Continuing from my previous post on DCM, here’s what I have to suggest.
The DCM threat is too great to wait for our leaders to take action. For their own (political) reasons, Breed Clubs are not going to do anything more than issuing good wishes and leaving it to the individual to act, without even offering a coherent plant and genetic support, dedicating funds and fund-raising to finance these services for their members. What they should be doing, is utilizing the expertise of scientific bodies like the Institute of Canine Biology to compile a coordinated set of guidelines, for breeders operating under every registering body, AKC, CKC, FCI, TKC, everywhere, internationally. A genetic conservation and revival plan for the Great Dane. But they are not – because there’s a political cost. So we have to step up and do it ourselves. We are a huge community with a common love in our hearts, that unites us. This bond is the most powerful thing in the world. We can accomplish anything together. Do we have the will?
We need to become the leaders if we want to save our beloved dogs – and Clubs will sooner or later follow when we have a Movement going. I know personally and surely that there are Great Dane Clubs out there ready and able to embrace and join the movement. The others will be kicked into place by the domino effect. The time is almost too ripe. The time for the battle for survival to be joined is now. The scientific committee of the FCI will not be far behind and already progressive and scientifically informed Kennel Clubs in the Scandinavian countries and elsewhere are very supportive of such efforts.
We don’t need a new club – we need a new thinking. We need to stop being complacent and apathetic. We need to stop waiting for others to act and take the matter in our hands. Because it is quite obvious from sad reality that what we’ve been doing for so long not only isn’t working, but it’s too little too late and is condemning our beloved dogs to a slow and painful death. The Dobermann breed is already dying and the Great Dane is right behind them in DCM prevalence. We are second in line. The writing is on the wall. Please open your eyes and read. The blind following the blind end up hurt or dead. We need to wake up and open our eyes. Our dogs depend on us for life and death and we can’t let them down.
First of all, every Great Dane lover, owner, breeder, exhibitor and prospective owner should join this group, ICB Great Danes breeding for the Future and follow Carol Beuchat on Facebook. Those who haven’t yet, join the Apollo of Dogs Great Dane Preservation group too. I am going to dedicate a section of that group to the Movement for Preservation breeding.
We need to understand these basic few things, for starters.
- Breeding from fewer dogs is not going to solve the problem.
Breeders are only keeping two show-quality puppies (at most) from each litter and are practically “killing off” the rest – because they place them at pet homes on neutering / spaying contracts. This strategy is a recipe for failure and extinction as it is removing those dogs and their valuable genes from the gene pool; we are therefore throwing away huge chunks of valuable genetic material with each generation and each litter. This practice is certifiably insane, it’s a death sentence for every breed. Every puppy in the litter has its own, different genetic make-up despite the same pedigree: each puppy gets different blocks of DNA from mom and different ones from dad. The combinations are different. These puppies are not carbon copies, they are not clones of each other. Each puppy is genetically unique; so every pup is a different entity than each littermate and each pup is able to contribute to the genetic diversity of the breed in different ways than its brother or sister. We must STOP squandering this veritable treasure trove and stop immediately. It is exactly this senseless practice that has concentrated so many deleterious alleles in pure breeds, it is this practice that increased the prevalence of DCM, bloat, cancer and all the other hereditary defects. It is this practice – called “breeding only from the best”, popular sires and breeding mainly from champions – that is killing our dogs and will eventually kill all pedigree breeds off. It is so elementary and important to understand this simple thing.
We need to breed from MORE dogs, not fewer. We need to exclude FEWER dogs from the gene pool, not more. We can do this with a network of co-operating breeders around the world, exchanging dogs and semen, and with a system of mentoring and student breeders who will form and utilize co-ownerships (like the Scandinavians have been doing for many decades now) to keep more dogs from each litter sexually intact and use them as part of broad, extended, communal breeding programs. We need to stop the early spay and neuter policy and keep every valuable breeding prospect intact. We need to breed from older healthy sires that have been collected in their prime. We need to collect semen from more males and make heart screening a routine test before breeding. We also need to continue funding cardiomyopathy research but we can’t afford to wait for a miracle.
- We need to outcross MORE. We need to abandon the euphemistically called “line-breeding” (inbreeding) recipe for disaster because we have already squandered most genetic diversity available in the beginning of the breed. Yet people are still regurgitating antiquated articles from obsolete breeding schools that were uninformed about the reality of genetics. Senior breeders are still indoctrinating newcomers about planning their breeding programs on “tight line-breeding”. This is bordering on criminal at this stage, with a breed dying from three major hereditary killers. Are these mentors going to bring beloved dogs back when they drop dead in front of their families’ eyes? Who is going to reimburse the young breeder for the expense and the heartache? Who is going to stand by him or her and their shattered dreams and reputations when they realize the precious puppies they sold to the unsuspecting public were beautifully packaged disasters? Is winning worth all this misery handed out to dog-loving folk, while piling up the skeletons in the closet?
Please read the Elevator Pitch again – and share it far and wide. Yes outcrossing is risky because after a hundred or so years of inbreeding (breeding with closed pedigrees and not allowing any new ‘blood’ is inbreeding) we have increased the frequency of problems by doubling-up on harmful alleles. We have allowed the breed come to a point where every mating can be catastrophic and breeding is a minefield. We did that collectively and now collectively we have to undo the damage. Inbreeding at this point, with a breed saturated by DCM is far, far riskier and deadlier than outcrossing and assortative mating, because it compounds problems and leaves no escape route. With outcrossing comes hugely increased probability that some of the puppies will escape the major killers (and these odds improve with every outcross) so we need these puppies to be available and sexually intact. Their genotype is far more precious than their phenotypical perfection, in saving the breed.
