It’s time to get a GRIHP – a new resource from the IPFD

We have seen over recent months that the topic of pedigree dog health is truly an international concern. The legislation affecting brachycephalic breeds in the Netherlands has probably been the most high profile but there have been similar moves in France, Germany, and Finland. The proposed German legislation has had a focus of conversations on social media related to the amount of exercise dogs must be given and the potential difficulty of policing any such legislation. However, an aspect that should concern us is the threat to ban dogs with “extreme exaggeration” from participating in dog shows. We can be pretty sure that it won’t just be the brachycephalic breeds that are targeted; short-legged breeds including the Dachshunds are also likely to be within the scope of these proposals.

Dr Brenda Bonnett, CEO of the International Partnership for Dogs said “For many years, lecturing about breed-specific issues in dogs, even before the existence of IPFD, in discussions with the breeding community, veterinarians and others, it was becoming self-evident that if concerns were not addressed by the dog community, society would likely impose ‘solutions’ on them.  This is coming to fruition in many areas, and society and the media wants to move at a much faster pace than many in the pedigreed dog world.”

Shortly after the announcement of the proposed French legislation, our Kennel Club hosted a webcast on the subject of Brachycephalic Obstructive Airway Syndrome (BOAS). KC Chairman Tony Allcock chaired a discussion panel that discussed some of the issues facing brachycephalic breeds and the role the KC is playing in addressing BOAS through the Respiratory Function Grading Scheme (RFGS) developed at Cambridge University. It’s important to recognise that the RFGS is just one strand of work being done here in the UK and it was also useful to hear about the role of the Brachycephalic Working Group during the webcast. This multi-stakeholder group has taken a wide-ranging approach to address the brachycephalic issue, encompassing both the supply side (i.e breeders) and demand side (i.e. buyers). 

I wrote last month about how more data won’t improve breed health. It’s evident from what has happened in the Netherlands that data and evidence have made very little difference to the framing of the legislation affecting brachycephalic breeds. Despite the case presented by the Raad van Beheer (Dutch KC), their government seems to have been persuaded by a small group of vets at Utrecht University that legislation based on measuring the craniofacial ratio is a suitable tool to improve breed health.

Evidence and collaboration

The increasing internationalisation of breed health reinforces the case for the existence of the International Partnership for Dogs (IPFD). Their independent, non-political, position has always been grounded in a combination of evidence and collaboration. Their latest initiative is GRIHP – Globally Relevant Integrated Health Profiles – which has the potential to shape a more balanced conversation about pedigree dog health.

The IPFD website says:

A Globally Relevant Integrated Health Profile (GRIHP) describes the Big Picture of health on (all) conditions that are of interest within a breed and is intended to inform owners, breeders, and those counseling them. Health Strategies are breed-specific recommendations and requirements developed by Health Strategy Providers (HSPs) including, e.g. kennel clubs, breed clubs, and veterinary organizations. Health strategies may encompass detailed descriptions of breed history and development, evidence/ statistics on conditions of interest, health/temperament screening suggestions or official programs, and more, depending on the breed, the HSP, the country, and/or specific organisations. 

The Big Picture for a breed should include information not only on conditions that have genetic or other screening tests available, but also all conditions that may impact the health, behaviour/temperament, well-being, and welfare of individuals and breed populations; ideally accompanied by an indication of the relative importance of each item, which may involve commonness, severity, and other factors.

Depending on the breed these Get a GRIHP articles will include:

  • Breed nomenclature and description of types and characteristics
  • Health and welfare issues, including:
  • statistics on common and high-risk conditions
  • available health, genetic and other screening tests that are recommended or required
  • Population statistics from various countries; statistics on trends in popularity
  • Management strategies and recommendations for owners and breeders, as well as resources to support veterinary-client communication.

Get a GRIHP on Corgis and Dachshunds

Corgis and Dachshunds are the first 2 breeds with GRIHP reports. In the UK, we already have Breed Health and Conservation Plans being developed by our KC and these are focused on action plans for UK breed clubs. The value of GRIHPs is that they open up the scope to reflect internationally available data and evidence of breed improvement strategies.

