Principles of Selective Dog Breeding Programs

Responsible breeders carefully plan their litters. They look for a sire that will complement the strengths of their female and help improve on any weaknesses.  Breeding plans includes the evaluation of conformation, health, inherited disorders, intelligence, pedigree analysis, structural soundness, temperament, training attitude, and working abilityThe specific goals of a breeding program vary based on the interests of the breeder. 

Abilities, Activities, and Attitude

Labradors are smart, trainable dogs that love to retrieve.  

  • Intelligence and an eager-to-please attitude are classic trait in the Labrador breed that should be promoted and maintained in breeding programs.   
  • The specific goals of a breeding program may vary depending on the activities the breeder has in mind for their dogs, such as dog shows, field trials, hunting, therapy, service, or obedience trials.
  • Generally, both the field and the show lines have a strong instinct to retrieve. Both lines produce Labradors with hunting ability. 
  • The American field type Labradors are energetic athletic dogs with a very strong drive in the field.
  • The show lines Labradors tend to be more mellow than the field lines. Show type Labradors can be trained to hunt, but they may lack the speed and intense drive that is characteristic of the field type Labradors.

Conformation

The evaluation of conformation strengths and weakness is an important aspects in the selection process. Dogs with significant conformation faults and/or significant structural weaknesses due to poor conformation should not be used in breeding programs. 

  • The Labrador is a sturdy, short-coupled, athletic dog with well-balanced structure. 
  • Dogs with minor conformation faults may be selectively bred with the goal of improving the conformation of the offspring. 
  • Breeders that exhibit their dogs emphasize show conformation in their breeding program. 
  • Breeders that focus primarily on field trials and hunting ability tend to breed for lean athletic Labradors with a strong drive in the field. Good structural conformation is an important consideration. 

Labradors with disqualifying coat colors and markings should be eliminated from breeding programs.  

  • AKC disqualifications includes the Dudley nose (a nose without pigmentation). 
  • Any color or combination of colors other than black, yellow or chocolate are disqualifications.  This includes gray or silver, charcoal, and champagne coloration.  
  • Occasionally, Labradors are born with brindle markings, black and tan markings, or a large splash of white on the chest.  The majority of these Labs are normal, healthy dogs that will be wonderful companions.  

Health and Structural Soundness

Healthy, sound dogs are considered potential breeding stock in reputable breeding programs. Labradors with hip dysplasia, elbow dysplasia, TVD, epilepsy other serious medical problem should be excluded from breeding programs.

  • The risk of puppies developing many inherited disorders can be reduced or eliminated by DNA testing the sire and dam.
  • The OFA method is qualitative and subjective. Their hip evaluation procedure is based on a single x-ray view. The ratings are based on how deep the head of the femur fits into the hip socket. The results may be incorrectly rated if the hips are positioned incorrectly. The 3 vets that review the films may rate the hips differently. 
  • The PennHip evaluation is a quantitative and objective procedure. The veterinarians preforming the procedure must be certified. The PennHip procedure measures how tight the head of the femur stays in the hip socket. During the testing procedure, pressure is applied to move the the femur out of the hip socket. A trained professional rates the distraction index based on precise measurements. The PennHip procedure may be a better predictor of hip dysplasia.
  • Annual eye clearances are recommended
  • Cardiac clearance by echocardiogram will reduced the risk of Labrador puppies developing TVD (Tricuspid Valve Dysplasia).
Reliable DNA testing for more than a dozen inherited disorders in Labradors is now available. The genetic disorders in the Labrador breed that can be prevented includes Centonuclear Myopathy, Copper Toxicosis, Degenerative Myelopathy, Exercise Induced Collapse, Hereditary Nasal Parakeratosis, Progressive Retinal Atrophy, Retinal Dysplasia/Oculoskeletal Dysplasia, Skeletal Dysplasia 2, Cystonuria, Elliptocytosis, Hyperuricosuria, Myotubular Myopathy 1, Narcolepsy, and Pyruvate Kinase Deficiency.

Pedigree Analysis

A dog's pedigree is it's family tree. A pedigree can provide valuable information about previous generations of the potential sire and dam. This information can have a positive influence on future generations.

  • Titles earned at AKC qualified events will be noted on the pedigree. Examples of title abbreviations include BIS (best in show), BISS (best in specialty show), CH (champion), FC (field champion), JH (junior hunter), NA (novice agility),OA (open agility), TD (tracking dog), and UD (utility dog). 
  • Keep in mind that many dogs in a pedigree without titles may be show-quality or have strong working ability. 
  •  The Canine Health Information Center (CHIC) provides a centralized database for breeders, dog owners, and researchers. It is sponsored by the Orthopedic Foundation for Animals (OFA), an organization that evaluates and rates hip and elbow x-rays. OFA will also post eye clearance, cardiac clearance, and DNA test results if the owner submits documentation. Breeders can research multiple generations of health clearances of a sire or dam. This information can help breeders reduces the risk of hip dysplasia, elbow dysplasia, inherited eye disorders, and some recessive genetic disorders in their breeding program. Prospective dog owners can also review this information on the OFA website.
  • The registered names of many Labradors includes the kennel name of the breeder. These breeders often have websites that post pictures and relevant information about their current and retired dogs, including health clearances and AKC titles. 
Information in the pedigree indicates the level of inbreeding in the lines.
  • A breeding is an outcross if there are no common ancestors in 5 generations. This type of breeding results in more variation in the puppies. 
  • The practice of inbreeding involves breeding close relatives, such as fathers to daughters, brothers to sisters, and sons to mothers. Inbreeding practices improve specific desirable traits such as hunting ability or conformation traits. 
  • Inbreeding practices also increase the chances that the offspring will inherit 2 copies of recessive genes. Some of these genes may code for detrimental traits and disorders. Fortunately, there are numerous DNA tests for genetic disorders in Labradors caused by recessive alleles that can prevented. (Many of these disorders are listed above.)
  • Inbreeding can result in the loss of genetic diversity. Some diversity in the gene pool is very important. After a few generations of inbreeding, a carefully planned outcross is should be considered to maintain some genetic diversity.
  • Linebreeding is a milder form of inbreeding. Examples include breeding cousins to cousins, uncles to nieces, and nephews to aunts.In a 5 generation pedigree  there will be a few common ancestors. This type of breedings concentrates valuable characteristics including health, soundness, temperament, and various physical traits. 
  • Linebreedings help maintain previous improvements in the line. Also, they may add some unexpected desirable traits to the gene pool. 
  • Compared to close inbreeding practices, there is more genetic diversity in linebred dogs. Also, the risk of detrimental recessive genes coming together is lower in linebred dogs. An occasional outcross should be considered to add new genetic material to enhance genetic diversity. 

Temperament

Labradors with temperament problems, such as aggression, should be excluded from breeding programs.

  • A Labrador is a happy, kind, loyal dog that is friendly towards both people and dogs. 
  • Most likely, multiple genetic factors contribute to the temperament. 
  • Environment factors probably have a role in the development temperament. 
  • Due to the complex nature of temperament, the probability of correcting a problem is low.  

AKC Labrador Retriever Standard 
OFA (Orthopedic Foundation for Animals)