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  • Writer's pictureKarina Whittington

About the Farm Dog Initiative

As I am sure many saw at some point over the early months of 2021, PMUSA had been doing extensive research regarding an initiative coming out of Spain. “Farm Dogs” or "Perros de Campo" as they have been coined are dogs who are pulled from the original region of Aragon Spain who exemplify the phenotype and temperament of the Pyrenean Mastiff. These dogs are purpose bred dogs bred to be livestock guardians in the region.

Many may be asking why some are considering this initiative here in the United States as well as why it is an initiative overseas. Breeding closed populations inherently decreases diversity over an extended period because the phenotype and traits we try to lock in that make our breed what it is also increases the coefficient of inbreeding. High coefficients of inbreeding lead to fertility issues, health issues, decrease in longevity, decrease in size, decrease in litter sizes, complications with neonates and more.


A great example is the Doberman Pinscher who has genetic coefficients of inbreeding as high as 50% on average within the breed. The Doberman is now working on a mass effort to improve diversity within their breed before they lose their breed to health problems. Getting back to the Pyrenean Mastiff we already know the breed encountered a genetic depression. During a webinar with Jesus Sanz, CMPE president, we saw the data gathered over the years by the University of Zaragoza showing us the increase in genetic relatedness in our breed along with the median kinship (Figure 1). Along with this data collection they have seen a drastic decrease since the 90s in dogs being registered with pedigrees which indicates we are losing genetics within our breeding pool (Figure 2).

Fig 1. Representation of consanguinity and average kinship in the Pyrenean Mastiff between 1970 and 2015 (Fernández, 2016)



Fig 2. Number of registrations in the L.O.E. and R.R.C Pyrenean Mastiffs, from 1992 to 2016 (CMPE, https://www.cmpe.es/es/el-mastin-del-pirineo-2/inscripciones-en-el-loe-2; RSCE, https://www.rsce.es/images/rsce/Varios/2016-2020_INSCRIPCIONES_LOE.pdf).


Why is diversity so important and high coefficients of inbreeding bad?


There are several ways to curb the loss of diversity in a breeding population. The first method is something that some in the US are already trying to do but it will only buy time as it does not bring in new genetics into the breeding population but utilizes existing genetics by carefully selecting pairings to lower the coefficient of inbreeding of offspring. While this can be effective management it only delays the inevitable as coefficients of inbreeding will go back on the rise after lowering for several generations. It does not introduce new genetics to refresh the gene pool so to speak, it just uses what we have already carefully.


The next option is via an outcross project by specifically selecting a like or similar breed to add into our gene pool. For example, if we took a Great Pyrenees and bred it to a Pyrenean Mastiff then select the offspring that most resembled a Pyrenean Mastiff and bred it back to a Pyrenean Mastiff. There are several breeds that have utilized this method to improve health or diversity in their breeds to include the Dalmatian, Norwegian Lundehund and others. This type of project though is extremely difficult to undertake as it does require kennel club approvals to deliberately include another breed into the stud book. The Dalmatian breed embarked on their outcross outside of a kennel club and it took over 30 years for the products of the project to gain AKC registration to become part of the stud book, these Dalmatians were coined LUA Dalmatians. The Finnish Kennel Club has a program for outcrosses and several breeds are participating by following the Kennel Club’s requirements for outcrossing. You can find their requirements for outcrossing here: https://www.kennelliitto.fi/en/forms/instructions-implementing-and-monitoring-crosses-between-breeds. However, this does not work for the Pyrenean Mastiff as the origin club, CMPE, must approve of intentional outcrosses as well as RSCE.


The last option and the option being considered and implemented is accepting dogs who already exemplify the breed standard by phenotype and temperament via initial registration in Spain, we will talk more about this process shortly. It is important to note that we do NOT have the ability in the United States to do initial registrations of dogs and cannot accept any dogs into the stud book who were not born into the stud book. It is beyond our ability, so the only way we can accept these dogs into the US is by importing the offspring of a Farm Dog as they will have registration already from an FCI affiliated kennel club that AKC will accept. What makes these dogs good candidates is that they bring in new genetics while already having the phenotype and temperament of our breed. “Farm Dogs” also have the added benefit of being bred for purpose, longevity, fertility, maternal instincts, natural matings and more that have not been lost due to selective breeding of physical traits that tend to happen with recognized breeds. This allows us to bring back in other important attributes necessary to see our breed flourish. Other breeds who have this wonderful ability to select dogs from land race populations include the Basenji, Azawakh, Saluki and several others. Not all breeds have this wonderful population reserve, so to speak, of dogs who can meet their breed standard from the country of origin.

