Sunday, January 30, 2011

Your Puppy's Parents- and Their Experiences- Matter

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.


andrea said...

as someone whose dogs choose her not the other way round I can't see the application to my own life but it does add fuel to the consider the dog you bring home as carefully as you can eh?

Sam said...

This is such an interesting thing to me, and all the more reason why I will only buy from breeders who do things with their dogs (be it work, performance, etc - titles on both end of the name are generally the best), and have programs for enriching their puppies' lives from an early age.

And, on the flipside, it gives me a lot to think about in terms of having a fearful dog. I often wonder how much of Marge's fear can be attributed to some sort of genetic inheritance and how much is due to poor socialization.

Ettel, Charlie Poodle, and Emma Pitty said...

This is exactly what scares me away from the thought of ever buying a puppy (in addition to all the other great parts about adopting - saving a life, etc.). I just don't think I'd ever be able to decide on a breed, first of all, and then to find the "perfect" breeder - I'd be old and grey (I think) before I'd be happy with anyone. There is just SUCH a plethora of criteria, I can't imagine that anyone could really fulfill them all to the extent that I want, though I'd love for it to be possible.

Crystal said...

I agree that it's fascinating. It certainly makes a case against puppy mill or kennel-raised dogs- even if the parents are in perfect health, their (lack of) experiences will affect the puppy!

I also think this makes getting a puppy (whether bought or adopted) overwhelming- you just don't know what you're going to get. At least with an adult, you have a much better picture of the temperament and personality.

Kristine said...

This does make the whole thing even more overwhelming than I thought. There is already so much to take into account, research for, and investigate, this just adds another layer of concerns. While I know there are many wonderful, amazing breeders out there, finding them and trusting them is another matter.

I agree with Sam who said she will only buy a puppy from a breeder who is very active with their dogs. I find breeders who participate in breed-related events and sports, such as hunting or herding trials, tend to give their puppies a great start in such an environment, which can only help.

One can never be too careful, I suppose.