Wednesday, July 28, 2010

Line Breeding, inbreeding and COI

Berg Brothers Head Turner
There has been, off and on, lengthy discussions about 'line breeding', breeding related dogs. The discussion usually revolve around "how close is too close"? One side argues the idea that closely bred dogs are unsound, and that breeding unrelated dogs is a better strategy. Others argue that line breeding, when done properly, results in more consistent litters of above average dogs.  I am one who believes that line breeding has a lot of pluses when done intelligently, and within the framework of a defined program - one that aims at removing dogs that may be carriers of detrimental genetic traits, while taking advantage of positive traits to improve a line of bird dogs.

Scott Berg, of Berg Brothers Setters, has this to say on the subject of line breeding...
"In terms of what is an acceptable level of inbreeding, opinions are going to vary.  There is considerable empirical evidence that supports the position above that COI levels well into the 20s can be sustained.  Personally, I don’t find it necessary to push those limits.  However, the difference between .03 or even .06 and .25 is very wide and the practical implications are very substantial.  The practical implications would be that we would have to focus on diversity not performance to maintain levels at .03 or below.  This approach suggests that breeders have done such a good and consistent job in selection that the consistency we seek in narrowing the gene pool for a specific breeding is already present in the population.  This is a very uninformed position in my opinion.   For starters, 95% of breeders don’t evaluate and cut enough prospects to gain anywhere near this level of consistency.   There are substantial differences in size, build, gait, stamina, heat tolerance, intelligence, biddability, mental make-up, bird finding, manners around game and the traits that make for good companions.

We have always followed a pretty basic premise which is to put a significant number of prospects through a rigid selection process and only retain the superior individuals.  We have experimented with a large percentage of the available ES lines and have evaluated about 250 individuals of my own for breeding purposes.  That number is probably low because we have evaluated 90+ in the past 3 years.   Of course, we also get substantial feedback from clients, and we have trained, trialed with and observed a thousand (literally) other dogs.   Our experience would suggest line breeding produces a significant but not monumental increase consistency and the overall quality of the individuals produced.  We will continue to breed the best individuals and monitor our relative success. 

Line breeding is not very practical for the guy with 4-6 dogs in the backyard.  Actually, I think that is a considerable factor in this method being questioned.  That’s how guys that breed 1-2 litters/year constructs a position that their methods and understanding rival Bob Wehle.  I break par a few times a year but I sure as hell am not going to compare my knowledge of the golf swing to Butch Harmon. 

The relative benefit of line breeding is a constructive topic. I believe that good dogs can be produced in a heterogeneous litter as long as the ancestry consists of exceptional individuals throughout the pedigree.  We have produced many such litters.   However, our observations have been that modest inbreeding (half-sibs or less) produces with greater consistency.  This pattern will produce COIs well below what has PROVEN  to be tolerable levels."

Monday, July 26, 2010

Summer and heat - again

Dogs – especially sporting dogs - are particularly susceptible to heat stroke. This is a primary danger to our bird dogs. Your dog is far more likely to suffer heatstroke than snakebite, coyote attack, or any other medical problem in the field. It happens rapidly and is often fatal. Because dogs have limited ability to control body temperature (mainly respiration), these mechanisms can fail to control temperatures, and the stage is set for heat stroke. 

Once a dog's body temperature passes above about 105⁰F, changes begin to occur that make it difficult to regain normal temperatures. Oxygen demand increases beyond what can be supplied. As temperature elevates past 108⁰F , cellular damage starts to occur in the kidneys, liver, blood, gastrointestinal tract, heart and brain – how much damage depends on the temperature and duration. Even dogs that do not die immediately may (or will) experience continued problems and die several days later. I know people who have lost dogs they thought would survive, and it is a heartbreaker.

Aggravating factors
Obviously, heat, but it does not have to be extremely hot. Exertion, humidity, lack of hydration, use of some drugs (like antihistamines), and lack of air circulation (as in a closed vehicle or crate) are all associated with canine heat stroke.

Extreme activity will drive body temperatures up very quickly. After high activity, return the dog to an air conditioned space, or wet your dog down stake him out in an area that is shaded and breezy to allow evaporation to further cool the dog. Do not return a wet dog to an enclosed crate – evaporative cooling requires air circulation. Provide plenty of cool fresh water both before and after activity. When hunting and trialing, I find that a dog is usually very receptive to a drink once he has run for 5 or 10 minutes. This is an opportunity to get extra fluids into the dog before he actually needs it. Keep the dogs weight down, provide exercise regularly, and be careful with older dogs.

Evaporative cooling becomes less efficient as the relative humidity rises, so humidity is an important factor as well. Jim Michaletz, a Missouri field trailer, has suggested that combining the air temperature (⁰F) and relative humidity figure is a good index. If, for instance, it is 70⁰F with a relative humidity of 70% to total number would be 140. It could be 85⁰F with a relative humidity of 40% and the total is 125 -- effectively lower.  Jim says that he stops running dogs when the combined number gets above 140.