For example, with the Corgis, you can see international registration statistics from 6 countries. While the UK population may be on the Vulnerable Breeds list, this international perspective shows Finland has seen a significant growth in popularity.

Another useful aspect of the GRIHP reports is that you can see which screening programmes are being implemented in different countries. This helps provide a consensus view of what breed clubs, kennel clubs and breeders are currently focusing on. What it doesn’t necessarily tell us is whether these screening programmes are the most important ones; they might simply be the most readily available ones. Information on DNA tests is already collated by the IPFD. Their Harmonisation of Genetic Testing database now includes a “relevance rating” based on published research evidence to support the use of DNA tests in given breeds. Just because a test is being sold for a breed, doesn’t necessarily mean it is valid and relevant for that breed.

Some of the most useful information in the GRIHP reports is the Swedish Agria mortality (death) and morbidity (illness) data. They compare the featured breed with “all breeds” and other pedigree breeds to give a clear view of relative risks. Interestingly, back disease for Mini Dachshunds is shown as being 5 times more likely than in “all breeds” combined. Other sources typically quote Dachshunds as being 10-12 times more likely to have a back problem. Pekingese are shown as the highest risk breed for back disease in the Swedish data. 

Returning to my initial discussion about legislation that targets specific breeds, the Swedish data on back disease shows that it is not only the short-legged breeds that have an increased risk. The comparator data really do pose some challenging questions for anyone looking to impose apparently simple solutions (such as legislation) on targeted pedigree breeds. Corgis, for example, have a lower mortality rate (Risk Ratio 0.7) than “all breeds” and a marginally higher morbidity rate (RR 1.07). In the Dachshunds, both sizes have a lower mortality rate than “all breeds” and the Standards have a lower morbidity rate. 

We certainly need to see more of these GRIHP reports for other breeds. Not only will they present useful data but they also exemplify the good work being done, internationally, to improve the health of pedigree breeds.

International Partnership for Dogs Calls for Collective Actions for Health and Welfare of Pedigree Dogs

Press Release:

The International Partnership for Dogs (IPFD) is calling on stakeholder groups – including dog show enthusiasts, kennel and breed clubs, legislators, dog owners, veterinarians, welfare advocates – from all regions and countries to come together to address issues currently impacting the health, welfare, and breeding of dogs.


Our article, Reframing Current Challenges Around Pedigree Dogs: A Call for Respectful Dialogue, Collaboration and Collective Actions (also available in Dutch, Finnish, French, German, and Spanish), responds to a wave of recent legislative actions, especially in Europe. Although primarily focused on brachycephalic (flat-faced) breeds, regulations may eventually impact all pedigree and non-pedigree dogs.


“This is a call for each one of us to examine how our personal attitudes, attachments, and beliefs impact these discussions, says Dr. Brenda Bonnett, CEO, IPFD. “And it is a call to work collectively for what is truly in the best interest of dogs and the people who care for them.”


A key part of IPFD’s mission is to encourage, initiate, and facilitate collaboration among key stakeholders in the dog world to enhance dog health, well-being and welfare, and support human-dog interactions. “IPFD is a multi-stakeholder, international organization,” says Dr. Pekka Olson, IPFD Chair. “And it is perfectly positioned to encourage and facilitate open, respectful dialogue and collective actions in the best interest of both dogs and people.” Many of today’s challenges have been part of discussions at and actions from IPFD’s International Dog Health Workshops. The new IPFD International Working Group on Extreme Conformation in Dogs is one such initiative.


IPFD has compiled extensive resources to advance the conversation called for in this article. Together with collaborators from various sectors, we are creating a roadmap for the future, i.e. to help us to Think Globally, Act Locally.


“While we understand and respect the differences in attitudes and realities in different regions and across stakeholder groups, we also know there is common ground and shared purpose,” Bonnett adds. “Everyone who has any interest in dogs, pedigree dogs, and the world of ‘dogs and people’ is encouraged to become engaged in addressing challenges. This article and accompanying resources will support this process.”


