Elite generation of farm dogs on horizon

Billy Gordon Source: AAP

Australian researchers have set out to breed a new generation of super dog to work the nation's farms.

Australian researchers are on the hunt for the nation's best working dogs in the hope of breeding even better ones.

Researchers are delving into the mix of genetic and environmental factors that together determine how well dogs do when they're put to work on farms.

Those behind the project hope it will ultimately lead to a new generation of super farm dogs, reducing the number that are put down because they don't perform.

Researchers from the University of Sydney have surveyed more than 800 owners about the 4000 dogs that work their land.

"We now know what the farmers value. Our next step will be to match up DNA sequences that are associated with the traits farmers want in their dogs - high intelligence, calmness, patience and trainability," lead researcher Professor Paul McGreevy says.

The genetic work done so far has taken a close look at the Australian Working Kelpie, bred by the nation's sheep and cattle farmers for a century because of their ability to work with livestock.

"What we've found is they have a better threshold, a better resistance, we think, for discomfort and pain. Basically they're tougher," Prof McGreevy says.

He's hoping thousands more farmers will aid his research by providing saliva samples from their dogs, matched with descriptions of how well they work.

"For those who tell us their dogs are particularly good in certain traits, we'll target those samples and then start looking for gene sequences that align with high scores in those domains."

Behavioural genetics is still in its infancy, and the work Prof McGreevy is doing won't, for example, identify a single gene for trainability.

Rather, he'll be looking for common sequences among high-performing dogs that could ultimately lead to an elite pool of dogs for breeding purposes.

The research should also lead to better education for farmers about what they can do to get the most from their four-legged work mates.

"The other important aspect of this is to turn the lens on ourselves and accept the fact that some people get a better tune out of a dog than others. And that's where dogmanship comes in," he says.

Source AAP

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