Inbred Mistakes II

You know you’re in trouble when the title of the apologia is “The Myth of Canine Incest” and the first sentence of the analysis puts ‘dangers’ in quotes.

Such is the bogus screed published by Carol Gravestock of Absolute Bullmarket French Bulldogs. And it doesn’t get any better. Before the end of the first paragraph she intimates that it’s “less than scrupulous” breeders who advocate against inbreeding!

It’s a common misconception among the public at large that ‘inbreeding’ is responsible for every woe known to pure bred dogs.

This is a rather weak straw-man that uses the some-all fallacy to suggest that if we can name a woe in purebred dogs that isn’t caused or exacerbated by inbreeding that we can discount or ignore all the problems that are.  This neither proves nor disproves anything.

Why invoke the supposed ignorant unwashed masses and put weak words in their mouths instead of just putting forth a direct and convincing case for inbreeding? Probably because doing the later is difficult if not impossible and requires an actual educated understanding of the mechanism.  It’s much easier to just chant a rediculous mantra “Let the sire of the sire become the grand sire on the dam’s side” or other such inbreeding nonsense.

First of all, let’s make one thing perfectly clear — every single breed of purebred dog, with no exceptions, came about as a result of inbreeding and line breeding. Breeding two dogs of the same type, look, or skill set was done with the aim of producing more of the same. Breeding close relatives, or immediate relatives, was done to try and ‘set the type’ — to ensure that the puppies produced all matched with the desired traits as closely as possible. This applies whether the originators of the breed were seeking to produce Collies for herding livestock, hunting dogs to retrieve fowl, or companion dogs simply for their looks.

Carol again makes the some-all fallacy that ALL breeds “with no exceptions” owe their existence to inbreeding. This is not true.

(1) Numerous breeds owe their existence to regional purpose-focused landraces.

  • The shepherd’s dog of the British Isles was a large and varied landrace from which numerous “breeds” have been created exclusively from that large pool {Border Collie, Welsh Shepherd}, as well as certain strains crossed out to other diverse gene pools to create other breeds {Australian Shepherd, English Shepherd} and other landraces {McNab Dog, Old Fashioned Scotch Collie}.  Even after the Victorian era of segregation and breed solidification, many of these dogs still display a wide spectrum of traits and diversityunder a single breed banner {Old Fashioned Scotch Collie}.Even in the trial selected Border Collie, there are documented Bearded Collies in the ISDS Border Collie stud books and Kelpies in the Australian stud books.
  • The Alaskan sled dog has always been an actively open [meaning that it’s not just a nominally open gene pool, people actively bring in new blood with no restrictions] gene pool defined by mushing, not by inbreeding.  That every single dog is not perfectly outbred does not negate the observation; the negation of sine qua non inbreeding is not absolutism in the other direction.
  • Despite centuries of hunting and gun dogs going hand-in-hand, the greater retriever landrace has only been fractured into “true breeding” sub-breeds for a century and some.  Both the Golden Retriever and the Labrador Retriever, despite conformational divergence, both trace their blood back to the St. John’s Water Dog.  The splitting off of the Flat Coats from the Goldens is even more recent and has to do with selection, not inbreeding as the sine qua non.

    The long haired retrievers were created through mess of hybrid breeding that started with a cross from a yellow coated Retriever, Nous (whose siblings were all black wavy-coated) with a Tweed Water Spaniel.  The Guisachan record books document Tweed Water Spaniels, a red Setter, and several presumed black Retrievers in the mix.
  • There are numerous other extant and active landraces such the sighthound family, the arctic dog family, certain livestock guardian dogs, the bully breeds, the Swiss Mountain family of dogs, the farm collie and numerous regional working breeds, the Native American Indian Dog and numerous other local ad-hoc dogs like the African Basenjis that are still in Africa.
  • Of course inbreeding was then used as a tool with selection, but as I’ve noted many times, inbreeding doesn’t add anything, you can not create with inbreeding, you can only exclude.

