Breeding of Danish/Swedish Farmdogs into third countries

 

 

By: Helene Riisgaard Pedersen, chairman of the breeding committee in the Danish breed club DSGK, VP of the board of directors of DSGK, FCI conformation judge, owner of Kennel Little Denmark’s.

Awarded by DKK
(Danish Kennel Club) for Kennel Little Denmark’s breeding achievements with the breed, with the Breeder’s Prize award in 2021 (only awarded 7 times in the
kennel club’s 125 year long history).

DSGK breeder of the year for 7 consecutive years, 2016-2022. Bred 25 litters
by 13 different females in 6 dog generations through 20 years.

Published 2022:

The Danish/Swedish farmdog is quickly becoming popular in more and more countries. Historically – just a few decades ago – it was only bred in the native countries.

First along came the other Scandinavian countries, Norway and Finland, because with the NKU (Nordic Kennel Union corporation) the breed was able to be registered and pedigreed by the kennel clubs in those countries.

Then came The USA quite quickly after. Norway and The USA almost started at the same time. So did I. I was one of the 3 founders of the breed club DSFCA in The USA.

I have followed the breed closely both in the native countries and in third countries through all the years. All countries outside of Denmark and Sweden are to be considered third countries. During this time, I have made a number of observations, and established some experience, which I would like to share here.

All of the new countries, which the breed is introduced to, have to go through the same challenges. Finding out about the breed. Getting breeding stock. Learning how to pick the next generation among their puppies. Learning about how the breed is evaluated to the breed standard, learning how to interpret it and prioritize it, and last but not least: What is a Danish/Swedish farmdog actually…what breed typical details is it, which makes it a DSFD and not a Fox terrier, Terrier Brasileiro or Parson Russel?

Also some surprises occur, and how to handle those? Learning what happens, when you breed this breed all together is a steep learning curve…soon realizing that it’s not as easy as it is to breed black Labradors, Boxers, or other breeds with type established through centuries. You can breed 2 farmdogs to one another, and easily get something else, as a result. Many new breeders in Denmark and Sweden make the same experience. We see it often, it’s a circumstance.

I have seen the same problems occur in new third countries, and I have seen the problems  handled in different ways and with various amount of success. I have seen those countries’ rather new breed clubs go through the same struggles, wanting to do ever so good for a new breed in their country, but really not knowing much about the breed at all, and where to put effort and focus.

Now since the FCI approval the “explosion” is about to happen. It used to be one or 2 third countries we were working with, at a time. But now the breed is spread in many more countries, and they are all starting with one dog, then one breeder etc.

Status today is, that the best specimens, type- and exterior wise, still are to be found in Denmark and Sweden. Denmark has a stronger consistency than Sweden, but also a smaller population. In my estimation new third countries should look to the native countries and not other third countries, in order to find quality breeding dogs. The quality and breeding stability is simply not to be found in any third countries at this time. To me it appears that every third country are all “in the same boat” and have enough to do trying to sustain, learn,  and develop their own breeding. Even the native countries are still developing the breed.

I think now is a good time to look back at what other third countries have gone through, so new third countries can learn from those, and maybe not repeat the same mistakes. And maybe have the knowledge to make better choices, instead of learning the same hard way as others have done before them.

One thing we can establish right from the start: Third countries, such as i.e. Norway, which started their population over 20 years ago (8-10 dog generations), is still to this day highly dependent on picking up new breeding stock in both Denmark and Sweden.

So let’s make it clear up front, that no new’er or new third country can have any different expectation. Taking on breeding this breed outside of Denmark and Sweden is a long term obligation to continue to work with breeders and pick up breeding stock and mate to dogs from the 2 native countries. At least to the ones, who wishes to continue to breed Danish/Swedish farmdogs true to breed standard. And it is not done in 20 years.

Norway has today a population as high or higher than the population in Denmark. And they can still not carry out breeding just inside of Norway, and maintain genetic variety, as well as they also can’t continue to develop exterior quality, on their own. So the Norwegian breeders are actively and constantly reaching out to Danish and Swedish breeders, to obtain high quality breeding stock to work with.

New third countries must realize and expect, that this is the future for them as well. Of course based on the assumption, that those new countries also wish to still breed Danish/Swedish farmdogs of type, which hold up to the quality of the native countries, and not create some different foreign version of the breed.

Further: One of the other challenges of many third countries has been (and will continue to be), that the breeders in the native countries tend to keep their best puppies close, so that people in third countries only get to pick up, what’s left. The result of this practice is what for a large part has founded the German population unfortunately. When knowing that a litter of 4 farmdog puppies grow up, and can end up looking like 4 very, very different dogs, this matters indeed.

