Health breeding

Sustainable Hovawart Breeding for Health

Screening programmes  Osteochondrosis  Research projects  Archive of blood samples  Web based statistical breeding service

Rule #1 The continued good health of the magnificent Hovawart begins with healthy sustainably bred parents producing healthy puppies. Aim at sustainable breeding to improve the physical and mental health of Hovawarts .

 The breeding of Hovawarts is already organised both internationally and nationally with the guidelines covering genetic health, general restrictions and the goals for breeding hovawarts. With a little goodwill, cooperation and agreement about breeding goals, better sustainable breeding of healthy Hovawarts is easily achievable.

Genetic variation and health in the Hovawart.

The genetic health of Hovawarts is of concern to individual breeders, to breed clubs, kennel clubs, geneticists and veterinarians but importantly to the individual Hovawart owner who may have to live with and manage any illness or disease.

The breed as a whole is relatively free of genetic illness and disorders when compared to other breeds. That is not say that there are no problems. However, from the very start, health in the breeding of the Hovawart has remained in sharp focus, and measures taken to minimise the continuation of any genetic faults.

The thoughtful management of genetic variation is important. The relationship between hovawarts selected for breeding must be considered to avoid increased inbreeding due to selection of close relatives. Some countries limit the maximum number of offspring allowed for a single male, a measure introduced to avoid the over-use of popular sires.

To help prevent the loss of genetic diversity, to minimise recessive defects and to avoid inbreeding problems, out-crossing should always be considered in order to increase the effective population size to and improve health traits.

Genetic evaluation using mixed linear models (often called BLUP) for the prediction of breeding values in dog breeding has been used to a limited extent. The BLUP method makes use of all available information about relatives and simultaneously adjusts for environmental effects. Breeding value prediction is a useful tool for the genetic evaluation of many traits. The use of breeding values for selection can enhance genetic improvement not only for diseases, but also for behavioural and other traits. Read more about  breeding values in dogs.

DNA tests for canine disorders

When we think about canine DNA most people think about parentage testing. DNA testing technology has made it easy to identify the ancestry of any dog by performing a simple test using a cheek swab. The DNA required for the test is isolated from cells that are caught on the swab. Since cells carry the same genetic material, taking a cheek swab is the easiest way to obtain the samples needed for testing.

Advances in research now mean there are in fact many tests available, ranging from a coat colour test to testing for canine von Willebrand's Disease, and more.

The development of DNA tests together with the availability of the canine genome sequence , has made it possible to predict and identify the genetically normal, the carrier and affected animals in respect of particular diseases. The possibility of identifying carriers enables even better management of breeding programmes aimed at decreasing the frequency of a particular disease without an unnecessary reduction in the overall gene pool

Screening programmes

Screening programmes for inherited conditions such as hereditary eye diseases, have been developed and utilised. Hovawarts used for breeding should be free from eye diseases. In the past the primary concern was with hip dysplasia, a skeletal abnormality.

The majority of Hovawarts are free from dysplasia and the health programme for Hip Dysplasia (HD) requires that the hip score of both the sire and the dam should be known and be free of HD for breeding purposes, they must be scored in the UK with a BVA result between 0 - 20 and HD A or B on the continent. Using a standard x-ray and following the guidelines of the BVA or the FCI, panels of veterinary radiologists grade the hips subjectively. Inevitably there are variations between countries and panelists, and coupled with the fact that results are affected by environmental factors such as the age at screening, makes acceptability for breeding based on hip x-rays alone less than perfect.

Selection against HD and Elbow Dysplasia (ED) based on predicted breeding values was introduced by some countries, notably Finland and Germany; whilst others are working towards it.

The mental health of the Hovawart.

Whilst DNA controls not only the Hovawart's appearance but also his general behavioural characteristics and his personality, the character tests and assessments carried out by many countries at different ages form the basis for this aspect of the Hovawart. The outstanding reputation of the Hovawart as a companion with defensive guarding abilities remains as valid today as it always has been. One of the most important criterion for determining the eligibility to breed is that each dog should have a sound temperament. Never breeding from aggressive or scared dogs is prerequisite. On the continent, for breeding purposes any Hovawart should generally pass two character tests (one between 9-24 months and another after 22 months) Additionally information from trials, other sports and tests can indicate and validate the mental health of individual hovawarts. The possession of working titles demonstrates their ability and temperament, it is important that the Hovawart retains his real working ability, and all Hovawart breeders should pay attention to their working features.

The original purpose of Schutzhund  was to help determine which dogs should be used for breeding with working ability in mind. It tested the dog's mental stability, endurance, structural build, ability to scent, willingness to work, courage, and "trainability", highlighting the character of the dog through training, identifying dogs that did or did not have the required character traits. Breeders could then use the insights gained to help determine whether or not to use the dog in producing the next generation.

Genetic studies suggest that there are only about 1500 generations between the wolf, the common original ancestor, and contemporary breeds. More recent evidence suggests that the common ancestor originated in the Middle East, and is supported by archaeological studies, showing extensive evidence of the transition from the wolf to the domesticated animals of today.

Some of the current research projects by the Genetics Institute University of Berne

* Degenerative myelopathy - a progressive paralysis starting with the hind limbs

* Coat color dilution (blue, blue markings, silver)

* Liver shunt - Intrahepatic portosystemic shunts (PSS)

* Hypothyroidism - lymphocytic thyroiditis - insufficient production of thyroid hormone by the thyroid gland

* Osteochondrodysplasia - affects the growth of bone and cartilage leading to dwarfism

* Sebaceous adenitis - an autoimmune disease occurring in many dog breeds.


OCD is a defect in the smooth cartilage surface in one or more of the joints, it can affect the shoulder, the elbow, the hip, the knee, or the stifle. It may result in a piece of cartilage breaking off and floating freely in the joint causing pain; and is best treated surgically to remove the defective cartilage. The risks are related to age, gender, rapid growth, and nutrient (primarily calcium) excesses, although general nutrient excesses have been blamed for OCD lesions.

Thyroid and livershunt

Thyroid problems have occurred in the breed, the functioning of the gland can be tested and dogs suffering from the disorder should not be used for mating. Genetic research is being conducted into thyroid disorders and also into livershunt, which has recently been seen in some pups. Pups with livershunt do not usually survive. Livershunt is a well documented disorder and quite common in many breeds.

Archive Blood samples for future research projects

In addition to their current projects, the Genetics Institute University of Berne are building a sample archive for future research projects. For this purpose they archive blood samples from dogs of all breeds free of charge. If you would like to contribute a sample, (your vet will help) from your dog to this blood sample archive.

All the official Hovawart clubs are affiliated to and come under the umbrella of the  International Hovawart Federation