Tuesday, 22 September 2015

BREAKING NEWS: a quarter of UK dog breeds so inbred they could face extinction

The Kennel Club today releases data which shows that half of all Kennel Club breeds are in trouble - and a quarter of them are so genetically impoverished they may not survive.

Those in peril include much loved UK breeds such as Irish and English Setters, the English Springer Spaniel, Cocker Spaniel, Bull Terrier, Otterhound, Bearded Collie and the Yorkshire Terrier.

Now this is not what those attending a press conference at the Kennel Club today (Tuesday 22nd September) will be told by KC spin doctors.

But it's what the data actually show.

Nope, those attending the event will be told how bloody marvellous the KC is for exploring the population structure of their 200-or so breeds and that the future is looking rosier for many breeds. Significantly, they will be told that the rate of inbreeding they've found is "sustainable", implying all is well in the world of pedigree dogs.  Because that, you see, is the conclusion of the authors (being paid by the Kennel Club incidentally) of a new paper published in Canine Genetics & Epidemiology this week. (Read it here.)

Nothing could be further from the truth - and the evidence presented in the paper does not support its conclusion.

All this new paper shows is that the rate of inbreeding in the UK has slowed a bit in recent years in some breeds  - probably due to the relaxation in quarantine rules which has allowed more imports, and a greater general awareness of the damage caused by inbreeding in the wake of Pedigree Dogs Exposed

While this is a bit of good news, the overall picture is bleak.  Many breeds are  very inbred and many breeds suffer a high burden of genetic disease. The paper documents a horrific leaching of genetic diversity in the 1980s and 1990s and not even a slowing down of the rate of inbreeding in recent years is going to claw that back.

That's because Kennel Club breeds are trapped in closed gene pools, treated as isolated species by breeders. Many KC breeds are founded on just a handful of founders - sometimes even just two dogs. The whole thing could be ameliorated with some judicious crossing to other breeds. But all but the most enlightened breeders view mating one breed to a different one as an anathema. Breed purity is still everything to most.

This paper looks at the rate of inbreeding in 200 or so Kennel Club breeds in the UK to establish what's called their "effective population size" - a measure of genetic viability used by conservationists managing small populations. The higher the EPS (or "Ne" as population geneticists call it), the better.

Conservationists consider an EPS of below 100 to be an indication that a population is endangered. Anything under 50 is considered genetically unsustainable - at "imminent risk of extinction" according to Franklin (1980).  In fact,  some modern conservationists argue that an effective population size of 100 should be considered an extinction risk and anything below 500 is a concern e.g. here)

Now this rule of thumb applies primarily to wild species, and may not be totally applicable to dogs. But 55 per cent of KC breeds in this new study have an effective population size of less than 100 - and 24%, almost a quarter, are under 50.

Over at the Institute of Canine Biology, Carol Beuchat has helpfully produced a graph showing how the breeds with more than 50 registrations a year shape up according to this paper. If you take the conservative estimate that a minimum effective population size of 500 is needed to ensure sustainability, only two breeds make the grade. (Read Carol's take on this paper here.)

Click to enlarge

The true picture could be even worse. This is because the data include imported dogs for which only limited pedigree data is available.  This will make the picture look rosier than it really as apparently unrelated imported dogs will often be quite closely related if you go a little further back in the pedigree.

Of course, this data looks only at UK breeds and the global situation could be better. Certainly, while the English Setter is on its last legs in the UK, there are zillions of them globally which may offer a way out of the genetic cul-de-sac. But this is not true for every breed.

Now the degree of threat to individual breeds will depend largely on the disease burden in those breeds - and that varies considerably. Some breeds with very small populations appear to be relatively healthy; while some much large breeds are not.  I hope today that the Kennel Club is going to announce some kind of coherent conservation plan for all breeds to help manage the genetics.

This paper is a great opportunity to highlight that so much more needs to be done and the attempt at positive spin by the Kennel Club is a great disservice to dogs.