- We need a population study of the ENTIRE breed, a unified database of all Great Danes, globally. We need to use this database to draw up breeding strategies with the help of geneticists’ supervision. We need outcrossing plans in place; we need to unite and fund-raise to secure the help of the genetic experts; it’s these experts that will provide support and guidance to each and every breeder; and all these breeders working together in this conservation plan can save our breed from certain death. There are already people working on the database and they need all the help they can get. If many people join in the work will be complete in no time at all.
- We need to store the semen of as many males as possible. Some of them will die of old age and will be DCM-free and free from other hereditary problems too, so we need as many collected because we can’t carpet-use them; but we will be able to use their semen in the future intelligently and effectively, to increase genetic health. There is already a major breakthrough on Bloat so we need to concentrate on cardiomyopathy as our no. 1 target and tackle it head-on. These healthy old sires’ semen will also come handy in reducing the frequency of cancers & other defects too.
- We need to ignore the Color Code and utilize immediately what available genetic diversity has been isolated behind those sinister apartheid walls. We have color testing means available now so we can do this safely without spreading the potentially harmful merle alleles to the rest of the population. We need to worry about health MORE and color “mismarks” less. Most puppies go to pet homes anyway and mismarks can be bred from. So we need to prioritize rationally. The color code can and will be replaced by a set of genetically sound practical guidelines as we move on with the times but we can’t afford to wait until this in place to save the breed. The breed hasn’t got much time left. We need to replenish the gene pool, with every available means, restore health, vitality and longevity and worry about color later, from a position of safety. Some suspect that the black Great Dane family has “savior” (modifier) genes that stop the expression of disease and have blessed the variety with more genetic health and notable longevity in comparison to others. We need to look into this and encourage the mating of more black Danes with other colors.
Ind. Ch. Ram’s Black Onyx
- We need to avoid the popular sire syndrome like the plague it is. This can’t be stressed enough. Please read the article about the Pox of the Popular Sires and share it everywhere. Raise awareness. Educate. Promote the discussion in your clubs, groups and communities. When outcrossing, do so with dogs that come from breeders who heart-test all their dogs properly* and annually. In case the breed-wide population study reveals we need a cross-breeding plan C as a last resort, we need to examine this option, draw up the plan and keep it in reserve without panic and without blinkers.It’s going to depend on many people but the beauty of it is that every one can play their part without waiting on the others to act. Each breeder can create their own co-owners’ group to place their future breeding prospects; each breeder can collect from more males. Each breeder can avoid popular sires and inbreeding. Each breeder can heart-test and publish results. We need to fight ignorance, prejudice and stigma with education, cooperation and open-mindedness. We are not responsible for the past so there’s no stigma involved – we need to shake off that harmful mindset – but we are responsible for the present and the future. We need to communicate more, open up channels of dialogue, reconcile our differences and set the survival of the breed as our primary goal. We need to unite for this and on this at the very least.
Later studies reveal that the prevalence is even higher that we previously thought (35,6% in 2012). Puppy buyers can play a major part in the effort to stop DCM frequency increasing and eventually eradicate the epidemic in Great Danes: first of all, they must insist to see current test certificates of the parents.DCM is a veritable flood threatening the breed’s very survival. We need to get on the Ark and reach high ground. We need to repopulate the breed with healthy genes. This should be everyone’s number one priority right now. *Proper diagnosis is done by echocardiography, which demonstrates the chamber dilation and indices of decreased pump function characteristic of the disease. Thoracic radiography is useful to evaluate pulmonary (lung) tissue and vessels, and may show evidence of fluid accumulation in the lungs (pulmonary edema) or around the lungs (pleural effusion). Electrocardiography can be used to characterize heart rhythm and to rule out arrhythmias; a 24 hour electrocardiogram (Holter monitor) would be recommended to more accurately characterize cardiac rhythm.
Prospective puppy owners are powerful drivers of progress in breeding and we must encourage them to use this power to benefit the breed; they need to worry much more about cardiac disease, bloat, general health history and much less about “color purity” in pedigrees. And they should look with skepticism at high coefficients of inbreeding (over 10 or more generations); every conservation breeder ought to provide them with such data. On the other hand, prospective puppy owners should be and will be more supportive of conscientious breeders that disclose information, acknowledge the problems and genuinely embark on outcrossing programs. Without disclosure and transparency there can be no cure. Breeders should care less about maintaining “winning” records and more about making real steps in the right direction. Honesty builds its own reputation and its the most precious one to have. We need to redefine success to mean athletic, healthy, sound, happy dogs that live long, otherwise BIS wins and ‘tickets’ and full-champion pedigrees are meaningless.
We need everyone from around the world who loves Great Danes to join this Conservation movement to revitalize our beloved breed.
Let’s start. The beginning, as they say, is half the job done.
“Headed down the same tragic road of with rising rates of dilated cardiomyopathy are Deerhounds, Irish Wolfhounds, Boxers, St. Bernards, Great Danes, Afghans, Newfoundlands, Old English Sheepdogs, and English and American Cockers. They will all need to deal with this. Perhaps they should consider pooling resources and tackle this together.”