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Better Bred – Using the UC-Davis Canine Diversity Testing

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124 – November/December, 2016

by Joan Harrigan

The Genetic Diversity Test developed by Dr. Niels Pedersen and his team at the University of California-Davis Veterinary School opened a door for breeders. Instead of relying on pedigrees and calculating Coefficients of Inbreeding (COIs), breeders could compare the genes carried by prospective mates. Mating genetically different dogs doesn’t eliminate the risk of producing genetic defects in the offspring, but Dr. Pedersen has demonstrated that it can reduce the risk.

Dr. Pedersen’s vision was to create the tool; a poodle breeder from upstate New York set out to create a website to facilitate its use. Natalie Green Tessier of Buffalo, N.Y. bought her first Standard Poodle in 1987. “I picked the cute one,” she recalls. “And she became my favorite dog ever.” Tessier, a journalist, began to read the writings of John B.Armstrong, PhD, a professor of biology and genetics at the University of Ottawa. TheArmstrong family owned poodles, and hislove of the breed and personal experience with the genetic issues they faced inspired his study of the effects of inbreeding. His research expanded to other breeds as well, with the purpose of improving the health and longevity of purebred dogs.

Dr. Armstrong’s research was ended by his death more than a decade ago, but Tessier and other breeders with similar interests continued the cause through private email lists and the Poodle Health Registry (, an independent, international open database for owners to list poodles affected by a variety of health conditions. While helpful, the site depended upon owner registration of affected dogs. And, while a pedigree database facilitated research, it was impossible to know the genetics involved. These breeders recognized the problem—the overuse of popularsires and two significant genetic bottlenecks. The Wycliffe and Mid-Century Bottlenecks occurred in the last century, and today’s show pedigrees largely trace back to the five founding Wycliffe poodles and 10 dogs bred between 1948 and 1953 that were behind the influential Wycliffe and Bel Tor show lines.

Tessier and her mentor—Mary Jane Weir, past president of the Poodle Club of Canada, and currently its health officer—joined forces and spent ten yearsresearching pedigrees,studying genetics and health issues, and looking for Standard Poodles with low Wycliffe and MCB factors. In North America, they found a 15% Wycliffe bitch and they imported poodlesfrom Russia and the former Czechoslovakia in hopes of finding genetically diverse dogs. While the Czech imports proved to be heavily Wycliffe-influenced, some of the Russian dogs were found to have uncommon genes. None, however, were totally devoid of Wycliffe ancestry.

“There was no health testing behind the imported dogs,” Tessier says. “But, you have to start somewhere.” To assess the progress of their breedings, they needed to know the genetics behind their breeding stock. In 2014, Tessier wrote to Dr. Pedersen asking for help. “He told me that if I could get samples from 100 unusual dogs, he could work with us,” Tessier recalls. In just a few months, she had genetic material from 150 Standard Poodles – the UCDavis database now contains more than 700 samples. Funding for the testing came from grants from the Poodle Club of America Foundation, as well as assistance from the Poodle Club of Canada, individual breeders, and owners. Thanks to their efforts, Dr. Pedersen could finish his analysis of Standard Poodles, and today, they join Alaskan Klee Kai and Italian Greyhounds as the breeds for which the Canine Genetic Diversity Test is complete.

Click here to read the complete article
124 – November/December, 2016

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Posted by on Dec 15 2016. Filed under Current Articles, Featured. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0. Both comments and pings are currently closed.

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