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Breeding question- mixing or sorting of traits?

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Have been pondering the heritability of different traits desirable in a working dog- say you have a dog that is lacking confidence but is very talented otherwise. Obviously, you'd like to find a match that is perhaps a very confident dog to balance out or improve on the other dog. But, what is the heritability of something like that? I realize it's all a crap-shoot, but in your experience, do the resulting pups end up as a mix, where the working traits kind of meet in the middle, or do they sort, where you'll have some pups exhibiting the particular traits of each parent and not the other? Does it depend on the trait?

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Something like lack of confidence, IMO, is too general to select away from specifically. There are too many other things that can attribute to the display of lack of confidence, could be that the dog is too pressure sensitive, lacks courage, has low pain tolerance, is confused by the handler, has been put into situations with not enough support that it wasn't ready for, has weak character as in the dogs temperament is not suited for the task, some are too soft, some are too aggressive.

 

Pin pointing the dogs actual strengths and weaknesses and then finding a mate who also exhibits the same strengths but in turn is strong where the other is weak should increase the odds of producing consistency. When we select we also look at working style, looking for dogs that work in the same style, seems to help a lot with consistency in pups, as some traits seem to go along with certain styles and the style would not manifest if the traits were not all balanced out right.

 

But, one also has to consider parents and grandparents. If the mate who is considered a improvement has parents that displayed the same fault that you are trying to improve upon, it's likely that you will produce a higher percentage of what you were trying to not produce more of.

 

It's a deal where you try to stack the deck in your favor the best you can, but until you make the actual breeding and evaluate the pups you really don't know for certain how everything will work out.

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Have been pondering the heritability of different traits desirable in a working dog- say you have a dog that is lacking confidence but is very talented otherwise. Obviously, you'd like to find a match that is perhaps a very confident dog to balance out or improve on the other dog. But, what is the heritability of something like that? I realize it's all a crap-shoot, but in your experience, do the resulting pups end up as a mix, where the working traits kind of meet in the middle, or do they sort, where you'll have some pups exhibiting the particular traits of each parent and not the other? Does it depend on the trait?

This is a really good question, but I don't think anyone knows enough to answer it. As the reference G. Festerling cited suggests, there are many traits where the extremes are undesirable and the mean is what you want. This is particularly true in working traits for border collies, where, for example, we want a moderate amount of "eye," not extreme eye or no eye at all. Since this is likely a result of heterozygosity rather than homozygosity in the gene(s) that govern it (and of course those genes have not been identified), this is the major reason why you cannot "fix" desirable working traits in the border collie (the way you can "fix" coat color or ear set), and have them breed true in the next generations. That's why you must evaluate breeding stock and breed anew for the traits you want in every generation.

 

Opinions would differ a lot about your question among breeders. A trait like "confidence" has many facets, and a lot of environmental influences as well as genetic ones contribute to it, which makes it harder to get a handle on. Some people would breed to the most confident dog they could find (who had no other major faults). But there's a saying "It's not like mixing paint," and the people who adhere to that approach would try to find a mate that holds onto the positive traits of your dog and exhibits somewhat more of the type of confidence you're looking for. Both of these breeders might get results they liked, or results they didn't, but in neither case could the approach be considered proven or disproven. The fact is that the genetic basis of working traits and how to breed for them is one of the great unknowns right now, although it's one that is fascinating to researchers, and we may be on the brink of finding out a lot more in the foreseeable future. Finding a reliable way of defining and quantifying things like "eye" and "confidence" in a meaningful way makes it harder than research on qualities that can be assessed objectively, of course. The reference Ludi cited is a good piece of background work reviewing what had been done up to that point.

 

In the meantime, breeding for work is much more an art than a science, and the good breeders seem to have a sense of it that comes from an overall understanding informed by a lot of experience -- one that they could not generalize or explicate in the abstract.

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Our breeding program considers confidence to be primarily environmental and entirely remedial.

 

When that assumption proves itself with the odd exception, that dog is removed from the breeding pool and is considered a one-of, unsuitable for work.

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Eileen. Thank you! Your post was absolutely of no help whatsoever but incredibly informative at the same time!! Thank you! You helped me understand a bit what I don't know and, more importantly, helped me understand that I don't know it because we don't know it yet. Very insightful.

 

CMP. I get the sense that I want to understand what you are saying in your post but, forgive my ignorance, I have no idea what you are saying. Can you translate your post for me? Perhaps some perspective and context for your terms?

 

I'm assuming that "removed from the breeding pool" doesn't mean summarily executed by firing squad but after that your post is a puzzle for me. Again, please forgive my ignorance.

 

dave

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I would also be interested in hearing an explanation of that post. My interpretation of it is that your breeding program breeds confident dogs, but if the offspring isn't confident, then the buyer has not trained it properly. Or, you can breed dogs regardless of confidence and by training them appropriately you can overcome their weakness. I can sort of see what you're saying.

