Who to Register With ?
- This article is being published
in the hope that our people can better understand the NRTA’s position
on the existence of the Rat Terrier. It is intended to show the difference
between the NRTA’s goals and practices vs other registries and organizations
as educational material only.
The NRTA exists for the Rat Terrier and not for individual personal
gratification or short term gain. As an evolutionary association we will
continue to make any necessary changes and do what is best for our breed.
We are presently opposed to joining forces with AKC UKC or any registry
that doesn’t have the best interest of the breed in mind. We at the NRTA
well understand what has happened to breeds that have become a part of
these organizations. We hope that by reading this article you will have
a better understanding but ultimately it is your own individual choice
to which way you want to go.
- Parts of this article are very technical reading
but in the scheme of things are very important. There is a glossary at
the end to help you understand some of the terms. Take your time reading,
it is well worth the effort.
- Purebred Dogs ?
- What is a Canine Breed?
A breed is
an animal that is distinquished by three important factors. One is ancestry,
Second purpose and lastly type. In todays world pieces of this critieria
are missing or are not put into action properly. There is far to much emphasis
on looks alone.
The Origins of Dog Breeds
- Dogs are created by man, by breeding certain
individuals for the traits that are the most desirable to that breeder.
It is mostly subjective in nature rather than practical and by using common sense
or taking into consideration what is most important in the makeup of a
dog. It is not the registries like AKC who breed the dogs. They just register
or keep track of lineage of the particular breed. The breeders breed them,
create them and then the registries take over. The problem is many times it is the death
of the breed because so much consideration is taken over the "looks" of
the dog rather than the health and inate abilities because of what a registry
- What is the Key to Healthy Breeding?
Because of this manmade feature and lack of consideration
of what is most important for a breed to thrive, most breeds are in trouble
with high levels of faulty genes and defects. It has been suggested that
there are over 500 genetic defects in our breeds today. Many registries
do not screen out these defects and so the problems continue and get worse
as time passes. For example: the OFA has tracked, rated and recorded Hip
Dyslplasia yet two perfectly acceptable parents can still produce defective
- What is wrong with a Pure Breed
As in the case of the AKC studbook and closed
registry, to close a studbook like AKC does, does in fact promote more genetic
defects. One could say that breeding the best dogs to the best dogs would
produce the best but there are genes that are hidden among those wonderful
dogs and being that the lines are close due to a closed book and more inbreeding
or linebreedng the genes then start doubling up. This leads to much more
inferior dogs rather than strong prepotent animals. Every time you cut
down on a gene pool you have less diversity. With this lack of diversity
the defects start to surface and you have a mess on your hands with dogs
producing more and more genetic defects of all kinds.
- Most AKC purebreds have limited gene pools due
to closed stud books and so called Champion Lines but in reality all they
are is inbred dogs with lots of genetic problems. You must add blood from
unrelated lines from time to time to dilute the genes that are causing
- Wrong thinking for Type Alone
Because dogs are being bred for Type or "Looks"
as a most important factor it has led to great looking show dogs but that
is about it. AKC very highly promotes winning in the ring and more and
more females have been bred to the winning show males. Of course most of
these dogs are related due to the closed stud books which leads to a quick
fix to a good looking dog but not much of anything else. Inbreeding and
Linebreeding produce set in traits very quickly but that is only part of
the picture. The traits that are set in are concentrated on looking good
rather than being a sound animal.
- Not only has health declined but the very nature
of a working dog and sound temperament has been greatly compromised. It
is a must that breeders concentrate on the whole of the dog rather than
one quick aspect and that is the notoriety of a winning champion. What
good is a champion that only looks good but has no ability, hard to train
and unpredictable in temperament.
- A Century of Nineteenth Century Dog Breeding
then, may we set about correcting the accumulated errors of over
a century dog breeding? First of all it might be wise to attempt
a short list cataloguing the errors and abuses of which we are aware, the
areas known to be deficient in one way or another.
