Preservation Project &
The Northern Inuits International Unleashed has been set up to always work towards a project set out in the current breeding strategy document. The NIIU will always work towards fulfilling a current project's objectives through the breeding strategy aimed at the overall improvement of the Northern Inuit breed.
All Northern Inuit Dog breeders registered with the NIIU have signed up to the project and are following the breeding strategy. This is to ensure that everyone knows what they can expect when they approach one of our breeders who uphold the highest ethical values and are committed to working together to secure the future of the breed. Normally once all project’s objectives are fulfilled, then the organisation asks it’s Gold and Breeder members about their views on what the NIIU should concentrate on next.
All of our members have overwhelmingly asked that the NIIU will make preserving the breed for the future their priority. This is because they are concerned that due to the small gene pool and increasing inbreeding, now might be a good time to expand the gene pool to ensure the Northern Inuit Dog that we all love and know will not become extinct.
This is how the first project was born: The Northern Inuit Preservation Project.
The Northern Inuit gene pool has always been very small. However in recent years, due to a variety of reasons, it became even smaller. It has been noted that it has started to negatively impact on the actual breeding of the dogs (eg. smaller litters, re-absorption) and concentration of the faulty genes increased (eg. higher proportion of DM carriers). Fortunately, it has not yet started to impact Northern Inuit Dog pet owners, however it has been decided that action is needed to ensure that this is not and never will be the case.
Prior to 2016 nearly all Northern Inuit dogs and bitches chosen for breeding were selected based on a combination of size, gait, conformation and temperament using a three generation pedigree. Very few potentially heritable diseases had been diagnosed and those that did occur seemed to be easily managed. For example, in 2016 two related dogs were diagnosed with primary glaucoma and despite further research, no other dogs could be located with this disease and so it was felt that this was an unfortunate but isolated issue.
Also in 2016 there were reports of a couple of older Northern Inuits who had been diagnosed with DM (Degenerative Myelopathy). Despite calls from some breeders to make DM testing mandatory at this point, it was a further year before this test was introduced because some of the more prolific breeders rallied against it. The penetration of DM carriers was seen to be quite high and, because testing had not been introduced soon enough, two DM carriers were bred which has potentially produced DM affected dogs.
In 2017 the AHT investigated the incidence of oculoskeletal dysplasia in a litter of puppies. Some of us offered DNA samples to assist with this investigation and a DNA test (OSD3) was devised to prevent this life limiting condition affecting dogs in the future. Thankfully the penetration of this faulty gene was low enough for the impact on the gene pool to be limited.
Since then, there have been reports of some form of neurological issue in some dogs, who’s inbreeding is higher than 25% (the genetic equivalent of a brother/sister mating). Litter sizes have reduced, puppy mortality has increased, failed matings have become more commonplace as has re-absorption of litters half way through pregnancy. Overbite and cryptorchidism is also seen within the breed.
Are the anomalies seen in Northern Inuits truly of heritable genetic origin?
When confronted with an apparently congenital defect one must determine whether that defect is caused by one or more genetic mutations. Not all abnormalities in puppies or dogs are a result of heritable genetic defects and some that are known to be genetic may also be caused by non-heritable causes. For example, cleft palate is a defect seen in nearly all breeds of dogs, but there are 22 potential causes of cleft palate including excessive vitamin A or steroidal drugs such as prednisone or prednisolone given during pregnancy.
All of the following are known to cause birth defects and diseases that can mimic genetic diseases in puppies:
- Trauma (an injury caused by an outside force), including trauma while in the uterus, injury during birth or early development.
- Bacterial or viral infections while in the uterus or acquired shortly after birth.
- Dietary insufficiencies or excesses.
Some genetic diseases are "multifactorial" diseases, requiring both a genetic predisposition combined with environmental components in order to express the undesirable trait.
It isn’t certain that all of the disorders seen in any breed of dog are of genetic origin, but it also isn’t certain that they are not. Since the population of Northern Inuits is extremely low and consists of dogs with pedigrees that show numerous shared ancestors, members of the Northern Inuits International Unleashed have chosen to take a proactive approach toward ensuring minimising the risks of genetic disorders such as those that threaten the existence of many purebred dogs to ensure that our Northern Inuits remain vibrant, healthy dogs.
The Breeding Strategy to preserve the breed adopted by the Northern Inuits International Unleashed:
The Northern Inuit Dog Preservation Project does not have a "closed stud book." Our goal is not to preserve a bloodline while watching the population of dogs shrink to extinction - an inevitable result of continuous inbreeding or line breeding. Appropriate and careful out-crossing is encouraged in order to expand the genetic diversity within our Northern Inuit Puppies and Dogs. That noted, only healthy dogs that are phenotypically and behaviourally consistent with the Northern Inuit Dog breed standard should be bred as part of the preservation project. To preserve the Northern Inuit as a breed, dogs selected for out-cross breedings should, if at all possible, literally be Northern Inuits in all regards other than blood.
