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Seminar 2002


The Seminar was held on February 17th at Stoke Goldington Village Hall.
(Photographs taken at the Seminar by Alexandra Bennett.)


  • Jack Chisnall (Madach) - An introduction to genetic testing

  • Marjorie Saunders (Erindale) - The Irish Wolfhound

  • Lyn Chesterfield - The road to a good companion

An introduction to genetic testing

Jack Chisnall is the Society's Health Delegate, so has been involved in the discussions on the canine genome project and the possibility of
starting collecting blood samples for genetic testing. He described the basics of genetics - that the dog has 78 chromosomes which are in pairs, apart from the sex chromosomes (the x and y
chromosomes), and that the chromosomes hold DNA (deoxyribose nucleic acid), which is about six billion nucleotide pairs in length. A nucleotide is what makes up DNA and consists of a phosphate, a sugar known as deoxyribose, and four amino acids: cytosine, guanine, thymine, and adenine. These are paired in different ways, with cytosine [c] and guanine [g] together and thymine [t] and adenine [a] together but the pairs can be [c][g] or [g][c], or [t][a] or [a][t]. Mutation of genes occurs when these groupings of amino acids become altered through such causes as radiation, environmental pollutants, etc.

It is not known just how many canine genes there are but it is believed there many thousands, so finding specific genes is a very long job and it is much easier and quicker to work on what are called markers (or microsatellites) which denote areas where particular genes can be found. For example, if you were looking for a gene for a specific coat colour and you tested lots of dogs and found a specific marker which was in all the dogs which had that coat colour but was not found in the dogs which did not have that coat colour, you could link that marker to that coat colour and know that it would always be found in the area of the gene for that coat colour.

The human genome project has progressed far more quickly than the canine one and, since it is known that a large proportion of the genetic make up is the same in all mammals, it is possible to map out areas of canine chromosomes that correspond to areas of human chromosomes, with markers that have been discovered in humans also being found in dogs. This is known as comparative mapping.

Jack briefly described the basic Mendelian theory of inheritance for simple recessive and dominant genetic effects. Non-sex chromosomes are called autosomes, and the paired genes on them are termed autosomal genes. Diseases caused by mutations in autosomal genes are classified according to whether one or two copies of the mutant gene are needed to produce disease. If only one copy of a mutant gene is needed to produce the disease and the other copy of the gene is normal, the resultant disease is called autosomal dominant. If both copies of the gene must be mutant to cause disease, the term autosomal recessive is used.

The largest number of inherited health problems in dogs seem to be autosomal recessive, which has always been the most difficult to deal with because, although you may be able to see an affected animal as being affected (depending on such variants as age of onset), you cannot tell a carrier animal from a normal one but the carrier can continue the problem through its progeny. This is why, even with removing affected animals from breeding programmes, the condition can still keep on occurring.

With genetic testing it would be possible to find which animals were carriers and which were clear but, more than this, it would be possible to use carrier or even affected animals and still deal with the problem. This would mean that no-one would have to lose what had perhaps been a line they had built up over many years of breeding. If you had a really beautiful, typey dog that unfortunately suffered from a particular fault you were wanting to remove from the breed (e.g. blindness) you could breed it to an animal that was tested as clear of the gene for the fault. All the puppies in the resulting litter would be carriers but these mated to clear animals would produce some clear puppies, so that in two generations you could hopefully keep the beauty and type and lose the fault. If your beautiful, typey dog were only a carrier rather than affected, it would only take one generation to reach some clear puppies.

At least to begin with, the research will be geared towards dealing with faults that are governed by single genes, because polygenetic effects (those that are governed by several or even many genes) are much more difficult to deal with. This would remove from the list of problems in the Irish wolfhound that could be dealt with early in the programme what are considered to be the main causes of death in the breed, i.e. heart disease, osteosarcoma, gastric torsion, all of which are thought most likely to be polygenic, but could include problems such as liver shunt.


On average it takes a year to be able to establish a linkage based test (finding the marker linked to a gene) and five years to establish a gene based test (finding the actual gene responsible for a fault) and the money has to be found to pay for this. The Kennel Club is willing to use its Health Fund to help, but obviously each breed will need to fund at least part of its own tests. This is going to be more difficult for numerically small breeds such as the Irish wolfhound, but there are plenty of ways in which a fund could be built up gradually.

