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What is genetic selection?

The role of breeding programs is to provide the quantity, quality and number of dogs on schedule and within budget. Success in meeting these needs is best accomplished by utilizing best practices to systematically improve the genetic quality of dogs in each generation for the traits of importance while considering the overall dog and overall longevity of the breeding colony.

Those “traits of importance” depend on your goals and the needs of your program or breed. 

Genetic selection is the process that determines which individuals will become parents, how many offspring they produce, and how long they remain in the breeding population.

In this graphic, the artificial (or genetic) selection of certain mutations, made over a long period of time, produces very different-looking dogs.

Why is genetic selection so important?

Throughout our website, you will often see the phrase “Breed for the whole dog and the future”. As breeders, whether for work, sport or conformation, it is our responsibility to produce dogs that are themselves healthy, while also taking steps to improve the overall health and traits required for our breeding programs. In a more immediate sense, organizations breeding working dogs need to make efficient and practical breeding decisions for the wellbeing of their dogs and clients. “The ancient partnership between people and dogs is struggling to meet modern day needs, with demand exceeding our capacity to safely breed high-performing and healthy dogs. New statistical genetic approaches and genomic technology have the potential to revolutionize dog breeding, by transitioning from problematic phenotypic (observable characteristic) selection to methods that can preserve genetic diversity while increasing the proportion of successful dogs.” This excerpt is taken from an article in Frontiers of Veterinary Science, 06 September 2021. The article explains the need for improved genetic selection in working dog lines and discusses some of the ways this improvement can be (and for some, has been) achieved. The article is freely available at the below link.

The 3 principles of genetic selection

Breeders must also consistently implement the 3 principles of genetic selection in order to maintain diversity and direct genetic improvement over generations of selection. By understanding the principles of genetic selection and by consistently applying these principles over generations, you can achieve a measurable increase in the quality of dogs in your breeding program.

The 3 Principles of Genetic Selection are:

Select Genetically Superior Replacement Breeders

The goal of genetic selection is to keep new dogs for breeding who are genetically superior to the generation before.

1. Identify genetically superior litters as the pool of dogs from which to consider for breeding. The key is knowing which are genetically superior. Estimated breeding values and a selection index can identify which litters are genetically superior.

2. Further screen more individuals from each litter than the number of dogs that are eventually needed as replacement breeders. Follow best practices to screen for common diseases for the breed and use validated behavior assessments.

3. Keep the number of replacement breeders needed from best dogs from genetically diverse litters. Avoid the common mistake of keeping only the “perfect” dog. Instead, systematically improve the genetic quality of your dogs with each successive generation by keeping the genetically best from each generation and breed them to genetically superior mates.

In the example below, progeny Chandler was kept as a replacement breeder from stud Viking and brood Emma. Although Emma was genetically less desirable, breeding her to a genetically superior stud resulted in genetic improvement in the next generation.

Choose ideal mates

When practicing the 3 Principles of Genetic Selection, choosing the ideal mate includes ensuring the mate choice

a. Results in the lowest inbreeding coefficient among the resulting litter
b. Will genetically improve the target traits while keeping in mind that we are breeding for the whole dog

It is also important to use studs equally. It is very tempting to use “best” studs more for potential short-term benefits of higher success rates however this practice results in a rapid increase in inbreeding.

Avoid overuse of any one breeder

a. Limit the number of progeny any one individual produces
b. Use the genetically superior progeny as soon as possible, replacing the parent

Avoid the common mistake of continuing to use your best proven stud over many generations. The motivation to do this if often comes from previous experience and/or concern that the next generation will be genetically inferior which creates the need to hold on “proven” breeders that have demonstrated their genetic superiority based on their progeny. Progeny testing has long been used however there is significant cost and lost time producing sufficient progeny, waiting for them to mature, collect and summarize production data. Estimated breeding values and a selection index enable breeding managers to know which young dogs are genetically superior BEFORE they have any puppies.

The flow chart summarizes the decision tree for selecting the genetically superior breeders:

Using the IWDR for genetic selection

The below video explains how to use the International Working Dog Registry (IWDR) for genetic selection and colony planning. Although this video focuses on techniques available in our IWDR database, you can still learn about genetic selection and what tools might help you make informed breeding decisions.

Additional Resources

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