The 29 breeds in the UK facing extinction (all with an effective population size under 50)

Airedale Terrier
Bearded Collie
Bedlington Terrier
Boston Terrier
Bull Terrier
Rough Collie
Long-haired Dachshund
English Setter
Wire-haired Fox Terrier
Irish Red and White Setter
Irish Setter
Kerry Blue Terrier
King Charles Spaniel
Lakeland Terrier
Lancashire Heeler
Lowchen Little Lion Dog
Manchester Terrier
Norfolk Terrier
Norwich Terrier
Curly-coated Retriever
Clumber Spaniel
Cocker Spaniel
English Springer Spaniel
Field Spaniel
Sussex Spaniel
Welsh Springer Spaniel
Tibetan Spaniel
Welsh Terrier
Yorkshire Terrier

There is no panic at all about this in this paper. And yet a supporting infographic produced by the Kennel Club actually makes it pretty clear.
Click to enlarge
Don't get me wrong - the KC should be congratulated for commissioning this study. The accompanying infographics are good (the work, I suspect, of Dan O'Neill from VetCompass as they're very similar to the ones he produces for that). And I am pleased to see a new (I think) page on the KC website that for the first time explores outcrossing as something for breeders to consider as well as highlighting the problem of popular sires - have a look here.

I am just completely thrown by the paper's conclusion - and so should you be.

Again, over half the breeds studied had an effective population size less than 100; and almost a quarter had an effective population size of less than 50.

So, tell me, on what basis can this paper justify its take-home message that the rate of inbreeding in today's Kennel Club registered dogs is sustainable?

Individual breed reports are available here.


NB: this is just a preliminary report on this important paper. I will continue to add/tweak.


  1. For the rough collie there is a simple way to make the situation much better just by revoking the 20 year old decision not to allow interbreeding with smooth collies.

    1. People have to stop following these rules that disallow people to make decisions based on empiricism and common sense!

      The KC is an organisation that is clearly biased in its interpretation of this paper and this is very bad news for dogs. Warped logic!

    2. That would help some little bit, Ida, but I´m not so sure it`s enough. Not beacuse the Smooth in the Uk (and elsewhere) is a small breed, but because these two are not really breeds, they are varieties, from common roots. In order to ascertain how much change in genetic make-up a planned, repetitive breeding of Rough to Smooth would achieve, you would need comparative DLA sequencing from a number of Roughs and a number of Smooths. Then, at least, you´d know where you are starting from. I would say there is a much better hope for the Roughs residing in the tens of thousands of unregistered, still working, dogs of Collie type and ancestry across Britain, Wales, and Ireland. And, to prevent expected outcry of purists - that is NOT "bringing in alien blood". It is what was done when the breed was formed, by people who were not seen then as mongrelizers and should not be seen as such now. Maybe that is what the next generation of educated, responsible Collie breeders will do?

  2. Jemima, it's called the science of bluffology and stupidity. The Kennel Club will endeavour to try and promote themselves in anyway they can. Yes, they have commissioned the report, seen the results, but will not show them in a measured and uniform manner. It's called statistics. And we all know about manipulation. I used to show Irish Setters but towards the end of that time the obvious deterioriation in the breed was sickening, I only had about 4 litters during the 40 years and in one of those litters there were two entropians and two hip dysplasia, 4 puppies out of I think it was 8 or 9. I told the owner of the sire, I told everybody who asked, I was told to shut up or I'd be sued!! I never had another litter, it was my last and my interest in that breed from a showing point of view vaporised. My bitch was "line bred" aka interbred, I and nor did others at the time realise the real danger of that, but the ones who were making big money denied any responsibility, continued to use stud dogs, whispers were heard but everyone cowered away. If it happened to me it sure as hell happened to others, if it happened in Irish it sure as hell happened in other breeds too. The KC probably knew about it but chose to ignore it, hence the situation today. The thing about importing new blood just means that eventually the whole world population of a breed diminishes, there is no way to go and I guess that will happen with cross breeding if only one type is pursued in order to achieve glory in the show ring, because that it is the true end of why so many dogs are bred. Showing. Then Breeding. Then Money. Job done, happy owner, dead dogs. Do they care, not a jot, they will turn their attention to another breed, reek havoc, clear off. Not all breeders, granted, because they truly love their dogs, only have a few, and dedicate their lives to the wellbeing of those dogs. The KC has to start looking at registrations, see who is overbreeding one blood line, and stop them. In Irish at the moment there appear to be only 2 or 3 kennels that are prominent (but using same bloodlines) and if those breeders really loved their breed they would slow down. I'm not saying the dogs on the ground at the present time aren't kept in tip top mental and physical condition and are probably quite happy by these breeders but they are killing off the breed rapidly. This is why I think that there should be a link to HMRC because as soon as these people have to declare their capital gain from breeding they will slow down and from my stance this would be good, in essence they are farming, taking a crop from a bitch to supply their waiting list, maybe keep a puppy, but in reality running a business. It has to stop, it will stop because the dogs will die out and the KC will have to turn it's attentions to some other activity other than pure bred dogs because the coffers will start to empty rapidly. And if anybody is to blame, it will be them because they have all the information, the stats, the money to take control it really is their responsibility.

