Canine Consulting

A Small Problem: Dwarfism in Dogs – Part 3

Confusion Continues

 

Fred Lanting

This is a follow-up article to the one I wrote entitled “Osteochondrodysplasias” in February of 2004. While that was a rather long piece, it still did not address all that people want to know about the subject. Nor will this, but at least we can look at some other aspects, including a little deeper delving into the questions about the genetics of dwarfism.

There are miniature and toy versions of “standard”-size breeds, but this is not the same as dwarfism, the latter being the result of an abnormality rather than a variation within normal limits in genes. People are always developing miniaturized strains by selectively breeding small examples to each other, and continuing to select until “regular” size individuals no longer appear. Some years ago, the heiress to a margarine fortune started to develop miniature Borzois. While some detractors accused her of using Whippets to jump-start the reduction in size, it really doesn’t matter much. Livestock breeders know that you can introduce a gene for some dominant characteristic such as color, but then keep breeding the other structural phenotypes back into in the original breed in such a way that the “new breed” (really a minor variation on the one they started with) will look and perform no differently, except for that color. Or whatever trait they want to introduce.

There is also no reason to believe she did not simply choose the smallest Borzoi from her extensive kennel and, in successive generations, bring down the size until the partners would “breed true”, in regard to that characteristic while not losing proportions or other qualities. Several years earlier, another woman developed a strain of Boxers that matured at 12 pounds body weight by selective, not cross-, breeding. While these examples never caught on, numerous such projects have, to some extent: the Shar-Pei, Australian Shepherd, Teacup Poodle, Bull Terrier, and numerous others. Miniatures do not have enough genetic change to classify their genes or body phenotypes as “abnormal” and, with the minor exception of a little difference in the head, miniatures have the same proportions.

There is a type of dwarfism that also produces proportional but suddenly smaller dogs. I say “suddenly” because unlike the “breeding down” through many generations, proportional dwarfs appear without successively smaller individuals in the line of descent. So far, I have found the particular type that I am thinking of, in only the German Shepherd Dog and in a breed with the GSD in its ancestry, the Karelian Bear Dog. Affected dogs are called Pituitary Dwarfs because the immediate cause, or at least the noticeable defect, appears in the hypophysis on the bottom of the brain. The anterior lobe of this endocrine organ is rightly called the “master gland” because of its governing or influential effect on other organs, specifically the glands. Minor abnormalities in this gland are what create the body types of Bulldogs, the acromegalic Saint Bernard, Dachshunds, and endless other examples of a departure from the more “normal” or “ancestral” types such as the GSD, sighthound, Pointer, etc. Anatomic and functional abnormalities in different parts of the hypophysis make for the difference between the Boston Terrier and other breeds intentionally selected for their abnormalities, for example.

Proportional dwarfism in the GSD is called “pituitary dwarfism” because an old name for the hypophysis, or part of it, is “pituitary gland”. Since this master gland controls much of the activity of other glands, it is not surprising to see abnormalities in thyroid function, and thus the inability to grow a normal coat. Most pituitary dwarfs look like Chinese Crested or other “hairless” breeds although by carefully dosing with thyroid hormones (and possibly the more expensive growth hormones), a normal coat can be maintained. See my article in the December 1984 issue of Dog World, which I may re-issue if there is enough interest. We can deduce that it is caused by a defect in a different part of the pars distalis of the hypophysis than different types of defects or in different gland parts in other breeds. We can make such deductions because such breed differences have been traced to such anatomic irregularities by Stockard and others at least as far back as the 1940s.

The non-proportional canine dwarfs, like their human counterparts, result from genetic defects that take root in other parts of this master gland, and therefore other endocrine glands and organs. But there is much confusion, disagreement, and lack of knowledge leading to frequently inadequate definitions. In my other article, which you might call Part One of a trilogy, I mentioned that various terms are used; I would like to here suggest that we settle on one umbrella word to cover all or most others: either chondrodysplasia or chondrodystrophy. The first simply means an abnormal development or shape (-plasia) of cartilage (chondr-). The latter is “translated” as poor (dys-) growth (troph-) of cartilage. Either would be a less cumbersome term than I used as the title of Part Two, osteochondrodysplasias, which includes the “osteo-” simply to emphasize that the bones are also abnormal. I think we do not need such a mouthful, and that readers will assume the inclusion of shortened bones in the term “chondrodystrophy”. A possible drawback to using chondrodysplasia is that it might someday be confused with enchondromatosis, a rare disease often involving tumors; these words are used interchangeably in human medicine. On the other hand, chondrodystrophy is sometimes used as part of a longer term for different disorders, also. Most of the time, though, it refers to a congenital defect in the formation of bone from cartilage.

