Breeders’ Symposium Hosted by the American Kennel Club (AKC) and the AKC Canine Health Foundation (CHF)

In April I attended the AKC/CHF Breeders’ Symposium held at Michigan State University (MSU), and would highly recommend that you attend this event if you have the opportunity. The educational material I received was well worth the fee for the program, which included lunch and a tote bag filled with goodies. The agendas may vary depending on the location and the speakers available, but these were the topics on the agenda for the program I attended at MSU:

A copy of Claudia Orlandi’s book The ABC’s of Dog Breeding (What Every Breeder Should Know!) was one of the items included in my welcome bag. The book is very user friendly, and the technical aspects of genetics are explained in simple terms with complementary graphics. How many breeders are familiar with the term “threshold” traits? A threshold trait is a polygenic trait where an outwardly normal dog may be carrying a high number of undesirable genes, but not quite the critical number needed for the trait to be expressed. The challenge for breeders is to decide which normal dogs are high risk and which are low risk for a threshold trait. Some threshold trait defects are: cardiomyopathy, cryptorchidism, dystocia, hip dysplasia, infertility, inguinal hernia, patellar luxation, and patent ductus arteriosis. These traits develop only when the additive effects of genes exceed a critical number. So if a puppy is a cryptorchid, you can’t entirely blame the stud dog! That puppy unfortunately inherited the critical number of genes (from both parents) needed to express that trait. If the “magic” number is ten, any combination would work: four from the dam and six from the sire, or three from the sire and seven from the dam. Are you aware of the disease that is powerful enough to destroy a breeding program? This phenomenon can affect all breeds, including Beardies. Dr. Orlandi refers to this syndrome as Kennel Blindness. In her book, she states Kennel Blindness is a breeder’s inability or unwillingness to admit to the failings or faults in his or her own dogs. She goes on to note that kennel blind breeders often interpret the breed standard in a way that makes it conform to the dogs they breed. There is a reason why it is referred to as a standard. (I may be partial but I think the Bearded Collie has the best illustrated standard so artfully brought to life by the talented Chet Jezierski). Dr. Orlandi’s book is actually a home study program including worksheets and flashcards. Breeders who send in their completed workbook exercises to the AKC will receive a certificate of completion titled “The American Kennel Club Breeder’s Education Certificate”.

Eddie Dziuk’s presentation about CHIC and OFA provided some astounding statistics.


In short, CHIC is a database of consolidated health screening results from multiple sources.  Co-sponsored by the OFA and the AKC Canine Health Foundation, CHIC works with parent clubs to identify health screening protocols appropriate for individual breeds.  Dogs tested in accordance with the parent club established requirements, that have their results registered and made available in the public domain are issued CHIC numbers.

Below are the breed requirements for a CHIC registration for a Bearded Collie:


Drs. Cheri Johnson and Deborah Greco presented the latest and greatest technological and nutritional developments in canine reproduction. Some of the topics covered were new drug and technology for inducing estrus (hence timing a litter), timing of ovulation, management of the pregnant bitch through the use of uterine monitoring, and nutritional strategies to increase litter size and quality. Very powerful information!

Dr. Ari Johnson’s PowerPoint presentation (viewer discretion advised) on reproductive emergencies was fascinating. Afterward, there was a group discussion regarding the use of Oxytocin (Pitocin) during whelping. Many breeders still use this drug, sometimes haphazardly, but new research suggests it may do more harm than good if not used appropriately.

Fortunately, our Beardies are not affected by some of the hereditary eye diseases that concern so many other breeds. There are several groups studying eye diseases such as cataracts, lens luxation, glaucoma, and progressive retinal atrophy (PRA), many of them funded by the AKC/CHF. Once a gene mutation for an eye disease has been identified it is a relatively simple matter, Dr. Peterson-Jones explained, to develop a genetic test that breeders can use to eradicate the gene mutation without risk of limiting the available gene pool, or losing desired traits along with the disease trait.

Bet you didn’t know this…. What causes that eerie yellow glow when you shine a light at your Beardies eyes or causes the eyes of your Beardie to turn out as bright yellow spots in photographs? It's called a Tapetum Lucidum, and it's the membrane that lines the back of the lens in your dog’s eyes. This reflective structure acts like a mirror and reflects light back through the retina, giving the retina two chances to catch the light. Most animals that are active at night have Tapetums to improve their night vision. You can best see the effect when the pupils are completely dilated such as after an eye exam.

Dr. Terri Zachos’ lecture regarding canine orthopedics was very informative. She noted that a large portion of patients seen by orthopedic surgeons present to the clinic for conditions which appear to be from an injury, but instead are manifestations of a developmental orthopedic disease. These are conditions that have a genetic component, but are influenced by many factors such as, environment, level of activity, and body score condition. The conditions may include (but are not limited to) canine hip dysplasia (CHD), canine elbow dysplasia (CED), osteochondrosis (OCD), and cranial cruciate ligament (CrCL) disease. Her lecture provided an overview of current treatment methods and their rationales. Another great use of graphics during this presentation, including actual radiographs (x-rays).

Dr. Olivier’s lecture on canine heart disease discussed current diagnostic methods of identifying some of the more common heart conditions in canines. He noted that at least 67 breeds are thought to have familial (appearing in individuals by heredity) cardiovascular disease, and said as many as 10-12 major heart conditions are identified as familial. I was surprised to learn that by age 7, almost 50% of all King Charles Cavalier Spaniels are diagnosed with mitral valve prolapse. This is why selective breeding programs and appropriate health screenings are so important to the well-being of a breed.

When the next AKC/CHF Breeders’ Symposium is held at location near you, please make an effort to attend. They are usually hosted at a College of Veterinary Medicine (such as MSU) and are a great alternative to a dog show weekend!


Maryann Szalka
afterdarkbeardie@aol.com