Breeding for better: Working dogs

Useful traits and things to watch out for when selecting which dogs to breed from.

Some of the key goals when breeding working dogs are increasing the number of good working dogs available and improving their welfare. Selection criteria can identify ideal candidates for enhancing performance, with improvements in their breeding, training and care.

There can be significant time lost with training young dogs that are often not deemed proven until 1-2 years of age. When deciding which dogs to train, you must take into account their temperament, natural behaviours, genetic factors and physical soundness.

Useful traits, which have an inherited basis, to consider include:

  • natural heading ability
  • strong eye
  • shedding
  • catching and holding
  • barking
  • backing
  • good temperament.

These working genes have been lost in some breeds as they have become domesticated. The Old English Sheepdog, long haired "Lassie" collies, Shelties and Corgis were all once farm dog breeds that are now more commonly urban pets.

Inherited physical problems

Inherited physical problems include defects of jaw length, cleft palate, vaginal hyperplasia and prolapse, progressive retinal atrophy (PRA), and conditions that are both developmental and polygenetic - the most concerning being hip dysplasia in Huntaways. Consider hip (PennHIP scheme) radiographs and screening for this complex condition.

While PRA can occur in working dogs, acquired retinal degeneration, secondary to inflammation, has been identified as the more prevalent problem. A common cause of this has been shown to be associated with the migration of roundworm larvae through the organs of puppies and young dogs.

Larvae are transferred to puppies by crossing the placenta in late pregnancy. They become mature roundworms in the intestines by three weeks of age, which is why it is so important to worm breeding bitches and to start worming young puppies from 2-3 weeks old.

Across all breeds of dogs there is a need to reduce demand for those with compromised welfare owing to poor breeding practices.

If you are considering breeding from one of your working dogs and have any questions, we’d be happy to help.

- Hugh Hasselman


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