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Lisa Nicolello

Improve Orthopedic Soundness By Fred Lanting

(Practical Suggestions for Breeders and Clubs)

Fred Lanting is the author of "Canine Hip Dysplasia" and the soon-to-be published "Canine Orthopedic Problems." Permission to reprint granted by Fred Lanting, article appeared in Dog World March, 1993.

It has been said that no one really fully believes what he has not personally seen or otherwise experienced, and in many years of living with, handling, training, breeding and studying dogs around the world, I have reached certain conclusions. I feel very strongly that I was put on this earth to be a "helper" -- to help people learn, improve, and reach their more honorable goals. To that end I try to share what I have learned, in whatever avenue of my life I find those who want help: from how to trim nails to how to train dogs, from dog hobby to manufacturing chemical products, from everyday life to eternal life. In this present book, I seek to fulfil my role of servant by helping breeders and other dog owners to avoid heartache, enjoy better dogs, and let their future canine companions avoid the pain and limitations of orthopedic disorders. The following are what I think are keys to good breeding and action programs; I hope you will think likewise.


List the relative importance of hip data obtained on family members, giving greatest weight to (possibly in this order): littermates, parents, progeny of the dog you plan to buy, dam's littermates, grandparents, and sire's littermates. If you cannot get information on littermates, aunts, and uncles, then try to get the pedigree "filled" as much as possible with OFA numbers, with those closest being far more of value than those in the distance. If you have four generations of "solid OFA," for example, your chances of having good genes predominate in your pup are great. Use the above and following tips when considering other joints, though the emphasis here may seem to be on hips.

After you have chosen the breed, type, and family line(s) that appeal to you and would fit your needs, determine which potential brood bitches and stud dogs have the best gene pool. Even if you have to pay for tests yourself, get as much information as you can on the status of the hip (and other appropriate joints), not only of those dogs you intend to directly use in your breeding program, but as many of their near relatives as possible. Remember: the more information you can put into your "grey matter computer," the better your chances for success. In the same vein, use as many of the following suggestions as you can, or that apply to your situation. Not all are needed, but the more, the better.

Don't be satisfied with one radiograph, especially of the hips. Have "preliminary X-rays" done after 6 months of age to screen potential breeding stock, and if you can, have the pup palpated at the same time. Re-radiograph at a year, and again before breeding, with a mini- mum of two years for greater accuracy. If you have access to stress radiography as advocated by Dr. Gail Smith, by all means use it. If you can get films evaluated and scored by the BVA or by a veterinary radiologist (specialist) who will use the same standards as the BVA, get such a numerical value. (Smith's method gives a quantitative measurement, too, though just on laxity.) In the absence of stress radiography as performed at the University of Pennsylvania, at least have young dogs radiographed with a wedge in the standard v/d (ventral/dorsal) view and have a frogleg view picture taken as well; this step is most useful if you have a young dog (four to 12 months) you are considering buying and you haven't been able to get much other information.

If you buy an import or cannot get information on a domestic dog's relatives (you shouldn't put yourself in this position!) and can find a veterinarian skilled in the art of puppy palpation, use this tool to check on the dog's first litter. If several of the puppies have enough laxity to predict HD, you may have bought a dog that, while its phenotype was acceptable, has a poor genotype and should not be used again. Of course, it may be entirely or mostly the mate's fault. That's why it would be better to pass on buying such a dog and hold out for one on which you can get better information.

Do not even remotely consider kennels which do not X-ray all breeding stock and have them evaluated by an organization such as the OFA. Assume that any dog without such official and expert/specialist certification is dysplastic until proven otherwise. Meanwhile, go somewhere else to shop for a dog, whether to buy or breed to.

Besides insisting that both dogs in a breeding pair or proposed mating have normal hips, lean toward the better grades, as your chances for success will be slightly better if you breed two "excellents" rather than two "fair" rated dogs. Keep in mind, however, that the status of their littermates' hips are far more important than whether the dogs are fair, good, or excellent themselves. Even bred to one with good or excellent hips, a dog with mild HD will produce what I would consider an unacceptable percentage of dysplastic offspring or grandchildren. Try to breed your animal to one with a better grade: if yours is fair-normal, look first for an excellent-normal or good-normal; in other words, try to improve on what you have. In the same way, cull your litters as you develop your line or kennel, so your best breeding animals in successive generations will have the best hips.