(2) Breeds are shaped by the macrogenetic forces of Selection and Genetic Drift. Inbreeding is a microgenetic force and not a breed wide tool unless your breed is simply too small.  Think micro economics vs. macro economics.

  • Selection is a process that may or may not be correlated to relatedness.  The Selection of trial winners is not guaranteed to be highly correlated to related dogs, as the winner this year might have very little in common genetically with the winner from last year.  It’s also true that human behavior and breeding decisions might mean that 60% of the dogs competing next year are sons and daughters of the same winning dog from 3 years ago because everyone wanted a piece of that action.  If our selection is a herding trial or a retrieving trial, the dogs we select might not even be the same breed every year.
  • The Flat Coated Retriever is a “breed” that was created not out of inbreeding but out of selection.  The inbreeding happened later and as a consequence of the selection bias creating a too small breed pool.  Breeders didn’t manufacture the flatcoat by inbreeding, they decided that it was no longer ideal to have a mix of colored retrievers in the same litter.  So they called the golden colored dogs “Golden Retrievers” and the black colored dogs “Flat Coated Retrievers.”  At one point they were the same breed.  Flat Coated Retrievers are now a genetic mess because of both macrogenetic factor of too few founding dogs and a bottleneck when the breed fell out of favor as well as the microgenetic effects of inbreeding within the few big kennels that established it as a separate breed to cull non-black dogs.
  • The same can be said for the Rough and Smooth Collies being separate breeds, or the 13 inch Beagle and the 15 inch Beagle.  Selection and Genetic Drift, much more so than inbreeding, were the sine qua nonof these breeds being established.
  • It is a different effect in Border Collies when, say, one breeder inbred highly on Wiston Cap versus Wiston Cap being such a Popular Sire that genetic drift pushed his frequency all the way to 100% in ISDS dogs.  The first is an example of inbreeding [microgenetics], and the resulting problem was that his entire line hit an dead end and produced no sustained pups in the gene pool (the micro had no lasting effect on the macro).  The second is an example of the Popular Sire effect [macrogenetics] where the many individual breeders who rushed to use Wiston Cap didn’t increase inbreeding nor did they immediately see problems associated with inbreeding.  For many of them it was an outrcoss to use Wiston Cap.  It is only when continued selection (for Wiston Cap to the exclusion of other stud dogs) and genetic drift pushed Wiston Cap to 100% frequency that Wiston Cap became a breed wide problem.

(3) We must distinguish inbreeding by choice and inbreeding by necessity.

  • Inbreeding by choice is the microgenetic behavior of breeders when working on their own individual lines.  They make the decided choice to use closely related dogs to double up on alleles instead of finding those alleles outside their own kennels.  They are inbreeding to “fix type” far beyond the extant qualities in the breed that are already set or at saturation equilibrium (such as coat color or a definitional behavior).

    The human equivalent is inbreeding within Royal families to avoid the division and dilution of wealth and power.
  • Inbreeding by necessity is the macrogenetic phenomenon of having either a small number of founders or a popular dog that has recently reached saturation in the breed.  This is the sort of unintentional inbreeding that is very difficult to get away from except by outcrosses outside of the breed, and the working mechanic is not so much close breeding to set type as it is the consequence of having too little diversity to start with.The human equivalent is the population of the Pitcairn islands which is highly inbred not because they believed in close marriages but because the entire native population of the island are direct descendants of mutineers from the HMS Bounty in 1789.  The entire founding population was nine English sailors, six Tahitian men and 11 Tahitian women, and there was not optimal round-robin breedings among them all to preserve as much of what little diversity they did have.

(4) Some Breeds are defined by their founding stock.

