An international approach to breed health improvement

This year, the International Partnership for Dogs will be holding its 4th workshop. Our Kennel Club is hosting the event which will take place from 30th May to 1st June, near Windsor. The Kennel Club was a founding partner of the IPFD since its inception in 2014 and hosted the first ever meeting of the IPFD Board that same year. Kennel Club Secretary, Caroline Kisko, is the Vice Chairman of the IPFD and our KC also provides the secretariat for board meetings.

A major goal of the International Dog Health Workshops (IDHW) is to promote collaboration and networking. This begins with the reception on the Thursday evening and continues throughout the next 2 days. All attendees are expected to share expertise/experiences and to participate actively in discussions in breakout sessions.

I attended the 3rd IDHW in Paris in 2017 and was privileged to be invited to make a short presentation on our work in the Dachshund Breed Council to develop and implement a breed health strategy. I also took part in the breed-specific health strategies workshop and this year I have been asked to help with the design and facilitation of that part of the programme.

As with previous IDHWs, the majority of time is spent in interaction: limited plenary talks have been chosen to highlight Themes; most time is spent in smaller group breakout sessions.

There are 5 main themes being tackled this year:

1)   The concept of ‘Breed’ and how it influences health and welfare in dogs. How attitudes to the definition and understanding of breed affect actions for health; the history and future of outcrossing; public perception; conservation vs. development of breeds; the role/ influences of breed standards; judging for health/function not just appearance; experience in other species.

2)   Supply and Demand. The reality of sourcing – national vs. registered/pedigree populations; commercial breeding: the reality; new developments in health and welfare management; ‘rescues’ / marketing; the role of different stakeholders.

3)   Breed-Specific Health Strategies: By breed, nationally and internationally. Defining and sharing tools to support the work of breed clubs.

4)   Genetic Testing for Dogs: Selection, evaluation and application of genetic testing: building expert resources for genetic counselling / IPFD Harmonization of Genetic Testing for Dogs (HGTD) initiative; coordinating across stakeholder groups; latest developments in genetics and genomics.

5)   Exaggerations and Extremes in Dog Conformation:

a)   Health, welfare and breeding considerations; review of national and international efforts, on all fronts (consumers, show world, breeders, judges, vets, etc) since 2012 – what has been achieved?; brachycephalics; other existing and emerging issues; overcoming polarization and conflict, resolving science and emotion.

b)   Education and Communication – Past practices may not have achieved desired outcomes. What are tools and techniques to promote human behaviour change? What can we learn from other fields?

“In God we trust, everyone else must bring data” – Dr. Edwards Deming

In 2017, one of the themes was “Show me the numbers” and some people might wonder why this has been dropped for 2019. It was obvious from the discussions within that theme in 2017 that it was actually cross-cutting, meaning it was a key aspect running through all the other themes. So, we can take it as read that improvement in any of the themes on the 2019 agenda will have to be underpinned by the availability of good data and evidence.

The format of this year’s workshop is slightly different from 2017; there are 4 interactive plenary sessions taking up a large part of the agenda on 31st May. These include short presentations by renowned experts from around the world. Nick Blaney, who heads up our KC’s Dog Health Group is among the speakers.

All change please!

I’ll be particularly interested to hear the presentation by Suzanne Rogers who is a Director of a consultancy: Human Behaviour Change for Animals (HBCA). I’m pleased to see she will be speaking about communication to promote change. When I spoke in 2017, I started by saying that dog health improvement was not a scientific, veterinary or genetic problem. My view was (and still is) that dog health improvement is a continuous improvement and change management problem. It is something we have to work on continuously and we can expect to see incremental improvement (rather than step-change) only if people behave differently. By “people”, I mean owners, breeders, exhibitors, judges, vets and everyone who directly impacts on the dog system. That is why it’s a change management issue. It’s also no good each of those groups acting independently in their own silos without thinking about how they could be collaborating with others in the system. The Brachycephalic Working Group is one example where a multi-stakeholder approach has been taken in order to produce a plan that has a broad consensus of support. We’ve seen too many campaigns by individuals and groups that simply alienate the people who have the potential to make improvements happen. That is still happening and it feels like lessons aren’t being learnt. I therefore hope Suzanne will be able to bring some new thinking to this year’s workshop. The HBCA website lists 4 pillars for change: the process of change; the psychology of change; the environment for change; and ownership of change. The importance of these has, in my opinion, not been sufficiently well recognised, understood or addressed in many breed health improvement efforts.  

