Frequently Asked Questions
What does outcrossing mean?
Out-crossing refers to breeding a dog of one breed with another breed to bring in something new from the other breed. This could be a feature (different colour or coat length) or something that cannot be seen, genetic input to increase genetic diversity or fix a common problem in the breed.
WHAT IS THE LEOGEN PROJECT?
Leogen is an out-crossing project for the Leonberger breed. It is a multi-generational project that will bring genetic input into our Leonberger population from three different breeds. The intended outcome is the creation of a population of Leonbergers that are genetically more diverse and less inbred than the current population. Care will be taken at each stage to retain the essential points of type, particularly character, that define the breed, as well as to ensure that those essential elements of diversity that we seek to introduce will be propagated for the benefit of future breeders and the breed as a whole. For a fuller explanation of the Leogen project, click here
WHY IS IT BEING DONE ?
- There is clear evidence that lack of genetic diversity (all dogs in the breed being similar genetically) negatively affects health, fertility and longevity of the breed.
- In 2016 a focused analysis of the level of interrelatedness - or mean kinship - that currently exists within the worldwide Leonberger population was made. This shows us that of the original identified founder population for our breed, we currently have the genetic equivalent of less than two individuals remaining. In other words, our Leonbergers are now more closely related than full siblings, with an average mean kinship of over 31%. This is also clearly visible in the Leonberger Population report from Bern university.
- In order to infuse more genetic diversity into the breed, we must bring it in from outside of the current population. For a fuller explanation of the genetic analysis of the current breed population, go here.
WHAT IS THE GOAL OF THE PROJECT?
The goal of the LEOGEN project is to produce a sub population of Leonbergers that are typical in both character and conformation to today’s Leos, but who have within them a greater degree of genotypic diversity than the current population now has. By working with established breeders, breed clubs and national kennel clubs, our goal is for these future Leogen Leonbergers to be available to be brought into Leonberger breeding lines, producing fully registered progeny that are typical for the breed. Our goal ultimately is to ensure that future generations of Leonbergers are as healthy as possible, while still maintaining strong fundamental breed type.
WHO IS INVOLVED?
- The team for the project includes people with vast experience of different areas. Experienced Leonberger breeders and scientists as well as three national Leonberger Clubs; The Leonberger Club of Great Britain, the Finnish Leonberger Club and the Swiss Leonberger club. The project will be conducted with the active support of the UK Kennel Club, and both the Finnish and Swiss Kennel Clubs under the FCI framework.
- We are also in process of putting together an advisory group that will provide specialised advice to the project. More details of who is involved can be found here.
WHAT BREEDS ARE YOU considering?
- Our decisions on where to turn for improved genetic diversity will be based first and foremost on what we identify as being the greatest genetic deficiencies within our breed. For example, in the 2020 paper entitled “Genomic Diversity and Population Structure of the Leonberger Dog”, it was shown through genetic analysis that not only is there a lack of clearly defined sub-populations within our breed, but that there are significant runs of homozygosity found in a large proportion of their DNA. Essentially this means exact duplication of large portions of their genetic material. So, where these exist in areas of the genome associated with the immune system for example, this could provide us with a specific target to seek as an outside contribution. In addition, through mitochondrial DNA analysis of 39 Leonbergers it has been shown that we have a serious deficiency in this area as well. So, strong diversity in the mitochondrial DNA may also be a specific target for diversification.
- We know through previous outcrossing projects in other breeds that phenotype (what a dog looks like) can be quickly recovered through back crossing once more. What is more difficult to maintain is diverse genotype, or what is inside their genes. Our starting point in identifying what dogs to bring into our Leonbergers will therefore be what our breed lacks and what genetics any candidate source potentially brings in. To accomplish this, we will be utilising state of the art genetic profiling capabilities. To read the full paper Genomic Diversity and Population Structure of the Leonberger Dog go here.
WHAT ISSUES ARE YOU TRYING TO FIX IN THE LEONBERGER BREED?
- The modern Leonberger is not a rare breed. Indeed the estimated worldwide population is currently over 40,000. But genetically they represent a genetic equivalent of less than 2 individuals. In other words, to recreate the breed as it currently exists on a genetic level would require only two individuals, whose descendants would then be crossed among themselves again and again and again.
- The LEOGEN project is not being launched because the Leonberger is a rare breed, or because it has a specific issue that needs fixing. Instead, it is starting because our breed is moving into a genetic cul-de-sac from which there will be no escape if we do not start to act now. We are already seeing some signs of this as it seems that some health problems are amassing in the breed and the lifespan is getting shorter.