  3. The figures tell one story...the loss of our beautiful spaniel six weeks ago - only once stricken with illness did we find his CoI was nearly 15- is one that can't be calculated. A family that will never recover: what value does anyone put on that?

  4. I would be interested to hear what the reaction to this report has been in different breeds, particularly the more vulnerable breeds. In my breed , Irish Red and White Setters, it has been difficult to get much reaction. I have posted links to the main report, the breed specific analysis, and the additional pages like the infographics (which are well done, simple and easy to understand). But it looks like few people in the breed are interested in in reading even the easier pages, and even fewer in commenting. I have looked on internet groups for other vulnerable breeds, and in most the report hasn't even been mentioned. How does one raise awareness of the issues and get some discussion going?

    1. Perhaps the KC have a responsibility to send the information per breed to each main breed club, and that breed club has a responsibility to send it to regional clubs. Proof that this has been done would be compulsory and posted in say the KC Gazette or online or in the dog papers. The KC could print it off and ensure that at every champ show per day per breed that it is included in the catalogue. I also think the KC have to extrapolate the information they have about the breeders who are overbreeding a bloodline and advise them that they will only accept registration of a limited number of puppies per sire. It will need DNA data to be compulsory for each dog, together with the microchip number, to eliminate as much of an opportunity to cheat. We know that there are "stand in studs and dams" either to keep the animal in peak condition for showing whilst "only recently having had a litter" or because the dogs are barren but a close relative has been retained to cover this probability. There is so much money involved in dog breeding these days people become hungry for more and become blind to any breed issues because it will affect their income and kudos in the breed. Also, of course, there is a position taken by these breeders whereby they can tell buyers of their puppies that their bloodline is healthy, good, reliable because if they haven't read the information, talked to anyone about the information, told anyone about the information, then they think that they are exonerated from a "sudden and unexpected" event. However, the case of Sam the Irish Setter in Holland which the owner of Sam won whereby the owner denied strongly that the condition that killed Sam had never happened before and it was proven to be untrue. So breeders beware because puppy buyers will become more savvy. It is all a very sad state of affairs for dogs that there are people who will exploit them to destruction. In the 60, 70 and 80s we were in the main ignorant, there were very many more of the "old school" breeders who were determined that "it was ever thus and things should not change" and thus wielded a lot of influence on how a breed could progress, or not, at that time. But those days have passed, we do now know the havoc we have created, and the KC has to act to protect the dogs and their own credibility.

  5. You know what they say Jemima, Bullshit baffles brains!!

  6. As a borzoi person, that graph has me celebrating! Woohoo!

    1. Don't celebrate too soon. The data aren't worth much. Imports are treated as totally unrelated in the UK database. I'd guess there are a lot of imports among the registered borzoi in the UK. I'll bet the breeds on the critical list are dominated by domestics . . . hence the problem shows.
      The poodle study JH covered a few weeks ago did very thorough statistical work. They found that the populations in different coungries had a lot of genetic mixing . . . enough so that in most cases, imports do not offer a solution to the problems of narrowed gene pools.

    2. Ooops the very word Borzoi is going to get me lost in two days solid internet browsing....bye bye weekend.

    3. I meant to add that the Borzoi could be in less trouble due to the fact that it has a very very broad ancestor base. Different people were doing very different things with a very large numbers of dogs in the breeding of working Borzoi for a very very long time before they reached the West and became a show number. They also had very big litter sizes generally. Colour wasn't and still isn't a criteria that already alone would make for a gene pool many times healthier than most breeds Im sure.....as a whole Im sure they are genetically speaking better off.

      Certainly certain show lines that might have dominated show rings in some countries due to strict colour preference selection like white did for awhile in America for example are probably less well off.

  7. There are two willing parties involved in a puppy purchase; breeders producing generation after generation with decreasing genetic diversity and buyers lining up to buy these highly inbred dogs and all the while the kennel clubs are collecting money from both groups (breeders in the show ring and buyers of the pups).

    If breeders had no waiting list of buyers they would not breed as often. If buyers would take the time to educate themselves on the issues in their breed of choice they could make better choices for their future pup and their breed as a whole. This level of effort and education by buyers would make them better owners in the future.

