I recently read an article on transgenerational epigenetic inheritance. Basically, scientists are discovering that life experiences can alter eggs and sperm, and that the resulting changes can be passed down through the generations.
Functionally, this means that the things that happen to you can change the genes of your great-great-grandchildren because an alteration in a parent’s genes can result in organ abnormalities, diseases like diabetes, and structural changes for thirteen generations, and maybe more.
So what does this have to do with our dogs?
Well, I recently watched Pedigree Dogs Exposed, and read SOS Dog, both of which are critical of modern breeding practices. While I don’t agree with everything presented in either source, it gave me a lot to think about, especially when it comes to line-breeding and exaggerated physical traits (and my favored breed- the Cardigan Welsh Corgi- does seem to be especially affected by the latter). Still, I figured that I’d be safe so long as I chose a breeder who has done the requisite health testing, and who bred for a more moderate dog.
The information on epigenetics, though, made me pause. If anything from food (or the lack of it) to chemical exposure can have serious consequences on many generations of puppies… well, how do you ever find a healthy, sane dog? Long-time readers will sympathize with my quest- after all, Maisy sort of lost the genetic lottery. Not only is she emotionally unstable, but she also has twenty different allergies and chronic back problems.
Thankfully, scientists have discovered that good experiences can be passed on, too. This fascinating study found that temporary environmental enrichment in pre-adolescent mice could not only overcome their genetically defective memories, but that the result was also passed on to their babies.
Which brings us back to what Ian Dunbar said at the seminar I attended: we can't waste puppyhood, something that starts with choosing a breeder who is diligent about socializing their puppies. More than that, we need to choose breeders whose dogs come from a long line of well-socialized dogs.
Although it's probably impossible to find the perfect breeder, it's no doubt worth the effort to be picky. At the very least, for those who buy instead of adopt, there's a lot to think about.