Why do we need pedigrees at all? We sometimes meet with people who don’t use pedigree information in their breeding and some don’t see the point in pedigrees or indeed pedigree dogs. So we had a long thought about the whole point of pedigrees and creating things like iwdb.org.
A dog’s blueprint
The pedigree is the blueprint from which a dog is created. With proper knowledge of the dogs appearing in the pedigree, it’s quite possible to have a good mental approximation of what the final result of any mating are likely to be. That goes for looks, mentality, potential for longevity andrisk of diseases.
Of course, nothing’s certain when it comes to genetics. Everything’s governed by probabilities, but at least you have a good chance of altering the odds in your favour by using good pedigree data.
Combating genetic disease
Pedigrees are essential to combat genetic diseases when they spring up now and again. Maybe the best example is in how the breed tackled PRA (Progressive Retinal Athropy) when that first started showing up. Liz Thornton has an excellent article about how we worked together to lower the risk of PRA-offspring. The point here is that it wouldn’t be possible without information on pedigrees.
The article also mentions Anne Janis’ free and excellent risk assessment. She uses pedigree data extensively together with information – often given to her in strict confidentiality to calculate the risk of diseases like PRA.
Documenting our history
Did you know that the Irish wolfhound is being considered for enrolment in UNESCO’s World Heritage list? Many of us believe the breed is a vital part of the Irish heritage and as such the world heritage. Yes, it’s that important. Without pedigrees, we wouldn’t have any history to point at, and the Irish wolfhound would just be considered any big dog. With pedigrees, we can all trace the history of our dogs back to the few remaining Irish wolfhounds in the mid 19th century. Most dogs in iwdb.org has pedigrees going back that far. These data are an enormously important part of the breed history.
Making sure we are on the right track
Geneticists can tell us what we should do (Don’t inbreed, keep the effective population size high, breed for health and longevity). Without pedigrees, there’s no way we can actually do that. Think of iwdb.org as the Icelandic dating app which will help you make sure your bedpartner isn’t genetically unsafe. We provide tools that help breeders do what’s best for the breed and breed bodies to keep an eye on what’s happening. Without pedigrees, it would all be impossible.
All these things are equally true for other pedigree breeds as well. They may not have as good a tool as we have (although some have), but we are getting there. There’s also inititatives going on between the various international kennel clubs to make an international, all breeds, complete database. That probably won’t happen in the next few decades, though.