Breed-specific health strategies

At the 3rd IDHW, participants in this theme agreed that effective and sustainable implementation of health strategies requires innovative solutions to many different challenges. Provision of sufficient reliable information was agreed as critical, for both situational assessment as well as health screening and DNA testing of dogs. Considering the design of breed health strategies, the group agreed that it was important to identify and balance the major issues for each individual breed and give guidelines on how priorities could be determined for each, while still allowing breeders discretion to make their own decisions within an overall framework of requirements and recommendations.

The general conclusion was that there is no “one size fits all” solution for developing breed-specific health strategies and that the most effective interventions would need to be adapted according to the specific context of each breed, nationally and internationally.

This year, the activities for this theme will include:

  • Clarifying what we mean by a breed health strategy, by reference to currently available examples
  • Understanding the challenges facing breed clubs, such as how to get started with a breed strategy, how to maintain momentum and how to accelerate progress
  • The role of Kennel Clubs in the wider context (national and international), such as advocating for breeds, influencing legislation and providing resources for clubs and breeders
  • Identifying and sharing currently available resources and tools to address these issues
  • Identifying gaps in current capabilities (approaches, resources, tools) and how these might be addressed

It’s a lot of ground to cover in the 3 working sessions but, if 2017 is anything to go by, participants will bring a high level of knowledge and energy and leave with a clear sense of the priorities and tasks to be undertaken over the next 2 years.

You can find out more about IDHW4 here:

International collaboration on dog health – part 2

Previously, I wrote about the Breed-specific Health Strategies workstream that I participated in at the third International Dog Health Workshop. This month, I’m sharing some of the discussions from the other workstreams.

Show me the numbers

This group emphasised the importance of asking “why collect this data?” so that it would be clear how the answers could actually make a difference. Picking up on breed trends and eco-epidemiology (recycling of datasets) could also increase the speed at which improvements could actually be realised. Some of the issues flagged by this group included:

  • the need to prioritise data requirements
  • the importance of a unique ID for every dog
  • the potential value of national registration systems to include non-pedigree dogs, although there are clearly cultural issues affecting compliance levels

The group felt that one of the biggest scandals is not mining the available data and they agreed to work together to catalogue data resources within their network and to coordinate objectives across multiple studies (e.g. breed and disorder). They would aim to publish whatever is possible and look to promote fair-access collaboration internationally and inter-disciplinarily. could act as a dating agency, matching research questions with data owners and analysts. There is always a risk of balancing steering vs. funding; those who fund projects may want particular answers.

The lack of a standard nomenclature hampers collaboration, with various systems already in place (e.g. VeNom, SnoMed, Petscan, Agria). However, there is the potential to establish “jigsaw projects” with linked databases.

It is always important to understand the uses and limitations of data and to be clear about what analytical methods are appropriate. Ultimately, data should be used to enable change and improvement; the focus should be on dissemination, not just on research.

Extremes in conformation

This workstream focused on brachycephalics and everyone agreed this is the most severe and significant problem related to extremes of conformation in dogs.

However, there is still a need to gather accurate data to quantify the issues in dogs from different sources: KC-registered dogs vs. puppy-farmed dogs. Whatever the source, increasing popularity means more dogs are suffering, even though the evidence suggests many owners don’t realise this. Often, owners see the symptoms as “normal for the breed” (or worse, as “cute”).

Buyers need more information in order to make informed choices; vets have a key role to play here in educating their clients and have to work more closely with Kennel Clubs on this.

Campaigns such as CRUFFA have been instrumental in flagging the issues of flat-faced dogs to advertisers and the media. This awareness-raising needs to continue as it has the potential to reverse (or, at least slow) the trend in popularity of these at-risk breeds.

Overall, an aim to move the mean “health score” so that the population improves is a valid goal and there are options to consider, such as the breeding of new, less extreme, brachy types (retro-pugs) or even cross-breeding. All of this does require a suitable way to measure progress, of course!

The team focused on Brachycephalics and confirmed an action to revisit FCI Breed Standards to clarify wording and to ensure breed-specific instructions are available for 4 priority breeds. They also agreed sub-groups to exchange data, research and implementation. The latter included media communications and effective ways to change buyer/owner/breeder behaviours.

Education and Communication

This workstream took as its particular focus the issue of antimicrobial resistance (AMR) related to the over-prescription of antibiotics. They agreed the establishment of an AMR network would be valuable, together with the development of global guidelines for vets and breeders, based on data to support the utility and achievement of particular approaches.