Achondroplasia is one of those words that uses the prefix “a-” to denote or connote an absence or deficiency of something. In this case, it means a lack of (good) shape, growth, or form of the cartilage. Aplasia, for example, means “lack of development”, as illustrated in my 2004 book by the radiographic picture of an Airedale whose acetabulum and top portion of the femur did not develop at all from cartilage. The achondroplastic limbs of the Dachshund means that these extremities failed to elongate like the development in normal dogs. Achondroplasia of the skull is obvious in the Bulldog. In either example, the word refers to a disordered chondrification (and of course, later ossification) of the ends of bones. In most breeds, this is most obvious in the long bones (limbs). It is simply arbitrary preference that I use the words chondrodystrophy and chondrodysplasia more often.

But what about the genetics? To even attempt to delve into the mysteries of inheritance of various forms of dwarfism, one must be prepared to consider different genetic causes and expressions in what, on first glance, is easy to assume are the same conditions. Only by crossbreeding can we make better guesses. A couple of the most active researchers into inheritance of traits and practitioners of crossing breeds to get answers were Stockard in the 1920s to `40s, and Whitney in the `30s to `50s.

Basset breeders know that achondroplasia is dominant in their breed, and some think that this means the F1 progeny will always have the same leg length as the Basset. But in crosses between Bassets and GSDs, typically about half the legs (dogs) are intermediate in length, the other half being normal (long, GSD-type) in length. The same when a Bassett-Bloodhound with intermediate-length legs is crossed to a long-legged dog such as the GSD or any other breed.

Cocker Spaniels often have shorter-legged individuals, but the mutation to achondroplasia is not frequent, and is definitely recessive. Other races breed true every time, such as Corgis. It appears that “reverse mutation”, that is, a normal-leg-length offspring being produced by two typical Corgis, just does not happen. Yet we know that we can suddenly find Corgi-style legs in purebred pups of Cocker, German Shepherd, and other breeds. Corgis (and dogs with this mutation suddenly appearing) may have a slightly different genetic code and type of dwarfism than do Bassets and Dachshunds. English Bulldogs seem to have a type of dwarfism more like the Basset than the Corgi. The short legs of the Clumber Spaniel or the Beagle are almost certainly not examples of true dwarfism, as the shapes of the joints and bones are more like those of the normal-length breeds. Sometimes non-dwarf short legs are selected for by misguided breeders (and the judges who reward their dogs!), as in the cases of modern Golden Retrievers, and GSDs from American or “Alsatian-British” lines. There is still a great deal to be sorted out, when it comes to defining the genetic differences in the dwarf dogs. Only when breeders are open and honest, and share their experience and dogs with researchers, will we make progress in unraveling the rest of this riddle.

© All use of the above must be by prior permission, and carry this copyright notice. Fred Lanting, Canine Consulting. Seminars: Canine HD & Other Orthopedic Disorders; Gait & Structure (Analytical Approach); more. Fred is an international all-breed judge, and senior lecturer in anatomy and can be contacted at: mr.gsd@netscape.com
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Let’s Talk Breeding and Training

By Fred Lanting

The title of this article stems from a discussion list or website group in the U.K. with the name “Let’s Talk Breeding”. One of its subscribers said she couldn’t “sit by and listen to foolishness without speaking up.” While the forum is admirably open-ended, “designed to allow all sides of an issue to be voiced”, this gives much opportunity for promulgation of ignorance, spaced-out weirdness, incredible claims, unscientific conclusions, and the like. There is always this difficulty of finding our ways between the extremes of total libertarianism (anarchy?) and rigid governmental-type control. Think of a journey down a fairly broad valley with those extremes being the mountains on both sides. Either you allow all sorts of crazies to speak as loudly as reasoned voices (one mountain range) or you disallow any voicing of opinion other than the “party line” (the other mountain range). The latter is how communist and the equally murderous African/Islamic/Latin/third-world regimes have operated all these many years and only a few of these are crumbling, others rising anew from the lava core of human nature. In this valley, there are many changes of scenery and degrees of slope toward one or the other range.