The International Partnership for Dogs (IPFD) is a non-profit organization leading a global, multi-stakeholder effort to address issues affecting dog health, well-being, and welfare. Our main platform is DogWellNet.com. Our people include a Board comprised of individuals with respected international reputations, and a small but committed team of consultants in several countries. Volunteers from our Partners and Collaborator organizations and a network of experts are integral to what we do. 


Our Contributors, Partners, and Sponsors include national kennel clubs, international cynological organizations, groups with breed specific interests, educational/academic and professional organizations, and key players in the pet industry. Together we foster collaborative action to achieve our shared goals, support human-animal interactions, and benefit all dogs worldwide.  

For More Information:

Follow developments and find further resources on DogWellNet.com and learn about the IPFD.

Contact article author, Dr. Brenda N. Bonnett, CEO, IPFD, at Brenda.Bonnett@ipfdogs.com

General enquiries info@ipfdogs.com.

More data won’t improve dog health

At the end of the 4th International Dog Health Workshop, Dr Dan O’Neill said something along the lines of; “This is no longer about the dogs, it’s about the people”. Readers of this column will probably be tired of me getting on my Human Behaviour Change hobby-horse but that’s what Dan was alluding to; unless people change their behaviour, dog health won’t be improved.

The point I want to make about data is that it’s necessary but not sufficient. I suspect that presenting data to owners, breeders and judges might persuade 5-10% of them to do something different. Presenting data just doesn’t motivate many people to change their behaviour. Why is that?

Fear of Maths

Many breeds are overwhelmed by data from research papers, surveys and insurance companies, some of which gets analysed and turned into reports, but all too often breed clubs and breeders simply don’t have the skills to get real insight from the data.

Perhaps some people are “scared of maths”; others may not have the time and yet others may not see data analysis and interpretation as important for breed health improvement. Plus, some people think that “numbers speak for themselves” and don’t bother to present data in a way that might be helpful to others.

Add to that the manipulation of data by the media and the political spin put on “official statistics” and it’s no wonder that health data can get a bad press. 

​Breed Health Coordinators, in particular, are grappling with ever more complex data to understand how to improve their breed’s health. We have EBVs, COIs, Medians, Means, Odds Ratios and Confidence Limits, to name just a few terms that litter our breed health reading material. Who can we turn to to make sense of the numbers, provide insight and guidance?

People just don’t “get risk”

We have seen clearly over the past few months of the Covid19 pandemic that the majority of the public simply do not understand risk. At the time of writing (July), the median Infection Fatality Rate for England was 1.3%. That figure, however, masks a huge range of risks, depending on how old you are. Nearly 1 in 5 infected over the age of 75 had died. Under the age of 25, fewer than 50 infected people had died. People in that younger age group have more chance of being killed in a car accident than from Covid19.

When it comes to risk in canine health, some people struggle to understand risk-based screening programmes such as those available for hips and elbows. These are complex, multifactorial diseases which means, statistically it’s possible for a dog with a good score, still to have bad hips. Similarly, mating 2 dogs with good hips could still result in puppies with clinically poor hips, or dogs with poor hips could produce a puppy with no problem. The probabilities are that dogs with better grades will produce puppies with better grades and vice versa. Unfortunately, many breeders want “definitive” answers just like they might get with a DNA test that gives a Clear, Carrier or Affected result.

In the recently developed Respiratory Function Grading Scheme launched by the KC for brachycephalic breeds, advice for breeders is based on a risk matrix. This enables breeders to identify combinations of a screened sire and dam that would minimise the risk of producing puppies at risk of BOAS. There are no certainties about the puppies’ BOAS status but, by selecting from lower risk combinations, over time, breed health will be improved. This principle applies to all the clinical screening programmes for complex conditions.

Alternative facts

One of the other challenges to getting people to make the move from data to action is that there may well be “alternative facts” that can be used to disprove the overwhelming evidence that exists. All that is needed is one research paper that contains data that apparently contradicts the prevailing evidence. It’s then easy to cherrypick from that paper and persuade others that all the other evidence is flawed. I came across an example of this recently where evidence from a paper on surgery for a health condition was being used to contradict screening evidence. The two data sets simply weren’t comparable.

