DNA tests, at first just out of curiosity... - Breeder's point of view

Hunting dogs are close to my heart, especially all nice spitz-type breeds. Currently I have those of three different breeds: Norrbottenspitz, Finnish Spitz and East Siberian Laika and with these dogs we hunt, compete, do all kinds of activities and also little breeding.

Dog health is very important for a breeder, and health checks have become quite familiar to me over the years. I came across dog DNA testing at Helsinki Winner 2013 dog show, at Genoscoper Laboratories' stand. I became interested in DNA tests although I knew that my breeds were not yet tested on a larger scale, with the exception of Finnish Spitz.

DNA testing for Norrbottenspitz interested me in particular because I wanted to know more about the genetic diversity of the breed. This breed has open stud book which enables bringing new individuals in the population. I knew a lot about my own dogs' backgrounds so the idea of getting other Norrbottenspitzes tested as well was interesting as it would reveal how different my dogs were compared to the overall population in reality.

I packed the dogs in the car and we drove to Helsinki. Sampling at Genoscoper went comfortably and fast. At that point, not many Norrbottenspitzes had yet been tested. However, the situation developed nicely and with the assistance of the breed club, more dogs got eventually tested and several Norrbottenspitz owners got inspired to have their dogs analyzed.

When I got the test results, it was nice to notice that the diversity level of Norrbottenspitz breed was very high. The heterozygosity level for our dogs was 33.1 % for Vaula and 33.0 % for Sinko (the median for Nordic hunting dogs is 28.1 %). Particularly interesting was the fact that Norrbottenspitz settled genetically closer to Laikas than Finnish Spitz as a breed. No significant dsorders or carrier statuses were found in our Norrbottenspitzes.

The next ones to have their turn were our East Siberian Laikas Jutta and Vitja, and I was glad to see that their diversity level was good, no carrier or affected results were found for the tested genetic disorders. The genetic traits section of the results was of particular interest with our Laikas, since there is a lot of variation in colours in this breed. Our boy Vitja carried completely different colours in its genome compared to what could have been assumed based on his appearance. This was very interesting. I really wish that Laika owners would also test more dogs since East Siberian Laikas have various autoimmune diseases and skin disorders that have become a problem in the breed.

As I stated earlier, I first started DNA testing just out of curiosity to find out more about the genetic backgrounds of my own dogs but along the way, a significant finding was made in Norrbottenspitzes, and this gave a whole new meaning for the importance of DNA testing. MyDogDNA was able to identify more than one carrier for mutation that causes Progressive early-onset cerebellar ataxia (mutation originally found in Finnish Hound) in the Norrbottenspitz breed. It is a severe disease, which, however, can be avoided by identifying the carriers by testing and mating them only with dogs that have been tested clear for this disease.

So, in my case, DNA testing began just out of interest but from now on, I see it as part of regular health checks that we do for all of our dogs. I really hope that all other breeders and dog enthusiasts will consider this as well. Dog breeding requires responsible actions and if the risk of having inherited diseases in the breed or breeding line exists, it is breeder's responsibility to take this risk into consideration when making breeding choices and choosing the combinations.