It is required that proposed breedings within the project be assessed for coefficient of inbreeding and both the sire and dam should also undergo genetic testing for the known genetic diseases for which testing is available.
From the beginning, it is our practice to ensure that breeders of the Northern Inuit Dog registered with the NIIU follow our puppies throughout their lives, seeking information from owners on at least an annual basis. Should a potentially genetic disease be diagnosed, the owners of the dog's parents and siblings must be notified and provided with information and assistance to enable owners to be proactive regarding the future care of their dogs. In addition, the Committee must be notified so this absolutely vital information can be included in the NIIU’s pedigree database.
Rationale Behind the Strategy and this Project
In order to decrease the incidence and control of genetic diseases in Northern Inuits, and any other breed, it's vital to understand that there is no such thing as a genetically perfect dog. It is estimated that every dog in the world carries at least 4 genes that, if combined with an identical gene from a mate, can cause an inheritable genetic defect.
To understand the importance of maintaining an open stud book, please read the article "What's in the Gene Pool".
Historically the population of Northern Inuits has never been large and, unfortunately, Northern Inuits have been subject to the strict degree of inbreeding required of traditional dog breeds. Consequently, out-crossing with dogs that are phenotypically identical to Northern Inuits is vital to expanding the population and ensuring adequate genetic diversity, to prevent inbreeding increasing. This would ultimately lead to the extinction of the Northern Inuit breed. By out-crossing with suitable dogs we can help ensure the future survival of Northern Inuits.
To monitor how closely related a certain mating is, NIIU uses the “coefficient of inbreeding” (COI) which statistically measures the probability that a pair of randomly sampled genetic alleles are inherited from common ancestors. A breeding between two litter mates from parents that are completely unrelated has a coefficient of inbreeding of 25% as does a breeding between mother/son or father/daughter. The minimum number of generations required for a sensible COI is recommended to be at least eight and preferably ten. To produce a COI based on 4 or 5 generations is not a true reflection of the level of inbreeding in any dog. This is because more generations are taken into account (more common ancestors are being taken into account) leads to the increased COI %. From a health perspective, a lower COI is much better than one that is higher. A study of Standard Poodles discovered that dogs with a COI of less than 6.25% lived on average four years longer than those with COIs over 25%.
For a more thorough understanding of coefficient of inbreeding, please read the article "A Beginner's Guide to COI".
The role of DNA testing within the Project
Recent scientific discoveries in the field of canine genetics have resulted in accurate genetic tests that can determine if a dog is a carrier of a genetic mutation responsible for many (though by no means all) heritable diseases. The list of diseases that can be prevented by using genetic tests to help make breeding decisions is rapidly growing, but is still considerably less than the 300+ genetic diseases known in dogs.
While DNA testing is a very valuable tool and is becoming more so with each passing day it's important to recognise that its usefulness is nonetheless limited. For example, some mutations cause horrible genetic diseases in some breeds of dogs but are apparently harmless in others. DNA tests can also result in false negative results. For example, the test for cerebellar hypoplasia conducted by Embark Veterinary, one of the most advanced canine DNA labs in the field, is quite accurate for some breeds, but shows a "clear" result for other breeds who are profoundly affected by the disease.
DNA testing of both sire and dam prior to breeding allows us to reduce the risk of passing on disorders for which reliable tests are available to nearly zero, but they cannot prevent those for which no test is yet available - those which are almost certainly present in all dogs, but have not yet been identified.
However, when we combine DNA testing while minimising the coefficient of inbreeding, we can greatly reduce the risk of producing puppies that are homozygous (affected by) any mutation.
What is the genetic future of the Northern Inuit?
The goal of the Northern Inuit Preservation Project is to ensure that current and future generations of puppy owners can enjoy the unique combination of conformation and temperament that makes the Northern Inuit Dogs one of the most versatile and desirable companions on the planet. To achieve that goal, we must increase the population of healthy Northern Inuits while minimising the potential for genetic diseases and disorders. Unfortunately no one can ever guarantee a perfectly healthy puppy, but we will certainly do everything in our power to minimise any health risks.
This can be done, and in fact we have advantages that breeders of some rare Kennel Club breeds do not enjoy. We are still able to increase genetic diversity within our dogs (no closed stud book), and the tools needed to reduce the risk of perpetuating genetic diseases. There are a lot of breeds that are facing similar challenges to the Northern Inuit Dog, but we believe that, with the help of science, we can overcome those and achieve all the aims of the project to move to the new stage of breed development.
Through careful breeding practices based on the best currently available scientific information we are confident that Northern Inuits will continue to be a presence in active and loving homes well into the future.