It’s tempting for those with scientific training to think that more data and evidence is the answer but, all too often, this just results in responses such as:

  • My dogs have never suffered from that condition and I’ve had the breed for x decades
  • It’s only research, what we need are facts
  • It’s too soon to be making these decisions about breeding recommendations
  • It’s only a problem with the commercial and back-street breeders; our dogs are better/healthier

For many pedigree health issues we already have plenty of data so if people aren’t acting on that data by now, providing more data is unlikely to persuade them to change their behaviour.

The “science” that is missing is that of Human Behaviour Change and an analysis of the lack of action from a behavioural change perspective would lead to very different conclusions than “give them more data/evidence”. We need to understand which of 3 types of reasons are preventing people from taking action to improve canine health. 

Firstly, do they have the capability to change, including do they know why it is important and how to take action? Mostly, science has answered those questions, so a lack of action is less likely to be due to a capability gap.

Secondly, do they have the opportunity to take action? This includes, for example, whether people have the time or money to participate in screening programmes. More importantly, this is also affected by whether they see their peers taking action; if nobody else is worried about low genetic diversity, why should I be? Social norms are powerful influencers, so finding ways to incentivise early adopters are vitally important.

Finally, do they have the motivation to act to improve breed health? Are they worried about any adverse consequences if they don’t act? Do they feel they want to or need to act and do they believe it would be a good thing to do? There is plenty of evidence that some health issues have become normalised, both by owners and vets. “It’s normal for a (breed name)” or “They all do that” are clues that an issue has been normalised.

In conclusion, we should stop trying to beat people into submission with more data and put more emphasis on finding answers to why people can’t or won’t change.

 

To end on a slightly more humourous note, remember “A mathematician is a device for turning coffee into theorems.” [Paul Erdos]. 

 

“Preservation Breeder” -what does that mean for the future of pedigree dogs?

Over the past few months, I’ve heard a few conversations and seen online discussions where the term “Preservation Breeder” has been used. This seems to have originated from the USA and there’s a useful YouTube video on the AKC Channel from the 2019 American Kennel Club Delegate Meeting. The presentation defines Preservation(ist) Breeders as those who are preserving breed type and chronicling their heritage and history over the decades and centuries through their individual AKC parent clubs.

The presentation describes “purposefully bred purebred dogs” that are “intentionally bred for predictable type, health and welfare” as opposed to randomly bred dogs that are “brought into this world with no predicated welfare for their existence”. There’s a strong emphasis on the fact that preservationists carry out health testing and a claim that research and the development of DNA markers make purebred dogs on track to be the healthiest colony in the world. I don’t intend to debate that point here, but I have previously written about why “health-tested” is not the same as “healthy”.

Preservationist breeders are also described as being accountable because they carefully vet potential puppy-buyers and will, invariably, take dogs back at any stage of life. The fact that breed clubs also run a network of rescue organisations is a further demonstration of the accountability for their breed. Here in the UK, Kennel Club Breed Rescue organisations re-home approximately 10,000 dogs each year and for over 25 years the KC has published a rescue directory to list the many general and breed rescue organisations that exist around the country. KC Breed Rescue is certainly up there with the more well-known organisations but probably doesn’t get the same publicity and recognition for the work of so many volunteers. 

Some of the challenges described in the AKC video are equally relevant in the UK. “A sub-culture focused on exhibiting dogs, rather than breeding them” is interesting because I have also written about the negative consequences of breeder/exhibitors placing endorsements on their puppies. If show-breeders do not encourage others to breed, even if they are just for “pet homes”, the registered gene-pool will get smaller. Not only that, but none of us are getting any younger and an ageing population of exhibitors risks cutting off the next generation of enthusiasts and preservation breeders. We no longer have the big breeding kennels and the days of the many knowledgeable stockmen and women are surely long gone. The AKC video talks about a lack of breed club and breeder education; without a good understanding of canine genetics and breeding strategies, how can clubs make decisions or recommendations that will actually enable the preservation of their breeds?

