Genetic diversity

Breeders of the Icelandic Sheepdog have known for a long time that keeping the breed genetically diverse is very important for the continued existence of the breed. A lack of genetic diversity is the cause of a lot of health issues. You can find more info about this in the “What is genetic diversity?” paragraph.

As you can also read in the paragraph regarding the history of the Icelandic Sheepdog, in 1997 Pieter Oliehoek published his scientific research results regarding the genetic diversity within the Icelandic Sheepdog breed. He discovered genetically important lines through this research, and breeders have tried to breed with these. Breeding was successful for a number of family groups, while for other family groups things didn’t turn out so well.

In March 2015 I attended an educational afternoon for breeders. Pieter Oliehoek was there as well, and he spoke about the need to maintain genetic diversity and how this can be achieved. After I talked with him about the situation within the Icelandic Sheepdog breed, I decided to pick up his work where he had left it behind and to re-chart the situation within the breed in relation to genetic diversity.

When trying to maintain genetic diversity, it’s very important to keep the data up to date. As a result of breeding programs, dogs can become more, but also less important throughout the years. Because the research of Pieter in 1997 concerned the population until 1992, this was no longer up to date for our population in 2015. 

Requirement 1 for a proper overview of the genetic diversity within a breed, is a complete pedigree overview of all dogs that have ever been born within the breed, right back to the founders.

Requirement 2 is extremely important in order to get correct results. Now that you have all dogs, it’s important to remove all dogs that are doubled in the database and to find the dogs where the link to a parent seems to be missing.

And finally, you need to find the right software for the calculations. This isn’t easy, because a lot of the software that has been written for this purpose, has been written for zoos, for breeding programs for endangered species with small populations.

After we managed to do the calculations, I have been in touch on a very regular basis with Pieter Oliehoek about the results, and managed to get his data from the research he did in 1997. This has helped me to erase a couple of small mistakes in relation to the founders. Besides this, it has given me new insights about how we should manage the data and what the pro’s and con’s are in this respect.

Since 2017 we’ve organised a few workshops where we talked about the theory of genetic diversity and about how to use the knowledge in our breeding.

There is still room for improvement in this respect within the Icelandic Sheepdog population, you can read more about it on this page