Monitoring the Chatter

dog listening to a vintage radio

The staff here at BorderWars diligently monitoring the airwaves.

There’s nothing more rewarding as a blogger than to have a reader use your blog as a resource to add intelligently to a discussion elsewhere on the Internet.  BorderWars reader JackieD recently posted a link back here that started a good discussion on the UK’s Dog Rescue Pages.

Here are some of the comments and my thoughts on each:

misty11 – 3rd Oct 2011, 7:37 pm

The problem is there are so many people doing research into the breed that everyone picks up on it! Toller breeders are very open about everything and all info is shared worldwide. Tollers are very healthy compared to other breeds, but it’s easy to find out about any health problems because we are so open it is all easily available.
The ‘only’ health problem in tollers is auto-immune disease. How many health problems do, for example, golden retrievers, border collies, GSD’s have?
and tollers are long lived, many live to over 14.

Here misty11 is parroting Claire Wade in a knee jerk response to any Toller analysis: we’re just being picked on because we’re so open!  This is nonsense. Tollers are being looked at because all breeds are being looked at and in Tollers we have a few studies and not a lot of consensus on what’s going on in the breed and what the best path forward is, most notably the scientist vs. scientist war of letters regarding out-crossing.

This issue is being hashed out on several dog blogs right now, most notably on Jemima Harrison’s Pedigree Dogs Exposed blog in three posts so far:

More on this from me soon.

jackied – 4th Oct 2011, 8:26 am

He’s done articles on how astonishingly inbred Border Collies are

Yes, two of the articles worth checking out are:

Boo’smum – 4th Oct 2011, 1:02 pm

Surprised to hear BCs are so inbred! Guess I just assumed that, with there being so many of them (and so variable), therefore, I’d thought, they’d have a pretty wide gene pool? Clearly not! (Goes to show what I know… which isn’t much, admittedly!)

One small quibble though: “inbred” is a term I’d use for an individual and not for a breed per se, unless like Tollers, nearly every member of the breed is highly inbred.  Being inbred, as one might measure with a COI calculation, really only looks at the genetic diversity of an individual, which for most genes can carry only 2 possible copies (alleles).  But in populations, we might have dozens and dozens of variations of any gene or certain loci might be fixed with just one allele.  This sort of mechanism can work independently of any individual’s level of inbreeding.

So, for Border Collies, the problem is not just that some individuals are highly inbred, it’s more that the overall levels of diversity in the gene pool are dropping like almost every other breed.  Inbreeding is like broiling one piece of meat… cooking it quickly, but loss of genetic diversity is like turning up the temperature in every oven just a few degrees.  Inbreeding is fast and localized as to how it throws away genetic diversity.  Genetic drift and patterns of selection are slower and more spread out, but they also remove genetic diversity (intentionally and unintentionally) from an essentially closed population.

Inbreeding can be undone with one outcross. Loss of genetic diversity would require many individual insertions of new DNA (or restoration of lost DNA) over time and all over the breed’s gene pool.

The two processes ARE related.  You can’t turn up all the ovens and not expect to burn some steak, nor can you broil a lot of beef without shifting the average meal from medium rare to well done.  A breed like Border Collies is mostly a slow burn save for a few popular sires who more than make up for their small number by their significant impact on the breed.  In Tollers or Cavaliers, you also have the issue of extreme population effects trumping recent breeding patterns: too few founders make inbreeding unavoidable even though breeders on the whole aren’t trying to close breed individual litters.

jackied – 4th Oct 2011, 8:26 am

The problem with Border Collies is that just a few champion sires were used so extensively for breeding that their genes came to dominate the entire breed, even though there are so many Border Collies registered. Detailed analysis of the ISDS studbook reveals that genetically the foundation stock of Border Collies is equivalent to just 8 dogs, worse than many ‘rare’ breeds.

Probably the only redeeming feature is that in the past the emphasis on performance over appearance in BCs has been stronger than in some other breeds.

Yes!  But it’s important to note that the 8 genomes is not the original founding population, rather the breed has been pared down from the original founders and their theoretical genomes down to just 8 today.  Many rare breeds (and some quite popular breeds) have the problem of having a founding population that is quite small.

Border Collies have around 1000 nominal “founders,” and in the ISDS there are just under 650 that still have any influence on the current population. As you can see from the following chart, there are several means of looking at genetic variability in a breed and like-sounding terms are not always directly comparable.

The effective number of unique Border Collie genomes across the entire extant ISDS population is only 8.3 individuals worth of information.

So I don’t know how BCs compare to rare breeds without being able to look directly at the same information, but the message I think this data is telling is that BCs are not special in regards to the general trend in all closed populations to lose genetic information over time, often quickly.

mum24dog – 4th Oct 2011, 8:26 am

But then most BCs/WSDs won’t be ISDS registered so who knows what has gone into their genetic make up?
And just because a dog is ISDS registered doesn’t mean that it only has BC genes – google Turnbull’s Blue – a Beardie whose line still throws up hairy faced dogs today. (I assume we’re ignoring the KC version and discussing the real thing.)

It would be a major error to draw conclusions about a breed as whole from only registered dogs of a working type breed – a clear case of selection bias. There must be 1000s of dogs that warrant the description of BC out there going about their daily job that pass right under the ISDS radar.

And of course we can’t ignore the culling factor. Many dogs don’t reach an age to test their genetics for one reason or another.

But at least the ISDS stud book isn’t closed like that of any breed unfortunate enough to have caught the eye of the KC. Dogs still can obtain registration on merit.