Scientific no-brainers

Recently, the Chihuahua breed clubs presented a case to the KC for allowing cross-variety matings (Smooth and Long-coated). There is one allele difference between the smooth and long-coated varieties but this decision has the potential to avoid genetic bottlenecks in the breed and creates more options to improve health for future generations. Scientifically, this is a no-brainer decision for any preservation breeder and it was approved by the KC. Decisions to subdivide breeds into varieties does inevitably mean the gene pool will be narrower and breed preservation will be more challenging than if all varieties were considered to be part of one breed. The Chihuahuas will, of course, continue to be judged as 2 separate varieties at shows.

I’ve also written previously about breeds as genetic pools and this is a way of thinking that is particularly relevant for someone who wants to be considered as a preservation breeder. Bloodlines and varieties within a breed may be useful additional sources of genetic diversity. Bloodlines are usually linked to a particular breeder or kennel and may be historically distinct or exhibit a distinct type within an overall breed. The risk, of course, is that certain bloodlines become “flavour of the month”, maybe as a result of show success and this can lead to the genetically unhelpful strategy of breeders flocking to use a so-called Popular Sire. The genetic diversity of a breed then becomes swamped by a particular bloodline and little or nothing of other bloodlines may survive.

Preservation in other species

In my research for this article, I read one of Carol Beuchat’s blog posts where she described preservation and conservation programmes in other species. Notably, she said that there are preservation programmes for every species of domestic animal except dogs. She asked how many breeds of dogs are sliding down the slope towards extinction as a result of small population size, inbreeding and genetic disease? She concluded that we don’t really know but also noted that there are many breeds for which their original purpose no longer exists but they may simply remain as pets and companions. Carol said “we haven’t been thinking about them as having “genetic value”, as a resource that we should be managing and protecting like other natural resources”. To do this, we will need thousands of preservation breeders; it’s a task that goes far beyond the current scale of show breeders and breed clubs. The main task for preservation breeders, therefore, is genetic management and they will need to take a long-term view of what’s best for their breed. There may even be an argument for using the term conservation breeders and drawing on the many lessons we can learn from programmes in other species.

In another blog post, Carol says: “If we start with a population of healthy dogs and want to keep them that way, there’s one critical thing we need to do – make sure every single one of the “dog” genes – the ones necessary to build a healthy dog – is passed on to dogs in the next generation, generation after generation after generation. ​​Fiddle with the genes for type all you want, but you have to protect that original collection of “dog” genes that are necessary for building dogs that are healthy and fit to do what they were bred for”.

So, if you want to be a Preservation Breeder, it’s clear that preserving the status quo is the wrong mindset. Your focus must be on preserving type, health and temperament by clever population management. We can take advantage of genes from other sub-populations such as working dogs that could contribute to show populations (and vice versa), or by importing non-UK dogs, or by looking at genetic diversity that could come from different varieties of the same breed.


Protect the genes you have, and replace the ones that are lost, and you can breed healthy dogs forever.” – Carol Beuchat

Dog health needs a decision-making revolution

The recent furore about the Dutch government’s legislation affecting 12 brachycephalic breeds has seen yet more polarisation of views on both the definition of the problem and the potential solutions. In summary, the legislation uses a single measurement; the craniofacial ratio to specify which dogs can be bred from. Consequently, the Dutch KC has said it will no longer issue full pedigrees for puppies from those breeds that don’t meet the criterion for the length of nose to skull.

The resulting conversations from interested parties have, perhaps, generated more heat than light. Meanwhile, in a parallel Covid19 universe, we have been told regularly that our government is “following the science”. The question I want to consider in this month’s article is “how can evidence be used more effectively to support decision-making for breed health improvement?”.

We know, from years of observation, that there are many problems with the way evidence is used (or abused). Policy-makers in government often talk about evidence-based policy but the reality is that politicians often simply want to be seen to do something. The result is (usually) flawed policies and ineffective legislation, often with unanticipated consequences that actually make things worse. We also know that, in some breeds, people have cherry-picked data from research studies either to support their own case or to try to undermine other people’s arguments. Scientists value sound methodologies and are trained to develop well-designed studies and to look for robust evidence. Readers of their studies may not have that expertise and, to be fair, many researchers make little effort to make their results accessible for the lay reader.