* Dog shows must come high on the error
list. They began as an arena for the evaluation of breeding stock, they
continued in the form of the "bench show" as a public showcase for purebred
dogs. Both functions are now ill served if not virtually abandoned. Championship
shows are now just that, mills for the production of Champions, Best
in Show and Group winners, little more. They contribute almost nothing
to the true welfare of dog breeds; they have few lasting positive values
to offer breeders, only temporary fads and fashions.
* Breed purpose and the cultivation
of canine utility have a low status in the fancy compared to what one
author called the glitz and hype of the show world. Those who concern themselves
with the working ability of their dogs exist mostly in remote places where little
communication takes place with other branches of the fancy where shows
are going on.
* Obedience work, begun as a way of initiating
dog owners into the fascination and technique of training one's pet to
be a pleasant, well behaved companion, has become largely ritualized and
sterile. The pursuit of (the perfect point score) has become
an obsession. Intelligent and useful training on the owner's part, intelligent
obedience on the dog's part, are now beside the point. What matters
all too frequently now is the minutely perfect performance of a set ritual.
* The worship and exaggeration of
type, as already noted, is responsible for a multitude of ills.
* Modern registries based on a rigidly
closed studbook are throttling the genetic health of all registered dog
breeds. Genetic misery is now a real and present threat. Many breeds
now bear a genetic load of defects which has grown totally
unmanageable as their respective gene pools have become more and narrower
through thoughtless breeding and selection practices.
* Incest breeding, once a convenient
tool for the rapid fixation of type in newly registered breeds, has become
virtually standard practice for those who seek success in dog breeding.
The net effect has been the decimation of gene pools, widespread homozygosis
and the unintended fixation of unknown scores, hundreds or thousands of
genes, many of which are proving to be harmful or lethal to the animals
that bear them. There is a correct place for Linebreeding to take place but
not as habit.
* Breed clubs seem to possess little
real power to represent breeders or their breeds effectively. Special
measures which they may feel essential for the health, development, and
protection of the breeds whose breeders they represent must be put through
the centralist AKC system and approved by the Board before they become
effective; often such measures have little chance of approval because
they are felt to conflict with the rigid all breed norms of the Club. Since
breed clubs have relatively little real power, they often tend to be
less than fully representative of all breeders of a particular breed. Frequently
they are more or less run by cliques; they waste much time and effort in
wrangling and personalities, being perhaps inadequately supervised and
not taken terribly seriously.
- Many of the abuses and deficiencies not
rooted in outmoded attitudes such as racism and elitism arise from misunderstandings
of genetic realities. Let us now examine briefly a few points of up-to-date
genetic theory as they relate to purebred dog populations.
- Lessons from Population Genetics
- Gene Frequencies
- Much of the work of population genetics
involves estimating or calculating gene frequencies, which quantify the
relative commonness or scarcity, within a particular population, of alleles
at a particular gene locus. If there is only one version of a gene in
the population, then the entire population is necessarily homozygous for
that gene. Gene frequencies are expressed as decimal fractions which
must add up to unity, so a gene without alternative alleles has a frequency
of 1.0. The gene frequency figure is a ratio of the number of copies of
alternate versions of a gene in the population, independent of the number
of animals involved and of whether they have the gene in homozygous or
heterozygous form. An individual may have two copies of the same allele
or it may have one or none. For example, if a locus has two alleles, and
the population involved consists of fifty animals, and there are 25 copies
of one allele, then the frequency for that allele is 0.25; therefore the
frequency of the other allele must be 0.75, with 75 copies of it in the
same population. It must be emphasized that gene frequency by itself says
nothing about relative heterozygosity or homozygosis; it deals only with
quantitative aspects of alleles in the population, not the diploid genotype
- Founder Events
- Perhaps the most crucial concept in population
genetics for dog breeders is the founder event, for its theory describes
perfectly what takes place when a breed is "recognized" by AKC or a similar
registry. Whatever may be the state of genetic balance or the frequency
with which particular genes are found in the general canine population,
it all changes when a founder event occurs. In nature such events happen
when individuals of a species occupy and reproduce in territory new to
the species, losing contact with the source population of the migrants
(as when small birds are deposited by hurricane winds on mid ocean islands). The
founder event describes the establishing of a small population, although
later on it may grow to be a large one. When a finite number of individuals
found a new population group, the genome of the new group will necessarily
reflect the genes brought to it by the founder animals; gene frequencies
within that population will reflect the gene frequencies within the founder
group rather than that of the source population.