In a litter of 4 farmdogs, it’s not to be expected, that there will be 4 adult dogs of breeding value. And here we are not talking about any other methods of evaluating the puppies, than by the correct interpretation of the breed standard of the Danish/Swedish farmdog.

To Danish/Swedish farmdog breeders in Denmark and Sweden, this is normal, and every day stuff. But to new breeders, perhaps experienced from other breeds, this is indeed a tough and steep learning curve. Same goes for a pet owner, who breeds the one and only beloved pet – it can be heart crushing and devastating, if having to realize, that the result of a breeding is anything but perfect. But so it is. More often, than not with this breed.

Further – as in any breed: No breeding dogs can be picked as puppies. The selection of a breeding dog should not be finally done, until looking at an adult dog.

In many litters, there might not even be 1 out of 4 growing up to become of breeding value. If getting pick number 2, 3 or 4 from a farmdog litter, it will only once in a while become a dog with a quality strong enough to found a new kennel on. Never the less, this has happened more often, than not. Both in Germany and The USA and several other third countries.

When already in a new breeder’s first generation, the type is yielding, then in just 1-2 generations of breeding this breed, it is very easy to entirely loose the correct type. Especially when new to the breed, and not knowing how to prioritize, when selecting breeding dogs for next generation.

It is all because the breed is consisting of high genetic variety. This is also why the breed is so healthy and live for so long. The great health and longevity of life, comes at this “cost”.

With many different genes in play, the dogs are not only different in the genes inside. We can all see, that they look very different on the outside too. Even rather close in-breeding is no guarantee to “fix” the type, we have seen many examples of that. The breed continues to be rather un-stabile in it’s exterior, also when breeding dogs from “tight” in-breeding litters.

It’s frustrating to have bred some other breed successfully and then get into breeding this breed, to watch how un-reliable the breeding results are. If at the same time trying to maintain low in-breeding coefficient, it generally doesn’t improve in the next coming generations, unless sticking really tight to a strong and consistent exterior type in choice of males. Because all of the many different genes still in play in the new pedigrees, will continue to throw dogs, which will also throw a wide variety in their off spring as well. If not knowing what to look for, it is really easy for new breeders to pick a male bringing wide variety to a female of already wide variety. And it is also easy to pick “the wrong” puppy to keep, generation after generation, thus loose the type quick.  

The breed is not at all established in it’s exterior in the native countries either. And we are working towards 40 years of pedigreed breeding now. A fair number of breeders in Denmark and Sweden have established great knowledge and longevity of experience. During those 40 years the breed has undergone a hefty development, from being of greater exterior variety, to becoming more steady in type and exterior. But even in Denmark and Sweden the breed is still being refined and developed, and over just the past 10 years, it has become more consistent. But we still see huge differences in different breeding lines, as well as we see a large variety within the same litter.

When looking at Norway and The USA, and the historic development of the breed and the current status, it becomes clear to me, that each new third country will not benefit from trying to establish an isolated population of as much different genetic variety as possible. This is what happened in those 2 countries from the start, and neither one of the countries could manage to keep up the type and exterior quality. They stalled and went no-where fast. Germany is on that stage of having to decide as well, how to make priorities. We see the type sliding, and shortness of type strong males to work with inside of the country borders.

Some Norwegian breeders were quick to learn to tap into some of the strongest breeding lines in Denmark and Sweden, after bringing in lots of different lines, and breeding a great variety of types. Some Norwegian breeders continue – as I stated to begin with – to breed selectively to some of the best Danish and Swedish lines and dogs. As they are showing better breeding results, breeders in Denmark and Sweden become more motivated to let them import first pick puppies vs. 2nd or 3rd now. Norway will be doing this for many, many years, generations and matings to come. This is what it takes…

Therefore the Norwegian breeding population’s quality has finally begun slowly to improve for some breeders, 20 years after introducing the breed in Norway. And this I think is interesting for all other third countries. Will they work with a high variety into an even bigger  variety for 20 years, before finding out, or will they use this information to their advantage from the start? That’s the question.

If a new third country wants to learn from Norway, and not take the long way towards the goal, then it is not important to prioritize many different breeding lines represented in those countries.

Denmark and Sweden can master supply of new breeding stock. In Denmark we even supply the breed with new blood, certifying new specimens born without a pedigree into the pedigree.

In Denmark and Sweden we also have the necessary experience with the breed, to maintain the genetic variety, while maintaining development of the typology. Between the 2 native countries, we can and will continue to be able to supply the world with new breeding stock and breeding options for a long, long, long time to come.

