Today I turn the blog over to Claus Harding Hansen from the Danish Hovawart Club, who will reveal what those mysterious Breeding Committee's in Hovawart breed clubs exactly are doing behind the scenes, and why their work is important.
This is an attempt to shed some light on what we do in the Danish Hovawart Club's Breeding Committee. Yours truly has been a member of this committee in a number of years up to March 2015. At that time I thought it was time to try something new, and became a member of the Editorial team of our club magazine. But back in 2011, I accepted the appointment for the Breeding Committee by the club's board with solid optimism. My background to participate in the Breeding Committee in particular was grounded first and foremost in my love for our breed, the Hovawart. My goal was and still is to safeguard the Hovawart as a mental and physical healthy working-dog breed. I had been a breeder myself and well aware how important it was to perform this trusted task as professionally objective as possible, while staying in line with the breeding guidelines the club had defined in advance.
The Breeding Committee's primary task is to advise and guide the club's breeders. Obviously, such a target-group is quite diverse. There are those who had been through many litters before, yes almost a lifetime of litters, and there were those who maybe had a recurring dream to experience the joy of bringing a litter of puppies into this world, even if it was just a once in a lifetime experience.
Some of the experienced breeders have through generations of litters aimed at a certain goal for their breeding. Some aim for certain exterior traits; some aim for working abilities. The options are many. It takes at least three generations before one can see if a certain breeding policy gives results. There is a lot to keep track of, a lot to decide upon, along the way. "Are the tails of my offspring not too bushy? Are the ears correct? Temperament? Is all how it supposed to be?" The breeder is constantly observing and drawing her conclusions from the results she achieves with each litter. "Am I on the right track?".
Just to mention some examples: the breeder has to focus on what happens in the puppy box, the puppy test, and everything in between. Further down the road, mental tests and HD tests are important milestones. Not to forget a conformation assessment by a judge with specialty in the Hovawart. And, how is the dog doing in his family? All of these observations have to be made for all of the puppies in a litter, to avoid any issues that arise stay hidden for the breeder. Nobody can guarantee how they will develop along the road, but as a responsible breeder one can actively contribute to minimize risks which are always present, as we are dealing with living creatures. Apart from the mentioned tests, there is still a lot of which a breeder doesn't have a chance of knowing and that is where the Breeding Committee comes in.
The Breeding Committee advises and guides breeders, to find the right combinations for breeders who want their female dog mated. When all the requirements to breed are fulfilled, plenty of room in the calendar is found for the project "now we have puppies," the time is right to contact the club's Breeding Committee (or the person or group of people in the club that deal with this). They will start to find a suited partner for the breeder's female dog. No doubt, every breeder already has an idea about which male dog could be suitable. First, one looks at one's own dog. "What do I have to offer in a perfect combination? My dog has fine markings, good pigment, correct temperament, but maybe lacks some drive and her tail could be improved. What I need is a super male with some drive to complement my female." The owner of the female dog has probably scouted the terrain in advance and maybe the preferred male dog was spotted already on that show from last year, or maybe it was that superb working dog she recently met on a training-event in Sweden.
It's exactly when many reach this point, a certain illness seem to hit the owners of the female dogs in particular. It's called "kennel blindness". As future breeder you fall head over heals in love with a fabulous male dog. The more you see him, the more you convince yourself, he has to be the one. It's when we reach this point we should take a step back, plant both feet solidly on the ground and ask ourselves: "I wonder, what does he contain in relation to my female dog's genes?" All dogs have genetic defects looming, just like us people. That's just the reality we live in. And this is where the responsible breeder displays to be made from the right material and wants to take into account what is needed in a combination that will found a future generation. One shouldn't be that blind, to ignore obvious risks. I had my share of disappointments myself too - wow, he would be such a good match for my female dog, only to discover later there is a "double" in the lines of both dogs; the same dog appears in both the male's and in the female's ancestors, and the inbreeding coefficient (COI) will become too high. It was disappointing, but good it was discovered in time. I had to look into a new direction.