- In this way, when a founder event occurs, a gene quite rare in
the source population may have a much higher frequency in the new population;
conversely, genes common in the source population may be infrequent or
even absent from the new population. It all depends on the genes of the
founders! Thus a genetic defect extremely rare in the overall canine population
can come to be common in a particular breed simply because one or more
individuals of a small breed foundation carried that gene.
- Effective Breeding Population
- Anything that limits
the number of males in use drastically restricts the effective breeding
population. Overuse of popular sires is a tremendous factor in the genetic
impoverishment of purebred dogs. One of the major drawbacks of the AKC
Foundation Registry is the virtual certainty that the existence and promotion
of a few "elite" sires, titled, temperament tested and certified "clear"
of major hereditary diseases, will further dramatically reduce the effective
breeding population in many breeds, causing further declines in breed
vitality and viability and leading to the loss of vitally needed breeding
lines which happen not to be among the elite group.
- The Crux of the Problem
- The one problem which most concerns
the entire purebred dog fancy is genetic defects. Breeders used to worry
about overshot/undershot bite and cryptorchidism. Not much else of a genetic
nature was cause for concern; fanciers were a lot more worried about distemper,
hepatitis and internal parasites. Breeding programs concentrated on individuals'
visions of canine excellence.
- Then in the 1960s the tip of the genetic iceberg emerged as concern
grew about a joint disorder called hip dysplasia. A control program involving
the examination of hip x-rays by a skilled scrutinizer and the maintenance
of a registry of animals "cleared" of the defect was established at the
Ontario Veterinary College at Guelph, Ontario. Now after four decades of
the OVC program it has been pretty well established that "clear" animals
with several generations of "clear" ancestry can nonetheless produce dysplastic
progeny. Hence the OVC control program would seem to be of questionable
effectiveness. The OFA program in the United States has these same issues.
- As the generations of closed studbook breeding have advanced,
many other inherited problems have emerged in purebred dog breeds. There
is no need to list them here; the list would be on its way to obsolescence
in a month or so; veterinary research continues to define more inherited
disorders regularly. Many breeders now run four way screening programs;
some may screen for even more problems. Yet thirty years of x-rays have
not eliminated hip dysplasia - it is now widespread in breeds in which
it was not a problem thirty years ago.
- Several years ago Time magazine published
a scathing indictment of the American Kennel Club and of purebred dogs
and their breeders, targeting in a cover story the problem of genetic ills,
suggesting that the best use of pedigree papers was for housebreaking the
puppies and recommending that the public satisfy its desire for canine
companionship with mongrels. Since then, most of us have known we have
a situation that is on shaky ground on our hands. Our reputation as breeders
of purebreds is now in tatters; we are caricatured in the media as greedy,
uncaring producers of degenerate animals.
- It is time for us as dog breeders to
stand up for ourselves and for our dogs, to reject the accusation that
we ourselves are individually to blame for the problem of genetic defects,
and to demand swift remedial action by the Club. The crux of the problem
is the closed studbook and with it, the ideal of breed purity, the worship
of type and the preeminence of the championship show as goal and arbiter
of most breeding programs. Armed with the concepts of population
genetics, we can now examine the last century of dog breeding, ascertain
what has gone wrong, and establish ways and means to correct the situation.
- We stated that the recognition of a breed by a registry was a crucial
event in its history, more
crucial than it need be. That is because the usual practice has
been to open the registry to foundation
stock for a limited period, to inspect and register a small population
of foundation animals, and then
to close the registry to new genetic inflow forever after, with
the sole exception of animals of the
same breed imported from other registries and derived from the same
or closely related foundation
stock. In recent decades there has usually been no unique AKC foundation
stock except in the case of
native breeds; AKC merely accepts registered stock from other jurisdictions.
