Why Genetic Health Testing Matters

My entire life I have only owned rescued dogs with histories of unknown circumstances and problematic issues. All of my dogs essentially came to me “broken”. They all came with a plethora of problem behaviors and were “project” dogs. After working with rescue after rescue and seeing more of the same, I decided it was time for me to step outside of my comfort zone and purchase a dog from a responsible breeder instead.

I didn’t make this choice lightly. I certainly didn’t make this choice because rescue dogs are “badly” behaved or because something is inherently wrong with them. However, I wanted a dog that had its best chance from the very beginning because out of all of my rescue dogs, only one of them actually made it into an agility class. The rest weren’t behaviorally or medically sound enough to ever enter an agility class – much less an agility ring.

As a trainer and person who loves canine sports, this is difficult. For years, I have put my wants, dreams, and desires of owning a dog that can compete aside, because it just wasn’t safe for the dogs I had. I love my dogs too much to put them in harm’s way for the sake of competing. Many of the behavioral or medical issues were impossible for me to predict when picking out my dogs and it was simply bad luck.

However, I have found purchased dog ownership to be quite a different arena. Almost immediately after purchasing my new Border Collie, someone told me if I wanted to do agility, I needed to invest in hip testing and genetic health testing because it was the responsible thing to do. I was never told this about my rescue dog who made it that far, not once. I normally got praise for spending so much time training a rescue dog and turning her life around. She had even been taken to a vet to be cleared for agility, and it was never mentioned by the vet at all. Why is this?

My best guess is that we hold purebred breeding stock to a different standard as far as their health goes. We know it is important to have genetic health testing done on these dogs because they are being bred purposefully and we only want the best of the best reproducing. There is significant pressure on breeders to perform this type of testing – as there should be.

As I prepare myself for my dog’s genetic health testing in the coming weeks, I have found myself asking more and more questions about this testing like, how accurate it is and is it worth it to perform this testing on rescued dog – purebred or not?

It is a common belief that genetic health testing cannot be successfully or skillfully run on mixed breed dogs because we don’t know what inherited disease testing to run. According to PawPrint Genetics, creators of Canine HealthCheck, they have developed Canine HealthCheck for any dog – purebred or mixed breed, which can test for more than 150 common, inherited diseases. This process is also more affordable than ever at less than $1 per inherited disease tested.

So, why aren’t more people doing it?

My personal belief is that people do not see the value or even understand that this is out there. It has long been thought of as something that breeders with expensive dogs should be doing. My thoughts are that the general public probably doesn’t understand why breeders should be doing testing to begin with, and have just been told not to purchase a dog without this testing. However, there are several significant benefits to testing your pet dog.

Understanding any health risks presented by your dogs’ genetics can help you when there is an emergency situation because you have already ruled out possibilities of what could be wrong. You can use it as preventative for those diseases which are preventable or become worse with time. This information can give you time to prepare for any costly expenses in the future if you find out your dog is affected by an inherited disease. Lastly, it can give you peace of mind, especially if you had a dog in the past affected by an inherited disease.

I believe this is a process we should start adopting for our sports dog that we invest so much time and money into, as well as our rescues that we pour so much love into. Understanding your dog’s limitations, even future ones, is essential for making informed choices about your canine-human partnership.

Picture by Naval Surface Warriors