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Big Dog Mom: Tell me about your goals as a breeder? Where would you like to see your breeding program in the next 5 – 10 years? Where would you like to see the breed go in the next few years?
Tina & Todd: To continue to improve upon health and longevity and work to diminish genetic cancers. We have to be getting closer to finding a genetic marker for a DNA test. That DNA test could be used to screen and know which dogs are carriers with the gene for, say, osteosarcoma or lymphoma . With that information breeders could make decisions in their breeding program that would ultimately decrease the prevalence or eliminate those types of cancers in mastiffs. There is no reason, with as advanced as we are with other diseases and in other breeds, why this can’t be done.
There is the National Canine Cancer Foundation that is always looking for donations and DNA samples to be sent in from dogs with lymphoma and osteosarcoma so they are working on trying to find those markers. Each breed is unique and have their own genetic makeup. When you find a DNA marker in one breed, that doesn’t necessarily mean that will be the marker in another breed.
A potential opportunity for garnering more information specific to cancer markers in Mastiffs would be to have our parent club, Mastiff Club of America (MCOA), work together and hire a lab [and they have these all over so it wouldn’t be that hard] that works along with the National Canine Cancer Foundation. If the membership and mastiff community then donated to that laboratory to find these markers, it could absolutely be done! They have DNA markers in humans for breast cancer and colon cancer. The science is there! We have to use the science if we are going to get anywhere.
Todd: We have to use the science to improve the science. We need to get the club [MCOA] to focus on this. In prior cases, such as finding a DNA marker for PRA [progressive retinal atrophy], the club worked together, there were tons of donations sent in, and we found that marker. MCOA used one specific lab for this. And now we have a marker that is recognized by all the labs.
In the case of Cystinuria, the club has been working with Penn State, but the marker that has been found is not approved by any other labs. It is only specific to Penn State. This brings up a few red flags and they have also found more than one marker for cystinuria. For example, a dog can be DNA clear, but still carry that gene that forms the stones. There are so many unanswered questions as it relates to cystinuria, but it all comes down to funding. If people would focus on that and if there was enough funding for a lab to research it, it can be done. There is no reason we can’t find a marker for lymphoma. It is the number one killer of this breed. If everyone worked together, we could easily find a marker and have that DNA test available. It’s just getting people to work together and make it a priority!
“We have to use the science to improve the science.”
~Todd Christensen, Jadem Mastiffs
Big Dog Mom: Do we have a lab that could take this on?
Tina & Todd: The National Canine Cancer Foundation has labs they have worked with already that have a wealth of information. For example, canine lymphoma is very different from human lymphoma. And then, of course, it is different for each specific breed.
“If everyone worked together, we could easily find a marker and have that DNA test available. It’s just getting people to work together and make it a priority!”
~Tina Woods, Jadem Mastiffs
Big Dog Mom: Do they have a marker for lymphoma in other breeds?
Tina & Todd: No, not for any type of cancer unfortunately. The challenge is that the money isn’t there. If you compare this to horses and horse breeders, you can send in a few pieces of hair and get back a composite DNA panel with all of the diseases that plague the breed. There is no reason we can’t do the same thing in dogs. Many diseases in quarter horses have been eliminated due to the extensive testing that is done. There is a lot of money in horse breeding and huge numbers of donations that come in to the labs for research. If we had this type of funding and research focused on finding a marker for, say, osteosarcoma, it could be done.
Big Dog Mom: Very interesting! You’re giving me some great things to think about in terms of possibly how we could maybe raise funds for research.
Tina & Todd: Part of the problem with getting folks to donate money for research is that it is SO expensive to breed dogs. When we do a breeding, we don’t know if we will even get a litter, let alone, the size of the litter. For one litter, we are into the breeding at least $10,000 depending on the litter size. Granted, we breed mastiffs, which are one of the more expensive breeds because they aren’t often allowed to breed on their own, who don’t often whelp on their own, so there is a lot more money and hands on work involved.
When I bred my Dane litter, the dam had 14 puppies and she whelped them all and took care of them all by herself with very little human intervention whatsoever. Danes are amazing moms. I feel as though Mastiffs need to get back to that or they are going to die as a breed. Ideally, Mastiffs would be able to breed naturally on their own, but, unfortunately, that is not the case today. We need to help get them back to that.
Big Dog Mom: Has this been a progression in your opinion? In other words, were mastiffs better able to breed on their own years ago?
Tina & Todd: Part of the problem is that we haven’t allowed them to do it. I know some breeders still do natural breeding and natural whelping of mastiffs, but they generally don’t produce as many puppies on average. We have tried to do natural breedings. But so often the dogs just look at us as if to ask “now what are we supposed to do?” We have tried an at-home AI [Artificial Insemination] kit twice, but getting the timing right proved very difficult for us.
Big Dog Mom: What is the most rewarding and most challenging thing about being a dog breeder?
Tina & Todd: Hands down, the most rewarding part are the families and the joy that puppy brings to them. I love getting pictures and hearing stories from my families. Our biggest challenge is that so many other breeders don’t do health testing.
Big Dog Mom: How does other breeders not health testing impact you?
Tina & Todd: Despite the fact that we have extensive experience with Greiner Hall lines and they don’t health test, all of the dogs we have gotten from them or offspring of litters we have done with them have all been completely health tested and all of them have passed for every available test. Even the grandchildren and great-grandchildren of these litters have been health tested and passed beautifully. Because I am so familiar with those lines, I am comfortable using them.
With unfamiliar lines, it’s another story. It is necessary to do line crosses for genetic diversity, but we struggle with finding what we are looking for in a fully health tested dog, not just partial testing. Some people pick and choose what tests they do or others make excuses for why certain tests aren’t done. For us, this raises red flags.
Health tests are wonderful tools that are available to breeders and there is no good reason not to use them. You don’t have to base your breeding program on them, but you do need to take the information into consideration and breed forward selectively.
For example, if you have a dog with PPM [Persistent Pupillary Membranes], depending on the severity, you could choose to still breed him/her, but would want to breed with a clear so that eventually you would breed the PPM out of the line. I have had one dog with iris-to-iris PPM and one of the requirements for breeding to him is that the female has to be CERF [Canine Eye Registration Foundation] (now through The Orthopedic Foundation for Animals (OFA)) clear. On the other hand, a dog with PRA [Progressive Retinal Atrophy] is one that you would NOT breed. By doing health tests, you can use these tools to improve your breeding program, the health and longevity of the puppies you produce and, ultimately, better the breed as a result.
“By doing health tests, you can use these tools to improve your breeding program, the health and longevity of the puppies you produce and, ultimately, better the breed as a result.”
In Part 1 of my interview with Tina and Todd, I focused on their breeding philosophy and their responsibility as breeders. In Part 2, we spent the bulk of our time talking about a way forward for mastiffs and possible strategies to finding answers to many of the diseases that plague the breed. In summary:
#1: Primary Goal: To improve upon health and longevity and work to diminish genetic cancers.
#2: Breed clubs and members working together can make tremendous strides in the area of DNA research. It has been done before, and when people are committed, can happen again!
#3: Health testing is a tool. Comprehensive testing allows breeders to make more well-informed decisions for their breeding program.
What were your key takeaways from this interview? For Part 1 of my interview with Tina and Todd of Jadem Mastiffs, click here. Once you have read both parts of this interview, I would love to know what additional information you would like to gain from future breeder interviews! Please feel free to post a comment below or email me at firstname.lastname@example.org.