and all the time keep a level head and an ear out for my commands. I'll have his hips evaluated when he's two, more as a baseline than because I expect any problems. In addition, I will also have him sampled for the CEA DNA test fairly soon.


Down the road, if I noticed an issue with, say, not taking commands at a distance, I'd get a BAER evaluation done first thing. If he is the least bit "off" I will notice, because of the kind of stuff he will have to do. If you are a professional athlete, it doesn't take much to throw you off. But if your idea of a challenging workout is carrying your golf clubs instead of using the cart, then it will take longer for that arthritis, or carpal tunnel, to start bothering you. I have a dog with many medical conditions, and I could always tell when his head wasn't in the game.


Again, if my young dog shows he has a tendency to strain his knees, or never seems to build the endurance I need (which is a pretty low standard, actually), or shows too much of a hot head during training, or sulkiness, or lacks the flexibility to keep up with the stock at key moments - I'll cull him from breeding. I don't even have to know why he's not meeting the mark, though obviously I'll seek medical advice to alleviate physical symptoms, if any.


This type of culling actually takes out MORE unsound dogs than merely cherrypicking the conditions we have tests for. The overall health of the working breed to this day is a testament to that.


To sum up my beliefs on this issue: Focus on performance, and soundness will follow. Clinical tests are excellent tools for identifying disease, and for recessive genes, DNA tests allow breeders to choose potential mates with confidence that affected pups will not result. Responsible breeders, in my opinion, will keep both principles in mind.

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