Rutlands Sweet Reflection pictured above at 11 months of age, is daughter of an I.C. coated mother. Four siblings from the litter of ten, have perfect coats like Sweetie's, one is still developing and the other four have thicker coats but not as dense as their ancestors.
This article will deal with the contentious issue of whether or not to remove improper coats from Australian Cobberdog breeding programs. Debate is strong, almost fierce amongst breeders across the world and it splits them philosophically right down the middle.
Thirteen years ago I recognised the need to thin out the dense thick coat of the breed and how to do it, was the big challenge. Like bred to like produces more of the same, and there were simply no thinner coats to turn to that didn't shed heavily.
Heavy dense coats are high maintenance and need a bit of know-how to groom them properly. The majority of dogs burdened with this type of coat, are either matted and uncomfortable a lot of the time, or else cost their owners a fortune at the groomers'. I noticed that most of the puppies I sold were shaved off like rabbits by the time they were a year old. So on nothing more than a hunch, I set about experimenting by using Flat coats and I.C. coated dogs in different bloodlines within my breeding program to see what would happen.
This was long before the advent of DNA coat testing such as is available these days and there were plenty of surprises and disappointments. But one thing I noticed with undeniable consistency, was that these "improperly" coated individuals were one hundred percent Cobberdog in every aspect other than their coat. I also discovered that there were plenty of folk who were more than happy to have a Cobberdog whose face didn't get mucky and who was super easy to mantain, even if thy did shed a little bit. The exquisite swishy flowing silken coat on the bitch pictured to above left, came from a mother whose funky puppy coat would have made me a laughing stock fool if I'd allowed my conviction in what I was doing to be swayed.
Breeders on the fast track as far a coats go, are throwing out of their breeding programs any carriers of "improper coat" while a minority which includes me, are reluctant to tinker with the genetic influences which are not yet known much about.
Coat type is not a health issue and the irreversible loss of genetic diversity in this very young developing breed is of serious concern to me.
The IC coat (improper coat) or RSP02 gene was first identified and named in Portuguese Water Dogs, I think in the 1970s. In the PWD Breed Standard it is formally referred to as ‘improper coat’ and dogs with this coat type closely resemble the appearance of the Flat Coated Labradoodle and Cobberdog but I have observed subtle differences in patterning, which indicates that there is likely to be more than one gene associated with funky coats in Australian Cobberdogs. As there is no known Portuguese Water Dog infusion in the Australian Cobberdog, it is thought that the same or similar gene may also be present in the Irish Water Spaniel, as the first variant coats appeared in progeny directly after its infusion.
Of recent times, Genetic testing has become available (but not yet in Australia) to determine the presence or absence of the mutation gene RSP02 and breeders of the Australian Cobberdog are encouraged to carry out the testing on their breeding stock, in order to identify which of their dogs carry the gene so that they can make informed breeding decisions. Australian breeders can send their samples to America for testing.
This is not a health issue. In my personal opinion as breed founder and working for 30 years to develop this breed, ‘carrier’ dogs ( often with beautiful coats temselves but carrying the gene) and 'affected' dogs ( having the imperfect coat themselves ) should not be discarded from a breeding program when they are excellent individuals in other ways.
The incidence of Improper coat can be reduced or eliminated from a breeding program in one or at most two generations if wanted, by retaining 'clear' tested progeny for further breeding to other 'clear' tested dogs, or more slowly, 'carriers' to 'clear' dogs. Two clear dogs can not produce an IC coated offspring. But not enough is known yet about the 35 closely linked critical genes it's attached to, to eliminate it completely from a breeding program. This would be a grave mistake and breeders who take this course of action will see the negative results they have created, within, I foresee, the next ten years
"Improper coated" Cobberdogs are particularly beautiful in their own right and are known for their wonderfully intuitive and expressive eyes and extreme intelligence. Perhaps the genes that combine to produce them, are linked to other genes which express their exceptional temperament and nature because they are every centimeter the Australian Cobberdog in every aspect other than coat. They may lightly shed (NOT any way as much as a Labrador ) and may not be allergy friendly and for these reasons, the flat coat and IC coat are listed as faults in the official Breed Standard. I am asked so often to breed a Cobberdog "without the hairy muzzle" that personally I would like to see the Breed Standard amended to include them as an acceptable variant at least for the next 20 to 30 years..
Any breeder who wants to know if their breeding dogs may carry the RSP02 gene can submit testing samples via buccal cheek swabs; a non invasive procedure which will be a guide to assist breeders to make informed decisions. It is my personal hope that breeders in their enthusiasm to breed nothing but "perfect coats" in EVERY puppy don't throw the baby out with the bathwater until more is understood about the dangers of eliminating the IC gene completely.
Paper on Coat Mutations and Variations
Cadieu E, Neff MW, Quignon P, Walsh K, Chase K, Parker HG, VonHoldt BM, Rhue A,
Boyko A, Byers A, et al. Coat Variation in the Domestic Dog Is Governed by Variants in Three Genes. Science. 2009;326:150-153.
FLATCOATS can appear occasionally from both Wool and Fleece coated parents, depending on recessive gene variations in ancestors There are several distinct coat patterns in coat mutations and not all are directly related to the I.C. (improper coat) Flat coated Australian Cobberdogs look very much like Flat Coated Retrievers, with smooth short haired muzzles, and flat-lying silky body coat. Legs are smooth and short haired on the fronts, and carry furnishings at the back along with ‘britching’ (fluffy pants) on the hind buttocks and thighs. Tails are plumed and ears are long and fluffy or long and silky.
I have found FLAT COATS and IC COATS extremely valuable in my own Rutlands breeding program What they may lack in coat type they more than make up for with extremely intelligent and sweetly intuitive minds, wonderful physique and eyes so expressive and dreamy they melt your heart just to look at them. Flatcoats are every bit as much a wonderful and unique Cobberdog as their more "correctly" coated counterparts, and should never be looked down upon as being rejects.
It should be noted though, that they may shed a little and may not be suitable for allergy sufferers. This is the reason the are not included in the Australian Cobberdog Breed Standard.