Every so often, people ask “what kind of health problem so-and-so breed has?” without learning how to fish for themselves. Finding information on a breed’s health can be difficult, especially when not all of the information is being published. Dogs are imported and exported constantly, and as such the global population is interconnected.
Breed clubs have fickle politics and, for this reason, various kennel clubs around the world are either seen as conservative or progressive. Nordic kennel clubs, as a general rule of thumb, are considered as the most progressive, whereas English-speaking kennel clubs have a more paleoconservative or libertarian bent. Many of the kennel clubs in Asia are a relatively recent phenomenon with ownership of pedigreed dogs is directly tied with solvency of the middle class; and as the result are just budding. In that region of the world, discussion on health is only just occurring in recent years.
Many in United States and Canada will tell people there are no hereditary diseases or that the diseases have been bred out or that their breeding stock predates known health problems in other countries. This insistence on outdated Victorian eugenics flies in the face of what academics know in conservation genetics, zoology and livestock management. Every species and every subpopulation will he more predisposed toward a certain disease than others. Every organism on this planet carries genes which can cause malfunctions. Just because no one talks about it doesn’t mean those issues do not exist. It is intellectually dishonest to say any population is free from genetic disorders.
Diagram from The Role of IT in Redirecting a Community (pp. 44) illustrating how the Karelian Bear Dog community in Finland cooperate.
The reason why progressive kennel clubs publish information so everyone can access the information is to increase accountability, empower all the breeders and, most importantly, the puppy buyers. By liberalizing the information, it builds trust within the community and there is more confidence in purchasing a puppy. Also, breeders are better able to collaborate with each others and discover dogs which have not been bred yet for maximizing genetic diversity and reducing the frequencies of diseases.
Ideally, information about everything from trial results, show ribbons to health postings from veterinarians should all be synced into one central database. Like music, videos and e-books in the Internet era, this kind of information are increasingly becoming social capital owned and shared by everyone.
So how do we sleuth out clues to find out more about our dogs? For starter, many of the databases can be accessed internationally.
If one has a hunting spitz, the main databases to keep at hand are: KoiraNet (Finland), Metsastyspystykorvat Koiratietokanta (Finland), HUNDDATA (Sweden), EKL Online (Estonia), DogWeb (Norway), “БООР” База данных (Belarus), БОС (Russia) and ЛАЙКИ и ГОНЧИЕ – БАЗЫ ДАННЫХ (Russia). Some of them are free and others require memberships. Keep these websites bookmarked.
There are other databases out there, but the fact is most of the hunting with spitzes take place in Nordic countries, the Slavic world, and Central or East Asia and as such the residents of those regions control the majority of the gene pools. Anything which gets imported from those countries will also be transmitted into populations in North America.
Not all of the databases will have health information on dogs, but they are a starting point in learning more about certain lineages. Most of them will have trial results.
Some of them, like HUNDDATA or KoiraNet, will incorporate health information. Official test results mandated by the clubs such as eyes, joints and heart are updated automatically. However, currently, both databases don’t include information other than the ones mandated by the kennel clubs and breed clubs, and any further potential health problems are given voluntarily by the individual breeders. As such, the databases shouldn’t be seen as a panacea to open source.
Recently, a few breed clubs are taking the initiative and publishing all the information they have on hand. At the moment, there is a movement for veterinarians to be able to update the databases without the approval of the breeder or owner. With strict privacy laws, this dream might never come true. On the other hand, information and data are increasingly becoming considered as common properties.
To paint a bigger picture of a breed’s health, we first must understand kennel clubs in different countries and their regulations and policies, In recent years, both the Kennel Club of United Kingdom and American Kennel Club are trying to bring in reforms in response to animal welfare concerns which emerged in the last 30 years. The changes have been slow, and they still have a long way to go.
But if we are looking at hunting spitzes, it behooves a dog-owner to know that in Finland and Sweden every breed club is mandated to release a breeding strategy plan and update it every few years. In Finland, this important document is known as ” jalostuksen tavoiteohjelma” or JTO. In Sweden, it is known as “Rasspecifik Avelsstrategi” or RAS.
Some of the breed clubs even go the extra mile of developing recommendations for safeguarding a breed against known diseases. In Finland, this is known as “perinnöllisten vikojen ja sairauksien vastustamisohjelma” or PEVISA. Under PEVISA, health-checks must be carried out or the litter may not enter the registrar.
All of this sounds great, but we must be cautious as not all breed clubs will keep the information up to date. Sometimes there are naturalistic beliefs in which if a dog is hunted hard, they should not have health problems which are true to a certain extent. Other times, people are worried about the reputation of the breed and perceives any reported problems as slander or libel which draws negative attention. So, we need to evaluate each breed club in each individual countries by their merits, rather than stereotyping people as a whole.
