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. Luckily the international co-operation organ ‘ISIC’ has always taken good track of all pedigrees as much as possible, and because of this I have been able to add 15.500 dogs to our own database.  
Update 2018: In the last years we added as many dogs as possible and not only the dogs registrated in the ISIC database. We currently have more than 17.000 dogs in our database.

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. After many weeks of research, luckily Linda and I managed to remove these mistakes.

And finally, you need to find the right software for the calculations. This wasn’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 (this is also Pieter Oliehoek’s specialism). After several months of trying loads of software programs, we managed to get new analyses for the Icelandic Sheepdog regarding the genetic diversity within the current population.

After we managed this, 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.

At the beginning of 2017 I disclosed this process and my work during a closed breeder meeting of Vereniging de IJslandse Hond in Nederland. Breeders responded very well and with enthusiasm, and asked me to organise a lecture regarding this subject. Because of my background as a math teacher, I decided to not only provide a lecture, but make it into a workshop.

The goal of the workshop is to not only know what genetic diversity is and how the status quo is at the moment within the breed of the Icelandic Sheepdog, but to most and foremost know how to implement and apply this new information in our breeding plans. In collaboration with the breeding committee of Vereniging de IJslandse Hond in Nederland the workshop took place on 21 May 2017, and all Icelandic Sheepdog enthusiasts (also non-members of VIJHN) were welcome. 

The workshop was a great success and I think that we have all learned a lot about the subject. Many pointed out though that this is very important knowledge for a lot more people than only us, and therefore I hope to be able to organise more workshops of this nature in the future. In order to maintain our beloved Icelandic Sheepdog, it is important that increasingly more people have this knowledge and can and will implement it in their breeding policies, in order to improve the diversity within our breed. There is still room for improvement in this respect within the Icelandic Sheepdog population, you can read more about it on this page