When you use outcrossed partners (no linebreeding in the first six generations) to intro- duce "new blood" into your lines, be especially demanding of the above points, for heritability is likely to be lower in the new dog, and many recessive genes (including some bad hip genes) may be unwittingly introduced along with the many good qualities you see in the dog and its family. Dogs from certain areas may be less of a risk than others, as in GSDs from Sweden or perhaps East German lines. Again, look for dogs who have good progeny data if possible.

Keep complete records; follow up on any palpations with later radiographs even if you pay for them yourself or build the cost into your puppies' sale price. Build a data bank on progeny results from your dogs and their nearest relatives in case you wish to repeat a breeding. Follow on progeny radiographs even if those are not going to be used for breeding. Eliminate from your program all dogs that show any radiographic or clinical signs of dysplasia, and any that produce a moderate or worse incidence of dysplasia.

Persuade your puppy buyers to radiograph, and to hold to the same standards you do, if they plan on breeding. Encourage them to practice the same selection methods (for breeding partners and customers) that you do. Teach them that breeders who avoid evaluation and publication of results either do not care, or want their dogs' hip status to be kept unknown or private.

Feed normally, without fear of inducing HD, so you don't hide any recessive polygenic defects such as can happen with restricted diets. However, don't supplement with calcium or high dosages of other minerals. Keep from over-supplementing with Vitamins A or D. Don't demand adult performance of skeletally-immature youngsters, such as roadwork or much jumping, but let them pretty much set their own level of exercise in order to develop good, normal joints and bones as much as the genes will allow.

Put your selective breeding emphasis on the polygenic traits such as dysplasias, and character/temperament. Don't double up on any defects in this category, and don't worry about simple Mendelian recessives in your first breedings, such as coat length, color, pattern, etc. These are easily covered up in one generation and practically removed in a few by breeding to presumably homozygous dogs with desirable dominant traits. Polygenic traits are more difficult, and take longer to reduce to low incidence.

Be persistent. Always keep your goals in mind and resist temptation to stray from the course. There are enough of your peers who will be swayed by the flashy stud dog and they will "think" (an oxymoron) that they can ease up a little for the sake of one or two characteristics that have nothing to do with better health and soundness, "just this once;" you don't need to join that crowd.

Press for improved and higher requirements for your breed club's top-honored dogs, such as the Award of Merit, Select, and other such indications of official sanctioning that these are the individuals considered best to carry on the breed. Vote and campaign for those office nominees who will lead your breed club toward improvement in joint quality in short order. If none such have been nominated, nominate by petition or from the floor. Vote and campaign against those who are breeding or offering non-certified dogs, then go after those who are opposed to coordinated control, and target the complacent ones after that. Become an activist. Also become a propagandist and educator. If you can write, offer letters to the editor or articles for your club's journals. If you aren't sure, get someone who is better grounded or a better writer to help you.


Decide what is your club's responsibility to the breed, including genetic defect control and defect reduction as one of your very top priorities. Formulate a plan to educate the voting members (over and over, since membership changes and people need reminding), set specific goals to be met with specific deadlines. Publicize these goals, the progress you are making, and the reasons for taking those measures, in your official magazine as well as the minutes and annual reports.

Use any variation on the following theme that may be promulgated with harmony in your club. Begin with an easily understood statement of purpose or mission, and keep it before the membership in every issue of the club publication. Set a date such as the annual specialty show of the next year, when all recipients of non-AKC awards must have an OFA number for hips. This may involve the Select class or equivalent; which in GSD lingo is the top 20% or so of the dogs (repeated in bitches) exhibited at the National Specialty in the Intersex (Spe- cials) class. If this is the pattern used, open the eligibility to any dogs in the Open classes over two years with OFA certification. they can enter the Specials ring (which can be "recessed" without disrupting AKC or other governing body rules) after the "cut" when the judge has eliminated the champion dogs and bitches no longer in the running for BOB, BOS, and Select awards. Judging of the AKC (or CKC or whatever national organization you are operating your show under) portion of the spectacular can resume after Select choices are made. The judge can then be given the catalog/armband numbers of those eligible by virtue of their OFA numbers, and he can proceed to sort and rank them as the animals best suited to pass on the genes for the breed's future, based on both orthopedic soundness and general conformation. If he is so stupid or unlucky to find the best-looking dog and his choice for BOB doesn't have an OFA number, he can still award that prize later when the (AKC) portion of the conformation show resumes. Of course, he won't be hired by many clubs in the future who want to keep improving all aspects of the breed, so it's unlikely this scenario will be played.