    A foole & his money,
    be soone at debate:
    which after with sorow,
    repents him to late.

    1. And why the KC have to tie up with the Inland Revenue and make these breeders declare their capital gain, because as soon as the breeders cannot rake in untaxed monies the breeding of dogs will slow down hugely. As far as I am concerned so be it. They've taken a crop to feed their waiting list, to offset their outgoings they need incomings that is running a business in my book. There are no hobbies that are self financing like dog showing, the breeders think that they have a right to breed indefinitely to pay for their interest in dogs. Anglers, Painters, Archery. Embroiders, whatever don't expect income from that interest in order that they continue to pursue that interest. Dog Showers do and therein lies the problem in the main.

    2. "There are no hobbies that are self financing like dog showing..."

      I personally have not seen all the expenses and income from dog showing to REALLY know if it is profitable. Have you????

      I know in my venue one does not make a profit on breeding pups or "showing"; there is income (fair since of all the effort that goes into proving a working dog prior to breeding plus the appropriate testing prior to selection of mates).

      As before, no one is forcing people to buy pups from these types of breeders. They do so because they have the illusion (since they didn't do any research) that papered pups from "champion" lines are better than other dogs. PDE is spreading the word just how much of an illusion this is.

    3. It didn't take long to find some info on the cost of showing to the top level in the USA.

      "To prepare, primp and promote a dog that can compete with the beautiful canines that strutted their stuff this week at the 2015 Westminster Dog Show can easily run you $50,000 to $100,000 a year."


    4. And if one doesn't have disposable capital to be able to back that expenditure without having to breed uneccesarily then they should not be showing dogs because they cannot afford it. It is a circle, it is elitist, the people winning, are the people breeding, results in disposable untaxed income, that results in being able to show, who are the people breeding.... and so it goes on and on. They make a model that wins, there is no competition apart from a handful of likewise people and they burn out, and all to win some imagined glory in a small pond of filthy water, contaminated by greed and glory. I can't laugh about the nonsense of it all because I would throw up first.

    5. I don't know about the UK, but here in the US you are taxed on income from puppy sales if you also claim the expenses from showing & breeding. Taxing the income will not produce your desired outcome (stopping/slowing the breeding).

      You want them to stop breeding, teach pet buyers that these dogs are not as healthy or superior as the KC claims. If they are not selling pups soon their kennels will be full and they will stop breeding.

    6. Hi PipedreamFarm, my point is that there should be no consideration to breeding puppies to enable one to show. One cannot offset profit against the cost of showing, feeding, transportation, entry fees. It is a hobby. Other hobbyists do not engage in a hobby expecting to make money from that hobby. The figures you show of $50k/$100k is astonishing and I don't think exhibitors in UK would have that outgoing, probably because we are able to drive to venues whereby USA fly throughout the Americas and use professional handlers which probably does add up considerably. But take Irish Setters for e.g. average 8 pups/litter, average cost of each puppy £800, I think that totals £6,400, a stud dog fee would be the cost of a puppy, or pick of litter either one or two pups d and b. So, a breeder one litter pa and owns a stud dog say used quarterly equals £6,400 plus £3,200 totals £9,600 untaxed income. So if we give consideration to breeding to cover costs I consider that to be running a business, incoming offset against outgoings. It would have to be a very honest and honourable breeder who declares unearned, capital gain. However, if they realised that they should declare the income to the Inland Revenue and be taxed they will be very reluctant to declare because the Inland Revenue will then start to ask questions. In the UK I believe that the I.R. can retrieve undeclared income for a back period of 7 years, however, it may be more. And once the system came into play believe me these breeders would drop out. Whilst I was showing there were people employed by the NHS who took "sickies" (days off paid), there were people claiming invalidity pay - even to the point of being given a car! an estate! If they could exercise, groom, drive 100s of miles, and show dogs then they should not have been claiming invalidity benefits, it's a very physical past time, or should be. So traceability would start KC, Inland Revenue, Social Services, and people brought to count. Ironically the "invalids" were having 3 or 4 litters p.a. and if that isn't hard work I don't know what is - so all round the tax system was (probably still is for all I know) being abused to the detriment of the legitimate tax payer. We were paying to support the scammers, they were selling large number of puppies comparative to that times costs tax free. Taxation will slow down dog breeding, no question about it.

