Full Disclosure

Thank you, Jennifer, for your questions about why we do not describe what "affected" means in the Litter Summaries and why not all ortho results are detailed in Berner Garde and/or OFA. These are good questions and lead into the important topic of full disclosure -- and disclosure about the H Litter. (click Read more to -- well, read more!)

The reason we elected to change litter summaries from detailed descriptions of the affected body part was in the interest of space (and the related problem that I can never give a simple explanation, as you will soon discover). Let me give you an example -- two F Litter boys have something called transitional vertebrae, which an online article by Fred Lanting neatly describes as, "an abormality that may have a causative role in ... HD" (HD = Hip Dysplasia).

This first came up with Levi -- Dr. Popkin, Ace OFA x-ray vet in California, could not get correct positioning for Levi's hips and repeated the films several times before realizing that there was an extra vertebrae on the one side, and that was why positioning was problematic. I communicated with a researcher in Europe who studies transitional vertebrae and what he explained was that the extra vertebrae on one side can cause problems with how the hip balls fit into the sockets. Specifically, the pelvis is rotated because of that extra vertebrae  and so one side is snug and one side is too far out -- and you (appropriately) get a diagnosis of unilateral hip dysplasia (short, simple version of our discussion). And indeed, that is exactly what we got with those two boys.

So how exactly to explain all that in one little box? Or that Asia was x-rayed one week after her cycle (since we were not worried about her hips and already knew about her elbows) and came back as unilateral mild hip dysplasia -- this is another one we will re-do but explaining it risks sounding like an excuse, and it isn't. Sometimes there is a simple unilateral grade 1 (simple in terms of words -- it is still elbow dyspalsia) but with others it is different grades on the two elbows -- Asia has a grade 1 and a grade 2, for example.

And so we decided to just say whether they were affected or not, because while I agree a litter of grade 3 elbows is different than a litter of grade 1's -- it is all still affected elbows.

Jennifer brings up a good point -- the information is "supposed" to be in Berner Garde at the very least, and yes, as Barb noted, I ask owners to release all results (good and bad) when the OFA films are sent in -- and since I pay for most of those films, I think this is my right as well as my responsibility.

Let's start with OFA -- I discovered that you do not always get the "check the box" option. It is actually initials you must add and when done electronically it can get overlooked -- I learned this with Asia. Changing to full disclosure is not easy -- you cannot just call and ask (I tried) but rather have to send a bunch of stuff. I understand that -- but hate that kind of detail stuff so I put Asia's in BernerGarde (that is easy) and was waiting until she has the hip "do-over" before getting things posted with OFA.

I checked the OFA site and most of the affected Kaibab puppies do have descriptions of what the diagnoses are, and my most recent contracts require that owners keep BernerGarde records up to date so Jennifer's comments prompt all of us to do that -- thank you Jennifer.

This puts us in the topic of full disclosure -- can I just say that in some ways that is super scary? People that do not understand compare apples and oranges -- so they look at a litter that discloses affecteds and compare that to the big midwest puppy producer who never tells you about the puppies they have bred who have crippling elbow dysplasia. In fact, if you just look at the OFA and BernerGarde results you would think it is no big deal to keep breeding those grade 1 elbows -- because the really bad ones are never mentioned...

And so you just know that people will use the affecteds against you, even though the percent of affecteds may well be less than theirs - but since they do not x-ray and/or report whole litters, who knows?! Apples and oranges... and that is both unfair and inaccurate.

You cannot even compare a litter against the OFA statistics because those are skewed -- some/many never send in films of obviously affected joints (some say, "why pay to be told they are bad if you already know??") and so OFA results are undoubtedly biased in the direction of looking better than the population of berners as a whole.

So why bother getting a whole litter done -- and disclosing it? There are at least three reasons. First, it sets a good example for others. Second, it allows a breeder to have accurate information (well, there is variety in how skilled vets are at taking those films but that is another topic -- let's assume the films are accurate). There are so many unknowns in breeding -- those films are at least one way we can know something! Third, the information might be useful to others. Yes, it will be used against you as well -- but those kind of people will always find something...

I want to share a real-life example of how full litter data has helped me as a breeder. I have already explained why I believe Sydney offers unusually strong orthopedics. She was rated as fair but the films were just done by a local vet since she was under for a bump removal anyway -- and the positioning was okay but not optimal, and she came into season right after. If I had known she was about to come into season, I would have continued to wait on those films until I could get Syd to Dr. Popkin.

Anyway, fair is passing and thanks to the commitment on both sides of Syd's pedigree to ortho data, we have LOTS of information.

The E and F Litters are not as strong in the ortho department (they are full siblings). Further, we have a few of those dogs who have taken the whole watchdog/aloof part of the breed nature more seriously than we would prefer -- not terrible but we should not ignore it. And so the full litter data says that any E or F Litter dog that is bred needs to be bred to a dog with strong orthopedics and a great temperament.

The E and F Litter have some very important strengths. Their mom, Halo, is alive (and devilishly well) at almost nine and in fact eight of the ten from that litter are alive and well. One of the littermates died of aspirate pneumonia and the other had mast cell cancer early on but her cause of death was something else and basically not determined. This is pretty decent lonegvity -- that B Litter was a close linebreeding on Borah, who died just days before her 14th birthday and on necropsy had no sign of any cancer. No berner pedigree is perfect -- but I like the longevity behind/around Halo, and she is the mother of the E and F Litters. On the paternal side, the father of the E and F Litter died of Systemic Histio at almost eight, which is the less evil version and typically very treatable; his parents died at ten.