There are many in this valley who attempt to play the role of peacemaker, and say that “the only way for anyone to make an educated decision is by understanding or at least being aware of the opposing views”. But they (we) often have rocks hurled at them from those further up both slopes. Sometimes the arguments get downright silly and based on woeful ignorance of canine psychology, which is both my subject and forte in this instance. For example, in the UK, there is currently raging a tempest in a teapot over whether dogs should be crated. Ever. Never, say some. They cry that “the idea of crates [is] evil, spaying/neutering unhealthy, and that anyone who uses any type of force other than a cootchie-coo is inhumane”. Of course, many of us have seen abusive conditions in which dogs spend almost all of their lives in crates, and I would side with the activists complaining about that, but the vast majority of dog people using crates (the airlines call them “kennels”) do so wisely and effectively. Crates help train puppies in housebreaking, chewing, and other mischievous activities they would otherwise get into when you are busy with something else. Crates give dogs a “safe place” just like the caves their ancestors used to keep from being trampled on or molested while they nap. Crates keep a dog from being bounced around in a car when you have to brake or turn suddenly. They enable you to take more than one dog with you to training, visiting, and other activities and are infinitely safer than tying the dog up to a tree or lamppost while you exercise or compete with the other dog. The problem is that too many who are soft in the heart are also a little soft in the head, and tend to anthropomorphize excessively, likening a crate to being in some medieval, dank, rat-infested sewer of a dungeon.

One apparent voice of reason reportedly has been banned from one UK site due to “calmly, logically and with research refuting statements that are either erroneous, misleading or have no basis.” I have experienced the same exile or being placed on “moderation” (probation) on one or two e-mail discussion groups that I had thought and hoped were going to be open to differences of opinion, even if slightly strongly worded. I used to be very impatient, but in my 50s I went through a mellow stage. Now, after continually hearing the same foolishness for far too long, I am growing impatient again. Sometimes I feel like saying “Don’t these dummies want to listen or learn?” I believe that is truly the case. In this post-literary age, when TV and Internet and fast-foods and DINKS (double-income-no-kids — or at least no parental supervision of same) have made instant gratification a way of life in even the flood of information we swim in, people have largely abandoned both logic and listening. When was the last time you heard of a school teaching classes in logic? When was the last time you got the impression in a supposed conversation that the other person was actually listening to you and your ideas, rather than just waiting for an opportunity to speak?

The other topics that, strangely, have been occupying the worry-time of Brits and other Europeans are not world famine or peace, but tail docking and the pros and cons of neutering/spaying. One of my UK correspondents (not correspondents!) said that when it was mentioned in some communiqués that puppies and kittens are spayed at eight weeks by some U.S. vets, “there was an outcry that would make you think the world was ending.” Such a reaction is very curious to those of us living in the land of convenience foods and instant gratification, especially coming from a U.K. citizenry that believes docking tails is cruel and anything more than an instant of pain. I don’t hunt with docked dogs, but I have seen many a litter docked, and handled dogs for people who’ve reported repeated injury to some breeds’ undocked tails. I’m not getting into the argument of how damaging it can be to leave the tail on, but I know what I have seen, and the pups that have their tails cut off whether by hatchet, scalpel, or thumbnail (I’ve seen all three!) are no worse off right away or throughout life than dogs that step on a thorn that is pulled out right away. Even if I did not live in rural Alabama, where hunting is a way of life for many and is a needed way to keep certain wildlife from populating themselves into starvation or environmental disaster, I could not go along with those who decry docking for reasons of suffering – it’s a red herring, it’s a non-issue. But the extremists want to ban all hunting with dogs everywhere, even to the point of fines “over there” if your dog catches a rabbit or squirrel. Dogs no longer can work as they were meant to do, if such draconian measures are adopted. And they are. Unfortunately, most politicians are not dog owners and I include the few who allow their wives and kids to have a little foo-foo “dog” on their laps, yet politicians love to make laws that infringe on the lives of others. That’s the definition of the word politics: power, over other people. It’s also the definition of tyranny.

