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Dear Doggers,

 

Can somebody explain how breeding Border Collies for agility and/or against "Early Takeoff Syndrome" differs morally from breeding them for conformation?

 

Donald McCaig

I certainly can't see any difference between breeding them for conformation, performance sports, or for companion animals. None of these is breeding for stockworking ability but is breeding them for something else.

 

If ETS were to be proven as something that did affect stockworking ability, then it would be a consideration in breeding. If performance dogs from a particular working-dog breeding were to demonstrate this in their activities, then I would agree that an agility person would not want to purchase another pup from that breeding or a similar breeding. But that wouldn't invalidate that breeding if it produced good stockdogs and whatever might manifest itself in ETS did not reduce the usefulness of those dogs.

 

JMO.

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If ETS were to be proven as something that did affect stockworking ability, then it would be a consideration in breeding. If performance dogs from a particular working-dog breeding were to demonstrate this in their activities, then I would agree that an agility person would not want to purchase another pup from that breeding or a similar breeding. But that wouldn't invalidate that breeding if it produced good stockdogs and whatever might manifest itself in ETS did not reduce the usefulness of those dogs.

 

Kristine/Root Beer, sent you a PM re: noise phobia.

 

I think Sue hit the nail on the head here. It's a year later now - :D Working livestock is where the ideal of the Border Collie breed lies. It doesn't matter how many wonderful, amazing things individual dogs can do.

 

Come to Rural Hill, NC - the sheepdog trial - in November and there will also be dockdogs there. You will see, I hope, my Sam jump 22 feet straight off a dock into a pool. Also jump eight feet out off the dock and five feet up to grab a small bumper off a pole suspended above the water. It's very cool. It is not what Border Collies are all about though. He's also my service dog. You can see him do that, too. Not even that is what Border Collies are all about. Turn around and watch the Open trial. That's it. Sam won't be ready yet but Ted will be there.

 

This isn't to say looking for health issues isn't a worthwhile cause (dang, lots of negatives there :rolleyes: ). But here we run smack up against selection decisions. The big problem, of course, is that when one starts making decisions about what to exclude (and what to concentrate) - which is different from how the breed was selected before, one will end up with a different type of dog. Ipso facto.

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Dear Doggers,

 

Can somebody explain how breeding Border Collies for agility and/or against "Early Takeoff Syndrome" differs morally from breeding them for conformation?

 

Donald McCaig

 

No difference morally.

 

Structurally though - massive difference.

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Dear Doggers,

 

The gracious Sue Rayburn wrote: " If ETS were to be proven as something that did affect stockworking ability, then it would be a consideration in breeding."

 

I'm afraid Sue has got it backwards. Clearly the people who started breeding Collies/Bearded Collies/Shetland Sheepdogs/German Shepherds/etc for dog shows DID NOT deliberately breed against working ability/soundness and the other genetic traits they lost on their way to Westminster. Indeed, many of these breeders would have preferred to retain at least those working traits which didn't impede show ring success. HEADING LIVESTOCK (for instance) is neither selected for nor selected against in show breeding.

 

Alas, we simply don't know enough about genetics to know which genetic traits are linked nor how they may express themselves sequentially or in tandem.

 

Merles are cute. Why not breed two merles? There's nothing logically wrong with this - except: it don't work.

 

And if enthusiasts DO isolate a genetic structure responsible for "Early Takeoff Syndrome", we wouldn't know which of the Border Collies other abilities it might be connected to - or even integral to.

 

Let me give a crude, cartoonish example. Kristine worries about Border Collie "Noise Phobia" and there's no doubt many Border Collies react badly to thunder/gunshot/sudden noise. Others - fewer I think - are so sound sensitive they alert to sounds you and I can't hear.

 

I've owned one such and some years ago, visiting Carol Benjamin in her NY City apartment, I worried (they worried too) about Flash, their first assistance Border Collie. Car horns, rumbling trucks, police sirens - poor nervy Flash. Somehow, happily, Flash accommodated himself.

 

So why not find the gene for sound sensitivity and breed against it? Well, er: because stockdogs need unusually acute hearing. If you ever have the privilege of working the top of a big trial - 6-800 yard outrun, you'll realize that the outrunning dog is attending to handler whistles which are blanketed by bird songs. We humans can't even hear the whistles the dog is responding to.

 

We bred these dogs to be exquisitely sound sensitive - a sensitivity which makes them pace nervously and constantly alert in New York City apartments. Like keenness, sound sensitivity is counter-indicated in a family pet. But - that same sensitivity makes it possible for them to work a mile or more from their shepherd and hear through rushing rain/the thunder of hooves.