The suggestion is that a blood bank should be set up for Irish wolfhounds. One of the problems that is coming up with genetic research at present is that it is seldom possible to check back through families, particularly in those breeds which do not live very long, but also because owners and breeders lose touch. It may be possible to get a blood sample from the parents of an animal being tested but is less likely that the grandparents will still be available, very unlikely that the greatgrandparents will be, and even some of the siblings of the present generation may be impossible to find. A blood bank would allow such family research to be carried out, but obviously all samples must be identified with pedigree information. It would be no help to have a sample merely identified as "Puppy A" for example.

This is one of the things that some people find especially difficult, perhaps because they fear being blamed or their stock being ostracised. However, although this might have been a reasonable fear in the past, since genetic testing will allow of even affected animals being bred there is no reason now to be wary of having your breeding identified. Quite the opposite, in fact, since you will be doing so much towards helping the breed and future owners.

Because Irish wolfhound breeders are already having blood samples taken from each puppy in each litter they breed - for the liver shunt test - it is felt that the best way to start on collecting data for the genetic testing would be simply to take a little extra blood at this time and to send those extra samples (properly identified with pedigree details and registered names) to the Animal Health Trust for the blood bank. This would mean that in the future when the markers are being found for different health problems, it will be possible to check back on more distant family members.

Although this setting up of a blood bank is in the very early stages, it does seem as though it will be free of charge apart from paying for the extra blood to be taken and for the postage for sending it to the A.H.T. This may, of course, change in the future. The Officers and Committee of the Irish Wolfhound Society are very keen to get the breed into the scheme at the start. The idea is that people in the breed should say what conditions they feel need to be dealt with first (remembering that these should not be conditions already thought to be polygenic) and then that details should be agreed on as to how to set up an Irish wolfhound blood bank and to start funding the necessary research.

Links to some sites on canine genetics:

Genetic primer: A primer course in canine genetics

Dog genome project: The Dog Genome Project - includes page on how genes are mapped using markers and a link to a primer in Molecular Genetics

Veterinary Genetics Laboratory: University of California, Davis, Veterinary Genetics Laboratory Page, with information on genome screening panels and breed specific databases

Canid Generatics: University of Leicester, UK, Wolfdog project site with information on genetics, DNA, how DNA is inherited, etc.


The Irish Wolfhound

Marjorie Saunders had her first Irish wolfhound in 1969 and her Erindale kennel became very well known in the late1970s to mid-1990s, with many champions, the most notable of which was Ch. Erindale Triston.

She talked about the original Breed Standard and went through each point with the aid of an extremely co-operative bitch belonging to Jack Chisnall. Marjorie Saunders showing the correct head for the breed

She stressed the importance of remembering what the breed was intended to do, which was to hunt large game and the wolf, and the importance of relating this to the way the hound should be put together and how it should move. She also stressed that this is a breed that was intended to hunt and that therefore its hunting instinct should be accepted without blaming the hound for wanting to chase other creatures.

She stressed how important it is to have a strongly muscled and arched neck, not a very long one, and paid particular attention to the forehand construction, describing (and drawing) the placement of the shoulder blade and upper arm and saying that, although a 90 degree angle at the shoulder joint (the point at which these two bones meet) was what was asked for, she feels that up to 110 degrees should be acceptable. She described how important it is to have plenty of width of chest, and reasonable spring of rib, with the ribs going well back, so as to give room for lung expansion, but that too much spring of rib was not called for because at the gallop the hind legs are required to come forward of the shoulders and a barrel chest would make this difficult if not impossible. She described how important it was to have a reasonable length of loin (the gap between the end of the ribcage and the hindquarters) because in the double suspension gallop there has to be enough of this non-solid area to allow the spine to curve to bring the hind legs forward of the shoulder.

Having described how the rest of the body should be, with the hindquarters being the powerhouse and therefore needing to be well constructed and well muscled, she mentioned the permitted colours in the breed and said that personally she does not like much white and remembers seeing a dog that had the whole of one foreleg white. She did reiterate that everyone has their own ideas on how the Irish wolfhound should be, even keeping within the Breed Standard, because there is quite a wide area of interpretation.


The road to a good companion

Lyn Chesterfield was aided in her talk by her own dog, Bodger (whose grandsire was said to be a wolfhound although she doesn't know how true this is), and a delightful 16 week old wolfhound puppy called Badger.

Lyn said that mostly the problems people have with wolfhounds is really just a wolfhound being a wolfhound. People are so often wanting something different from what they actually have and are trying to fit a square peg into a round hole. She stressed how important temperament is and should be when breeding. It's all very well to be looking for breed type and soundness but the right temperament should be top of the list.