More “stories” about the dangers of overuse of antibiotics are needed, to counter the numerous anecdotes about the importance of prescribing them (e.g. to get bitches in whelp).

As with many such programmes, the challenges are cash, data, geography, politics and buy-in.

DNA test harmonisation

There are currently no Quality Assurance processes in place for DNA tests. (Almost) anyone can set up a lab and offer DNA testing. The IPFD harmonisation project will establish a framework to validate providers and tests, and in Phase 2 will develop support around genetic counselling.

A web-based resource is under development and will be available via This project is already well underway with IPFD having appointed a project director (Aimee Llewellyn) and building an early proof of concept on the dogwellnet website. Evaluation of the range of available tests using a template of questions will be a priority and further funding to ensure sustainability of the system will also be important, given the rapid rate of change and development in the genetic testing field.

Behaviour and welfare

This workstream stated that “socialisation” was a subset of “welfare” and started in utero. They felt there was a need for positive messages and these could be a way to add value to the sale of well-bred dogs. The 5 Freedoms would be a logical framework upon which to base these marketing messages.

The group confirmed the need for more positive messaging to the general public regarding pedigree dogs and breeding of dogs. Their action plan included identifying currently available messaging on the importance of socialisation and to develop any new resources that might be needed to fill any gaps. In the longer term, they felt it may be necessary to conduct further research into what might be needed to ensure breeders and owners are aware of effective approaches during pregnancy and early weeks of a puppy’s life.

Kennel Clubs could include socialisation as part of their breeding requirements, where they have schemes in place. As with several of the other workstreams, a lack of data and funding were identified as key barriers. In addition, a challenge here is how to reach all the puppy producers, particularly if they lie outside the sphere of influence of Kennel Clubs.

The workshop wrapped-up with thanks to the organisers, hosts and facilitators as well as all the participants who had collaborated over the 2 days.

I really enjoyed the workshop and picked up new ideas to share with Dachshund colleagues and other Breed Health Coordinators. I didn’t really know what to expect as this was the first IDH Workshop I have attended but I made some useful contacts and have a better understanding of what the challenges are around the world as well as some of the good practices that are already available “off the shelf”.













3rd International Dog Health Workshop – reflections on breed health strategy development


It would be very easy to view this event run by the International Partnership for Dogs as a talking shop for those of us actively involved in breed health improvement work. I’ve not attended the previous two events, so have nothing to compare it with but, overall, it was an impressive example of international and inter-disciplinary collaboration.

By inter-disciplinary I mean not just geneticists, vets and epidemiologists, but also breeders, owners and campaigners. Clearly, they are never all going to see eye to eye but this event majors on collaboration, with clear messages about what actions can be taken, even if it is by sub-groups of interested parties.

Whenever you get dog people in a room, they inevitably want to talk about their breed and their specific issues. They are passionate about their breed and really want to find practical ways to improve things. That’s something of a challenge in this type of workshop because it can probably never deal with specifics like one breed and one health condition. The real value is bringing these knowledgeable people together to share what works and to generate some energy to create new resources for others to use.

I had the privilege of making one of the plenary presentations and that was a nerve-wracking experience in front of an audience such as this. There were representatives of 17 Kennel Clubs, the FCI and world-renowned scientists as well as laypeople who “just” own dogs. Judging by the feedback, my session went down well. Quite how I was supposed to encapsulate the work our Dachshund Breed Council team has done in less than 15 minutes I don’t know. Nevertheless, I was able to give a flavour of our approach which combines everyone’s passion for the breed with some good data and some basic change management principles that I bring from my day-job as a management consultant. I am sure many of them found me something of an oddity; talking about my enthusiasm for data combined with ideas on how to enthuse people on health projects and change behaviours.

The main work at the event was done in 6 breakout groups, each of which had its own theme and a team of facilitators to help guide and shape the discussions. I worked in the “Breed-specific health strategies” team which came up with some practical actions that should create a series of resources for breed clubs and kennel clubs around the world.

What was fascinating to me, but probably shouldn’t have been surprising, was the impact of national cultures on which approaches will or will not work. For example, the Nordic countries are well advanced in developing Breed-specific strategies and have a culture where they can achieve high levels of regulation of, and compliance from, breeders. Others, like the Benelux and Southern European nations, would risk driving breeders away from their Kennel Club sphere of influence if they were as prescriptive. All this does, however, lead us to the definition of an interesting range of approaches and some understanding of where they might be useful and effective.

