For Whom the Dog Tolls


Now, this Bell tolling softly for another, says to me, Thou must die.

PERCHANCE he for whom this bell tolls may be so ill, as that he knows not it tolls for him; and perchance I may think myself so much better than I am, as that they who are about me, and see my state, may have caused it to toll for me, and I know not that.

– John Donne, Devotions Upon Emergent Occasions

Nova Scotia Duck Tolling Retrievers don’t know they’re genetic wrecks, they are blissfully unaware that in the transition from regional purpose-bred sporting dog into a studbook governed purebred show dog, their gene pool was severely bottlenecked and harmful diseases came to the surface.

They know not that the bell is tolling for them.  But those who are about them, breeders and scientists alike, have no excuse to deny the precarious and unsustainable genetic position the breed is in today.

This Toller probably isn't the product of a father x daughter mating, but the gene pool is so small, it has the same level of inbreeding.

Two recent genetic studies have brought this issue to light but with very different conclusions.  One study was done by Katariina Mäki (PhD Animal Science) a Finn who does not own, show, or breed Tollers and the other study was done by Claire Wade (BSc PhD) who is a breeder and exhibitor of Tollers in Australia.

One of the studies is comprehensive and looks at a near exhaustive global studbook for the breed and the other study looks at only those pedigrees that are in one country only (and not even a very important country for the breed at that) and intentionally throws away the pedigree information from the country of origin and all other countries too.

One of the studies found nearly 13 generations of Toller ancestors for their COI calculations (about 16,000 ancestors) while the other one found just over 4 generations of ancestors (about 30 ancestors).  That’s more than 500 times the information.

One study traced every dog it could back to the true founding population, the other study pretended that the second a dog landed in Australia, its pedigree was erased and it was a amazingly unrelated to all the other import dogs and was thus a “founder” of the breed.

One study looked at 28,668 Tollers and found 9.8 effective founders while the other study looked at only 589 Tollers but declared there to be 84 founders with 26 founder equivalents.

One study found that the average inbreeding coefficient in Tollers was 26%, while the other study declared it to be less than 3%.

One study found that the effective population size was only 18 individuals while the other found that the value was 47.

Which study would you trust more?  The one with 50 times as many dogs, a comprehensive pedigree analysis, done by an unbiased researcher OR the one done by a show breeder who has a vested interest in making her breed look good who intentionally limited the scope of her analysis to the dogs that were imported into her own country?

Guess which researcher claims that the Tollers are a robust and healthy breed and that any thoughts of out-crossing are scandalous and should be ignored?

Professor Claire Wade, of course, who is a biased hack that should clearly know better.  In a future post, I’ll walk you through her paper and explain her deliberate attempt to whitewash the state of her breed and how her own bias and unchecked conflict of interest drove her to commit academic fraud.

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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.