In a perfect world all puppies would have been well socialised before going to a new home, and this socialisation needs to encompass each puppy being given time as an individual, not just as part of a litter, and should meet people other than the immediate family. Since few puppies are socialised by the breeder in this way, the new owners need to be doing it. It is particularly important to make sure each puppy's first experience of something is positive. This enables the puppy to widen its experiences with ease, rather than be afraid of something new. The best time for a puppy to go to a new home is between 7 and 12 weeks of age.

You should plan in advance of getting your puppy. Think about it very carefully; make sure it is really what you want and that this breed is the right one for you, and then make sure that your home is prepared for this puppy. She mentioned one person whose puppy had found a hole in the fence and made off, and said that the time to prevent this sort of thing is before it has happened. If a puppy survives such an escapade it will have enjoyed its freedom, so will now start looking for ways to repeat that experience. If the garden is made completely dog proof before the puppy goes into it, then the puppy is going to accept that the garden is its domain and won't be looking for escape.

One way of helping your puppy to settle in is to ask the breeder beforehand to put a piece of cloth in with the dam and litter so that it takes on their smell, then when you collect your puppy you also collect your piece of cloth and put that in the puppy's bed so that it feels comforted by known smells.

Remember that a puppy is learning all the time from the moment its eyes open. There is no point waiting to do training until the puppy is six months old, because it will have learnt all sorts of things that you probably would prefer it not to be doing. Since the pup is going to be learning anyway, you may just as well teach it what you want it to be learning and you need to start this immediately you get the pup. She also stressed that intending to show a puppy does not preclude giving it training. If you train your puppy properly (that is, without force) it will not sit down everytime someone touches its rear (which is the usual excuse for not doing training of a show puppy) but instead can learn to stand just as you want it and to move on a loose lead.

When it comes to housetraining, Lyn does not like the use of newspaper, although she says she knows some dogs are trained quite happily using this method. However, she feels it is hard for the dog to understand that something it learns to wet on at some stage when it is lying on the kitchen floor is not okay to wet on when it is strewn over the living room. Take the puppy outside at all the times when you know it is likely to need to go out - after a meal, after a game, when it has awoken from sleep, any time it has not been out for a while - and make a terrific fuss every time the pup does its toileting in the garden. Not just a "good boy" but a real fuss to show you are thrilled and delighted.

Dogs are pack animals and it is not natural for them to be alone. In the wild a puppy would never be left alone, so you need to train your puppy to accept being alone at times. Do this by going out of the house for seconds and coming back; out for a minute and coming back; out for a couple of minutes and coming back. Teaching the puppy that people go but come back.

Give the puppy plenty of opportunity to learn safely about the world around it - the environment, other dogs and other animals, other people. People can be frightening to a puppy and it is important not to give the puppy to a person it is frightened of; that is just too terrifying. Acclimatise gradually, giving the puppy plenty of time and opportunity to come to terms with its own fears.

Dogs communicate most with body language and a human's body language means more to them than any amount of talking. If you lean over a dog, feeling tense and angry, even if you are not speaking angrily or shouting, this will immediately affect the dog in a negative way and trigger a fear response. Communication defuses aggression and fear in all species.

At thirteen weeks of age puppies start to look to where they fit into their pack and it is important that all the human members of the pack rank higher than the dog. Dominance is not aggressive; it is leadership. It is not necessary to cow or frighten or beat a dog in order to be dominant over it; all that is necessary is to control what the dog does. The pack leader chooses the sleeping place, gives the attention on his/her terms, initiates and ends games, goes first through doors, takes the highest spot. Wrestling is only done between equals, not by pack leaders, so don't engage in wrestling matches with your puppy.

Lyn prefers a half-check collar to a plain leather collar and is against choke chains. A half-check collar is a partial ring of leather or material with a short double length of chain running through a loop at each end and ending with a ring to fix the lead to. The collar needs to be fitted to the correct size for the dog's neck, so that when the chain is pulled up, the ends of the collar meet.

Lyn also feels that the lead should be a good length, at least three feet, and is against extension leads.

She used food as treats with the wolfhound puppy, Badger, and in a few minutes had him sitting, lying down, standing, and walking to heel. She explained that you can use anything that your dog will work for and showed with her own dog, Bodger, the use of a toy and a clicker.


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