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The Canine Diversity Project

The Canine Diversity Project is an attempt to acquaint breeders of domesticated Canidae (dogs) with the dangers of inbreeding and the overuse of pre-eminent males. Both lead to the indiscriminate loss of genetic diversity and increase the frequency of genetic problems in the population. These abuses have not been restricted to dogs, but have also occurred in horses, cattle and many other domestic animals, largely as a consequence of outdated beliefs dating back to the early days of genetics. Even their wild cousins have been the unfortunate victims of genetic malpractice by zoos. Fortunately, zoo biologists have recognized the dangers to these and many other species, and Species Survival Plans have been developed for many (see also "Miracle Babies", Life Magazine, March 1997).

Though, as a species, Canis familiaris is not endangered, a number of breeds are in as much danger of extinction as some of their wild cousins. If different varieties of wolves are worthy of preservation, are not the different breeds of domestic dogs equally worthy?

Starting with wolves, and perhaps other related canids, man shaped the dog to his own ends. For several thousand years they have been our companions, helpers and guardians. A dog, treated with a little kindness, will be your friend for life. How do we reward them? By condemning many to a life of pain or an early death due to various inherited diseases. Do we not owe them more than this?

How You Can Help

Become informed
  • on basic genetic principles and good breeding practice
  • on the major genetic diseases in your breed
  • on the attitude of your Breed Club or Association
Support genetic research
Spread the word about this site
Ask the Question - Do you need a "Breed Survival Plan"?

If you would like more information, or to be placed on our mailing list, contact:

Dr. John B. Armstrong
The Diversity Project
Department of Biology
University of Ottawa
Ottawa, ON K1N 6N5, Canada


Canine Cousins

A. Some Endangered Canids

African Wild Dog Dhole (Asiatic Wild Dog)
Mexican Gray Wolf Red Wolf
Maned Wolf   The Ethiopian Wolf  

B. Reintroduction Projects

C. Other Endangered Species

Canis familiaris

A. Selected Breeds

Note: The breeds listed here should not be regarded as having more or fewer problems with genetic diversity or disease than those not listed. Those familiar with other breeds are invited to submit appropriate links.

Afghan Border Collie
Doberman Golden Retriever
Lhasa Apso Corgi (Pembroke)
Portuguese Water Dog Poodle
Saluki Tibetan KyiApso
Tibetan Mastiff Wire-Haired Pointing Griffon

B. Breeding Issues


A. Articles on genetics and breeding

by Dr. John Armstrong

by Dr. Catherine Marley

Other recommended reading

B. Dealing with genetic disease


Pedigree Analysis

Before any effective action can be taken to reduce or eliminate a genetic disease, its mode of inheritance must be determined (i.e. Is more than one gene involved? Is it dominant or recessive?). This is usually accomplished through the analysis of the pedigrees of affected dogs.

In "Genetic Research Strategies: The Example of Canine Epilepsy", Dr. Barbara Licht and her colleagues discuss the role of breeders and owners in canine genetic research, and the importance of having data not only on affected dogs, but also on relatives and unrelated animals.

In an accompanying article, "Pedigree Analysis: Bloat in the Standard Poodle", John Armstrong illustrates the difficulties that may be encountered in working with a partial data set.

Test mating

Though breeders would, understandably, prefer not to breed affected dogs, deliberate test matings are sometimes the only way to clarify ambiguous data. One of the most thorough series of test matings done for such a purpose was that of Rubin, Bourns and Lord for dayblindness in the Alaskan Malamute.

Because of the time and expense, test matings have not generally been used for routine testing. Nevertheless, for a time, the English Kennel Club adopted a policy that allowed registration of Irish Setters only if they had produced at least six normal and no affected pups in a mating with a known PRA-affected animal (Willis, "Genetics of the Dog", p.223). This should have detected 98-99% of the carriers (Willis, p. 356) and was effective in reducing the incidence of PRA.

Direct tests

Now, a direct DNA test is available for PRA in Irish Setters and for a few other genetic diseases. In "Genetic Testing: A Guide for Breeders", Dr. Mary Whiteley describes the basic principles of these tests.

Though only a few such tests have been developed, research is progressing on many more. In cases where the mutant allele has reached high frequencies in the population, wholesale elimination of heterozygous carriers could have disastrous consequences for genetic diversity. For example, in the Doberman, the combined incidence of carriers and affected animals is about 80%. The article by Dr. George Brewer, "DNA Studies in Doberman von Willebrand's Disease", should be read by all.

DNA Tests Currently Available

11014 Schuylkill Rd.
Rockville, MD 20852

Progressive retinal atrophy (PRA) Irish Setter $35

3728 Plaza Drive Suite One
Ann Arbor, MI 48108
Phone: (800) 483-8436; Fax: 313-669-8441

Progressive retinal atrophy (PRA) Irish Setter $135
von Willebrand's Disease (vWD) Doberman 135
  Manchester Terrier 135
  Scottish Terrier 135
  Shetland Sheepdog 135
Phosphofructokinase (pfk) deficiency American Cocker Spaniel 75
  English Springer Spaniel 75
Pyruvate kinase deficiency Basenji 135
Copper toxicosis* Bedlington Terrier 50

* linkage test

Research in Progress

Diversity in the Standard Poodle (University of Ottawa)

The Dog Genome Project (University of California, Berkeley)

VetGen's Canine Research

We endorse the efforts of The Elizabeth Campbell Memorial Canine Research and Education Institute to promote the health, welfare and future of purebred dogs through research and education.

The Institute's objectives include:

Contributions can be sent to:

The Elizabeth Campbell Institute
P.O. Box 336, Bonita CA 91908, USA

Donations are tax deductible.

Index to documents at this site

File Description Size*
assort.html Assortative mating 7.7kb
assort2.html Are we breeding pedigrees instead of dogs? (Marley) 7.1
bart.html Wycliffe history - pedigree of Executive and Command Performance 10
bourns.html Bourns' test litters for dayblindness in the Malamute 5.7
bragg.html Jeffrey Bragg's article on the problems with dog breeding 119
central.html Wycliffe history - central line 22
dassin.html Wycliffe history - the Dassin kennel 5.2
diverse.html This document 21
dnatest.html A guide to genetic testing (Whiteley) 10
epilepsy.html The Poodle Epilepsy Project (Licht, Licht & Harper) 17
extend.html Wycliffe history - related kennels in the Northwest 11
gendis.html The nature of genetic disease 10
inbreed.html How to get a good poodle and avoid inbreeding 10
load.html Genetic load 2.3
michael.html Wycliffe history - pedigree of central line 1.4
pdlcolor.html The genetics of poodle color 14
pedigree.html Determining the mode of inheritance from a pedigree 4.6
popgen.html The value of population genetics to the breeder 7.0
primer.html Basic genetics for breeders 31
standard.html Outline of my research on the Standard poodle 12
truffle.html Parti-colored poodles 1.7
wycliffe.html Wycliffe kennel history (poodle) - contents 1.6

* size does not include related graphics

All articles on this site may be reproduced freely as long as they are not altered and proper credit is given as to the source. (This does not apply to linked articles on other sites.) If in doubt, e-mail

This information was last updated on December 24, 1997

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