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Harnessing Genetic Expertise to Produce ‘Best in Show’ Winners

George Sofronidis

Harnessing Genetic Expertise to Produce ‘Best in Show’ Winners

As I said to an exhibitor while watching a dog carrying on during the Royal Melbourne Show, “You can have the best genes in the world, but if your dog acts like it’s auditioning for a comedy show instead of a dog show, you’re not bringing home the blue ribbon!”

Over the last 20 years, the transformation of show winners has been remarkable, with the glamour and diversity of breeds being awarded Best in Show progressing significantly. Just look at the front covers of SHOWSIGHT magazine. Genetic testing has played a crucial role in revolutionizing traditional breeding practices. However, it’s not just about the science. Just as understanding the judge’s criteria is key when entering the show ring, it’s equally important for breeders to master the genetic health makeup of their dogs. This understanding empowers them to make informed decisions in the “genetic lab ring,” leading to healthier, more predictable outcomes and significantly reducing heritable diseases. It ensures the future of breeding is as vibrant and varied as the show ring itself.

Getting Genetically Prepared Before You Enter the Show Ring

Just as you meticulously prepare your dog for a show—grooming, checking competitors, and researching judges—genetic testing requires similar diligence. This non-intrusive process begins with a simple cheek swab sample. Some dogs, like Charlie (my Boston), take it in their stride, while others, like Mary (my Brussels Griffon), may be a bit more reluctant. And if you think swabbing a dog is tricky, try swabbing a cat! As I have said while swabbing a stubborn dog, “I’ve seen cats contort their cheeks so much you’d think they were auditioning for a yoga class.”

Choosing the Right Genetic Dog Show to Attend

As highlighted in previous articles, numerous resources guide breeders in selecting appropriate genetic tests for their specific breeds. I’ve often heard exhibitors sigh and moan when they see the judge who has been chosen for their championship show, thinking they have no chance. Similarly, I’ve heard exhibitors groan about genetic testing, questioning its relevance and thinking they have more costs. Just as choosing the right lead and collar is crucial, so is targeting prevalent genetic disorders and traits essential for the breed’s physical and behavioral standards. In the end, you attend a show and exhibit to make sure your breeding is rewarded and acknowledged by your peers and judges.

Start Small—It’s Not a Sprint, It’s a Show!

Just like when you started, you went to small shows. My advice to breeders is to take small initial steps into genetic testing. When you enter the show ring, the steward welcomes you in, and you trot slowly to the space in the ring, smile at other exhibitors, and wait for the judge to critique. The same should be true with how you approach genetic testing—request a collection kit, read about your breed, and take tests that are relevant, with one or two tests, to become comfortable with the process. Promote the idea that every step toward genetic testing is a step toward healthier, more competitive dogs. Take it and tackle your breeding one genetic test at a time.

Interpreting & Critiquing Genetic Test Results: The Soap Opera of the Show Ring

Effectively interpreting genetic test results is essential. As a breeder, don’t be afraid to reach out and ask questions and seek clarification. Most laboratories have genetic counselors or experts like Orivet to understand the implications of breeding strategies. As Genetic George likes to say, “DNA doesn’t lie, but your dog might if you don’t know what you’re looking at!” Maybe this could be something shows could take on—the ability for an exhibitor to ask questions and seek clarification on the judge’s selection.

Interpreting genetic test results can be as engaging as the latest TV drama. This approach can make the typically dense scientific data more appealing. Genetic George quips, “It’s like a cliff-hanger; you never know what twist the DNA will reveal next!”

Wearing Your White Lab Coat in the Show Ring: Timing Tests, Picking Pairs & Keeping Diversity Without the PhD Stress

Incorporate genetic testing into breeding programs with practical advice on timing tests, selecting breeding pairs based on genetic compatibility, and managing genetic diversity within the population. As I like to say, “It’s not about getting a dog with a PhD, but it sure feels like it sometimes!”

Simply testing is not enough—you need to test with a purpose. Use the results to effectively manage your breeding program without sacrificing your lines or temperament. Remember, when a judge is looking for the next champion, they aren’t just considering genetics; they’re focusing on temperament and how the dog behaves in the ring that day.

Simply testing is not enough—you need to test with a purpose.

Choosing the Right Tests—It’s Not a Lottery

In many cases, breeders may need guidance on selecting genetic tests with a nod to avoiding the “pick-n-mix” trap, as, unlike in a raffle, every choice in genetic testing should be a calculated decision.

And in the world of dog shows, the judges will see not just the beauty but the brilliance of a scientifically sound and ethically responsible breeding program.

Breeding Champions—Embrace Ethics and Genetic Health for True Winners!

As breeders, I will keep emphasizing that you have an ethical responsibility to ensure your animals’ health and welfare. Genetic testing is a tool not just for producing winners but for preventing the propagation of debilitating hereditary conditions.

Breeders, let’s follow the lead of Mary, Charlie, and Genetic George. Embrace your ethical responsibility. Use genetic testing as a powerful tool, not just for the show ring but to ensure the health and happiness of your animals. Remember, being a true champion means continuously learning, adapting, and putting our furry friends’ health first.

So, next time you see Mary and Charlie dazzling the judges, know that behind those winning smiles is a commitment to the highest standards of genetic health. Because real champions aren’t just born—they’re ethically bred!

Co-Founder, Orivet (Owner of Charlie & Mary)

George: “You know, Charlie, Orivet is like a GPS for breeders. They guide you through every twist and turn of genetic testing.”

Charlie: “Woof, George! And just like a good GPS, they even recalculate when you miss a turn. No breeder left behind!”

Continual Learning and Adaptation

Picture this… Mary, with her wiry, dense coat and large, round eyes, strutting her stuff in the ring. But behind that confident trot is a mind sharp as a tack, alert, and always eager to learn. You see, Mary knows that to be a true champion, it’s not just about looking good—it’s about staying ahead of the game with the latest in genetic technology.

Breeders, take a page from Mary’s book! Being a top dog in the show ring isn’t just about ribbons and trophies. It’s about continuous learning and adapting to new scientific findings. Think of it as being a champion in genetic testing. Just like Mary, who’s always first in line for the newest genetic tests (and treats), breeders should stay informed about advances in genetic technology and new tests. It’s the secret to ensuring the healthiest, happiest pups around.

So, next time you’re at a show, remember Mary the Griffon. She’s not just prancing; she’s dancing to the beat of scientific progress. And if Mary can do it, so can you. Embrace the future, keep learning, and let’s make every dog show not just a display of beauty but a celebration of genetic excellence!

At Orivet, we prioritize customer service and strive to support breeders throughout their genetic testing journey. From selecting the right tests to interpreting results and applying them to breeding decisions, we’ve got your back.

Spotlight on Orivet—The Handler You Never Knew You Needed

Orivet’s commitment to advancing the health and success of pedigree breeds through cutting edge genetic science is like entering a show ring—a smile and greeting from the steward to let you know we acknowledge you. We’re here to make sure your breeding decisions are not just a shot in the dark but a well-lit path to success.

Orivet or your genetic testing lab should be seen as your seasoned handler behind the scenes, helping you prep your dogs for the show ring with top-notch genetic insights. Genetic George adds, “Orivet is like the handler who knows all the judges’ secrets—and then some!” So next time you enter the show ring and look at the judge, I want you to stop and picture the judge wearing a white lab coat.