To begin we need to get to the root of how these “Farm Dogs” relate to the modern Pyrenean Mastiff. The Pyrenean Mastiff prior to becoming a recognized breed started as a land race dog bred to be livestock guardians. Land races are bred for purpose and not for purity as the job that they are needed to do supersedes appearance and physical traits (unless directly relevant to the job). The foundation of the modern Pyrenean Mastiff we know today started out by pulling dogs just like these “Farm Dogs” to build and establish the breed. Dogs who exemplified the standard and temperament of the Pyrenean Mastiff were added to the stud book via a process known as initial registration which is established by RSCE (the kennel club of Spain) and a recognized process by FCI. Over time due to selective breeding practices, we now have the modern Pyrenean Mastiff we know today.

The stud book is open for the Pyrenean Mastiff as well as majority of breeds within FCI affiliated kennel clubs worldwide. Here in the US, we are used to stud books being closed as AKC has closed stud books unless there are extremely special circumstances approved by AKC. Open stud books are a foreign concept to those in the United States, Canada, and Australia who are not affiliated with FCI. We now have the question of “how are these dogs added to the stud book?” RSCE requires that dogs must be evaluated by a breed specialty judge to ensure any new initial registration dog meets the breed standard at no earlier than 1 year of age. If the dog passes this evaluation, they are given a special registration number which is identified with an RRC at the beginning of the number. RRC numbers mean that a dog does not have a complete 3 generation pedigree and are considered foundation stock. Once a dog has a complete 3 generation pedigree, they are given an LOE number in RSCE’s stud book. Other kennel clubs have a similar means to identify dogs who have a full 3 generation pedigree versus dogs who do not. For example, in Finland dogs with more than 3 generations get an FI number while dogs who do not get an ER number. Once a dog passes this evaluation by a specialty judge they are deemed the specific breed in which they are evaluated against despite their ancestry. So, in the case of “Farm Dogs” they are automatically considered Pyrenean Mastiffs the moment they gain an RRC number. The process followed for the Pyrenean Mastiff is the same for all countries and breeds affiliated with FCI as it is the approved process for FCI affiliated kennel clubs.

A good comparison for those of us familiar with AKC is that RRC compares to FSS while LOE compares to breeds already fully recognized by AKC. Both RRC and FSS are a holding grounds for pedigree data being established in the stud book. Since the Pyrenean Mastiff is already currently an FSS breed in AKC we can readily accept these dogs registered with an RRC number. Once we gain recognition with AKC, dogs with less than 3 generation pedigrees will stay in FSS while dogs with full 3 generation pedigrees will advance forward. With RSCE both dogs with RRC and LOE registration are considered dogs with correct pedigrees. Once fully recognized we will not be able to directly register new imported dogs with less than 3 generation pedigrees unless we can prove to AKC the need for diversity to open our stud book. However, offspring of any farm dogs would be able to be registered with the PMAA Registry Services and pedigree data maintained by the club until 3 generations are completed as long as PMAA has an open stud book with AKC. Also, once we are fully recognized dogs with less than 3 generation pedigrees are no longer able to show in conformation shows like they can now while we are still in FSS. AKC-FSS permits the breeding of dogs with less than 3 generation pedigrees, and it does register them and their offspring.



Due to the US Pyrenean Mastiff Club being progressive in nature and requiring Embark genetic testing for their broad panel testing of genetic conditions we also get the ability to do breed testing which comes with it. Ancestry testing on the products of a first generation or even a 2nd generation product of a farm dog can result in other breeds being identified. It is important to know that breed testing is highly dependent on the reference panels of each company regarding the genetics they compare when looking to identify the breed make up of a dog. This varies company to company based on the number or quantity of samples they have from a breed to compare to. For more information regarding Ancestry and Purebred dogs the Pyrenean Mastiff Association of America has a great blog post: https://www.pyreneanmastiffassociation.org/post/ancestry-vs-purebred-dogs


Results on breed testing can vary between Embark’s testing and Wisdom Panel’s testing for example. It is also extremely important to understand that breed testing does not define purity, as breed purity is not scientific in nature. Aaron Sams, principal scientist at Embark, clarifies that registering organizations are what determine if a dog meets a specific standard and gains registration and is considered purebred. Genetic testing for breed is much more complex and has to do with genetic variation amongst breeds due to selective breeding amongst populations. What companies like Embark do is utilized registered purebred dogs within a given population of a breed to build reference panels for that breed. In the case of the Pyrenean Mastiff, Wisdom Panel which was established in 2007 has the most Pyrenean Mastiffs in their reference panel to date because it is the testing that is currently used in Finland by breeders who choose to do genetic testing. Embark is a younger company and PMUSA is who started the initiation of building the Pyrenean Mastiff reference panel for Embark. Over time as reference panels are developed the results of these Farm dogs could change, for example as we get more dogs tested with Embark the results of Embark will start to likely get closer to matching what Wisdom Panel may have. Reference panels for breed regarding genetic testing of breed change over time based on the datasets that these companies have. Aaron Sams points out that breeders and fanciers should consider the history of their breeds for situations like this, so you are not to surprised when you see mixed results on a dog who is considered purebred.


