Wednesday, October 7, 2009

A Belgian Tervuren Investigation

The Belgian Tervuren investigation, Part 1 – early days

I have tended to think one would be better off with a breed that for some reason has launched off into a non-show-ring effort of some sort. The “Working Airedale” people seem to have done that. Also, Germans who raise German Shepherds for protection-work rather than the show ring. I have heard, but don’t know whether it is true, that German German-Shepherds are much healthier than American German-Shepherds.

Also, The Dobermann (with 2 “n’s”) signifies the German version of the Doberman. I contacted one of those 2-N breeders and the man I spoke to was rude and insulting. He described his dogs as better in every way than the American Doberman, and there was no point in comparing a Ridgeback to a Dobermann – that was just dumb. Good bye! Well, good bye then.

Dogs raised solely for hunting like many of the breeds in the South might be good as well. I took a serious look at the Plott hound at one point, but I could find no breeders outside of the South and I wouldn’t be willing to drive all that way from California. I liked everything I read about the Plott hound except its “bell-like” bay.

Some breeds that have been newly added to the AKC registry like the Anatolian Shepherd seem to be very healthy. Breeds in the process of being added like The Thai Ridgeback might be very healthy as well.

When I was considering the very unpopular Irish Terrier, I discovered that it had very little genetic disease. I looked long and hard at that breed, but in the end thought it might be a little too small for some of my outings, and it was definitely too pugnacious. It was at least as pugnacious as the American Staffordshire Terrier, but the Amstaff has the bad reputation while the Irish Terrier does not – at least not amongst the general public.

When I began investigating the Belgian Tervuren, I was initially worried about its having become extinct. That is, it had gone out of existence but was brought back by crossing the Malinois, the Belgian Shepherd and the Laekenois in order to get the Tervuren look back. I thought the gene pool of the revived Tervuren might be dangerously small; such that any serious genetic disease might occur more frequently than if the gene pool was larger. What they did to get the Tervuren back reminded me of what was done to revive the Irish Wolfhound, but at first everything I read indicated that the Tervuren resurrection was a greater success.

People who like the Airedale and the Amstaff often like the idea that these are tough dogs that can whip other dogs. I don’t. I would not feel relaxed walking either of those breeds next to another large dog. My girls are bad enough, but not because they want to fight. Ginger wants to play and Sage just gets agitated. But the Tervuren is given 3 checks (by the Coile Encyclopedia of Dog Breeds) in regard to “friendliness toward dogs.” The RR has 2 checks, the Airedale, Irish, and Amstaff 1 check. On the other hand, the Tervuren is given the highest “protection ability” rating: 5 checks (as is the Amstaff). The RR & Airedale all get 4 checks.

At this point I thought the Tervuren would be less of a problem around other dogs (than the RR, Irish, Airedale, or Amstaff) but would provide a better protection level of all but the Amstaff. And it could do that without having the Amstaff’s “bad rep.”

The Belgian Tervuren Investigation, Part 2, Epilepsy

But then I ran across the following alarming information:

This article includes the following:

“Idiopathic Epilepsy occurs in substantially all purebreds and mixed breeds. Idiopathic Epilepsy is defined as ‘repeated seizures of unknown cause’. Known causes of epilepsy can include heat, poison, head trauma, infections, parasites, diabetes, and birth defects.

“The idiopathic condition is found with regularity, but not great frequency, in the Belgian Tervuren. The percentage may be as low as 2% or as high as 30%. We guess the actual numbers to be somewhere in-between. It usually does not surface until between 2 and 5 years of age. Typically, epileptic seizures occur once every several months, and will last about 5 minutes, although some more frequent and severe cases have been reported. This is probably considered the Tervuren's most troublesome health problem.

“The condition, or something that causes an individual to be susceptible, appears to be inherited in some Tervuren. The mode of inheritance of epilepsy isn't understood, which makes it difficult to eradicate. The ABTC is aggressively sponsoring veterinary research that, hopefully, will provide a better understanding of the nature and frequency of this threat.”