In the U.S., another storm that is always roiling is between the “show lines” and the “working lines” in what is supposed to be the same breed. In the U.K., Australia, and one or two other countries, “Schutzhund” is a dirty word, but in Germany, the U.S., and the rest of the world, it is a major facet of both the dog sport and the proofing of character. Unfortunately, the dichotomy persists despite the efforts of many to bring the two camps together. In the U.S. we have a vociferous and active Schutzhund movement domineered by what I call the “scores-only” mentality. It doesn’t matter greatly to them if the dog looks like a Malinois, coyote, Dutch Shepherd, wolf, or GSD; only how well it performs on the Schutzhund fields is important. On the other extreme is the “show-only” crowd, most of whom are concentrated in the far-out, non-mainstream GSDCA. For the benefit of my overseas readers, I must interject an explanation of these two particular groups before continuing. In the U.S., there are two breed clubs purporting to speak for the breed. Both are members of the W.U.S.V. The voting member unfortunately (by dint of negligence on the part of the rival club) is the GSDClub of America, which is a member club of AKC. The AKC in turn has a “working relationship” with FCI, similar to that of the UK’s “The Kennel Club”. The other breed club is United Schutzhund Clubs of America, which as the name implies, started as a sports club; it held its first conformation Sieger Show in 1990, if I remember rightly. They prefer the acronym USA, although the SV refers to them as USCA. The GSDCA does not adhere to or even acknowledge the international (WUSV) breed standard, while USA follows in almost every footstep taken by the SV, in all matters. It does not have any relationship with FCI (the FCI works with only one national club per country, as if all countries were socialist in which government “ownership”, control, or sanctions is necessary for validity). As a result, GSDCA leadership, or should I say lack thereof, has caused a noticeable shift in average phenotype in “AKC-Shepherds” away from the international look, the dog that is seen almost everywhere else in the world. This slide started in the late-1960s, when we still had many great-looking but “standard” examples of the breed, but also were seeing many unrepresentative examples being given easy championships (and thus breeding status) at shows judged by an AKC coterie of unknowledgeable judges; these were selected from the ranks of Poodle and Bulldog breeders and others who knew how to read the Standard and pass a written test. Today, the stereotypical AKC Shepherd is anything from a last-place finisher to a laughing stock when it is seen competing in international-type shows under knowledgeable, apprenticeship-trained judges.

Anyway, a flap in USA/USCA circles not many years ago was over whether a person should be permitted to breed according to his knowledge and experience, or meet certain artificial prerequisites laid out by “the breed police” (most of whom have an abysmal lack of experience in anything other than training a dog or two toward a Schutzhund title). A controversy on at least one e-mail “list” has been over some members of their community breeding dogs that are untitled (by which is meant the Schutzhund affix). Some of the novice upstarts have gotten all bent out of shape because a few more experienced people have occasionally bred a bitch or dog without the SchH title. Yet some of them would have no objection to breeding a dog that could only place in the last third or tenth, etc., of its conformation class, as long as it had those magic letters after its name. Even if it could only manage a Koerklasse-2. As long as it had good scores in its trials, especially the bitework part. I know of older, well-versed breeders who are much more qualified and able to make good decisions regarding pairings, and who are castigated for using dogs that would certainly be able to earn those titles, but for good enough reasons have not. Some owners feel the rigors of training late at night in all kinds of weather are not worth the effort and would not tell them anything more about their dogs than they can see in daily life. Some of us live too far away from training clubs (I know of some who drive 4 hours one way to go to training, as I have!) and others do not have a decent protection-phase “helper” to work with. But just let a wealthier “scores-only” compatriot send his dog to Germany (whether for minimal training and a “midnight trial” or not), and that dog is accepted by this group!

My argument with the fringe element in the working-dog community is based on the fact that I do train the dogs I keep, but I am not averse to using an untitled dog if it contributes to the breed and my program. I also make sure they have great character, hips, breed surveys, and anatomy. The only person to whom I have to prove anything is myself. I know what I see, am a darned-good dog psychologist and trainer, and a consultant in canine behavior. Nobody was forced to buy my occasional puppies, but those who do have their own option as to titling. Titles are but tools and proofs, but preserving the breed is done by preserving the best genes and combining them wisely. The titles are merely clothing and badges worn by the genes. I use them, but I do not put them above the dog’s inherent qualities. The important thing is the essence of the dog: the genes, not the uniform, medals, ribbons, accessibility to helpers and training clubs, or other paraphernalia. I get pleasure out of producing good representatives of the breed. Any that I sell and claim to be good Schutzhund potentials will indeed be so. Whether my co-owners or customers actually put the titles on them is secondary. Nice, but not necessary. Titles do not change the dog. Repeat: titles do not change what is in the dog’s character or genes. I have competed & trained intensively since 1966, and have won in conformation with clients’ dogs that never should have won because of character or other flaws, and I likewise have seen innumerable working-titled dogs that should never be in the gene pool. I know how to preserve the breed, and it isn’t by using those fakes.



Copyright 2005 Fred Lanting, Canine Consulting. mr.gsd@netscape.com
All rights reserved. Please view his dogs on angelfire.com/de3/jagenstadt/vonsalixHome.html -(or)- siriusdog.com/

The author has had years of experience as a conformation judge for AKC, SV, UKC, and many other registries, and regularly trains his dogs in Schutzhund, trying to live up to the title of his book “The Total German Shepherd Dog” (Hoflin). He consults as a behavioral analyst and training coach, and gives seminars on canine anatomy & gait as well as orthopedic problems (he is the author of the new book on HD and Other Orthopedic Disorders). Books can be ordered and lectures can be scheduled: mr.gsd@netscape.com or 256-498-3319.