Where Science and Intuition Meet: Breeding Puppies with a Purpose

Today I have been reading the latest round of reports from Embark DNA testing company, something that has always fascinated me from the very beginning of my quest to develop a special kind of dog so many years ago. Over the years, finding just the right combination of dog breeds, characteristics and looks has been a journey of education and listening to my gut on what would work the best to deliver the results we needed for our Habibi Bears, the Original Teddy Bear dog. It has become a passion and a science to create a uniform dog with a certain desired look and temperament, and we make use of several DNA testing services in order to reach our goal.

I'm really thrilled that the latest group of Habibi Bear puppies I tested came back healthy, and we successfully cleared more inheritable diseases from our line through careful mating planning. These puppies are in great shape! When choosing the parents for a litter of Habibi Bear puppies, I always keep three main things in mind: health, temperament, and genetic diversity. We meticulously plan each breeding by analyzing charts and records to ensure that our puppies getin life. This involves carefully planning and pairing the right mom and dad to minimize the traits we don't want and enhance the ones we do want.  We carefully track the genetics of each of our dogs to bring you the healthiest pup possible. For us, it's a labor of love that we do with joy and intention. For us, it's a labor of love that we carry out with joy and purpose.  We give our puppies the best start, and combined now with the proper care of their new families (raw feeding, appropriate exercise, healthy weight to avoid added stress on joints, not allowing dogs to jump on and off of the furniture to protect their backs and knees, not over-vaccinating or using flea and tick treatments that are known to cause seizures.)   We can only do so much, so we share information on this blog, site and in our literature to help families advocate for their puppies.

If you have delved into some of the more technical pages on our website, you will find our Origins of the Habibi Bear  and how we were looking for a healthy rare line to introduce to our founder line of Poodle and Schnauzer to increase the robustness of the puppies, and the rest, as they say, is history. 
In genetics, Hybrid vigor or vitality is everything, and our precious little Habibi Bear dogs have it in spades! Along the way, there have been a few surprises that have come out of left field that have made us laugh and shake our heads, but it is all in a day’s work when correcting a breeding line, working from a dog who is a carrier, and matching them with a dog who is not, is how we are able to eliminate disease and reverse the damage done from centuries of inbreeding in the pure breed dogs. 

An example of how genetics work 

When testing one of our female dogs, Bluebelle, to ensure she was a good candidate for our breeding program, we observed an example of breed dilution. We also saw how the coefficient of inbreeding (COI) is improving over time by comparing her DNA panel to that of her parents, who belong to the previous generation.  Bluebelle's parents are Elliot and Belladonna.  Elliot's pedigree includes a total of four breeds in his background, but due to dilution over time, he only shows two breeds on his Embark test.  Bella on the other hand is an imported Shihtzu from Korea, and she and her sister's DNA notate a small percentage of Chihuahua.  We can attribute this to fact that 1)all breeds were created by mixing at one point and 2) Embark not having these samples in their database, so matched other markers.
Embark explains how this can happen to a pure breed dog, Why does a purebreed dog show mixed heritage?

According to Embark 

For various reasons, the registered purebred dog tested by Embark may not perfectly match the genetic signature of the reference panel. One example is the dog may have an ancestor that is in a closely related breed which was utilized prior to the closing of the breed’s studbook many generations ago. Another reason is that the dog may come from a bloodline that is geographically very distant from the group of reference panel dogs. These results in no way affect the registered “purebred” status of the dog or its standing with the registry. In fact, because these dogs usually contain genetic signatures not common in the breed, they can be highly useful for maintaining or even increasing genetic diversity in the breed.
For a deeper dive, take a look at how a purebred dog’s DNA may diverge from that of the reference panel.

Let's look at our dog's reports:

For some of those who don’t have the experience with genetics as we do, there could be alarm bells sounding off as to the parentage of little Bluebell, but we know from past experience, that like humans, dogs are not pulling their DNA from just mom and dad alone. Far from it! A puppy will inherit a total of 78 chromosomes from their parent, two chromosomes that indicate the sex of the pup, and 38 from each parent. Only 50% of the dog's genes come from the parent, 25% from the grandparent, and 12.5% from each great-grandparent. If you’re still reading and not totally lost yet, well done! This is not like mixing paint, and along the way, after inheriting directly from the parents, it is a probability game and not a guarantee. This is why we will see variations of puppies in every litter.  The DNA tests reveal different breed percentages in each puppy, with some variations. In some cases, puppies from the same litter may exhibit different levels of COI. They may have varying physical characteristics such as long legs, short legs, different-colored eyes, curly or straight hair, longer or shorter noses. This diversity is a reminder that Mother Nature loves to surprise us and keep us on our toes.

"Dog breeds must be ‘rebooted’ to halt health problems" Prof. Clare Rusbridge

In this article, Prof Clare Rusbridge states,  "Dog breeds must be ‘rebooted’ to halt health problems".   Prof. Rusbridge calls for careful cross-breeding to introduce new genetic material through careful cross-breeding to save pure breeds from ingrained health problems.  From French bulldogs with spinal and respiratory issues to cavalier King Charles spaniels with skull malformations and heart problems, many breeds are prone to specific disorders.

But while efforts have been made to breed healthier pedigree dogs by screening for problematic traits, the approach has limits. Clare Rusbridge, a professor in veterinary neurology at the University of Surrey, said many diseases arose from a complex array of genetic variants, while the gene pool of breeds was often so small that there were simply not enough unaffected individuals to breed from.

It seems that science indicates inbreeding as a dangerous practice leading to increasing issues in pure breeds. Therefore, we are committed to producing our Habibi Bears.

A win for restoring genetic vitality!
Back to Bluebelle, it's exciting to note that in this generation, we have successfully eliminated the COI, and as you can see, she now has a 0% COI! This is a significant victory for us and for the future of our dogs. It has been a long, uphill battle to reverse all the damage caused by generations of inbreeding, which is still practiced and considered preferable to create a uniform look by most purebred clubs.

Since much of genetics is a probability game, we like to stack the odds in our favor, which is exactly why we adhere to strict practices (outcrossing) that bring in outside dogs with clear lines to keep our gene pool in tip-top form, by restoring genetic diversity through outcrossing instead of line-breeding or inbreeding. Our top priority is the health of our Habibi Bear puppies, then the temperament, then the characteristics. Make no mistake, even though we are breeding dogs, in no way are our precious pups livestock. We know each parent dog and puppy by name, temperament and character quirk. They are our babies, and we constantly strive to make their, and your experience a pleasant one as we match them up with just the right family and home environment. It is what we have been doing for over thirty years, a true labor of love. After all, at Habibi Bears, we are all about the love! If you want to know more, reach out and drop us a line. We are always here for you, cheering you on!