Avoiding the genetic defect DS and enlargement of the gene pool...
Personal thoughts on the breeding of our breed and the use of ridgeless ridgebacks to avoid the genetic defect dermoid sinus and expanding of the gene pool
In 2008, when I applied for the breeding program to prevent the Dermoid Sinus from the VDH as the first chairman of Club ELSA, and the VDH approved the use of ridgeless Ridgebacks for this purpose, it was not clear to me how massive the resistance in the Ridgeback world (especially in Germany) would be. That there are people who fight against breeders with all means, for whom the health of the breed, the fight against a genetic defect and the expansion of the gene pool is important - I would never have thought of this.
But from the beginning…
Even the longest way starts with a first step ... I took this first step when I got my foundation bitch Beris Bilé Karpaty "Kimba" as a puppy in 1998. I was fascinated by the Rhodesian Ridgeback since I saw some dogs of this breed live for the first time. This fascination has remained until today.
... started in 2001 with Kimba’s first litter. We had 8 puppies - all with Ridge, but unfortunately two of them had a DS. As a first breeder it was a terrible experience for me and I actually considered to stop breeding because I just didn't want to breed dogs with a genetic defect. Of course -the DS could be operated and that was done with these two puppies at the age of 5 months, but was there no other option?
The Dermoid Sinus
Already in the first publications of our breed the Dermoid Sinus was documented (T.C. Hawley - The Origin, History and Standard from 1957) and killing of ridgeless Ridgeback puppies was absolutely not a taboo subject but common practice - worldwide. The more I dealt with the topic, the more intense my thirst for knowledge about the background and the more important it seemed to me that I had to do something.
In 2002 I put the „Rhodesian Ridgeback Pedigree Search“ database online, which has enabled me to establish numerous contacts with Ridgeback breeders, scientists and genetics worldwide. A fact that has helped me enormously on my way.
The results of the studies in Sweden were published in 2007 and presented by Prof. Tosso Leeb (Institute of Genetics at the University of Bern) on the occasion of the meeting of the responsible breeders of the VDH in November 2007, in which I took part.
At that time I was already the first chairman of the Club ELSA and took the opportunity to speak personally with the speaker and the chair of the scientific advisory board of the VDH and the VDH breeding commission.
A few days later I made an initial request and stayed in constant contact with the responsible people of the VDH. On February 8th, 2008 I finally submitted an official application for a test mating breeding program to the VDH on behalf of the board of the Club ELSA.
Already 2 months later, on April 25th, 2008, we received a letter from the chair of the scientific advisory board that the VDH agreed to the breeding attempt to avoid the Dermoid Sinus. The way was clear to put our theory into practice.
Already in October 2008 the first litter with a ridgeless female and a ridged male was born in Club ELSA - all 9 puppies of this litter had a Ridge and NO Dermoid Sinus.
In 2014 I decided to take a ridgeless bitch from a litter of my offspring Thuraia Etana Kianga, who was the foundation bitch in Switzerland at the Bussmann family in Kennel KIANGA. I made this decision very deliberately, because I was always convinced that the use of ridgeless dogs in Rhodesian Ridgeback breeding makes perfect sense. Ginny, the ridgeless bitch, was in my opinion the best bitch in the litter and therefore it was clear to me - she is coming to us. She had her first litter in 2018 - as expected, none of the puppies had a DS.
Ginny’s ridgeless sister Bashira also came to Germany to breeder in our Club and had a litter in 2017 - none of the puppies had a DS. In the same year there was another litter at Club ELSA with a ridgeless bitch - there was no puppy with DS here either, although all puppie had a ridge.
A worldwide theme
In the next few years a lot also happened abroad – amongst others Ann Chamberlain, long-time Rhodesian Ridgebacks breeder and author of numerous books, had a litter with her ridgeless female. Again, all puppies had a Ridge and there was no Dermoid Sinus. She also wrote an article on The big genetic experiment. Her final sentence in the article: “Don’t throw out the baby with the bathwater! We may need those ridgeless dogs down the line!”
I myself wrote countless articles about breeding with ridgeless Ridgebacks, the genetic background and the intension behind it, and little by little the topic became interesting for more and more scientists and geneticists.
In 2017 the FCI even considered creating its own variety for ridgeless Ridgebacks, which of course can be paired with ridge-carrying Ridgebacks ( FCI proposal for ridgeless varian ). To what extent this idea is being pursued is currently unknown.
The topic was hotly debated in the Ridgeback world, especially during the Rhodesian Ridgeback Worldcongress (RRWC) in Ireland in 2008 and Sweden in 2016.