The Breeding Committee likes to receive queries from breeders well ahead of time. Preferably two or three months before the expected heat cycle. Last minute queries, where the owner of a female dog writes on Monday morning, her female has started her heat cycle a couple of days ago, and finds herself in need of a male dog a.s.a.p., really stretches us to our limits. Partly because we maybe already work on a handful of previous queries we are mapping out genetically, conformation- and behavioral wise. Partly as well, because all the members of the Breeding Committee return from a long working day to use some of the valuable free time which was beforehand, in consideration to among others our own family, also been planned well ahead. It probably don't come as a surprise, that all our work is voluntary and we receive no pay for it? No, good planning makes it easiest for all parties involved.
We always start our work by gathering all the relevant information about our subject, the female dog. We "map" her as we like to say. We take a thorough look at the pedigree, at least four generations back. What genetically based illnesses do we find which we need to take into account? We don't only check the direct lines in a pedigree. What kind of offspring did the father and mother dog had with other partners? Is something known about the litter mates of the subject? What has their offspring resulted in? What is the status on possible previous litters of our subject? And many other questions like this. To help map the information we have access to several databases with health information we can consult. Next to the health dimension, we also check the mental part. What do the mental tests teach us? Where does our subject has its strengths and weaknesses? When all this mapping is done, we have a foundation of what to look for in a male dog which could best complement our subject.
One of our purposes is to eliminate possible weaknesses in the future combination. Like when our subject should have a case of DM (Degenerative Myleopathy) in her ancestry, it is important for her partner, as far as we can see in the information at hand, not to be a carrier of the same disease. The risk for the litter to be affected would just be too high. When the HD results of one of the partners are relatively weak, it is important the other to be strong at exactly this point. This way we can breed away from health issues.
Sometimes we need to consult with the Breeding Committee's from clubs in other countries, as many of our dogs have their roots abroad. Our queries are always well received by our foreign colleagues. They take it seriously, and we always get an answer, but it requires time. Everything taken into consideration, a complete mapping of a subject will be between 8 and 12 hours of work. Some breeders let us find the best partner for their dog, while others have, like mentioned before, a certain male dog on their wish-list. Neither of this is wrong, but it does happen, we get bombarded with a lot of different propositions for one female dog with the request to investigate all these alternatives further. Here we have to say stop. We simply don't have the time and resources available for that many mappings.
It does happen we can't find a good partner for our subject. All imaginable combinations are too risky, or maybe the owner of the male dog doesn't want to lend out his male for a particular mating. He is allowed to refuse by the way. If we can't find a match, then the breeder has to look abroad. This will require also an eye test on top of the other tests we already have in our club. This is required by the IHF, the International Hovawart Federation.
When we have the risk analysis finished for the final combination, it is send to the breeder for approval. The breeder has to take responsibility for the final choice, also formally. This and other paperwork is taken care of, like the mating agreement between the dogs owners, the official mating announcement for the club, if a puppy test is desired, etc.
To be able to work properly, it is absolutely key the knowledge about the dogs is available. Without information about illnesses it is hard to find the combinations that hold the least risk for diseases with the future litter. This requires all us who have Hovawarts to exercise responsibility and send information of our dogs to the Breeding Committee. We enter the information into our health database for the good of future generations at home and abroad. If we lack vital information it could cause unnecessary hardship for upcoming generations and their innocent owners. The Breeding Committee needs to puzzle a combination together with hundreds of pieces, and first on completion are we able to see the final picture. We can't do that, if we lack the information from current owners about their dogs.
And those who try to have a litter for the first time, and maybe also for the last, at the same time, should they think ahead too? Yes, absolutely. They also have a big responsibility, that our Hovawart can also in the future fulfill the wish for a healthy dog.
So. This was a little about what the Breeding Committee is working on. I hope, it has given some insight and understanding in a job which is important for us all.
This article was previously published in the magazine of the Danish Hovawart Club.