We are breeding berners and so one should never lose sight of the importance of breed type -- if you want a nice family pet and do not care what the dog looks like, please go to the pound and rescue a dog! But if you want a berner, you should care about breed type -- and the E and F Litters have it. I also love the working ability and intelligence of those dogs, and their devotion and sweetness. I bet you already know that I think Zoey (F Litter) walks on water and Asia (E Litter) is no slouch either.

So I believe the E and F Litters have some wonderful qualities but I am also mindful of areas to work on -- every litter should be looked at in this way because none are perfect. But how can you realistically evaluate and consider strengths and not-so-strengths of a litter without information? You can't, in my opinion.

The best reason for full litter data is that it informs decision-making. One of the nicest dogs from the E and F Litters is Zed -- he has a superb temperament, is beautiful and typey, and the orthopedics he has to bring to the table are strong (excellent hips and normal elbows). In other words, in the areas that one might say we need to work on in the E/F Litters, he already has. And so one could make the argument that he is a strong representative of the two litters, with the strengths of his pedigree plus none of the potential areas of not-so-strengths seen in some of his full siblings.

But we cannot lose sight of the full litter data -- that is why we have it. And so we would want to breed Zed to a girl who has strong orthopedics behind her and a superb temperament, from a family of superb temperaments and strong orthopedics. But these girls are hard to find because not many gather (and disclose) that kind of information -- so breeding is a huge gamble, and I know a lot of that is unavoidable (since those darn genes are usually out of sight) but shouldn't we at least try?!

Well friends -- I am trying.

Sydney was bred to Zed. She has the orthopedics behind her and a perfect temperament, with great temperaments all around her. Zed brings that substance/type that Syd could use a little more of -- so we bred two dogs who are lovely, healthy, and have great temperaments -- and we did it with consideration for what the litter data for generations tells us. We did not use litter data to breed two "bad" dogs -- that seems stupid to me because what the dog has/is -- is what she has to contribute. In other words, you have to start with a solid dog who has quality in terms of type, health, and temperament -- and then use litter data to guide breeding decisions for that dog.

Although related, the recent outcrosses means the ten generation Coefficient of Inbreeding (COI) for the combination of Zed and Sydney is very low -- 4.04% (thanks to Pat Long for letting me test a developing Berner Garde program to calculate this). And we know of two somewhat similar pedigrees/litters (including Zack and Jed close up)  that have yielded excellent results, and that also weighed into the decision.

This (hopeful) H Litter will give us useful information for both Zoey and Zed's breeding future, and so we will require all puppies from the litter to be x-rayed and evaluated by OFA at both 12 and 24 months (at our expense). I am not expecting any issues -- I actually think this is a strong breeding for orthopedics and that the preliminary results will prove that -- but opinions need evidence to become fact, and so we will get it. I expect moderate, pretty, sound puppies with lovely heads and excellent temperaments -- and strong working ability.

So there you have it -- a lot of information about how one might use information. It will scare off people who prefer the "ignorance is bliss" route through life, but hopefully those who understand the importance of educated and informed decision-making will appreciate what we are doing (fingers crossed). I am super excited about this breeding and hope that my next puppy, Harper, is in this litter -- she is going to be a Super Star with a pedigree like this one, and with parents like Sydney and Zed.

But right now I am sitting in a seedy motel in Puyallup, Washington writing an article (remotely, of course!) with Joan (owns dogs from the B Litter and Glitterati) about parents' perceptions of a pediatric palliative care program -- in between breedings of the two dogs. How is that for making good use of time?!

Think fertile thoughts and have a fantastic -- and informed -- weekend.



by Anonymous on Sat, 08/13/2011 - 11:43

I had a breeder picked out for our next puppy a while back... She is an awesome person... I thought I'd found the perfect breeder until she had her last litter... she bred a great dog that had one grade one elbow :-( She put it on BG which I give her credit but.. I just don't want to go down that road. So I guess I kind of used that information against her but I've found it extremely hard to find a breeder that won't breed a nice looking dog with grade 1... I know there aren't any perfect lines but I have a berner with ortho issues. I know what it's like to see a 15 month old dog that has structural problems.. I wish every breeder had a blog like yours so that you can kind of get there thoughts on things... before they even have a litter :-) It's helpful information.

by Mary-Ann Bowman on Sat, 08/13/2011 - 11:59

I am sorry -- and I agree with you. Bad stuff will happen even when we try so hard to stack the deck in good ways so WHY would we not try so hard to prevent it?! I will *never* breed a dog with dysplasia -- because dysplasia is what that dog has to pass along. I respect that others have a different point of view but that is a line in the sand I said long ago I would not cross -- and I will not.

Thinking good thoughts for a very successful breeding. I am so excited-that is just like my ideal breeding of Cooper and Zoey in reverse! So exciting!

by John H on Sat, 08/13/2011 - 13:45

As a plant breeder I can empathize. Half-sib and full-sib data are powerful tools that help explain genetic variation. When there is very little information to go on in the first place (ie you cannot just decipher the genes with a microscope) why would anyone choose to ignore these when it requires just an xray or two?

ps-Kristine is very excited Mika is going to be an aunt!

by Heidi on Sat, 08/13/2011 - 21:26

Lots of good thoughts for the H litter. I know that you do everything that can be done, and even better, you are open to suggestions of anything that can contribute to best practice in breeding. As someone lost and mourns her heart dog, I feel that there's solace to be had in knowing that everything that could be done was. It may not prevent all the outcomes we wish to avoid, but it certainly can't hurt!

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