 

In my experience, from dogs to humans, bravery isn't something you can teach. Maybe I am interpreting it as courage and that's not what you mean. If that's the case, I'd agree that training can increase or decrease confidence, and the best handlers can hide a weak or unsure dog by proactively keeping it out of the situations where that dog would "fail." Or, as you might be describing, altering the environment so that the dog never goes beyond it's threshold and always is successful (easy sheep, back up dog, or skilled handling).

 

I'd rather just breed the confident dog. There are so many other ways to mess up their training, why constantly beg one to work when it's not sure of itself? Definitely breed for courage, because I don't think that is something that training can significantly improve.

 

Sorry for the aside. Thanks Rachel and Eileen for an interesting discussion. It's something I've been thinking on for some time :)

 

Another aspect of this I've been thinking about is looking at littermates. If you have a variable litter, say some strongly resemble the sire and the others the dam, and the offspring have different methods and different strengths, how do you approach finding a mate? Do you look at the individual that you want to breed and find a good match for it, or do you consider the littermates and try to find something "in the middle" so to speak?

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Although I think a good part of confidence/bravery is heritable, I think it's entirely possible for the human part of the equation to destroy what's inherent in the dog in early training. JMO.

 

Rachel,

I've always been told by folks way more experienced than me that you generally don't get a mixture of sire and dam but rather pups that are either more like the one or the other. I guess there would be some "middle of the road" pups in the litter, but I don't know how you'd necessarily pick those pups at an early age, at least with respect to working ability.

 

J.

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I agree very much with Eileen's insightful post.

 

However, one of the issues that may muddy the discussion slightly is how individuals define 'confidence'... because a dog can act very differently depending on the situation.

To give 2 extreme examples

- Some dogs are very 'sensitive' to one or more things - be it thunder/gun shots or human body language/energy etc. To some people this can mean the dog lacks confidence, but in my experience,these dogs can still be powerful and purposeful when working & turning a stroppy ewe or aggressive tup.

- Others can appear to be 'stubborn' and 'very confident' away from sheep,but then lack the power to stand up to sheep that are confronting it.

 

IMO these different behavioural traits will probably be controlled by different combinations of gene products (at the genetic level) as well as having a significant environmental component added on top (which will relate to their early puppyhood/training as well as to how the dog responds to different handlers).

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Eileen. Thank you! Your post was absolutely of no help whatsoever but incredibly informative at the same time!!

That is what we like to hear! :P

 

 

 

In my experience, from dogs to humans, bravery isn't something you can teach. Maybe I am interpreting it as courage and that's not what you mean.

 

 

I don't think of confidence as being the same thing as courage. I've known dogs that would confront ornery sheep and try to move them again and again because they were being asked to, but it was obvious that they believed in their hearts they had no chance to move them. That takes courage, but their lack of confidence kept them from being effective. Think of someone who dreads public speaking but nevertheless forces themselves to do it. Brave, but undermined by their lack of confidence. (I believe a genetic basis has actually been found for this in human beings -- a gene variation for confidence/lack of confidence in stressful situations. I'll have to go looking for where I found that.)

 

I think of confidence in a dog as authority, being sure of itself, "command presence."

 

I've always been told by folks way more experienced than me that you generally don't get a mixture of sire and dam but rather pups that are either more like the one or the other. I guess there would be some "middle of the road" pups in the litter, but I don't know how you'd necessarily pick those pups at an early age, at least with respect to working ability.

 

I agree with this. I think that's where the "not like mixing paint" folks are coming from. But probably it varies according to the trait(s) you're looking for, in ways we don't yet know.

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Another issue is that of 'heterozygous advantage'. This (as Eileen describes) is where the 2 copies of any gene is different and it is this difference that is beneficial. However, when 2 copies of that same gene are the same (homozygous), then there is a disadvantage.

 

The example that is often given in human genetics is Sickle cell trait - a condition that is prevalent in populations from Sub Saharan Africa which for many generations were exposed to malaria (pre medical treatment). Both forms of homozygositiy (either with 2 normal copies of the gene or with 2 sickle cell variants of the gene) were likely to results in chidlhood death - the first from malaria & the other from sickle cell anaemia. However individuals with 1 copy of each variant were more resistent to malaria and survive to produce the next generation. This heterozygous advantage has meant that the sickle cell mutation remains common in populations originating from that part of Africa.

 

Obviously this human example is an extreme one to illustrate the concept.Buit IMO It is highly likely that in breeding working dogs with the right amount of 'eye'/ confidence etc, we are selecting for the heterozygous condition (as Eileen described in her post).

However heterozygous advantage will also mean that statistically it is highly probably that not all pups from any dog or bitch will show this excellent trait. Instead some will inevitably have too much or too little of the relevant gene products (ie be homozygous for these genes).

