Testing - it's not obvious

Testing - it's not obvious

We have to think harder about what our results mean.

For decades, breeders have been told to test all dogs and eliminate the "imperfect" ones, all in pursuit of the perfect dog. No living thing is, in fact, perfect. Plus breeding for perfection is a pretty distasteful idea that originated in the late 1800s and extended to crops and livestock and even people. 

Breeding pedigreed dogs has come to incorporate more scientifically proven and advanced ideas since then, and must continue in this direction. Testing dogs was an idea that breeders in recent decades hoped would help them breed healthier dogs. In some ways it has worked and in some it hasn't.

Similarly, educated puppy buyers have been told only to buy puppies from tested parents, and that only puppymillers and backyard breeders do not test. We at de Grenier used to believe testing was the only right way forward. After years of experience, research and even supplemental university classes, we have come to the radical conclusion that while testing makes us feel like we are doing everything we can to keep our breed healthy, it has significant hidden pitfalls. 

What breeders think about testing

  • has contributed to unnecessary narrowing of already depleted gene pools

  • gives breeders a comfort zone that isn't accurate

  • allows puppy buyers to think they are getting a guarantee of health when they decidedly aren't

  • serves largely to make certain corporations a great deal of money

That said, we are not anti-testing. We believe in using the information garnered from testing wisely. 

For some diseases, some breeds and lines, the opportunity to test is absolutely crucial and can save them from enormous heartbreak and even extinction. Developing tests for diseases in dogs is also an important way to help develop crucial tests for humans. 

However, overzealous culling by well-meaning breeders has certainly damaged any number of closed gene pools. When studbooks are closed, eliminating "risky" dogs can inadvertantly concentrate other deleterious (bad for you) genes at the same time breeders think they are concentrating only the best genes. Old time breeders have long said, accurately, that if you "breed away" from one thing, you are inevitably "breeding toward" something else. That something else may be good or bad, and we don't know until it's too late.

Nevertheless, there remains significant peer pressure to test and eliminate all carriers and less-than-perfect individuals. Some breeders will use that as a stick to punish other breeders, and to help sell their own puppies. Most, however, are just trying to do the best they can for their breed. 

If we don't understand what test results mean, what risks are within a breed for a disease, how reliable the tests are and what they indicate about the future for the dog or its offspring, test is only a gimmick.   Next...