Claybrook Farm

Closed Registries, Genetics, and Inbreeding Depression


Effects of Closed Registries

Where did our breeds of today come from?  Many breeds, like Whippets, have existed as a generalized breed-type for hundreds of years, at least, as stated and historically referenced on other pages.  Some breeds of dogs have existed in roughly their present form for millennia.  These ancient breed-types were the basis for the modern breeds that we know today.  The modern breeds were formed by crossing one ancient breed-type with another, and then selecting progeny to continue the selective and directed breeding program.

So, one may ask, when were the modern breeds formed?  The answer, with very few exceptions, is pre-1880's.  Why?  Because, as chronicled on other pages, that is when closed registries were forming.   For the most part, only breeds that were currently in existence were "accepted" or added to the breed listing.  There are, of course, a few breeds that were not created at that time that are accepted now, but most of them were already on the scene in one form or another.

Once the closed registries were created by a small, but determined, group of people the activity of forming new breeds effectively ceased.  Not only did it come to a sudden halt, but if someone tried to cross existing breeds that were already in the closed registry, the resulting puppies were labeled "mutts" or "mongrels".  These dogs were condemned to second class dog status, rather like pariahs in the eyes of the elite that controlled the closed registries.

As time passed and new generations of dog fanciers grew up, this discriminatory and dictatorial mentality came to be accepted by the masses because they did not know that any different situation had ever existed.  When they went to look for a dog they talked to dog breeders, of course, and, by and large, those people convinced them that only "registered" dogs were purebred, so only registered dogs were any good.  Everything else was trash.  Unfortunately, the masses believed it.  In their blindness they have continued to believe it for just over a hundred years. 

Today the masses are starting to disbelieve that dogs in closed registries are the best.  Why?  Health issues would have to be the primary reason pet owners are disgruntled with the current state of doggy affairs.  Many pet owners have purchased a dog that is registered in a closed registry, only to have the animal develop a devastating health problem which probably had a genetic origin.  Major health issues face many breeds today.

Small gene pool breeds are especially disadvantaged, as often all the dogs in the world, literally, are related, so they all have the same health problems. Since these breeds are in a closed registry there is no real way to bring in new, healthy unrelated blood because it is closed registry taboo to cross dogs of similar, but different, breeds.  Even if the resulting puppies were healthy, they would be "mutts" say the elite.

But would they?  What is a purebreed anyway?  A quick glimpse at genetics helps to shed some light on the subject.  See Mendelian Genetics Simplified.   Dogs have 39 pairs of chromosomes, one half of each pair coming from the sire and the other half coming from the dam.  On each of the chromosomes are many genes, like beads on a string.  In a "purebred" from a closed registry, are all the genes

Do only closed registry dogs have genes that match up, or are "homozygous", enough to reproduce the desired characteristics of the parents in the puppies?  Once again, hardly.  Many traits are controlled by numbers of genes that can be paired up in different ways to still give the same general look in the actual physical dog.  So the offspring look similar, but the genetics inside will be somewhat different. There is an excellent discussion of this in the book Genetics of the Dog, Howell Book House, 1989, by Malcolm B. Willis.  This type of breeding emphasizes a phenotype (outward appearance), rather than a strict genotype (certain set of genes). 

Obviously with this type of breeding program, called "outcrossing", it may be more difficult to do what is called "set breed type", since the genes are not pairing up as closely as in the related gene pool which is inevitably created by a closed registry.  Therefore, breeders counter, breed type will be lost.  However, if the resulting hybrid puppies, that may be somewhat variable, are used to make a backcross into one of the parent dog's lines, after a couple of generations, they should quickly become nearly unrecognizable from the parents, as long as dissimilar dogs are culled out of the breeding program. Even in breeds of dogs that are different but similar, there are enough traits that are capable of being carried on in various forms to make the resulting puppies very much like the parents.  

This genetic method of breeding for a phenotype rather than a genotype has been proven in recent years by an experimental crossbreeding of Dalmatians and Pointers.  Since Dalmatians have some severe genetic health problems, a scientifically minded and enterprising Dalmatian breeder used healthy Pointers on his Dals.  He got, after a few generations of backcrossing, healthy Dalmatians that were identical looking to the unhealthy Dalmatians.  

Why were they healthy?  Because the resulting offspring had Pointer genes, which did not carry the health problems.  Unfortunately, the other Dalmatian breeders were not scientifically minded like he was, and refused to recognize the healthy Dalmatians in their registry.  Nevertheless, he proved, beyond a shadow of a doubt, the genetic fact that breeding for a phenotype can be successful.

Another example is seen in some coonhound breeds which are recognized by registries which have open registration for certain breeds.  These dogs all look remarkably alike, even though their breeders are working with a phenotypic breeding system, as permitted by the open registry, rather than the strict genotypic system which is mandated by the closed registry.  This open registry allows breeders to avoid inbreeding depression which is the inevitable result of the closed registry. 

Of course, it is true that the offspring of today's closed registry dogs will be nearly carbon copies of the parents, but one must ask - at what cost?  If the parents have horrific health problems, does one want to carbon copy that?  Or pay a breeder to carbon copy it so the pet owner can then take the dog to the vet's for the rest of its pathetic little life?

Perhaps the answer is no.  Some of the masses are just starting to question the validity of creating a tight genotype in a closed registry breed at the expense of  losing the health and longevity of the actual individual dog.  Of course, if using a phenotypic breeding system, one must be sure that one of the parent lines is free from the particular health problem in question.  If both parents carry the same health problem then it will not matter if they are from different breeds or not.  The offspring will still have the problem because they inherited it from both parents.

Dogs resulting from a phenotypic breeding system should certainly have more hybrid vigor.  They usually will be more healthy, more vigorous, and probably more prolific than the inbred dogs in a tight genotypic breeding system.  This molecular fact, hybrid vigor, is used routinely and with purpose in breeding programs of other species of  animals, and even in plants, as well. It is the breeding program used to produce hybrid corn, for example.  Small inbred parent strains are crossed and the resulting corn that is produced is larger, sturdier and has  more ears than either parent strain.

This type of breeding program could be used to good advantage in certain dog breeds today.  Of course, only one cross would not forever fix a particular breed's health problems.  It would have to be possible to do the cross later when the health problem reappeared, as it surely would if the successive generations were bred back into the same inbred parent strains.  But unfortunately this type of health fix is not possible in today's closed registry system.

So, what options do dog owners have today?  As can be deduced from the information above, their options are many.  There are still some dog breeds in closed registries that are very healthy.  And there are some that are not.  Likewise, there are dog breeds in open registries (see An Alternative to Closed Registries) that are healthy, and some that have health problems.  

It is up to each individual person to choose the path that they will follow.  Here we are then, each of us trying to do what is right, hopefully.  For some of us it is what we think is right in the eyes of the Lord, the Creator of all things, including genetics.  For others it is what is right in the eyes of ourselves, or someone else.  'Choosing' is what dog breeding through the millennia has been all about.  And that is what life is all about, too.  You choose. Ķ



For more information contact:

Claybrook Farm --  Michelle Henninger --  5730 Olde Scotland Road, Shippensburg, PA 17257



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