So, we don’t speak or write Norwegian, Finnish, Swedish or Russian. Many of us in the Anglophone world has limited access to information, either deliberately, unintentionally or due to lack of funding. How do we find out more? We can use Google’s advanced search engine to our advantage.
There are other translation services available such as Bing, but they are not as reliable as Google’s. Keep in mind, the more complex a language is or the further away from Anglo-Germanic roots, the more confusing the results will be. They are a work in progress. So, take anything and everything with a grain of salt.
Now, if one is contacting a foreign kennel about acquiring a dog, it is generally not a good idea to use a machine translator as the message will be lost. It is best to write the e-mail or letter in English. Chances are the kennel owner knows English or has a relative who speak or read English. While a friend or a family member may be able to assist in translating, the quality cannot be verified. When in doubt, hire a professional translator.
For our purposes, it is important to remember the translation will be rough. Personally, interpreting is not a huge barrier since I grew up in a community which doesn’t have a rock-solid first language, nor second language and as the result there are strange blends or pidgin forms and many times the written forms are quite similar to Google’s strange outputs. Someone who is not exposed to that behaviour on a daily basis may have a hard time comprehending the outcome.
It is possible to find these documents by navigating the websites, but it is much quicker if we let search engines do it for us.
First, type in
site: followed by the URL of the website we wish to search and the search term which will help us narrow down the query. Doing this will save us the trouble of fumbling around a website in a language we don’t understand or trying to comprehend how the webmaster structured the hierarchy.
Most of the time, the document will be on the breed club’s websites. In some countries, the document will be on the kennel club’s website.
Usually, the document will be as a PDF, however, DOC, RTF, and PPT are not unusual Sometimes XLS and other formats are added as supplementary materials.. These documents can be opened with Microsoft Office, OpenOffice or Google Drive. The two latter are free to everyone.
Now for translating the document, we have two choices: we can request Google to translate the actual document itself, or we can copy and paste sections. Results can be a little iffy at time when documents longer than 5 pages are translated, so it is best to just copy the Table of Contents then find the specific pages we are looking for, then head right to the section which we want to view.
How to translate a PDF.
In this case, we want page 25 to 38. The other sections are interesting, but for the purpose of this tutorial, we want to find more specifically about health and breeding strategies. From this point on, copy and paste the relevant sections.
Remember to keep the snippets short for best results. The longer the chunk, the more goofy the output becomes.
Copying and pasting.
In many instances, these documents are really well-done and they are sometimes done with collaboration with geneticists, zoologists, insurance companies and veterinarians for all-encompassed information.
Finding more about health issues will allow us to ask breeders more questions and empower us as puppy-buyers to establish a benchmark of what an ethical breeder should do.
Don’t be surprised if information is lacking for some breed as oftentimes the Old Guards view any as health problems as bad publicity. This attitude does not exist everywhere and varies from breed club to breed club.
If absence of information is the case, oftentimes the only thing one can do is wait until animal welfare laws are improved to the point where individual breeders are forced to take responsibility, or for another generation of younger, more open-minded breeders to come along. In which case, the puppy-buyer has already done everything within her or his power.
The worst case scenario is that one might have to purchase health information from insurance companies. Studies which compare pedigreed breeds or mixed breeds often purchase information from these companies. Agria, a pet insurance company in northern Europe, offers packages which include entire breeds which one can purchase and analyze on their own time for a cost.
By publishing all the information publicly, we assume that the breeders and the clubs they belong to are being honest and we trust them not to be in denial. We feel they are doing everything they can to build a better future for their dogs’ offspring. As dog owners, we trust the breeders more as everything is out in the open and can make better-informed decisions about their lives.
- Indrebø, Astrid. “The Value of Breeding Programmes,” European Journal of Companion Animal Practice 17 (2007): 64 – 69. Accessed April 27, 2015: http://www.fecava.org/sites/default/files/fecava_17.1.pdf.
- The Lapphund club of Finland. “What Is PEVISA?”. Last updated March 23, 2009: http://www.lappalaiskoirat.fi/english/?id=breeding/what_is_pevisa.
- Syrjänen, Anna-Liisa and Kari Kuutti. “Trust, Acceptance and Alginment: The Role of IT in Redirecting a Community”. In Social Capital and Information Technology, edited by Marleen Huysman and Volker Wulf, 21–51. Cambridge, Massachusetts: MIT Press, 2004. Accessed April 28, 2015: http://www.academia.edu/1298466/Trust_acceptance_and_alignment_the_role_of_IT_in_redirecting_a_community.