- In the past, outcrossing projects were initiated to correct specific targeted issues within a breed. For example, the Dalmatian x Pointer project from way back in 1973 was done because the Dalmatian breed had a metabolic defect called hyperuricosuria, which was caused by simple autosomal recessive inheritance. The Pointer outcross introduced the missing healthy version of the gene and the problem was solved. Despite this, it was over 30 years before the healthy descendants of this effort, (who were phenotypically correct Dalmatians in every respect), were formally recognised by their Kennel Club. Things have moved on since then, and the majority of canine geneticists and registry bodies now recognise that the modern closed studbook system is leading to critical narrowing of genetic diversity in most if not all recognised pedigree breeds.
HOW LONG IS THIS GOING TO TAKE?
HOW ARE YOU GOING TO SELECT PUPPIES TO BREED ON FROM?
The aim throughout the generations is to breed towards the Leonberger standard. We will be assessing puppies on this basis and select from here.
WHAT ARE THE SELECTION CRITERIA FOR EACH GENERATION?
Selection of progeny for each stage will be primarily based on four things:
- Breed type
- The genetic profile that they carry forward as individuals
- Temperament assessments/tests
- Health test results for known issues and/or conditions
HOW ARE YOU GOING TO SAFEGUARD THE TEMPERAMENT OF THE PROGENY PRODUCED BY THIS PROJECT?
The teams behind the Leogen project are acutely aware that temperament is as much a part of the unique type that defines our breed as the famous black mask. A Leonberger should and must have the calm and confident character that sets it apart from similar large mountain dog breeds. Temperament will be a priority consideration for us and we will be evaluating the temperament of all of our proposed brood bitches and sires to ensure as much as possible to only be breeding from sound and steady characters. Ideally, our dams will be proven to have good maternal instincts prior to selection for this project. Puppies will be born and raised in homes under the supervision of experienced breeders, and will undergo a thorough initial socialisation programme before leaving their breeders. We will be carefully selecting our Guardian Homes and providing detailed information and support materials to help guide them on the up-bringing of their puppies. We will also be closely evaluating puppies at key stages as they mature, and temperament will be a critical element of future selection for follow-on generations.
HOW ARE YOU GOING TO TRACK THE PROGENY?
- The progeny of the project will be registered by the national kennel clubs. They will also have the project name inserted in to their registered names so they are easily recognisable in the future pedigrees. Puppies registrations are limited so they can not be bred outside of the project. This is so that the proper follow up and testing is completed and recorded and the dogs do not end up inserted in to the main population of Leonbergers without the projects involvement. Data collected by the project will be published and our intention is to be open and keep the breed community informed through out the project and beyond.
- Like any responsibly bred puppy, puppies produced will be under the breeders umbrella of care and support from the day they leave the breeder till the day they pass away. All of the puppies will have their DNA collected prior to leaving the breeder and health updates will be provided to the research groups as well as the LEOGEN project team.
WHO IS PAYING FOR THIS?
The LEOGEN project will not be formally launched until we have detailed budget projections in place, but even still these will by necessity be estimates only. We will be seeking grants, bulk rate discounts from our genetic profiling partners, and we anticipate the need for a strong and fully accountable on-going fundraising element for the life of the project.
WILL THE PROGENY OF THE LEOGEN PROJECT BE HEALTHIER THAN CONTEMPORARY PURE-BRED LEONBERGERS?
- Every study into genetic diversity tells us that the answer should be YES. This is our goal.
- There is no species on earth that has been more profoundly genetically altered than the domestic dog, and the present closed studbook system within which the modern Leonberger breed exists, has led to a catastrophic narrowing of its genetic diversity.
- Leonberger Health surveys over the years have shown a decrease in lifespan.
- Extensive studies in the wider agricultural industry have indicated that the inbreeding depression is a real issue. To learn more about Inbreeding Depression go here.
- Something must be done now, or future Leonberger breeders will have nowhere to turn when seeking to slow or reverse this trend.
IF I AM INTERESTED IN HAVING A PUPPY FROM THE PROJECT WHAT DO I NEED TO KNOW?
- It is important to realise having one of the puppies from the project means you must be committed in supporting the project. At minimum this means you must allow the puppy to be health tested and be willing to keep in touch throughout the dogs life. This is not really any different if you were to have a pure bred puppy from any responsible Leonberger breeder, they too will expect to hear how the puppy is getting on and if any problems arise.
- As a part of the project all puppies produced will be health tested and the dogs health is followed up through out their lives. Some of the puppies will be homed under contracts where they are required to be contributing back to the project by being part of producing the next generation of Leogen Leonbergers. These type of guardian homes are at the heart of the project and play very important part in the long term success of it, the breeders involved simply can not keep all of the dogs needed by the project.
- When the project is underway we will update this site with some contact details . . until then 'please Stay Tuned"
Where Can I Learn More?