 

What we know is that exclusive breeding for stockwork, with no other consideration, has produced and continues to produce the dogs we love and need - the same dogs that have brought us all to these boards.

 

What we don't know is whether breeding away from ETS will change that dog.

 

So here's my question to agility people. Does ETS effect a dog's stockwork? If not, or if you don't know, or if you don't care - leave the breeding to those who created your dog.

 

Donald McCaig

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Thank you, Donald, for good comments.

 

I said that, "If ETS were to be proven as something that did affect stockworking ability, then it would be a consideration in breeding." That doesn't say that one eliminates dogs that exhibit ETS (any more than eliminating dogs from breeding that have other traits that may be related to good working ability), but that one should *consider* it in breeding. That may mean anything from breeding *away from* something to breeding *for* something, depending on how useful that trait might be. I was not clear, for sure.

 

For the sports-participating person, if this is a genetic trait and it is detrimental to the performance of their dogs, and they choose working-bred pups for their sports companions (which is the preferred approach of these boards, rather than breeding for sports), then avoiding litters that have produced this might very well be a wise choice for them.

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My 2 cents on ETS after watching several videos is that I'd love to get hold of those dogs and train them HOW to jump and to relax a bit when doing agility. But then I dislike dogs so hyped they can't think

 

What would you do different, regarding jumping training, from what Mecklenburg, et al, have done along those lines, prior to considering the possibility that ETS (or structural issues or diagnosable eye problems), and not training, is at the root of the jumping issues?

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My 2 cents on ETS after watching several videos is that I'd love to get hold of those dogs and train them HOW to jump and to relax a bit when doing agility.

 

Do you think that the likes of Linda Mecklenburg don't know how to teach a dog to jump? Not saying that I wouldn't feel the same about individual video examples but I wouldn't want to dismiss the notion of ETS as unable to be trained out.

 

I suspect that a lot have people are using a convenient label as an excuse for their own failings or a lack of basic ability in their dog but there are still a few cases that defy other explanations.

 

As an example - a friend of mine has taken each dog she has trained in the past(except her Cairn X that was never intended as an agility dog) to the top level and competed very successfully. And yet one of her dogs (coincidentally the only sport bred one) shows all the signs of ETS. She has concentrated on the dog's confidence and deliberately not pushed her as much as she might others with only limited and temporary improvement to be seen. She has taken advice from other top handlers and had every test available carried out and is no further forward with a diagnosis.

 

Since she wants her dogs to be happy doing agility and doesn't subscribe to the idea that they will miss it when they stop, she has retired her - or at least I can't remember when I last saw her run.

 

I very much respect her training abilities and her results in over 20 years speak for themselves so if this one has stumped her I'm inclined to think that there may be something in it. How significant the condition is I don't know, but if her dog hadn't done agility I doubt that she would ever have known there was anything different about her.

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I still wonder if this isn't the key. In breeding for sport dogs, has something unintended been introduced?

 

J.

That is something that I was wondering, too.

 

For those dogs that exhibit ETS and for whom pedigrees are available, it might be feasible to see what sort of breeding resulted in animals that seem to have this issue, and for those that don't seem to have this issue.

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I still wonder if this isn't the key. In breeding for sport dogs, has something unintended been introduced?

 

J.

 

No evidence that that is the case. It could just as well be that the condition is widespread amongst working dogs but unrecognised because it doesn't affect their working ability.

 

Sport dogs didn't come into existence out of the blue - they have their origins in the working world.

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Sport dogs didn't come into existence out of the blue - they have their origins in the working world.

I think you're missing my point. It could exist (like many other genetic issues) in the general border collie population, but when breeders start selecting for certain attributes that they prefer for sport dogs, it is entirely possible that have also inadvertenty selected for this trait along with the desirable traits they are seeking in their lines. And if that's the case, then it would begin to appear more often in sport bred dogs. The only way to know if that happens is to follow generations of affected dogs with standard epidemiology studies.

 

Here's a similar scenario for working dog: If trialing is selecting for "lighter" working dogs because they exhibit traits that are desirable on the trial fields where light/flighty sheep are common, then it's possible that such active selection for that particular attribute (or attributes) could bring along with it some other genetic attributes that weren't obvious when the working dog population was more diverse. We could then find issues on the trial field that seem unexplainable, but that are actually the result of breeding choices made over several (or many) generations.