  8. Nobody is blameless for the current state of these breeds: breeders, KC, or buyers.

  9. Glad to see some attention to the problem of inbreeding under closed registries.
    However, the data behind these findings are so poor that I would be embarrassed to use it in publication. The standard poodle paper you commented on earlier this month clearly showed that (1) there has been so much importation of dogs that different national or continental populations of the same breed cannot be considered genetically distinct; (2) inbreeding resulting from a bottleneck back ~1950 can do severe damage to the immune systems of a breed. These data all assume imports are unrelated, and none go back far enough to get meaningful COI's.

    I once tried to use UK stats to look at the COI's of the Labradors who won at Westminster. Surprise surprise. The imports, and dogs with an imported sire or dam look much better than the domestics. TOTALLY MEANINGLESS!!!

    Does anyone really believe, as shown on the big graph, that the Borzoi has the largest effective population size of any breed in the UK?

    The kennel clubs are forever saying that their business is managing pedigrees. I wish they would do a better job. Get the whole sheebang digitized and linked internationally so that meaningful analysis of pedigrees is possible (without the excruciating process that the Standard Poodle Project went through).

    1. I must admit Jennifer that I was looking at the graph and found it hard to believe the effective breed population of several of them. I find it hard to believe with such a low registry of pups each year that the Dandie Dinmont terrier also looking at ratio of breeding bitches to stud dogs has an effective population of 196.6.
      Something is seriously not adding up here.

  10. I have now had time to read the report , the single breed analyses, and all the other additional papers, also read read Carol Beuchat's critique . When I first saw the figure for my breed , Irish Red and White Setters, which is 39, I was surprised as I had expected it to be lower, probably nearer to 20. Certainly I hadn't expected it to be higher than either Irish Setters or English Setters. Three years ago the breed was reported to have an EPS of only 28, so how within a closed registry could it have gone up? We are numerically the smallest setter breed, with registrations that have fallen to below 100 in some recent years . So I started to look at the data used in calculating this figure. And there are three things that could have skewed the figure
    1. As other people have commented, there are imported dogs where only three generations are recorded. Which may conceal the fact that they go back to the same UK dogs and founders.
    2. In IRWS, we have some outcross dogs registered in the UK since 2012, one imported F1 dog, and two more outcross litters totalling 27 puppies with a COI of only 1.7%. As they have not yet been widely accepted by the show breeders as part of their gene pool, they form something of a small sub gene pool
    3. There are a substantial number of field trial dogs from Ireland who are registered in the UK so that they can run in field trials in Northern Ireland and the mainland UK, each of these is recorded in the KC database with a 3 generation pedigree of almost entirely other Irish FT dogs. These dogs form a de facto separate gene pool from the show bred IRWS in the UK, whose owners wouldn't dream of using an Irish working dog in their breeding
    So these three factors all contribute to skewing the EPS upwards, enabling the breed club down England to conclude with some satisfaction, but completely mistakenly, that the trend is towards greater genetic diversity. and there is nothing to worry about
    Of course if they were to import some completely unrelated dogs (which don't exist), or if they were willing to use outcross dogs or working and field trial dogs in their breeding, things might really improve. But as long as they continue to breed within a narrow circle of winning show dogs who are all related anyway, things are only going to get worse not better. But it would be hard to understand that from the figures presented by the KC. Poor use of data, with no understanding of what the data really shows, will give some very strange results!

    1. That also beggars belief. With a perfectly good gene pool of working dogs and outcrosses available and even registered showing breeders will rather continue on using the dangerously inbred show winning crap.

      It's heartening to read that there is a population of genetically sound working dogs, though.

      This is very much more than can be said for many breeds including many working breeds in the KC. That's good enough for me. It doesn't really matter what the kennel club thinks or the spin it puts on its own financed research, or how show breeders breed or their affiliated shows and judges go about their business in awarding dogs.

      With some kind of irony involved the breed club in England got it right then? There is nothing to worry about even if their own dogs all drop down dead tomorrow from inherited diseases.

      Those looking for a red and white need to know the best place to look, and of course the general public deserve to know the truth of the matter concerning the show dogs and what pedigree Champion really stands for.

  11. Not related to the subject, but found pictures of pugs. http://dduane.tumblr.com/post/96670053607/foxinu-perfectdogs-retro-pugs-this-is-a

    Made me happy.


  12. WTAF is a "balance between selective breeding and inbreeding?"

    I do not think it means what they think it means.

    I give up.

    1. Agree, though I'd say WTF. To inbreed is to off-balance the genetics.