Note: The UCM (Complutense University of Madrid) is the one with which the RSCE works to perform DNA analysis, a mandatory test to perform on a champion dog. So in a short time we will also have a considerable number of samples to include the Pyrenean Mastiff in the list of breeds for study. https://www.ucm.es/genetvet/adn-mix


Another question that comes up regarding these dogs is if they will have a genetic impact on the behavior of the Pyrenean Mastiff we know today. It is important to know that behavioral inheritance is selected by breeders and even within a breed you can have deviations if someone chooses to breed for a specific behavioral trait such as aggression, being a pet more than an LGD, shyness, etc. Breeders should already be selecting breeding candidates that present proper temperament or breeding towards the proper temperament for our breed. Keeping this in mind while we look at “farm dogs”. “Farm dogs” are dogs bred to be livestock guardians, where they come from if they cannot work, they are useless and only the ones who are exceptional at their job are bred. This means that the instincts to be a livestock guardian are strong within these dogs. After looking at purpose we look at the rest of the temperament, are they reactive to friendly/neutral people, can they determine a threat vs a non-threat, are they confident, are they gentle with people? These are some of the questions that come up when looking at what makes the temperament of the Pyrenean Mastiff.


What is sought in a Pyrenean Mastiff to work as an LGD is not only its character, but also its structure and physique, it has to be a strong and robust dog, but not heavy, it has to endure hours of work and be able to run and walk without getting tired.


When the specialty judges evaluate the initial registration dog they can see if a dog is reactive or not, they can see if it is shy, confident, etc. In our FCI breed standard we have a section specifically for behavior and temperament.


“BEHAVIOUR / TEMPERAMENT: Friendly towards humans, calm, noble and very intelligent, at the same time courageous and proud towards strangers from whom he never backs away. In his behavior towards other dogs, he is good natured and aware of his superior strength. Occasionally, he will fight with great skill, an atavistic quality which goes back to hundreds of years of fighting wolves. His dark bark comes from deep within his chest. His expression is alert.”


Our FCI breed standard also includes items that are considered “Disqualifying Faults” which mean they should NOT be bred. The very first items are below.


Aggressive or overly shy dogs.

Any dog clearly showing physical or behavioral abnormalities.


“Farm Dogs” should meet these requirements and not exhibit any disqualifying faults to be accepted as a Pyrenean Mastiff for Initial Registration. Behavior does show to have a genetic inheritance which means breeders should be breeding dogs who have the temperament and instinct we are looking to maintain in the breed which is no different with “Farm Dogs”. When comparing potential risk of including an unwanted behavior or temperament the risk is minimal in comparison to the gain we would achieve regarding diversity as mentioned by Jessica Hekman, DVM, PHD, studies genomics and effect on behavior, in a PMUSA webinar.

Overall, following current PMAA (Pyrenean Mastiff Association of America) Code of Ethics there appears to be minimal risk in introducing these dogs to the breeding population. Reason being is our Code of Ethics already covers health testing so any “Farm dog lines” who do not meet health requirements would not be bred. Being a “farm dog” does not exempt them from current PMAA Code of Ethics. Current PMAA Code of Ethics also covers temperament in item 6 and 7 of the under Breeding: “6. A breeder selects stud and bitch after carefully studying the breed standard with an eye to conformation and temperament. A breeder also studies the individuals and their near relatives, the pedigrees and the basic principles of genetics. 7. All animals to be bred shall have sound, typical structure, conformation and type, and shall be of sound temperament and free from crippling or disabling hereditary defects.” Keep in mind the standard used for AKC FSS, as of date of this published article, is the FCI standard which is the same standard used in Spain. At some point the standard will be adjusted to meet AKC requirements and it will still address temperament. Breed type should be maintained and any breedings should have breed type in mind. Now we get to temperament, a stable temperament is essential, and we should always be breeding for a stable temperament. As mentioned before PMAA Code of Ethics covers health with the aim to improve health of the breed. Breeders should be breeding to eliminate disqualifying physical faults in the breed, “farm dog lines” should not have any disqualifying faults as parents are evaluated and would not have been registered if they had a disqualifying fault. The end goal for all breedings should be aiming for betterment of the breed. The introduction of “farm dogs” is for the effort of bettering the breed in guardian instinct, diversity, and to improve overall fertility, genetic diversity, and maternal instinct.

While I cannot speak on behalf of others and others may decide differently than myself, I can say my personal decision is to utilize these “farm dog lines” to help benefit the breed to the best of my ability. I will not jeopardize my efforts in health, temperament, aim to meet breed standard, etc. for the sake of utilizing these lines. There is a bigger picture here that must be seen so we can have a hopeful future for the breed. In my opinion it is important to act now before it becomes an absolute must and we are rushing for a solution. Introducing the dogs now allows us time to follow the lines and see how we can best utilize these dogs and lines to benefit the future of a breed many of us love. I know some will attack me for my views and others will support me, but my driving force will always be for love of breed and hope to ensure the breed has a healthy future.


Karina Whittington

Estrella Polar Pyrenean Mastiffs

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