 

This isn't a slam at sport breeders or any breeders; it's a supposition that it's possible that when selecting for particular traits that are desirable in sport dogs that this "quirk" has come along with those traits.

 

J.

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I think you're missing my point.J.

 

Not at all, but if you start wondering if breeding for sport is to blame then you should also wonder whether the condition has always been endemic in working bred dogs but unrecognised until sport activities revealed it. There's no way of knowing and either scenario is a possibility.

 

BCs were created by selection for certain attributes. Working dogs have no immunity from bringing along unwanted traits with those selected for.

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Not at all, but if you start wondering if breeding for sport is to blame then you should also wonder whether the condition has always been endemic in working bred dogs but unrecognised until sport activities revealed it. There's no way of knowing and either scenario is a possibility.

 

BCs were created by selection for certain attributes. Working dogs have no immunity from bringing along unwanted traits with those selected for.

Pam,

The problem is that you're trying to assign blame to the genetics of the breed. We all know there are lots of things that could be lurking in a the general border collie population (or in any animal, for that matter). Breeding choices are exactly what brings some of those gene-based problems to the fore and not others. You can persist in seeing that as a slam against sport breeders and an apology for working dog breeders, but if you do so, then you are indeed missing the point.

 

In my previous post I stated (just as I restated above) that such a genetic condition could lurk in the general border collie population. I don't know how much clearer that statement could be. The point still remains that when breeders start selecting for specific traits that aren't necessarily the same traits that other breeders would select for then they might also be selecting for undesirable genetics that would only manifest in a condition that affects the dog for their specific use.

 

Let me spell that out for you: if sport breeders are breeding for (for example) extreme speed or perhaps an "amped up" personality, or perhaps a combination of the two, they may also be inadvertently selecting the genetics for, say, an eye condition/structure (or maybe it's not in the eye at all, but in the communicaton between eye and brain) that makes it difficult for a dog to focus on a stationary object that it must be able to clear at speed. Clearly, unless such breeders are outcrossing to some other breed, the genetic basis for ETS would have to already be in the border collie genome (unless it was some sort of mutation, which is unlikely). That fact is not in dispute.

 

So it makes sense that while selecting for those traits that are desirable in a sport competitor, breeders have inadvertently also selected for the genes (if there's actually a genetic basis for ETS) that create a problem for their dogs for the purpose for which they have bred them.

 

Since you seem to be hung up on it, I will state it again: Certainly if ETS has a genetic basis, then those genes exist in the working border collie population and the general border collie population. The difference is apparently they have been concentrated in the sport dogs (at least in some lines) to the point where they have manifested a problem.

 

This is like the whole TNS argument. TNS is largely a problem of show dogs of Australain origin. The folks who breed those dogs argue quite vociferously that their foundation stock was working dogs from the UK, ergo the problem is in the working dogs of the UK. Well, certainly working dogs of the UK might carry the genes that code for TNS (assuming some mutation didn't occur during the creation and fixing of the Australian show lines), but because the Australian show breeders selected for specific traits, they also inadvertently selected for the TNS gene, and so they have a problem with TNS in their specific lines of dogs that doesn't appear to be much of a problem in the greater working dog population.

 

If ETS has a genetic basis, it makes perfect sense to surmise that in breeding for specific traits that are desirable for sport dogs, the gene(s) responsible for ETS have been concentrated in the sport dog population. It's genetics and breeding, not politics.

 

J.

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ETA: If what is being argued is that all border collies, no matter what their lineage, are affected by the condition called ETS, and that it just wasn't recognized in certain populations because those populations weren't expected to perform the tasks that the condition affects, my argument would be as follows.

 

Let's say that the condition known as ETS affects 10% of all border collies. Working dog, pet, obdeience, etc., dog owners don't notice that 10% of their dogs are affected because we don't require our dogs to jump a series of stationary obstacles at a high rate of speed. Sport border collie owners do notice because the condition has a direct impact on the performance of their dogs.

 

If this were the case, though, then ETS should have been a problem in border collies used for agility, no matter what their origin, from the beginning of agility competition. There may have been a "learning curve," so to speak, while handlers/trainers were learning to optimize their dogs' performance when such a problem would have automatically been written off to training issues, but the problem would have been there, in 10% of the dogs, from the start.

 

Of course we have no real way of knowing if the problem has always been there (because it may have been ascribed to some other issue, like training), but it would be possible to go back and look at videos from the early days, interview trainers/handlers, etc., from that time. etc., and make some sort of determination if ETS has existed all along. It might not be possible to say for a fact that it has existed all along, but a preponderance of the evidence would point one way or the other.

