Rutlands Australian Cobberdogs
Improper Coats (I.C.)
Should they be discarded from breeding programs? It's a contentious issue among breeders.
Heavy or dense coats are high maintenance and need a bit of know-how to groom them properly. Years ago I recognised the need to thin them out genetically. But 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. Most dense coated dogs are either matted and uncomfortable a lot of the time, or else cost their owners a fortune at the groomers'. Many are still shaved off like rabbits by the time they are 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.
I.C. Or I.C. Carrier? What's The Difference?
There is a big difference between a Cobberdog with an I.C. coat, (affected) and a dog who is a "carrier" of I.C. Coat. When two I.C. coated dogs (Flat Coats) are bred together, 100% of the offspring will be Flat Coats...usually. But when a carrier is mated to a full coated dog, some of the puppies will be flat and some will be full coated. Two full coated CLEAR dogs bred together can not produce I.C. coats nor carriers. Carriers can 'look' the same as full coats.
Before DNA testing was available 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 maintain, even if thy did shed a little bit.
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 well known. 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. Others far more knowledgeable than I am, agree.
** Ref: below
From long term breeder of PWD working for decades with the improper coat - Linda Fowler: “I am thrilled to know that we have a test available. I just hope that this does not throw out a number of worthy stud dogs.”
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 themselves 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.
I find IC Coat carriers extremely valuable in my own Rutlands breeding program Every bit as much a wonderful and unique Cobberdog as their more "correctly" coated counterparts, they should never be looked down upon as being rejects.
It should be noted, that they may shed a little and may not be suitable for allergy sufferers. This is the reason they are not included in the Australian Cobberdog Breed Standard as of 2019.
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.