This is why "you must evaluate breeding stock and breed anew for the traits you want in every generation".

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I wouldn't make too strong a breeding judgement on a dog who wasn't confident off sheep unless it was extreme (storm phobia that is life-threatening, for instance).

 

Eileen, I agree with you. I wasn't sure what CMP was getting at by tying it in to what's NOT in her breeding program. Maybe it was the wording; I'm used to hearing breeders talk about selecting for what they think is heritable. I don't think I expressed myself clearly but I was trying to reason through what may have been meant. Silly move on my part, should let CMP reply!

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My Tip is the exact dog spoken of here... courageous but lacking confidence. He will attempt to move difficult sheep but only because I ask him to. He won't quit, keeps coming back at it but clearly undermines his own efforts by his lack of confidence. We are successfully because we work on his confidence in himself and our partnership regularly. He knows I have his back and can gain confidence from me.

 

I have a strategy of picking dogs at 12 - 5 months of age so I can get some idea of what the package might be. Given this discussion I may stick with it! :)

 

dave

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I agree very much with Eileen's insightful post.

 

However, one of the issues that may muddy the discussion slightly is how individuals define 'confidence'... because a dog can act very differently depending on the situation.

To give 2 extreme examples

- Some dogs are very 'sensitive' to one or more things - be it thunder/gun shots or human body language/energy etc. To some people this can mean the dog lacks confidence, but in my experience,these dogs can still be powerful and purposeful when working & turning a stroppy ewe or aggressive tup.

- Others can appear to be 'stubborn' and 'very confident' away from sheep,but then lack the power to stand up to sheep that are confronting it.

 

IMO these different behavioural traits will probably be controlled by different combinations of gene products (at the genetic level) as well as having a significant environmental component added on top (which will relate to their early puppyhood/training as well as to how the dog responds to different handlers).

 

I tend to view confidence and courage in a dog in this same way. My girl, Gael, has plenty of courage - but not as much confidence as I might like. She's sensitive to pressure and aggressive-seeming things in much of her environment, from loud voices to scary people to working sheep. If a sheep really wants to turn on her, she doesn't feel she has the power to really counteract that.

 

However, she is perfectly willing to give it her best try, because I ask her to and because I've supported her all along, working to show her, "Yes, you can do this." Which is to say, I think that courage can be fostered and built in a dog, but confidence is something they are born with or not, and it factors as part of their overall temperament.

 

Totally agree with Julie:

Although I think a good part of confidence/bravery is heritable, I think it's entirely possible for the human part of the equation to destroy what's inherent in the dog in early training.

 

Per dogs who appear stubborn or confident away from sheep but not on sheep, in some dogs I've seen it later prove that this attitude was mainly bluff: they were not confident in actuality, so they put on a blustering, bold front to make up for it. That appearance was how they built their own courage, but if faced by stroppy or difficult-seeming sheep, they did not believe they could handle it.

 

Again, I think courage can be fostered and taught, but that dog may always have a little "hole" where lack of confidence kicks in. I know that if Gael is ever faced with a truly stubborn, confrontational ewe on a trial field, we're probably going to walk due to her lack of confidence. But that's okay, because she does have courage and she tries her best. :)

 

Just some rambling thoughts ...

 

~ Gloria

 

 

 

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You helped me understand a bit what I don't know and, more importantly, helped me understand that I don't know it because we don't know it yet. Very insightful.

 

 

Annd Dave explodes my head once again. :P:lol: Thanks for the laugh!

 

~ Gloria

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I tend to view confidence and courage in a dog in this same way. My girl, Gael, has plenty of courage - but not as much confidence as I might like. She's sensitive to pressure and aggressive-seeming things in much of her environment, from loud voices to scary people to working sheep. If a sheep really wants to turn on her, she doesn't feel she has the power to really counteract that.

 

Your quote sums-up my Josie. I see ample courage in her. She literally dives into a crowded stock trailer, or between a closed gate and a mass of sheep leaning against it. Turn 50-75 sheep moving downhill intent on going home to the corral -- she's all over it. Not an ounce of hesitation, nor urging needed. Because of what I believe to be a certain lack of confidence, however, I sometimes wonder whether she is rash/heedless, and that this displays as bravery. OTOH, she is not injury prone, so evidently she properly weighs the consequences. I have never encouraged tentativeness in her, and that is partly why she does everything without hesitation at a smart pace, thus I have to work at slowing her down when the situation dictates. If courage can be taught/encouraged/reinforced, I believe it was in Josie's case.

