So You Think You Want to Be a Breeder?

Every good breeder is a lifelong learner.

If you have never taken a course in canine biology or genetics and are breeding today, please do your current and future dogs a favor: take the time to improve your breed - and breeding - knowledge by enrolling in courses offered by the Institute of Canine Biology (ICB).

  • Glossary of Genetic Terms
  • Test Your Knowledge of Breeding/Genetics
  • What is Coefficient of Inbreeding (COI)?
    Coefficient of inbreeding (COI) is the probability of a dog inheriting two copies of the same allele (gene variation and/or mutation) from an ancestor on both the dam and sire's side of the pedigree.  It is also a prediction of a dog's genetic homozygosity.
  • Why is COI An Essential Part of Careful Breed Planning?
    Inbreeding has two consequences that matter to a breeder.
    • One is positive: breeding for a predictable phenotype, resulting in increased conformation to a breed standard, and achieving higher uniformity and prepotency (fixing traits) in your lines.
    • The other is negative: achieving homozygosity of genotype, resulting in genetic depression/loss of genetic diversity, increased prevalence of deleterious mutations in your line which translates into loss of vigor and fertility and the increase in diseases and structural deformities.

    Therefore, it is a best practice – along with goal-setting through estimated breeding values (EBVs) – to calculate the degree of inbreeding of a breeding pair prior to mating. This will help you achieve your breeding goals with more predictable success.

    Calculating the COI of a breeding pair is important because these two effects – breeding for phenotype (looks) and breeding for genotype (genetic health) - are at odds with each other, as Sewall Wright, who created the COI prediction model, explains:

“Breeders could increase predictability and uniformity by inbreeding, but not without also having detrimental effects on an animal’s health and fertility. Breeders couldn’t  just keep inbreeding and inbreeding to get better and better [stock]; with each incremental improvement in uniformity and homozygosity, there would be a price to pay in health, vitality, and reproductive performance, traits that are collectively referred to as “fitness”. The short-term gain in consistency from inbreeding was paid for by a longer-term penalty in viability. For those in the business of agriculture, it was critically important that the balance between the positive and negative be controlled. Producing great cows today would be counterproductive if the ability to produce new stock in the future was diminished.”

PLEASE learn more and share:

  • How do I calculate COI?
    First, PLEASE take these inexpensive, self-paced online classes to learn the “How To’s” of breeding best practices:
    For COI calculations, here are some basic tips to get you started:
    1. Collect as many generations of pedigrees on your breeding pair as you can get your hands on. Here's why.

      At the very least, collect the names of the DAM, SIRE and their PROGENY for each generation in the pair's lineage. But don't stop there: you’ll benefit from gathering as much historical data on each individual as possible (AKC #’s, OFA results for Hips and Elbows, DNA profile numbers, Coat Color, Titles, etc.)

      To be fully accurate, collect all the way back to the foundation sire and dam for your breed: that’s up to 100 years of pedigrees – starting with the first St. John’s Water Dog sire - for the Labrador Retriever at this writing (2015). To be fair, this is impossible to achieve on your own, so consider participating in the work of the ICB Breed Special Interest Groups (SIGs) to help collect and store pedigrees for your breed in an in-process, online, Open and Shared Pedigree Database. If you would like to contribute to the Labrador Retriever pedigree project, please contact me.

      There are a myriad of databases to help in your research of your labrador lines - some are more reliable than others (you'll see):
      AKC Breeder Reports
      (Sigh: $17 per five-year pedigree … resort to this to backfill holes in your pedigree)
      UK Kennel Club Breeder Resources
      (Sigh: England is way ahead of the US in this area ... offering FREE COI resources)
      Labdb (Jack is one of ICB’s Labrador/SIG core members)

      Note: After exhausting many of the above resources ... we have turned to the oldest hunt clubs and (royal) breeding kennels in the US and UK ... and - with hat in hand - are asking for access to the earliest stud books. [We are "researchers in waiting" - or wading. Suffice it to say, our research is still "in process".]

    2. Use the longhand method, applying Wright's COI Equation to each breeding pair in your line, and continue on this for the rest of your life without hope of finishing. Or, buy software like BreedMate (available on student discount if you take ICB courses), enter your pedigree data, and get pushbutton results in days (vs a lifetime).

  • What are Estimated Breeding Values (EBVs)?
    Using historical data collected on dogs in the "family tree" of a prospective mating pair (sire and dam), dog breeders can make statistical numerical predictions - i.e. create estimated breeding values (EBVs) - that help improve selection for desirable traits while reducing undesirable ones. EBVs can be used on any trait that can be evaluated and tracked generationally by the breeder - temperament, size, herding ability, coat quality, heart disease, "showiness", hip dysplasia, and more.

  • Why are EBVs An Essential Part of Careful Breed Planning?
    Using EBVs, a well-run organization can manage genetic disorders, limit inbreeding even in a closed gene pool, and produce dogs with the traits that are important in a service dog. This improves the efficiency of the breeding program because more of the dogs produced are suitable for service.

    PLEASE learn more and share:
    About EBVs - from ICB
    EBV Examples
    Using EBVs to Breed Better Dogs
    Using EBVs to Select Better Breeding Pairs
    About Cornell/OFA EBVs - Helping to Reduce Dysplastic Conditions in Breeding Populations
    Using EBVs to Genetically Improve Guide Dogs
    Estimated Breeding Values (EBVs) and the Cavalier King Charles Spaniel EBVs for Canine Hip Dysplasia Radiographic Traits in Australian GSDs
    EBV Classes - Coming Soon
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