Database to match pedigree dogs with mates

Dog breeders will be able to access a "doggie dating website" to find the perfect match for their pedigree pooch under plans announced by the Kennel Club today.

But the canine equivalent of an internet dating site has a serious aim - to improve the health and genetic diversity of pedigree dogs.

The Kennel Club, organisers of dog show Crufts, said that in the future the scheme would help breeders select mates for their dogs which maximise the chances of producing healthy puppies.

The move comes in the wake of concerns sparked by a BBC documentary which claimed pedigree dogs bred for shows were suffering a high degree of genetic illness.

The controversy prompted the Kennel Club and the Dogs Trust to jointly fund an independent inquiry, which last month made a number of recommendations to tackle inbreeding in pedigrees, puppy farming and other welfare issues for dogs.

The Mate Select programme announced today will use health tests which accredited breeders have to carry out on their dogs and details of surgery dogs have undergone, along with details of the animal's pedigree, or ancestry, and genetic diversity of the breed.

The information will be put into a database that will initially be used to assess the impact a proposed mating would have on the breed's genetic diversity by checking how closely related the prospective pair are.

The Kennel Club has already banned matings between the closest relatives, parents and offspring and amongst siblings.

But the organisation does not want to bring in a blanket ban on certain matings across different breeds as the size of the gene pool and the potential for inherited disease varies between various types of dog.

The Mate Select programme will be developed in the future to use information on the health of prospective parents to also calculate which matings will produce healthy puppies.

Kennel Club communications director Caroline Kisko said: "People do a lot of thinking about their perfect partner but dogs' needs are relatively simple - to find a mate that will give them healthy puppies, which will then be matched with loving owners.

"A lot of science is going into the Kennel Club's new database, but the end result will be that the computer will help dog owners find a mate for their dog, which will give them the best possible chance of producing healthy puppies."

Nick Blayney, former President of the British Veterinary Association, said: "The Kennel Club has helped develop many DNA tests and has a number of health screening schemes that are run with the British Veterinary Association and this knowledge should be central to any breeding decision.

"Sometimes though, there is so much information to compute that breeders often don't know where to start.

"This database will do the complicated calculations for them, showing them clearly which dogs will make the most suitable match in order to produce healthy puppies."

Health test results and details of surgery and operations will be inputted and verified and dogs will enter the "dating pool" where they will be matched with others of the same breed in the surrounding area.

Dog owners will be able to input health information from the end of the year, and the Mate Select programme will be developed in the following 12 months.

The Kennel Club believes the step is a more comprehensive plan to collect data on the health of pedigree dogs than proposals by Professor Sir Patrick Bateson, who led the independent inquiry, to gather anonymous diagnoses of inherited diseases from vet surgeries to see how prevalent different conditions were in various breeds.

The club has also launched a new breed information centre on its website to help prospective owners find responsible breeders in their area and see which type of dog would best suit their lifestyle.