 

That said, stroppy ewes can sometimes detect a degree of uncertainty in my dog. Little signs of confrontation from a ram or ewe (turning and eyeing, foot stomping or even a few steps toward her), she stands-up to. Nevertheless, I can think of 2-3 ewes over the years who were well-known to their owners, that apparently saw a chink in her armor, and they could chase her around the corral/field, always to the delight of onlookers :unsure:. Josie is quick and agile, so she elected to get out of their way. I found it encouraging that in the event the ewe later decided to calm herself within a packet, Josie was right back at her job. No better way to teach a mature dog to rate and stay off his/her sheep.

 

Josie surprises me at times with cutting-horse moves to convince a ewe at the rear of a packet, who wants to return to her hay, to follow her buddies through a gate. In contrast, she usually is unable to use the same moves on, for instance, one shed sheep who is determined to join the other group. In this case I believe the root is a lack of confidence, yet I want to think that if I could sort-out a way to help/train her in this particular task, she would gain confidence to do it on her own, just as I helped her gain courage. She may never be a shedding machine, but I think she could improve. Appreciate any training tips this knowledgeable group may have.

 

Gun shots and thunder make her nervous, but not to the point of quitting. As she gets older, I see less and less impact. I try to ignore them, never giving Josie negative feedback. Currently, they may take a little edge off her work, but nothing to speak of. Again, proper counter-conditioning and never putting her over threshold trained-out those fears.

 

So, that is my parse of confidence-courage traits for Josie. To me, the courage and confidence milieux overlap to some extent, one influencing the other. I suspect that she is not innately high on either scale, and that training (usually meaning good advice from qualified trainers & follow-through on my part), along with simply expecting her to perform certain tasks, has made her into a pretty good dog in those respects. Spayed at an early age, she is therefore not a laboratory for testing heritability of characteristics. While the way in which subjective traits are inherited is interesting, I cannot express an opinion whether they are averaged or perhaps strengthened at a particular breeding. The above is merely my observations and analysis of one dog and handler.

 

Don't forget my inquiry on how to hold a difficult shed. Please PM, not to OT the thread. :) -- Regards, TEC

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However one defines "confidence," I would not breed a dog that I thought lacked it. Pressure sensitive to a person is not my favorite, but I can deal with it to some extent. Completely leaving training does not work for me--there are too many dogs who will not leave. But pressure sensitive to stock? Or just in general lacking confidence around the stock? Nothing I want to breed at all. But, I am looking for dogs to both do real work with a decent sized flock of somewhat stubborn sheep and also to work cattle. Lack of confidence does not cut it at all on cattle, for me.

 

Just my 2 cents,

A

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Dear Sheepdoggers,


I agree that confidence and courage are different and that we’d do better considering “authority” and courage. I’d add another important vector: “heart”. The dog who has it is the dog you take out into the stormy, rotten night to do the task no dog should be asked to do.

In my experience certain talents are more genetic than others, although with proper training/experience, the dog can learn enough to get the job done.

Ralph Pulfer said that the only two characteristics a great trial must have is the outrun and shed. Everyone of my June’s litter was sold to trial handlers and every one of them did a keyhole/fishhook outrun under they were 2 years old. Also, every one of them was a slow developer. None ran well until they were 3.

Dogs that like to run into the sheep wall are uncommon. I’ve had a couple.

I suspect that balance is genetic and strongly related to “too much eye”.

Power is how the sheep react to the dog which is a combination of factors and probably can’t be bred for.

I know lots of people who breed gooduns to gooduns. While that strategy has probably produced the Border Collie we know today, I recall the Breeder of Dryden Joe and Dryden Wisp, a geneticist at Scotland’s ag station Dryden Mains, who never trialed himself, sometimes bred to bitches who had never trialed and whose litters were snapped up by the best handlers in the UK as soon as they were announced.

Donald McCaig




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Thanks all for the many comments, definitely some interesting discussion here. Should add though that I didn't necessarily mean confidence as the only factor as to mixing/sorting, but rather any trait that comes naturally to the dog, confidence was just one of the first things to come to mind.

 

I really like Emily's question regarding littermates- do you look at littermates and/or relatives of the same or similar breeding when making decisions about breeding your own? Is it to be assumed that if a relative exhibits something either desirable or undesirable, the genes for those traits are within your dog as well?

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I do. I just recently asked someone about a litter by asking about littermates of the parents as well as similarly bred dogs already working. You will at least get a good sense of what sort of dog you might get, of course remembering that genetics can be a tricky thing....

 

J.

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Ooops.

 

Our farm breeds its own dogs. We do not sell them. A dog that lacks confidence on sheep is worked with, trained, conditioned - whatever - and the local experience says that 9 out of 10 times that dog's confidence is restored. When it is not, the dog is considered lacking and is not used for breeding and is usually neutered.

 

My point was that no, confidence is not considered heritable, but just to be safe, we do not breed dogs with chronic/inexplicable confidence problems.

 

I am not really sure why that was confusing. Perhaps I am developing cognitive issues in my old age.

 

Does "removed from the breeding pool" not mean "not bred" to everyone else?

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