The Belgian Tervuren Investigation, Part 3, Thinking about it

In evaluting a piece of equipment for an aircraft, two considerations were primary, 1) the failure rate and 2) the significance of the failure. An Engineer could not have gotten by with such sloppy thinking as to say the failure rate may be as low as 2% or as high as 30%. It was my job on the C-17 to question engineers about such matters. “As high as 30%,” I would have yelled? “That’s unacceptable.”

If he had responded by saying that his best guess was that “the actual numbers” are someplace between “2% and 30%, I would have told him he was speaking nonsense. You build an aircraft with “worst case scenarios” in mind. “What happens if this has this problem 30% of the time,” I would have demanded?

“Well,” the engineer would have had to say, “it will fall to the ground, froth at the mouth, urinate on the floor, but not to worry, this failure will only last about 5 minutes.”

That level of failure would not have been acceptable in an aircraft and it isn’t really acceptable in a Belgian Tervuren. The Tervuren is supposed to be a top-of-the-line protection dog. But how well will he be able to do his job if he is frothing on the floor?

I looked for more information on this epilepsy problem and found on a Belgian Tervuren site the following: Epilepsy genetic marker study--Researchers at UC-Davis are working to identify the major gene effecting epilepsy in Tervs. We hope this will lead to a genetic screening test for epilepsy!”

Part 4, The difficulty of finding a healthy Tervuren -- or any other dog

I am not now, nor have I ever been a dog breeder, but I have dealt with many of them in the process of attempting to acquire healthy dogs. I was initially as naïve as most prospective dog buyers. A breeder does not typically volunteer negative information about the dogs she has produced. Unless you study, you find this negative information out the hard way when the dog you purchased develops a genetic disease. I had a German Shorthaired Pointer that became deaf and blind. I had one Rhodesian Ridgeback that was way up in the vicious range and another that developed cancer and Cushing’s disease.

As I contemplated buying another Ridgeback I questioned a great number of breeders about the health of their dogs, especially about what they were doing about genetic disease. I didn’t begin this questioning until after I had researched the matter with a great number of books and articles. George Padgett’s Control of Canine Genetic Diseases is a prime example of what I studied before bringing the matter to the RR folks. What happened next was very like what I imagined happened to critics of Stalin. Of course these RR folks couldn’t actually send me off to a Gulag, but they dearly wished they could.

Not all breeders opposed me. Some contacted me privately to say they agreed with me. Some even steered me to breeders that had a reputation for producing healthy dogs “in their lines.” So I ended up buying two Ridgebacks from a breeder who had been “lucky” in that regard. As it is, one of those Ridgebacks, Sage, developed a severe allergy. The other was recently diagnosed as having “Gingival Hyperplasia.” These aren’t major genetic diseases, and I will indeed consider myself “lucky” if these are the only diseases they develop. But Sage, the one who has the severe allergy” is only 4 ½; while Ginger, the one with “Gingival Hyperplasia” is 6 ½. A lot of time remains before they will be considered old.

So, knowing what I know (from my investigation) would I buy a Belgian Tervuren – even though in other respects it seems like an excellent choice for my circumstances? No, not unless I learned something from a breeder (assuming I believed her) which countered what I had read. If she told me that she had no Epilepsy in her line, that might cause me to reconsider the Tervuren, but as it is, I could not bring myself to buy a dog knowing it was possible that 30% of all Tervuren pups would develop epilepsy. I’m better off sticking with allergies and Gingival Hyperplasia.

1 comment:

Sandi said...

Would I sell you a puppy? No. No dog is perfect, and if you have read Padgett you know that all dogs carry multiple genetic problems, they are just not all expressed. If you consider gingival hyperplasia a problem, then it seems to me that you are looking for the perfect dog, and I don't have one to sell you. Minor health problems will often show up throughout a dog's life, just as throughout a human's life. This has to be expected and not a reason to not get a dog. I am a Belgian Tervuren breeder, I list all health information on the dogs I have bred on my website, I require health testing of all of the dogs that I place and I talk to every prospective puppy buyer about epilepsy. Am I unusual? No, many reputable tervuren breeders are doing the same thing.