So I don’t think new countries should be so concerned with bringing in a lot of genetic variety. They will still not be able to stand alone on their own within 20 years anyway, so it’s not going to make a difference. And all of the genetic variety still leads back to most of the same founder dogs, so trying to “mirror” the Danish and Swedish populations, no matter how the dogs are combined in a third country, it still does not contribute anything new to the gene pool. It’s just stirring the same soup in a different way.

I believe that new third countries will much faster be able to establish a strong breed typical population to sustain type in the future, by plucking dogs, and breeding to males from Denmark’s and Sweden’s top shelves. To continue to come back with their females, and breed them to dogs of the highest quality in the native countries again and again.

Do not introduce a large number of breeding restrictions to attempt to make the breed healthier. It is not necessary, more than likely not even possible either. Denmark and Sweden have made sure, that everybody gets one of the world’s healthiest dog breeds to work with. We know how to do that, let us continue to do that. We have managed it well through 40 years, and can also continue to manage this part, what we do works.

Keep your country free of strict breeding restrictions, taking away options for breeding with dogs in the native countries. Once you cut them out, you have cut your opportunity to maintain the quality and type long term.

If picking from the top shelves of Denmark’s and Sweden’s breeding stock, the breeding results will be better, and there will be opportunity for litters to become more consistent, rather than more and more different. It will become less of a problem that way, if the one (and perhaps only) right puppy is not picked for further breeding in every litter. Because if the pedigree consists of only dogs of strong consistent type and high quality (vs. a bunch of very different looking dogs), chances are that the next generation over time also might throw not just none or one, but maybe 2 breeding quality puppies in a litter.

Each breeder and each country’s breed club has a free choice of course. I am only sharing observations through 20 years of following the breed into various third countries. But it will be interesting to see how both the already established third countries, as well as new third countries, will handle the challenge of breeding this breed going forward.

There are certain anatomical features, which – once lost – are near impossible to get back by breeding.

Some of the first words in the breed standard is “small and compact”. If the over-all first impression is not the silhouette of a small and compact dog, then it is already a problem with the type. If it gives just one slight thought of elegance, it is wrong.

Further it states the breed is “slightly rectangular” height 9: length 10.

This means the proportions are wrong, if the dog is square like a schnauzer and many terriers (i.e. Fox terrier and Terrier Brasileiro), or too rectangular like a sled dog or labrador.

Another breed type feature, which is generally quickly lost in breeding is the correct with in the front. The correct breed type is indeed a “chest type”. The breed should have lots of chest and volume in the rib cage, to a relatively small dog.

The correct farmdog has a rather wide front. There is at least the full with of a flat hand between the front legs, and that hand should become very full of a well filled and deep forechest, when placing the hand between the front legs, from the front of the dog.

It is one of the features we see disappear fast in the breeding, and it doesn’t just pop back up, if the parents didn’t have it. So we easily see them become narrow in the front, lack forechest and depth, and then perhaps in the next generation, the ribs become non-barrel shaped, so there is a gap between the elbows and the chest. They are quickly no longer Danish/Swedish farmdogs by first glance.

And so it goes on with a number of other breed type traits. The croup and tail set is another. Either the croup becomes too sloping, causing a too low set tail, and all rear leg action taking place below the body.

Or the opposite happens, the croup becomes flat, the tail high set, and now we have typology from a terrier.

The true, correct, breed typical farmdog croup is one of a slightly rounded croup, tail not set too high, and yet not as steep in the angulation, that it affects the rear leg action, which should be normal with good push off and drive.

And then we haven’t even talked about the head. The ever so difficult and breed typical rather small and equal-sided triangular head. Every third country, as well as the native countries, have been, and are still struggling with that. Some of the head issues are:

  1. They become both long and narrow with lack of stop, flat skull, slanted eyes, appearing more and more like Fox Terrier heads.
  2. Much too coarse and exaggerated skull, rounded cheeks, too deep a stop, which gives a hard expression, and in some cases almost a Staffordshire bull terrier shaped head. Some of the females with these coarse, exaggerated heads, can appear masculine. That’s a major fault.
  3. Hound- or beagle like head, with a much too big head, much too heavy muzzle, perhaps even a bit over hanging lip and heavy ears.

Each variety of head, we see repeat and come again in the next generation. Once it is not correct, it is really, really difficult to breed away from again.

It takes more to breed this breed successfully, than it does breeding other breeds. Breeders have to stay tuned to how the breed develops in the native countries – the goal is constantly moving. And breeders must be willing and able to “up-and-go” with females for breeding to males in the native countries.

They will also indeed benefit from networking with breeders, to some day get the opportunity to pull out a number 1 pick of litter puppy, and not second or third or whatever was left.

Denmark and Sweden hold a responsibility in all of these regards. The 2 native countries’ breed clubs are agreeing on this.

