AKC Gazette
Lhasa Apso Column

You didn’t want your low-life cousin to come to the party, but he came uninvited with your aunt, and you had no choice but to deal with him. Breeding can be like that. Some relatives can’t be avoided. Genotype, the genetic makeup of a dog, involves not just your dog, but also its extended family.

My mentors taught me that line breeding and outcrossing were essential to successful breeding. Line breeding is a practice of breeding dogs that are related to one another to set type and solidify positive characteristics. Outcrossing, breeding totally unrelated dogs, is necessary to maintain vigor and vitality, to bring necessary improvements, and should be done based on phenotype, the physical appearance of the dog.

Successful and responsible line breeding requires an intimate knowledge of the dogs in the pedigree. Equally important is knowledge of their littermates and progeny. Strengths can be intensified, but so can health, structural or temperament problems, which may crop up like the uninvited distant cousin. Learn as much as you can about dogs on the pedigree grid but learn more about their littermates. The qualities found in a black sheep uncle or wanton niece could bring an unwelcome surprise in your next litter if you’re not vigilant. On the flip side, outstanding relatives are key to understanding why an otherwise average dog could be a preeminent producer.

For example, the late Sinbad of Abbotsford, ROM**. The late Jim and Georgia Roberts (Abbotsford Lhasa Apsos) were at an impasse, needing a male in their pioneer breeding program. They did a “move forward or perish” breeding and got just one, Sinbad, described by Mrs. Roberts as only able to go to a dog show in a wheelbarrow. He had a long muzzle, was large and somewhat clunky. But he was healthy, sound and possessed the wonderful temperament that characterized the line. They gambled on him and he sired 14 champions including group and best in show winners.

The late Pat Chenoweth (Chen Lhasa Apsos) strongly favored breeding uncle-niece or aunt-nephew to scour the gene pool, doubling strengths and pulling out qualities one might not otherwise know are lurking, giving the breeder an advantage in planning future litters. One of my most cherished possessions is an annotated handwritten pedigree done by Pat of one of her first Lhasas, which goes back to the original imports. Her notes impart a wealth of information about the phenotype of many early dogs, which would not be otherwise known.

Outcrossing – breeding dogs that are apparently unrelated – is important to maintaining strength and improving traits. An infusion of new genetic material bolsters fertility and physical vitality and can bring in needed improvements in structure, health and temperament. However, in a breed with limited antecedents, paper might not tell the entire story. A pedigree with no common ancestors in four generations can still have a strong inbreeding coefficient based on DNA, especially with a breed such as the Lhasa Apso.

Less than ten years ago DNA was virgin technology, but DNA testing now is an important new tool to identify presence or absence of markers for some diseases. Just like ancestry testing uncovers unknown relatives, DNA testing can reveal markers for diseases such as PRA and other health issues, or identify cosmetic markers for self-coloration or parti-colors. Where past breeders had to risk test breedings, we now can match or avoid some traits or conditions with a cheek swab.

Some tests will assess the coefficient of inbreeding in the DNA, which can’t be seen on a pedigree. The DNA coefficient may explain why outcrossing Lhasa Apsos within the United States can yield surprises. Some pedigrees unwittingly might have come full circle, connecting with dogs bred 50 years ago.

Using the tools available to us makes us better breeders and helps improve the breed.

Cassandra de la Rosa, The Americn Lhasa Apso Club, email: dlrcas@msn.com