Some clubs use a point system to choose their "Top Twenty" or similar top show dogs. These should revise their program to put emphasis on what's best for the breed, not on which dog has Mrs. Lotsabucks as an owner and a jet-setting handler. Other clubs use a combination of the individual dog's conformation plus his production of show winners, and recognize such animals at "the National" with Awards of Merit, Register of Merit, or similar honors. There is no reason why all these dogs cannot be required to possess an OFA number, an "a"-normal stamp, or similar qualification before being named as among the breed's most valuable animals. I've seen national specialty shows where three judges evaluated dogs entered in the "top twenty" type competition, and the dog's combined scores determined their placing and presence in that award group. What a simple matter to require a hip clearance before entering such competition!

In your plan for continuous improvement, legislate the next step, to take effect perhaps a year or two after the OFA requirement for Selects/Top Ten, etc. This might be a requirement for certified-normal elbows or, in the case of retrieving breeds, perhaps shoulders first, then elbows the following year. If luxated patellas are a major problem in your breed, add that to the list for the next year; this is an easy test to administer, as the vet can palpate the knees when you bring the dog in for its hip radiograph, and the x-rays can also reveal abnormalities in the stifles. By knowing a year or more in advance what will be expected of their dogs, breeders will have time to prepare and select animals that will enable them to meet the require- ments.

Additional prerequisites for top breed club honors could be added: CERF certification for eyes, VWD tests for bleeding disorders, competent and standardized temperament testing, and blood and other type tests for any other genetic disorders.

Caution should be exercised in regard to speed of acceptance of these requirements. Not that anyone would go too fast, for the history of dogdom is that clubs have proceeded too slowly for meaningful progress in most cases. No, the urging should be to accelerate, to go ahead with alacrity and not turn back, especially in breeds with abundance of dogs to choose among. Even in the less populated breeds, if there are not enough good ones here, more can be found in other countries, and imports might help the gene pool for joints as well as other qualities. The few breeds that have limited dogs to draw from, such as perhaps the Boykin or Clumber Spaniels, both of which have some of the world's worst hip dysplasia incidence, might have to go a little slower, but there aren't many of these "rare" breeds that would have this problem. Those that do could adopt a more gradual plan, such as condoning breeding only to individuals with no worse than mild HD for the first X years, then tightening the hip requirements after that period.

Many if not most national breed clubs have an official journal or magazine. Advertising should be restricted to only those stud dogs or brood bitches with OFA numbers or equivalent, and ads for litters or puppy sales could require that both parents are OFA-certified. The full OFA number should be given in each ad, and if ancestors in the advertised pedigrees are reported to be certified, their full numbers must be given, as well. The breed club should no longer be put into the position of purportedly recommending defective products in any official publication, advertising, editorial, or otherwise. Let the private publications wrestle with the thorny ethical question of whether to "promote" by implication those dogs with genetic defects.

If your club is dominated by officers opposed to soundness being required in "show" dogs, as is one of the clubs I belong to, your breed may be out of luck until they are voted out of a job. If you are the president or on the nominating committee, use your power to diminish that of the recalcitrant regressionists, and promote replacements who will move your breed forward. The presiding officer can set agendas and control discussion and action to a remarkable degree, and he is able to use his chairman's or president's report to promote progressive ideas.

Clubs also have untapped influence with the monolithic giant at 51 Madison Avenue. Unfortunately, the AKC has a history of moving slowly on important things and too hastily on things that should die, but there is always a chance that topics can be brought up in private discussions, then delegates' meetings. AKC has already agreed to put OFA numbers on their official pedigrees, and tomorrow perhaps they'll allow it in show catalogs. They should be petitioned by the national breed clubs to eventually withhold registration from dogs of certain risk breeds (perhaps the top half) who do not have at least one OFA-certified parent. That's akin to asking a politician to take a voluntary cut in pay, or a drug addict to cut his habit in half, but with enough of a groundswell it might have an effect. If not, there will someday be voices of revolution, with even greater percentages of purebred dog fanciers forsaking AKC for other registries. Herm David has repeatedly documented AKC's percentage loss of registrable dogs to other registries or to non-registration. The AKC lives (very comfortably, thank you) on the sale of those blue slips, and is understandably reluctant to pare down on income, whether from puppy mills or hobby breeders who produce genetically defective dogs.

Whether you lead a breed club or act as an independent breeder who is in the game for the sport and the protection or improvement of purebred dogs, you can and should formulate a plan that will benefit our "canine grandchildren" as well as the future unsuspecting buyers of pet or show stock. The elimination of some simple genetic defects and the drastic reduction of polygenic ones can be accomplished!

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