We wish to make ourselves available for assisting third countries in breed- and breeding matters. The private breeder-to-breeder connection and network is not up to the breed clubs. But the breed clubs wish to be able to assist new breed clubs in their various establishing stages. I.e. we can share our reasonable working guidelines for breeders, so that they may choose to adapt, not to prevent themselves from breeding to dogs in the native countries. We wish to be available for questions and issues in interpreting the breed standard and our breed compendium on the FCI website. We want to be able to assist with  relevant breeder- and judges education.

And we will continue to strive for maintaining our genetic variety and health in the breed, so that we can continue to supply third countries in all their breeding stock needs and mating needs for their future long term. As we have been in the past. We have in the native countries formed breeding guidelines, breeding practices and breeding experience, designed to maintain and hold our end of this.

I know we are many in the native countries following the introduction of the breed to new third countries with great interest. There are really some hard choices to be made, both the individual breeders as well as their breed clubs, as they hopefully will gather in breed clubs in more and more countries.

Consistency through generations is not a simple task, it is easier to lose the type, than to maintain or develop it. This is 5 successful generations straight line of females, from left the oldest at 13 years of age, to the right the youngest at 6 months of age. The breeding line is unique because of the stability of type, through so many generations. However – it has taken careful and diligent selection, as well as de-selection in every generation, to achieve the desired type and firm up consistency. The brothers and sisters of in particular the earlier generations, did not at all look the same as these…
Some of the very different looking brothers and sisters from the earlier generations of the lineage above, which I chose not to breed. The decision not to breed them could not have been made, when they were puppies, they looked like keepers to me, at that time.
Top left: A male with a head, clearly long and narrow, with a strong taste of Fox terrier. I did not feel for going forward with this.
Top right: Female of odd proportions in every way. Surely roomy rib cage, however too deep, and perhaps on too short legs? Too long body? Long loin? Plus she has too high set tail on flat croup, and at least one upright ear. She was to me clearly not a breeding candidate as an adult, but had to grow up, before I could tell.
Bottom left: First impression is absolutely off type. Tall, elegant, square, leggy male – however the head could – to me – just as well be on a female. A rather serious fault, when not very clearly seeing the gender in the expression and head. He should clearly be more masculine in the expression. Long legs, narrow front, flat sided narrow rib cage, long narrow upper thigh, upwards curve over the back etc. etc. For me, not a breeding candidate when wanting to breed type and to breed standard. Judging this male at a show, I would award him good or sufficient only. It is ok – I can say so, since he is still mine
Bottom right: Expression is not correct, the head is not breed typical triangular, more like circular round. Ears far to flighty, just a month after this picture was taken, they were entirely upright. This is indeed hereditary when it shows up in the young dog (in this case just 1 year old). Stirs the expression, and not a promising choice for future, to continue a lineage with for breeding.
Should I have picked for temperament, it would have been a tie. They are all kind, valued, loved, and well functioning family dogs. With all of the great skills and mindset, we wish from the breed. Both in the first picture example, and the second set.
Some of the very different looking brothers and sisters from the earlier generations of the lineage above, which I chose not to breed. The decision not to breed them could not have been made, when they were puppies, they looked like keepers to me, at that time.
Top left: A male with a head, clearly long and narrow, with a strong taste of Fox terrier. I did not feel for going forward with this.
Top right: Female of odd proportions in every way. Rather deep, perhaps too deep, and surely roomy rib cage, however too deep, and perhaps on too short legs? Too long body? Long loin? Plus she has too high set tail on flat croup, and at least one upright ear. She was to me clearly not a breeding candidate as an adult, but had to grow up, before I could tell.
Bottom left: First impression is absolutely off type. Tall, elegant, square, leggy male – however the head could – to me – just as well be on a female. A rather serious fault, when not very clearly seeing the gender in the expression and head. He should clearly be more masculine in the expression. Long legs, narrow front, flat sided narrow rib cage, long narrow upper thigh, upwards curve over the back etc. etc. For me, not a breeding candidate when wanting to breed type and to breed standard. Judging this male at a show, I would award him good or sufficient only. It is ok – I can say so, since he is still mine 😊
Bottom right: Expression is not correct, the head is not breed typical triangular, more like circular round. Ears far to flighty, just a month after this picture was taken, they were entirely upright. This is indeed hereditary when it shows up in the young dog (in this case just 1 year old). Stirs the expression, and not a promising choice for future, to continue a lineage with for breeding.
Should I have picked for temperament, it would have been a tie. They are all kind, valued, loved, and well functioning family dogs. With all of the great skills and mindset, we wish from the breed. Both in the first picture example, and the second set.