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Improving Working Dog Genetics

09 July 2012
Meat & Livestock Australia

AUSTRALIA - Just as scientists have advanced our understanding of cattle and sheep genetics, they're now turning their attention to another animal that contributes to on-farm productivity - the working dog.

What distinguishes the best and most consistent working dogs on Australian farms?

A new three-year national research programme is to be conducted by the University of Sydney with funding from MLA, the Rural Industries Research and Development Corporation (RIRDC) and the Working Kelpie Council of Australia.

Professor Paul McGreevy and Professor Claire Wade, from the Faculty of Veterinary Science, will survey dog breeders and beef and sheep producers to establish what traits are desirable in working dogs.

They will set about establishing the most important traits and what the likely heritability of those traits are and if DNA markers can help identify animals with those traits at young ages prior to training.

“For the first time we’ll measure working characteristics, behavioural and health attributes in farm dogs,” Professor McGreevy said.

Traits such as enthusiasm and a good eye appear to be strongly inherited, so it is anticipated good progress can be made by selecting parents well endowed with them.

“We will follow numerous litters of pups through to maturity to see how stable these characteristics are,” Professor McGreevy said.

At the end of the study the team plan to create a website consolidating their knowledge of desirable traits and how producers can select for them.

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