Signs of heat stroke
Dogs suffering heat stroke will exhibit disorientation, staggering or stumbling, excessive and uncontrolled panting and accelerated heart rate. The gums may appear grayish-pink. They often do not want water or food. When in doubt, assume that the dog has heat stroke and take immediate steps to cool the pup down.

First aid and follow-up
In my opinion, it is far better to over-react than to simply wait and see. Get the dog cool as soon as humanly possible – immersion in cool water will rapidly lower body temperature. Get the dog to a vet immediately for blood tests and IV hydration. If there has been damage the blood test will indicate and additional therapy may be required.

Remember, it's a lot hotter at ground level that on the back of a horse, on an ATV, or even walking. Be careful out there. Better, I think, to err on the side of caution and pick that pup up before he tires and overheats.

EDIT -- I see that there is another useful piece on canine heat stroke on Strideaway by Shawn Wayment, DVM. I highly recommend it! - MS

Friday, July 16, 2010

The Journey

When I got Tommy, an August pup, he was five months old. He had no chance to hunt with me when he was a puppy. At ten months old, I sent him to Summer Camp in North Dakota with Randy Anderson of Cross Country Kennels. He was run from horseback on sharptails and pheasants several times a week. When I picked him up from Randy at the end of September, Tommy was an unbroke, big-running bird monster. Randy grinned and asked me, “Are you gonna hunt this dog?” Yep.
Heading from North Dakota to Montana, I hunted Tommy in the big open for several weeks. What he showed me was thrilling and a bit scary. I put the Astro on him, and set him down on some big ground where Pete and I have often found good sharptail hunting. Tommy went left and forward burning up the ground and stuck a covey of birds at about 800 yards, then busted them and rolled forward again. At 1000 yards the Astro began to read in miles. At over three quarters of a mile, Tommy went right, crossing the front, and went up a low parallel ridge, responded to the whistle and took the ridge back towards us and came to me. Being accustomed to shooting dog range, I was a bit dazzled by this run and I felt I would need to get a better handle on him if it was going to hunt him. 
November of that year I ran Tommy in a horseback derby event and he impressed a number of people and was awarded a placement - his first time out. We decided to get him ready to run in the Pacific Coast Derby Championship. But he was not ready for the training regimen and I had to take him home from the trainer. He still loved birds, but he did not want anything to do with that training thing. He would just shut down, obviously not wanting to work. Worse yet, be would sometimes blink a bird during training. 
I kept Tommy with me for a month, then took him to Mike McGinnis in Baker City, Oregon and explained the problem. We flew some wing clipped pigeons and let him chase and retrieve them. Mike said he’d work with Tommy and report back. His report - “Something happened with this dog”. What, we do not know. Mike and Nicky worked with Tommy for about five months, gaining his trust and coaxing him with johnny house chukars that were shot for him - just what Mike and I thought he needed. Mike did not not attempt to break him steady to wing and shot, but he was finding and holding birds well.
In the Fall I took him to Montana and Saskatchewan with me and hunted him. He loved the birds, handled much better, and still ran well, but was still not broke. We came home from the Fall trip and I pondered my options. Make him into a hunting dog only and forget trials? Given all that he had shown me, and his love for birds, I decided to try one more time, so he was sent to Maurice Lindley, who employs the “West System” - low pressure training that seemed to be suited to Tommy’s needs.
Got a report yesterday from Maurice... “Mike I am able to move forward with Tommy.. What I did and I am still doing is kill some birds for him while I am checkcording him. Doing this changed his attitude about work in general and made this work positive to him, he wants to work and be out there with me. Now that his attitude is good I am working on getting him broke on game like I want. Normally I will not kill birds until the dog is steady to wing and shot but with Tommy I go ahead and have my helper kill him a bird every so often, this is keeping his attitude up enough so he is taking training pressure. I am easy on the dogs but training a dog to be steady is totally not natural to dogs. The pressure I use is from my pinch collar at 1st, no jerking. He has not tried to blink a bird in awhile. Now I want to see if I can start overlaying the e-collar, this will be a real test for Tommy... I will let you know pretty fast what I find out. He has been wearing the collar but I have not even tried to use it...”

This dog is quite intelligent, which  can be either a joy or a challenge in training. It seems that, with the right approach, we may have turned the corner. I have my fingers crossed.

Saturday, July 10, 2010

Summer Training in Virginia

On July 4th my son and I headed to South Hill, VA to spend some time with professional trainer Pat Casey. Jim Bush, President of the U.S. Complete, was also there.

Jim has a couple of real nice pups on the ground that are being evaluated. It was great fun to watch the youngsters romp through the Virginia countryside.

Riley had three broke finds but let down a little at the flush. She has absolutely zero interest in backing so we've got some work to do before the Fall trial season starts.

My son (13) and middle daughter (16) have shown an increased interest in our dogs and local field trials. They will both start horseback riding lessons next week and I hope to get them enough experience this summer at Pat's place that they can trial the dogs for me while I'm at sea. Few things in life are better than enjoying your favorite hobby with your family.