“Plans are nothing, planning is everything” – Gen. Dwight D Eisenhower
I expect most readers will be aware of the Kennel Club’s programme to develop Breed Health and Conservation Plans. This was launched in 2016 to ensure that, for every breed, all health concerns are identified through evidence-based criteria, and that breeders are provided with useful information and resources to support them in making balanced breeding decisions that make health a priority.
The first group of breeds included those in Breed Watch Category 3 (previously known as “high-profile breeds”, plus GSDs, Cavaliers and English Setters). We’ve heard relatively little about their BHCPs from the clubs and councils associated with them, so it’s difficult to know if and how they are working.
My breed, Dachshunds, is included in the second batch of breeds and I thought it might be useful to share our experience of the process and how we intend to make use of our BHCP.
Stage 1: Evidence gathering
Dr Katy Evans is the KC’s lead person on this project and her first task for each breed is to identify and review the published evidence of the state of the breed. The key inputs to this are:
- The KC’s own health surveys (2004 & 2014)
- Insurance data from Agria in the UK and Sweden
- Genetic diversity data from the KC’s 2015 study led by Dr Tom Lewis
- KC registration data
- BVA screening programme data (e.g. eyes, hips, elbows), where such programmes exist
- DNA test results, where tests exist
- Reports from the RVC’s VetCompass project
- Eye test data from OFA in the USA
- Any data from health surveys carried out by the breed, itself
- Peer-reviewed scientific papers
- Results of any current research programmes initiated by the breed
This is a massive exercise to search for, collate and distil the evidence into a first draft paper for the breed to consider. Breed clubs owe a great debt of gratitude to Katy and her colleagues because, for the first time, we have all the available evidence relating to our breed in one place.
It is a “single source of the truth” for each breed. That doesn’t mean, however, that the summary report will give your breed the definitive prevalence for any particular health condition. You need to see the evidence base as the big picture which helps you to triangulate in on points of concern.
Stage 2: Prioritise
Findings from stage 1 are used collaboratively to provide clear indications of the most significant health conditions in each breed, in terms of prevalence and impact. This is the point where breed clubs and councils need to engage with the BHCP process. From a breed’s perspective, their Breed Health Coordinator (BHC) is the key point of contact between the breed and the KC. Every breed has to appoint a BHC and, often, there will also be a Health Committee. Both the BHC role and Health Committee are appointed to serve your breed and, in the case of Dachshunds, ours are accountable to our Breed Council. They act on our behalf, are accountable to the Council and are expected to put the interest of the dogs as their first priority (not politics).
We were invited to meet the KC team in July and 6 of our 10 Health Committee members were able to attend. This might sound, to some, like a lot of people to attend this meeting but I firmly believe that the breadth of experience among our delegates was invaluable for 2 reasons. Firstly, the discussions we had and the decisions we made were based on a wide range of knowledge across our 6 Dachshund varieties. No one person can know everything about the breed nor remember the history of how we got to where we are today. Secondly, the decisions made have to be a consensus because we, the Health Committee, have to justify the BHCP to everyone else in the breed. The quality of decision-making by our team far outweighs anything that any one of us could achieve, on our own.
Stage 3: Action planning
The process we followed at the meeting enabled us to arrive at a consensus and to agree priorities for action. Katy Evans led the discussions and took us through all the content she had collated. Although this might sound like a rather linear and dry approach, the discussions it generated were not “down in the weeds”. We had all had copies of the evidence to review prior to the meeting which meant we were able to make connections between the different areas as we worked through them in the meeting.
So, for example, a single paper on Colour Dilution Alopecia (CDA) led to a wide-ranging discussion covering Colour Not Recognised registrations (CDA occurs in Blue Dachshunds), the massive increase in popularity of Mini Smooth Dachshunds and the need for better data on skin conditions, in general. There were no surprises for us here but we have agreed actions on data collection in our forthcoming breed survey, actions for the KC to look at our list of registration colours, and actions for all of us to educate the Dachshund-buying public on the breed to try to shift demand away from Mini Smooths towards other varieties.
I think the fact that, as a breed, we have been very proactive in gathering data and working on improvements gave us a head start when developing actions for our BHCP. Nevertheless, we have been able to identify further work that will accelerate the rate of progress in current focus areas as well as initiate new actions in other areas. Some of those actions include:
- Adding a recommendation to the ABS for IVDD Screening
- Refining the content of our forthcoming Cancer and Health Survey to capture data on conditions identified in the BHCP
- Adding Distichiasis as a point of concern under BreedWatch
- Publishing guidance for judges, breeders and exhibitors on exaggerated conformation (length of body & ground clearance)
All of these will need to be publicised through appropriate channels to reach breeders, owners and judges.
Tips for other breeds
If your breed has not yet been through the BHCP process, I’d recommend the following, based on our learning:
- Take a team of experienced breeders/owners to the planning meeting; they don’t need to be on your Health Committee but they do need to be advocates for improving your breed
- Do your homework prior to the meeting by reading and reflecting on the evidence base presented by the KC; go with an open mind
- Keep the big picture in mind; obsessing about single health conditions and DNA testing is not a recipe for long-term improvement when a lack of genetic diversity is probably the major challenge facing most pedigree dog breeds
- Have a plan for communicating your actions; the BHCP document itself may not be the best format for sharing information widely to different audiences
I’ll end with a quote from Peter Drucker (Management Guru) – “Eventually, plans must degenerate into hard work”.