As today’s the Life of Jalo shows, we got a new addition to our family a few days ago. Flatcoated retrievers have taken their place in our hearts and Luka is the third on in our household. What makes him special is that he is a yellow FCR.
The breed standard for FCRs is quite clear in stating that the only accceptable colors are black and liver. Due to the history of the breed, the yellow recessive gene is probably quite widespread across different breeding lines. But because the breed standard doesn’t allow it, yellow flatcoats are quite controversial. This post is meant to clarify why we took a yellow flatcoat and how we feel about the whole matter.
Before you read any further on why we chose a yellow flatcoat, read Mr Read Flower’s article on the matter (republished by the Flatcoated Retriever Soctiety, now from the Internet Archive) and an American breeders page about their yellow flatcoat (link currently not active).
We (as in Anna and I) feel strongly, that the primary concern of any breeder is producing healthy offspring that conform to the breed standard as well as possible. However, with genetics being the game of randomness that it is, the best that we can expect from a breeder is responsible and informed decisions concerning the selection of parents. In some cases, such as with Flatcoated retrievers, there are genetic complications that do not conform with the breed standard. But the dogs health should be of paramount importance in any case.
When we first heard of yellow flatcoats about a year ago, we were intrigued. Some quick research in the breeding database showed that since the mid-nineties only a few yellow flatcoats had been registered in Finland (11 before Luka’s litter). Rumours circulating in the Finnish flatcoat circles were also quite clear that breeders practised culling the undesirables. That was a fact that got us riled up and wanting to rebel a bit.
Whatever the circumstances, we feel that a responsible breeder must not cull healthy dogs. In fact, in our book a responsible breeder is open and honest of the failures in their breeding programme. This includes sick or unconforming dogs. Not registering them and culling them from the start is just sweeping the problem under the carpet and keeping up appearances.
In addition to our annoyance against the unhealthy practises of breeders in this respect, there are several other factors that have had an impact on our decision. One of them is that we feel that there are more important problems currently in flatcoats instead of the purely cosmetic problem of color. Cancer kills flatcoats at such rates that the average lifespan of these magnificient dogs is less than ten years (eight or nine depending on the source). Hip dysplasia is something that plagues many breeds, and even in flatcoats it is a major factor when considering dogs eligible for breeding. Our question to all those opposed to letting yellow flatcoats live is: is it better to produce healthy dogs with the risk of nonconforming individuals or sick dogs without confirmation issues? To quote the above mentioned article by Mr Flower’s:
It [yellow color] could probably be eliminated by a strict selective breeding programme. I doubt the result would be worth the effort, and who knows what we might lose along with the yellow factor?
Although systematic eradication of yellow in flatcoats should be avoided, they are undesirable outcomes and breeding programmes should try to minimize their numbers. Because we wanted a yellow flatcoat at some point, now seemed like a good time when one was available.
Another factor affecting our choice was the fact that we’ve been considering getting another golden retriever at some point. However, the more we see of the modern golden retriever stock, the more disappointed we’ve become. The same vitality that can be seen in Kassu and our flatcoats isn’t visible in younger goldens. Coupled with the fact that yellow flatcoats represent the history of both breeds, a yellow flatcoat seemed like a good choice in this light as well.
We are opposed to any efforts to permit yellow flatcoats in the breed standard. Any breeding program that tries to promote a recessive gene will face serious problems and have a small pool of dogs to work from. Trying to promote the appearance of yellow would thus have a great chance of decreasing the general health of flatcoats. And again, we promote breeding that aims in advancing the general health and conformation to type (conformation to type in flatcoats requires good working skills).
The only limitation that owners of yellow flatcoated retrievers face are their exclusion from dog shows. All other activities are open to yellow flatcoats even if champion titles are unavailable (due to the requirement of a show result in many champion titles). But when on considers the fact that of the almost 4500 flatcoats in the Finnish breeding database less than half have a show result better than sufficient. Which basically means that about half of the flatcoats have ever been to a show.
All in all, while don’t advocate purposeful breeding of yellow flatcoats, we are not opposed to them appearing every now and then. We, as breed enthusiasts, can then go on to offer these dogs a good home and help them lead an active life as flatcoated retrievers (without show results).
P.S. Luka’s pedigree is quite good, his sire’s sire (Almanza I Hate Mondays “Hector”) was the best of breed in Cruft’s this year. Hector’s sire (Almanza Far & Flyg) was the Finnish and Nordic winner last year (both shows we were at). Of course, both dogs have a bundle of other titles as well.
This post has been published in Finnish in Satunnaisia leiskahduksia.