The ISDS population is special and significant in all Border Collies.  This is the founding population and every single border collie on the planet can be traced back  to ISDS registered dogs and I’d venture to say that the vast majority of BC genetics worldwide are from ISDS registered stock originally.  One cannot claim to understand the genetics of the breed without knowing the ISDS studbook.

Remember that the BC is NOT foremost a working breed, it is a breed formed around the SPORT of sheep trials.  This is the reason for the stud books, the name, the society, and the requirements for registration on merit.  The working sheep dog, while related in both purpose and genetics, is a more nebulous concept that we have much less solid genetic information on.  There are, of course, WSDs that are from pure registered BC stock, but there are also mixes and dogs that have been off the books for decades or centuries.

My own Border Collie stock has been breed to an unpapered “Border Collie,” both working on a cattle ranch, and their offspring have gone on to work on that ranch and others, all without papers, all joining the greater WSD landrace, but all off the books and not easily studied by pedigree research.

In general this is a one way trip, as very few WSDs make their way back into the papered registries and even fewer go on to have a significant genetic impact there.

If you have an unpapered WSD, you probably don’t have a lot to worry about since you can always breed it to whatever you want, you obviously don’t care a lot about pedigree papers.  But if you have a Border Collie, don’t pretend that you get all the benefits of the collie landrace when your dog probably hasn’t had the benefits of that model for more than 100 years and 30 generations.

This isn’t selection bias at all!  It’s looking at known quantities with specific names and definitions.

Despite claims by BC elitists like Eileen Stein, BCs are NOT being bred like sled dogs (as in, a richly diverse landrace with new blood entering all the time and all over the gene pool).

mum24dog – 5th Oct 2011, 10:45 am

And yet with the BC we have a breed that is used worldwide to perform a multitude of tasks, most requiring great physical fitness. Clearly any loss of genetic diversity is not a huge problem for the success of the breed.

Popularity and genetic variability are really two different issues!  Trying to downplay one because the other is thriving is not really good analysis.

Bananas are incredibly popular worldwide, but that doesn’t change the fact that the superior Gros Michel banana is now all but extinct and we are left to eat the smaller, less tasty, and more fragile Cavendish banana today.

Similarily, the great personality, intelligence and dexterity of the Border Collie have made it an incredibly popular dog worldwide.  This does not mean, however, that they are healthier today than they were 50 years ago or a century ago.  This does not mean that we are taking the right steps to preserve them for another 50 or 100 years.

Genetic diversity isn’t a “huge” problem… until it is.  TNS wasn’t a problem in Border Collies until BOOM, suddenly it was a problem, mostly because it didn’t have a name, a clear diagnosis, and any breed wide awareness.  It was always there, but no one put the pieces together.

Uric acid problems in Dalmatians were always there, it just wasn’t until there was a DNA test and people found out that there wasn’t a single genetically normal dog in the entire breed.

Epilepsy is a problem in Border Collies.  But we have no solutions, so it doesn’t get a lot of air time.  When we get a test, a firm diagnosis, a means of inheritance, and eventually a study that shows just how prevalent it is within the breed, we’ll get more openness and admission.

mum24dog – 5th Oct 2011, 3:31 pm

In any breed a list of potential defects needs to include the level of incidence so far as it can be measured, along with a breakdown of sub groups within the breed where there are distinct populations such as the BC so the likely risk can be assessed.

This! This! A million times this!  Why is it so hard for dog people to understand that the NUMBER of diseases seen in a breed is not nearly as important as the INCIDENCE of disease across all diseases.

If Dalmatians only had 1 disease, high uric acid levels, they’d still be worse off than a breed that had 100 listed diseases but where only 10% of those dogs had one or more of those diseases, because ALL Dalmatians have high uric acid levels.

If we wanted to think like an engineer, we could actually perform a calculation like this to really compare breeds in a relevant and fair manner:

For every dog and every disease add up [% dogs with the disease] * [severity of that disease].

Wouldn’t you agree that having more sick dogs is worse than fewer dogs? And wouldn’t you agree that a painful and untreatable disease is worse than a mostly benign condition that doesn’t cause much pain or other problems?

Also, the entire tactic of comparing your breed against other breeds is suspect in the manner many breed apologists are doing it.  NO ONE WANTS COMPARATIVE HEALTH!  We want actual health.  It’s not any comfort that your breed has 2% less cancer than another breed when you’re both above 50% cancer rates.

No one should care that some online website lists 5 diseases for your breed and 9 for another and so you think you can ignore what you’re doing and sit on a high perch.  In the land of the blind, the one eyed man might be king, but that sucker still doesn’t have depth perception!  Come on people, don’t accept early deaths, smaller litter sizes, poor quality of life and many other problems simply because you can find one breed that’s worse off.

That’s settling for mediocrity simply because something else is atrocious.  Mediocrity is WORSE when it allows you to be complacent instead of taking action to solve the problems when they’re minor or before they are a crisis.  We’ve spend the better part of the last decade dealing with bursting bubbles: the dot com crisis, the housing crisis, the banking crisis; do we REALLY need to keep suffering the damage of explosive bubbles when long standing problems come to a head or will we finally realize that the time to act and to change our ways is BEFORE permanent and extensive harm is done?  An ounce of prevention and all….  or were you too busy getting foreclosed and watching your 401k languish to worry about the problems that might blow up in our faces next year or the year after that?

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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.