  • A breed that is defined by a new, unique or rare allele such as hairlessness is likely [but not guaranteed] to become inbred not because inbreeding is required to create that allele but because there are so few dogs (perhaps just one) that have that allele that it the microgenetic process of inbreeding fully controls the macrogenetic process of selection.  If there’s only one dog that has the trait, there is no power to select anything other than an inbred process to continue the breed.  But inbreeding didn’t create the breed.  The first hairless dog could have been entirely outbred 0% COI with a brand new mutation.  It is, by definition, a member of the breed, and it is not in any way inbred.

    Nor is it necessary to inbreed on any other dog in this new breed than the single founder with the desired allele.  If you were being smart about it, you could breed this unique dog to many many females creating a huge base of carrier dogs (we shall assume that the hairless trait is simple recessive as are most deleterious diseases).  All of these carrier dogs can be bred to unrelated dogs for many generations selecting only for carrier status for the one gene in question.  We can then only breed two carriers together after the %blood of the original founder dog is very very small, perhaps so small that it’s just that one allele from him that remains.  It’s expected that 25% of these puppies would be hairless.  If we did this on a large enough scale we could create an entirely new hairless breed that never required a dog with more than 1% inbreeding and which would not require creeping unintentional inbreeding to sustain.
  • There are some breeds that exist and are inbred because of an artificial bottleneck.  The Western Pekingese breed is highly inbred because only a very few initial dogs were imported, resulting in a very small founding pool.  The Syrian Hamster is a similar case where all the Western supply came from a single mother and her son.  Inbreeding didn’t create these breeds or species, extreme selection did.
  • There are some breeds such as the Hanover Hound that despite being rare have excellent genetic diversity because they had a large founder gene pool.

(5) There are numerous “Breeds” that are defined by being outcrosses.

  • The designer dog phenomenon is real and it’s now an established sub culture within the greater dog world.  These breeds are defined by being outcrosses.  And, while some of these new breeds are going down the path of closing stud books to new founders and new blood, others are not and will continue to be defined by being crosses to any dog that is a member of the definitional pool or any Nth generation cross thereof.

  • Labradoodles and Maltipoos and their kin aren’t the only intentional outcross breeds that are defined by being outcrosses.  The Lurcher is a time honored definitional hybrid between a sighthound and a complementary dog such as a livestock working breed or a terrier breed.
  • Likewise, a Longdog is by definition a hybrid of two different sighthounds.  These dogs often never progress beyond the F1 generation into a limited founder pool and inbreeding by choice or necessity.

Saying these dogs “came about as a result of inbreeding” is begging the question like saying that the Automobile came about as a result of AutoCAD.  That AutoCAD is used widely, that AutoCAD is a powerful tool, or even that it’d be hard to find a modern model that doesn’t have some part that was shaped by AutoCAD does not mean that we owe the existence of the car to it.  That ignores the centuries of innovation and adaptation from the invention of the wheel to the chariot to the bicycle to the independent suspension to the gasoline engine, etc.  It also implies a dependance that is not required.

The debate still rages as to how wolves became dogs and most breed histories are fabrications, the truth being either poorly documented or lost to time.  Trying to establish inbreeding as the sine qua non of dog breeds is greatly overreaching.  Breed creation is about changing allele frequencies, not just their distribution.  Inbreeding is incapable of changing allele frequency.  That’s the job of selection.  And as you can see with my rebuttal, Carol ignores the much more important macrogenetic processes, her statement fails the correlation does not guarantee causation test, and reverses cause and effect.  Post hoc ergo propter hoc is a logical fallacy, not evidence.

Inbred Mistakes Series: (1) * (2) * (3) * (4) * (5)

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About Christopher

Christopher Landauer is a fifth generation Colorado native and second generation Border Collie enthusiast. Border Collies have been the Landauer family dogs since the 1960s and Christopher got his first one as a toddler. He began his own modest breeding program with the purchase of Dublin and Celeste in 2006 and currently shares his home with their children Mercury and Gemma as well. His interest in genetics began in AP Chemistry and AP Biology and was honed at Stanford University.