Most of the breeds we are familiar with were founded from sixty to over
one hundred years ago.
- The canine species possesses tremendous
genetic diversity as a whole. Like most species, that diversity includes
a genetic load, a wide variety of more or less harmful genes, probably
quite a few of them held in a state of heterozygote superiority, so that
although natural selection tends to eliminate homozygote recessives when
they segregate, the bad genes themselves maintain a strong presence due
to the selective advantage of the superior heterozygote.
- The Holistic Breed
- Now I would like to evoke a vision of
the future -- but not the distant future. I want to describe how dog
breeds might be in the twenty first century. Instead of all breeds
being subjected to arbitrary structures not
equally well suited to them all, each breed would get whatever special
measures its breeders thought necessary. Instead of a fragmented canine
fancy with ghettos of show, fanciers, obedience buffs, and working dog
specialists, dog breeds would have the benefit of a holistic outlook, integrating
the various aspects of canine: activity and producing well rounded, versatile,
mentally stable animals.
- The notion that genetic disease can
be controlled, much less eliminated, by screening programs and selection
has not been borne out by general experience. Those who promote such a
notion are engaging in a cruel, self serving deception. It may be that
a breeder can sometimes improve his odds against producing defective stock
in a given mating by screening the parents, but experience has proved that
screening will not solve our genetic problems in any wider sense. Despite
generation after generation of "clear" stock, bloodlines can still produce
more and more affected animals. That is because our problems are inherent
in the closed studbook/incest breeding system. In order to restore genetic
health we shall have to adopt a different system.
- Genetic defects are not "eliminated"
in nature. Instead random mating and behavior patterns that discourage
inbreeding take care of the problem by ensuring high levels of heterozygosity
and the consequent rarity of defective homozygote. If we take steps to
set up similar patterns in purebred dogs, we shall be able to reduce the
level of expression of defective genes greatly, which is all that is required.
The end in view is healthy stock, not "racial purity."
- Many breeders will reject outright the
mere idea of deliberately trying to increase heterozygosity, after so many
years in the pursuit of homozygosis through "line breeding" and frank incest
breeding. Others will be horrified by the thought of dismantling the apparatus
of the AKC Championship Show. The genetic situation is dire and the present
outlook for many breeds is grave. Something will have to be done. Just
now most of the hope and effort rests upon research towards detection of
DNA markers for major genetic diseases. Yet those who promote this approach
to the problem of genetic defects invariably seem to have a very narrow
outlook, treating each defect in isolation. The approach is no different
from that of traditional hip x-rays and eye examinations, except that it
may be more efficient. The proponents of disease marker detection do not,
however, explain how we are going to deal with the problem of diseases
which are already widespread throughout a breeds population, or how our
gene pools will stand up to successive waves of severe culling as we strive
to "eliminate" one widespread genetic disease after another in our small
populations bred from tiny founder groups.
- What is of paramount importance is that
we all recognize the true dimensions and gravity of the problems we now
face. It is far too easy to ignore genetic diseases, to make excuses, to
pay the vet bills and say nothing for fear that others will accuse one
of breeding defective stock -- I think practically all of us live in fear
of the smear tactics that are so common in the dog world. Yet the truth
is that we are all breeding defective stock; the system itself virtually
guarantees that. If we believe that to breed defective stock is a bad thing,
then we simply must discuss ways and means of altering that system to allow
us to restore genetic health. Too many breeders are now reluctantly deciding
that "health must be the paramount concern" and abandoning their usual
selection criteria in favor of breeding for hips, eyes, blood, etc. A few
decades of that sort of breeding will surely do greater harm to breed characteristics
than could ever be done by outcrossing. We must now seek to evolve a system
which will naturally, almost automatically, produce healthy animals --
so that we may continue on with, or return to, our selection for temperament,
working ability, conformation and breed type. Most of all, it is imperative
that we start now to discuss and work on the new structures that are needed
to facilitate genetic health for our dogs but it may be too late.