What I hope will emerge from this working group is five things:

  • a framework for defining the starting point for an individual breed (e.g. the characteristics that define the issues facing Cavaliers and how they differ from those affecting Bernese Mountain Dogs).
  • a set of templates for breed data collection, covering health, welfare, temperament and conformation. There is a model for this already available via the AKC and we also have a health surveys toolkit available in the UK.
  • a framework for summarising the range of options available to address health issues, together with some understanding of where and when each might be appropriate. This is needed to help give people practical solutions, but also to enable them to see why some may not work or what the unintended consequences might be. At the moment, it’s very easy for people to leap to solutions like “change the Breed Standard” or “do an outcross mating” without having defined the problem adequately.
  • a set of implementation guidelines and case studies which address some of the behavioural change issues many breeds currently face. These need to cover aspects such as education, communication, “nudging behaviour”, recognition and enforcement.
  • finally, some example templates for summarising Breed Improvement Strategies. The Swedish RAS framework is well-proven and, again, our KC has its Breed Health Improvement Strategy Guide.

If we can put all this together, it will be an amazing resource for people to use. We need tools that are practical and which don’t require years of delay while more data is collected or more research is conducted. That’s not to say these won’t be necessary in some cases, but, for many breeds, they need well-thought through actions, sooner, rather than later.

My definition of a “strategy” is an action plan with a rationale; this set of resources might just help accelerate the creation and importantly, the implementation, of strategies that benefit the dogs.

I have blogged separately throughout the weekend about what happened at the workshop and the plans developed in each of the 6 workstreams. Time will tell if the energy visible in Paris actually turns into actions.

Brenda Bonnett, CEO of IPFD did a fantastic job of designing this workshop and the French Kennel Club team brought it to life with a real passion. The next International Dog Health Workshop will take place in the UK in 2019. Paris will be a hard act to follow!











The 3rd IPFD Dog Health Workshop begins in Paris today 

IPFD DHW3The third International Dog Health Workshop takes place in Paris from 21st to 23rd April 2017. It is being organised by the International Partnership for Dogs, of which our Kennel Club is a founding and sponsoring member and Caroline Kisko is Vice-chair of its Board. I am honoured to have been invited to give one of the plenary presentations on the work we have done in the Dachshund Breed Council on our breed health strategy.

The IPFD’s mission is to facilitate collaboration and sharing of resources to enhance the health and wellbeing of pedigreed dogs and all dogs, worldwide. It has a website:, which is an information hub and provides a wealth of resources as well as blogs on current hot topics. This brings together breeders, vets, scientists and others in an online community of interest.The first international workshop was held in Sweden in 2012 and the second one in Germany in 2015, where there were participants from around 20 countries. This year’s workshop looks like being equally well represented, with 137 participants from 24 countries.

The themes for this year’s workshop are:

  • Breed-Specific Health Strategies: Needs and opportunities; innovations, nationally and internationally.
  • Exaggerations And Extremes In Dog Conformation: Health, welfare and breeding considerations; national and international efforts.
  • Education and Communication: How can international collaboration improve education and communication within and across stakeholder groups (especially between veterinarians and breeders); using the example of antimicrobial resistance.
  • Behaviour and Welfare: How can we better integrate actions to address issues in welfare, behaviour and health in breeding and raising dogs?
  • IPFD Harmonization of Genetic Testing for Dogs: An international, multi-stakeholder initiative to address selection, evaluation and application of genetic testing.
  • Show Me The Numbers: Integrating information from various sources for prevalence, risks and other population-level information; the latest national and international strategies to collect data and disseminate information.

These workshops are preceded by a series of short plenary presentations, designed to set the scene for the following practical sessions. I’ll be sharing the platform with three other speakers whose names will be familiar to most UK readers: Aimee Llewellyn (formerly with the KC and who now works with IPFD), Rowena Packer (from the Royal Veterinary College and well-known for her work on Brachycephalics and Dachshunds) and Paula Boyden (Veterinary Director of Dogs Trust).

While you might expect me to gravitate towards the “Show me the numbers” workshop, I’m actually participating in the Breed-specific health strategies one. The challenge for my presentation is how to condense the key points from over 20 years’ work on Dachshund health into less than 15 minutes!