Since we’re unlikely to develop more dog people with scientific training (in the short-term), we clearly need some other options to enable us all to have better, evidence-based, conversations about the problems and solutions. 

Horizon scanning

Breed clubs often work reactively and get caught out when new studies are published or sensational stories appear in the media. In contrast, researchers regularly do “horizon scanning” to identify emerging issues. This might be as simple as a literature search for papers published in a particular area of interest. This probably isn’t a very practical option for breed clubs but it’s certainly something that Breed Health Coordinators do. In our BHC Facebook Group, we share newly published papers, regularly. These may cover breed-specific health conditions, general canine topics such as husbandry, behaviour and temperament, and genetics. The Kennel Club is also helping breeds to do this horizon scanning with the development of Breed Health and Conservation Plans, each of which includes an extensive literature survey of papers relevant to a breed.

Diverse perspectives

If decision-makers restrict themselves to their historical range of responses to a problem, they may overlook better options. We see this all too frequently in canine health projects; an assumption that yet more “education” or a “better website” will make a difference and change people’s behaviours. Campaigners can fall into this trap as well, with an assumption that “more legislation” or “bans” will solve a long-standing problem. We know from human behaviour change research that solutions based on compliance or punishment are far less likely to have the desired effect than incentive-based and positive-reinforcement options. We also know that successful behaviour change in areas like obesity and smoking often requires 10 or more, different interventions (single, simple interventions just don’t work).

So, in breed health improvement we do need to listen to a range of perspectives on the problem (and ways of solving the problem) because we know that diversity of thinking helps to generate new ideas for solutions. I probably shouldn’t mention Dominic Cummings but there is something to be said for his call for more “assorted weirdos” to be recruited! He was talking about the civil service; maybe we need the same on our breed club committees.

Ready access to data

It’s often hard for breed clubs and BHCs to get hold of research papers and published evidence in a timely way, to inform their decision-making. Finding and storing relevant papers is much easier these days with the various online tools that are available. You can set up a Google Scholar search for any papers containing keywords (e.g. “canine”, “genetic diversity”, “Dachshund”) and you will get regular notifications with links to the papers. Free tools such as Microsoft OneNote or Evernote are then great for storing, indexing and retrieving the papers of interest to you. Increasingly, BHCs are summarising key messages for their breed club members, buyers and owners in the form of infographics using free tools like Canva.

Not all “evidence” is created equal

I have written previously about the Trust Triangle which describes the different types of information you might come across and the levels of trust that can be associated with each. At the bottom of the Trust Triangle are non-experts with opinions. Facebook and social media are awash with these! Journalists and experts with a commercial interest also fall into this category. Next comes expert opinion; these are people who are widely acknowledged to be experts in their field. Many of them will know an awful lot about a very narrow field of science. They too come with their biases and personal agendas but, mostly, they will have years of experience and scientific data to back up their opinions. Moving up the Trust Triangle, we find primary scientific research. This is made public via “papers”, the best of which will be peer-reviewed, rigorous, well-reported and independent. At the pinnacle of trustworthy published scientific research are papers that present systematic reviews of multiple other studies. These publications dissect and critique a set of primary research papers in order to arrive at “the best evidence” to support a particular case (or to disprove it).

We all need to get better at understanding the quality of evidence presented to us, including issues such as bias, chance and risk. We have seen over the past few months that many people are completely hopeless at understanding risk. We see it in canine health screening too; people may not understand what a screening grade means in relation to a decision to breed or not, and the risk of producing “affected” puppies.

A final part of the revolution we need in breed health improvement is to make more use of collaborative group decision-making processes. Different groups lobbing data, opinions and solutions over the fence really isn’t conducive to transparency or consensus-reaching.

Returning to my opening comments about the brachycephalic issue, in 2016 I wrote one of these articles where I said “Overall, the good news is the problem is moving into solution mode” with the formation of the Brachycephalic Working Group. In 2020, we’ve got more than enough data; we still need more improvement.

You can’t change the bricks, and together, you still have to build a wall.

Chris Hadfield, Astronaut