While the Labrador may be the UK’s most popular dog, more than 45,000 puppies are registered with the Kennel Club every year. It’s also the shooting community’s number one gundog.
But when it comes to an awareness of what constitutes the health status of Labradors being used for breeding, there’s a vast chasm of ignorance among those who rely so much on the working abilities of this breed. I hope it’s not intentional, but I have to say that those who disregard the relevance of testing Labradors for some of the more common problems that beset the breed do so with a cavalier attitude. And I fear it’s based on the assumption that health testing has more to do with Labradors produced for the show ring rather than the shooting field.
Mention hip X-rays and eye tests in shooting circles and even those who are disparaging about such things admit to a vague notion of their existence. The fact that many would mate a bitch devoid of any health testing to a dog of similar status is totally irresponsible. It’s bad enough that they may choose to tread a dangerous path and retain a puppy that is a potential health risk for themselves, but to be selling puppies from such an alliance is duping others and for that there is no excuse.
As a Labrador breeder who has embraced myriad testing procedures over the years, which now include hips, elbows, annual eye tests, DNA testing for general progressive retinal atrophy and DNA testing for centronuclear myopathy, I am restricted to using stud dogs that have an equally high health status. Believe me, it isn’t an easy job trying not to compromise on working ability, temperament and looks in the search for suitable sires that meet a demanding criteria on health.
Fortunately, more breeders are now recognising that these tests do have a relevance and more owners of good dogs are embracing the full gamut of physical and genetic testing. Nevertheless, it remains a constant challenge trying to select stud dogs that won?t undermine your efforts, not to mention the cost involved.
Unfortunately, the Kennel Club, of which I am a member, continues to accept litter registrations (£12 a puppy) from litters bred from totally un-health-tested parents. In many other countries only Labrador puppies from health- ested stock can be registered. So, perhaps only when the Kennel Club sets out a clear and precise code of conduct for Labradors will the rank and file step sharply into line with those of us who have the welfare and long-term future of the Labrador at heart.