On the occasion of the RRWC in Sweden 2016, the following was decided at the end of the congress:
Unfortunately this was from many people, especially in Germany, not heard or they didn't want to hear it.
Ridge inheritance is a simple, recessive inheritance. Here the dominant gene R stands for "Ridge" and the recessive gene r for "ridgeless".
Since a few years now there is a genetic test for the Ridge, developed by Miroslav Hornak at the "Genetic and Reproduction Veterinary Research Institute Brno" ( Ridge Gene Test ). According to this test, the majority of the puppies tested with Ridge and DS are homozygous for the Ridge, which confirms the scientific knowledge of the past years.
The litter with my Ginny in 2018 was the last litter in the VDH breeding program to combat the DS, because the VDH stopped the program in summer 2018 on the grounds that it is simply no longer necessary because we now we know, that homozygous Ridge carriers (gene status R/R) have an increased risk for the Dermoid Sinus.
In April 2019, the VDH finally informed the Rhodesian Ridgeback breeding clubs that the use of ridgeless Ridgebacks in VDH breeding is generally permitted. (Note: in some Scandinavian countries, the Kennel Clubs allowed this already a few years ago and meanwhile some breeders have ridgeless females who will be bred).
In Germany this was the starting signal for a shit storm against the breeders with ridgeless bitches and even their offspring.
It's so easy to stigmatize an optical trait and stir up fear that we would "lose" the ridge! This is by no means the case.
Even if some do not want it to be true: offspring of a mating of a ridge-carrying Ridgeback and a ridgeless Ridgeback that carry a Ridge (gene status: R/r) do not carry more ridgelessness in themselves as descendants of two ridge-carrying Ridgebacks, who are heterozygous ( are mixed) for the Ridge gene (gene status also R/r). It is a simple, recessive inheritance and the Ridge inheritance is simple Mendel genetics.
The fact that it is now known that homozygous Ridgebacks for the Ridge have an increased risk of carrying the genetic defect Dermoid Sinus and, when paired, inherited, and that geneticists and biologists worldwide advocate the use of ridgeless Ridgebacks is simply ignored. It is much more important to breed ONLY with dogs that have a Ridge and you continue to take the risk of Dermoid Sinus and the fact that these puppies need surgery to survive! Instead, all means are being used to fight against the use of ridgeless Ridgebacks, for whatever reason.
Because of to the Dermoid Sinus (DS) the Rhodesian Ridgeback is listed on the “Agony breeding report” (Report about the prevention of breeding causing pain, suffering or harm) in Germany.
Despite years of intensive research, a genetic test for the dermoid sinus is still not available - it is uncertain whether and when there will be a meaningful test.
A German veterinarian proudly announced last year that he had operated on his 1000th Dermoid Sinus (and he is by far not the only veterinarian in Germany to makes this surgery)! But ... we don't have a DS problem in the breed? Who can believe that when such facts are published?
Our breed is not yet 100 years old, but we already have a massively narrowed genetic bottleneck that we willfully pull closer and closer. Even though we have alternatives.
Nobody is forced to integrate ridgeless ridgebacks into their breeding, but every breeder should be allowed to decide for themselves. It is perfectly clear that the use of ridgeless ridgebacks will certainly not be the rule but rather the exception, but it should be up to the breeder without being pilloried.
„The goal in dog breeding is functionally healthy dogs with a construction and mentality typical to the breed, dogs that can live a long and happy life for the benefit and pleasure of the owner and the society as well as the dog itself. Breeding should be carried out in such a manner that it promotes the health and well-being of the progeny, as well as the welfare of the bitch. Knowledge, honesty and cooperation, both on national and international level, is basic in healthy dog breeding. Breeders should be encouraged to emphasize the importance of the combination of dogs as well as selection of the individual dog to be used for breeding. The FCI members and contract partners should conduct education programmes for breeders, preferably on an annual basis. Education of breeders is to be recommended rather than strict breeding regulations and stringent demands in breeding programmes, which can easily result in reduced genetic diversity in the breed as well as exclusion of excellent breed representatives and reduced cooperation with conscientious breeders. Breeders and breed clubs should be encouraged to cooperate with scientists in genetic health issues, to prevent combination of dogs from lines that will result in unhealthy offspring. Any dog used for breeding or screened for inherited diseases, must have identification (chip or tattoo). The breeders should keep the breed standard as the guideline for the breed specific features; any exaggerations should be avoided."
The FCI Breeding Committee already made the following recommendation to the Central Committee in 2012:
There is nothing to add.