 

So that leaves us with two possibilities:

1. ETS (or the genetics that are behind it) affects a certain percentage of all border collies at some unchanging rate that has nothing to do with breeding, but it only becomes a problem if those dogs are expected to perform an agility-specific task. If this is the case, then ETS should have been a problem in the agility dogs (and flyball dogs?) from the start of agility, and it should have affected those dogs generally at the same rate at which it occurs in the population as a whole.

 

2. The genetics for ETS exist in the border collie population as a whole, but have not affected the performance of agility dogs until more recently. If this scenario is the correct one, then it would be possible for ETS to not have been a problem, say, 10 years ago, but to become a problem now, as more dogs are bred for traits that are more desirable in an agility competitor than in the more general population of border collies.

 

Note that in both scenarios, the genetics already exist in the breed. The question is whether those genetics have manifested all along and it just wasn't noticed (item 1), or whether those genetics are tied to specific traits/behaviors and as those traits/behaviors have been selected for in one subpopulation those genetics have been concentrated to the point where they are now manifesting themselves (as ETS) in that subpopulation (item 2).

 

If ETS is believed to have a genetic basis, then it would make sense to pursue both avenues of research, because knowing which scenario is the correct one would inform the direction that research should take in identifying the gene(s) that are at the root of the problem.

 

J.

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Mum24dog.....it's not a condition in working dogs therfore whatever the sport breeding *did* they did due to their *sport* criteria.

How would you know? I only use my Gláma for stock work, she could have "ETS" (if such a syndrome even exists...) without me ever noticing. I am not studying her take off position when she jumps the occasional fence.

Come to think of it, she does not particularly seem to like jumping... :blink:

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ETS (if it exists) may be a dog "problem" in general. The syndrome has been reported in other breeds, not just Border Collies.

 

There are people in the agility community, who still think that this is a training issue.

 

During these discussions, it should be remembered that agility courses, as well as the dogs, have evolved over the years. Courses are much more difficult than even 5 years ago and times have gotten faster.

 

And people are starting dogs crazy early.

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If ETS is believed to have a genetic basis, then it would make sense to pursue both avenues of research, because knowing which scenario is the correct one would inform the direction that research should take in identifying the gene(s) that are at the root of the problem.

 

J.

And then would that mean that those who breed dogs for sports (and not working ability) would be either narrowing down their gene pool (by removing dogs/lines that demonstrate this trait) or seeking out more breeding material from working-bred or other lines that might be less likely (if this trait has been concentrated in sport lines) to have a significant preponderance of this trait?

 

I am not in any way advocating the breeding of dogs for anything but working ability but wondering what the result would be if ETS (whatever it is) is proven to have a genetic component. Will that further influence those that do breed for sports purposes by either reducing the pool of dogs that are bred from or increasing it by adding more dogs from working-bred or other sources.

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Until there are hurdle jumps with bars that can fall that a dog must negotiate while working livestock and the dropped bars yield poorer livestock management, this is not a working dog syndrome. Most important, it is irrelevant to the breeding of Border Collies (as defined by this board); even if there are genes present for it in the working gene pool.

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teach the dog to be confident in it's work instead of rushing into everything. it is possible to teach a work ethic for sports but few do it.

 

That is exactly what Mecklenburg, and those who share her work, insist upon as the first course of action for any dog who is exhibiting signs of ETS. A thorough, systematic, retraining of the dog, emphasizing self control. That, of course, in addition to evaluation of the dog for physical/structural issues, including diagnosable eye problems.

 

A dog can only be considered for study of this condition if measures that fix such jumping issues for the vast majority of dogs have been taken and have failed and all detectable structural, eye, etc. issues have been ruled out.

 

I will admit that when I first heard of this, I jumped right to the conclusion that it must be a training issue. After reading about some of the work that has been done, I am convinced that there is more to it.

 

And I empathize with those who have put in the time to lay a good training foundation, and then retrained, and retrained, and retrained, and had the dog evaluated up and down and are being told that their dog's jumping problems are being caused by themselves, even though I haven't dealt with this exact problem. I am glad, for their sake, that the issue is being looked at now in more depth and that some of them may, at least someday, have answers.

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A test for ETS (if it can be produced) is only useful for providing a genetic reason why dogs do not perform/place well at a sport or for breeding dogs for sport. The former is about the owner's ego (poor performance/placement in any dog competition is about owner ego); the latter is about developing a different breed of dog (i.e. Agility Border).

 

 

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