Australian Shepherd Health & Genetics Institute

Australian Shepherd Health & Genetics Institute

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Health & Breeding


I want to import a dog, what tests should I want done first?

At an absolute minimum the dog’s hips and elbows should be screened (assuming it is an adult), have a clear eye exam within the past year, and be tested clear or cleared by parentage (both parents tested clear) for MDR1, cataract, CEA and PRA.  Ideally, it should have a PHA test with a negative result as well as all the other DNA tests for Aussies except where cleared by parentage.  This will minimize the risk of importing a dog carrying those things for which we have tests.  If you are importing semen the stud dog should have had all available tests and screenings.

When should you not breed? 

When a genetic disease or defect is identified, there are a number of issues that come into play in the decision about whether to breed that individual or not and whether relatives should be withdrawn from breeding.  There are four major areas of consideration:

  1. How seriously does it impact the dog’s health and ability to function?  Example:  Hemangiosarcoma is lethal; a missing pre-molar has minimal effect on dental function.
  2. How common is it in the breed? Example:  The MDR1 mutation is extremely common; degenerative myelopathy is extremely rare.
  3. How large is the available breeding population? Example:  In the United States there are many Aussies, in South Africa there are relatively few.
  4. What is known about the mode of inheritance? Example:  Collie eye anomaly is recessive; hip dysplasia is polygenic.
  5. Is there a DNA test for the disease?

If a dog’s problem is inherited and shortens life, significantly reduces quality of life, requires surgical correction, or is expensive to manage, that dog should not be bred and there should be serious consideration of whether first-step relatives should be bred.  Dogs with very minor inherited issues that do not impact health or quality of life, like missing teeth, should be considered faulty and whether or not to breed should be based on the severity of the defect (one tooth or six?) along with its other virtues and faults.  Where the issue is not dire, selecting an unaffected littermate of similar of higher quality might be the better choice.  If you do breed such a dog, you must take care to mate it to animals that don’t have the issue of concern and have no recent family history of that issue the risk of producing it in the offspring.  If the issue is rare there will be many dogs worthy of breeding which might be better choices than the one with the issue.

How can a new person learn more about health and other qualities in the breed if they want to start breeding?

First you need to learn the questions to ask.  Do everything you can to educate yourself on the traits necessary to the type of dog you want (conformation, stockdog, agility dog, etc.) as well as genetic issues in the breed.

Remember that winning isn’t everything.  If someone is very good at promoting his/her kennel and has a lot of winners out there, it does not automatically follow that those are the best dogs.  The best promoted and most skillfully trained and campaigned, perhaps, but not necessarily the best quality or the soundest in health.   They may be, but you need more information than what you get from listings of show and trial wins or promotional copy.

For health traits, this website is an excellent resource.  Follow the links to other sites and read what you find there.  Use social media and e-mail lists to read and participate in breeding discussions.  You should include breed lists, multi-breed, and health or genetics related forums to tap a broad knowledge of dogs.

Talk to people.  Keep your ears open at shows, club meetings and other places breeders gather.  If you approach someone with a question, don’t be abrupt or accusatory if you want answers.  Keep the questions general.  (“I’m new and want to learn about breed health issues.  Can you tell me something about what I need to study up on?”)  This may lead to more fruitful and specific discussions.

If you have an Aussie and you are considering breeding, you should discuss pros and cons of the dog and its pedigree with the breeder of your dog.  When you know the weak points, you should discuss those with owners of mates you are considering.  While not everyone is totally forthcoming, most will not want to double up on a fault or health issue when an affected pup could later be associated with their kennel.

Becoming a student of human behavior can help.  Sometimes non-answers, evasions, and other behavior can tell you as much as a more constructive conversation.  It won’t tell you exactly what that person wants to hide, but it does indicate that maybe you need to find other sources for information.  If you feel uncomfortable, there is a reason even if you can’t put a finger on it