Breed Health Strategy

Our Breed Health Improvement Strategy is much broader than simply focusing on health conditions that affect Dachshunds. It is based on a model developed by the Kennel Club in its guide for Breed Health Coordinators. It comprises our approach to:

  • Leadership
  • Planning
  • Engagement
  • Improvement

I’m using those four points to give people a flavour of the wide range of activities we cover in our strategy. Our Breed Council represents the interests of sixteen UK Dachshund Breed Clubs and has appointed a Health Sub-committee, chaired by a Vet plus 9 others, to develop policies and coordinate plans for breed health improvement. 3 of our members are Pet Advisors from outside the show community.

The Breed Council reviews and prioritises health and welfare issues which it considers to be of significance to the breed. Current priorities can be found on our health website ( and in our DachsFacts information leaflets. We currently have a Top 3 priorities, plus a Watch List of other conditions.

We collect breed health data regularly to help us plan and prioritise our work. DachsLife 2015 was our second major Breed Survey and its focus was on understanding the lifestyle factors that might influence the risk of back disease (IVDD). The response rate (over 2000 dogs) exceeded our expectations and enabled us to identify some useful and surprising insights into the health of the breed. This was also followed up with a peer-reviewed paper which was published in 2016 which I co-authored with researchers from the RVC, including Rowena. We also have an ongoing on-line Health Survey (since 2009) which continues to provide a source of useful data on Dachshund health issues from more than 500 dogs.

For many of the conditions that we need to address, we seek specialist advice from outside the Breed Council and Clubs. We, therefore, work in partnership with specialists from the Animal Health Trust, RVC, Kennel Club and others, as necessary.
We have three key groups of people with whom we must communicate and engage effectively:

  • Breed Club members (who have agreed to abide by our Code of Ethics)
  • Breeders who are not members of Breed Clubs (probably about 80% of the UK’s Dachshund breeders)
  • Owners and potential owners of Dachshunds (an important group for our Pet Advisors to reach)

We continue to develop our approach to communications, particularly the use of on-line groups and social media. Facebook is a major communication channel for us and our Pet Advisors spend a lot of their time helping potential owners and existing owners in the many regional Dachshund groups.

None of our efforts in Leadership, Planning and Communication matter if we don’t actually achieve real health improvements that benefit the breed. We measure the impacts of our efforts in each of our priority health conditions and others that are on our Watch List. We’ve made fantastic progress on reducing the risks of cord1 PRA in all three miniature varieties and Lafora Disease in Mini Wires. Our major challenge remains in reducing the incidence of back disease; hence the introduction of an X-ray screening programme last November which is well-proven in the Nordic countries.

Networking, sharing and learning

In addition to my presentation, I’ve created a large poster which is a montage of many of the things we’ve done in the four key strategy areas. My biggest challenge was what to leave out! Some of our information and resources have already been shared on the Dogwellnet website.

Given the diversity of participants, I expect one of the benefits for many attendees will be building new or enhanced relationships across the various groups of vets, researchers, breeders, Kennel Clubs and others.

The practical sessions on each of the workshop’s six themes aim to provide some focus and prioritisation of actions needed to support breeding, health and welfare. They are intended to stimulate and accelerate activities after the workshop, so it will be interesting to see what we come out with and who signs-up to take on leadership roles in these important areas.

I’ll be on the lookout for tools and ideas being used elsewhere in the world which we can pick up and adapt to benefit our breed. I’m really looking forward to learning lots of new things to be able to share with my Dachshund colleagues and other Breed Health Coordinator friends (and anyone else who is interested).

No doubt I’ll be reporting back in a future blog post. I’ll probably also be tweeting updates during the workshop, so please follow me @sunsongian.


Looking forward to the 2nd Dog Health Workshop – Dortmund 2015

Dog-ED’s Philippa Robinson will be among the 100 plus delegates attending the second Dog Health Workshop being held in Dortmund this weekend.  We were delighted to be invited to be asked to prepare a poster to display at the workshop (image below).

Dortmund_PosterIt is increasingly clear that many aspects of the dog world, in general, and dog breeding in particular take place on an international level. It is also very clear that cooperation and collaboration across the many and diverse individuals and groups who are stakeholders in the health, well-being and welfare of dogs are needed to effectively and efficiently address these issues. The International Dog Health Workshops (IDHW) provide an opportunity for exchange of experiences and views across a wide array of stakeholder groups. The overall aim is to boost the collaborative actions needed to support sustainable breeding of healthy dogs. One key need that was identified at the 1st IDHW was a platform to support international collaboration and that has come to fruition in The International Partnership for Dogs (IPFD) and being presented in Dortmund.