I am firmly pro-testing (and I DO test), but I think a huge problem is found when owners and breeders substitute “health testing” for HEALTH.
How many dogs do you know that have been euthanized for hip dysplasia?
I know several hundred dogs, but never met a single one that died young from hip problems. There are several that have varying degrees of arthritis but none fatal. In the worst cases I am aware of, the decision was made to euthanize the elderly or arthritic dog maybe a few months or a year earlier than it would have been if the dog had good hips, but the dog still lived to be pretty old.
What DO dogs die young of? Think about your circle of friends – cancer is probably number one; no test for it. Thyroid: test is very iffy. Addisons and Cushings are rocketing upward in incidence: no test. I lost a dog to hemolytic anemia, no test. Bloat, no test. Heart, test is very iffy.
And for those diseases there never WILL be a reliable test, because genetic predisposition is far less important than environment for most of those.
Probably the number one “health” problem is temperament; that kills more than any other. But a boatload of breeders, including Cardi breeders, will repeatedly breed dogs with critically poor temperaments. How many excuses have you heard – “Oh, he just does that because the neighbor dog looked at him funny when he was four months old” or “It’s because you’re holding food” (as their bitch is lunging for yours, snapping and roaring).
The proof is in the pudding. We tested for everything under the sun when I had Danes, and pedigrees were routinely OFAd back to the sixth or seventh or even higher generations and had heart certs for at least three, thyroid for four. There are currently over 630 CHIC Danes, all from show breeders. The peer pressure to health test is INTENSE. Did that make it a healthy breed? Did health improve in the generations I watched grow up?
Not on your life.
I couldn’t make those dogs live long lives for love nor money. I bought from breeders who had the best longevity in the country, and I still failed. I FAILED. I health-tested out the wazoo and it did not make me a better breeder or change the breed. I have a litter out there that are now all veterans, which is thrilling, but I’ve already lost three from the subsequent litter of six. One bloat, one massive infection, one hemolytic anemia. All before they were four. For the average Dane seven or eight is pretty much as long as they go. When more than one in a litter makes it past ten their breeder will take out an ad bragging about it.
I never lost a dog to anything I tested for. I know very few breeders who EVER did, aside from hearts, and (without exception) the dogs lost to heart issues had previously passed heart tests, included repeated echocardiograms.
Danes, and a bunch of others, are health-tested breeds, not healthy breeds. That doesn’t mean they shouldn’t exist; I think Danes are the most wonderful breed on earth. I am just too discouraged by the deaths to breed them anymore. I am not the one who will change the breed for the better. All I did was health test.
If I go to a breeder’s house and she’s got a bunch of old dogs lounging around the living room and they all jump off the couch and come over for cookies, that’s success. That’s what I didn’t have. That’s HEALTH.
We can’t lose sight of the fact that the goal is not to pass the health tests; the goal is a long-lived healthy dog. Passing the VERY few health tests we have is actually a pretty poor indicator of whether the dog or its pedigree is going to be active or happy into its teens. I’ve got a sad little collection of empty Dane collars that proves that pretty conclusively.