My update generated some interest in my girls, I am very honored about that. My goal is and has always been improving health in family dogs so they can enjoy long and happy lives with their families. If people find them beautiful or interesting that is a nice bonus :-).
I am a firm believer in health through genetic diversity. Pieter Oliehoek’s lecture “Fokken voor diversiteit” (breeding for diversity) from June 2017 set a lot in motion for me. In as nutshell as possible for me to put it in: the maximum diversity in a population is the diversity the founding dogs brought into it. Best case these founding dogs were completely unrelated. In the case a breed is started/built with dogs already resembling the set standard these dogs will probably already be related somewhat. Same with introducing look-a-likes. Luckily DNA testing can establish this when a pairing is considered by estimating the COI of the planned offspring. The number of unrelated founders sets the FE:
Effective number of founders (fe) A breed might have 25 founders, but some of the original genetic diversity is invariably lost over time. The effective number of founders is an estimate of the number of founders that would produce the current genetic diversity of the population if all contributed equally to subsequent generations. This is a measure of the fraction of the genes contributed by the founders that still remain in the population. (The Institute of Canine Biology)
When a studbook is closed, this number can never go up again, only down. Say you started a new breed with 50 founders 100 years ago and the studbook was closed. A FE of say 8 would mean you still have the genetic material of 8 of the founders left, the material of 42 dogs got lost in those 100 years. This might be due to wars, popular sires and sharp selection on some desired traits or to breed out a hereditary disease. The lower the FE, the more related all dogs in the population are. So for every population it should be very important to know this FE. And to manage the population so this number doesn’t go down any further. And to keep this remaining diversity spread through the population.
I also am a firm believer of the scientists who claim most hereditary diseases are recessive, and need homozygosity to produce sick animals. This happens when 2 carriers of this disease are used for a breeding. When a specific DNA test is available, you can make sure this does not happen by combining carriers only with free dogs. Since the ‘sick’ allele is recessive, the ‘healthy’ dominant one will keep all offspring healthy. When there is no DNA test available, one of the tools to try to avoid hereditary diseases is keep homozygosity low and thus diversity high. So, raising the FE by introducing a new founder through outcross deepens the genepool and hopefully lowers the chance of two carriers finding each other.
Combine these two beliefs and you will hopefully understand I try to keep the risk of sick animals low by keeping diversity high. Since I also am a firm believer of inbreeding depression I, personally, would never dare breeding in a closed studbook with already a lot of existing health problems and signs of inbreeding depression. Which is the case with the Irish Wolfhound. So I had a choice to make: don’t breed or outcross. I chose the latter. From the start I knew I could never do this alone. Adding a new founder to a depleted genepool is relatively easy but then comes the hard part. Working back to the set standard, while trying to keep diversity as high as possible. If you use purebred dogs of the breed you are working on, you risk COI swiftly going up again. If you try to build a look-a-like from unrelated breeds, you need a lot of knowledge. For example about heredity of traits, about pre-selecting puppies in the litter most likely to contribute best as to place them with breeders or keep them yourself, about (hereditary) behavior, about selecting the best breeding combinations, etc. And you need database population management software, like Dog Global’s to make sure the added diversity is kept and spread. And preferably a DNA breeder tool for genetic matchmaking. For the Irish Wolfhound I hoped (and foolishly?) expected to find more support and help. We started the Sound Sighthounds & Lurchers Foundation to accommodate this. Unfortunately, so far, we have not been very successful. And one of my (undoubtedly many) flaws is my lack of patience, certainly when the health and wellbeing of dogs is at risk.
One of my (in my eyes) strengths is my ability to love all dogs. I don’t care if they are purebred or mutts, as long as they are happy and healthy. So I lost my drive to work on the Irish Wolfhound as a breeder. We have 11 dogs ourselves so I don’t need to breed to add to our own pack. The only reason I would consider breeding again is helping other breeds by adding an unrelated founder to their population. That’s why I have stated my Ginny and Amber might be available, if I have a good feeling about the breed/program interested in them.
Hopefully this answers some questions about me and my From Gaia’s Den program.