Monday, January 25, 2010

Thorri and Gala

I just received an email from a new friend in New Zealand who has two Icelandic Sheepdogs named Thorri and Gala (and my book!). There is a third Icelandic there already named Askur.

She has decided that she would like to breed. Imagine! the first Icie litter in New Zealand!!

Would you like to see photos of her Thorri and Gala? And Askur too?

Sunday, January 24, 2010


Friends of mine are participating in a genetic study at Cornell University part of which involves measuring lots of body parts, like ears, back, tails, muzzle, chest, etc., of Icelandic Sheepdogs.

We have all heard for years that the ears of our dogs should be moderate in size, or words to that effect. I asked several Icelanders years ago to explain what "moderate" sized ears should be like. Ever scientifically-minded, I wanted to know what the ideal sized ear should be like; what should the measurements of an ideal ear be?

They have never been able to clearly iterate what is meant.

Regardless, ears do seem to look moderate or "normal", whatever that means, or "large", which is also also confusing because both terms are relative not scientific.

I have heard several AKC judges argue about breed standard interpretations. To a person they agree that standards should be open to as little personal interpretation as possible. The more clear the language is, the easier it is for judges to, well, actually judge according to a written standard.

As part of their job with Cornell, these friends measured the ears of their dogs.

They were frankly stunned to discover that all three of their Icies had identically sized ears even though they looked very different. That, I believe, is the problem with leaving things open to personal interpretation. Our minds play tricks on all of us.

It may be the size of the head, the amount or length of fur, the color of fur, the overall apparent size of the dog, the age of the dog, etc. that may distort our judgment.

Take a look at these ears. They are all the same size but they do not look like they are when you look at the whole dog.


Totty earned two legs for her Rally Novice title today. She is much more 'interesting' to work with than her sister Pila. Tot did very well regardless.

Kria, Pila, Totty made me very proud this weekend - a justifiable kind of pride because they really "earned" their rally legs.

Saturday, January 23, 2010

Pila, CGC

Pila qualified in two AKC Rally Novice trials this weekend. She turned heads and melted hearts. Now that she's shown she can handle rally without taking classes, we'll have to get serious.

(Click on photo to enlarge.)

She's learning obedience. Maybe we'll have to start agility like her aunts Kata, Anaejga, Kiska and Visa.

Pila is a true tricolor chocolate (chocolate, tan and white) which means genetically she's atat bb Ss.
She's had her hips checked by the University of Pennsylvania using the PennHIP evaluation system; the results are L=0.47-R=0.37.
Recently her eyes were separately checked by two excellent Veterinary Ophthalmologists and they are normal.
A lady at the show was extremely interested in our dogs. She wanted to know about temperament and intelligence. She asked when they would be fully accepted by the AKC. I replied this June the conformation shows could start. She said that's too bad. There was more along those lines - - - - -

Friday, January 22, 2010

Thórdunu Kría CGC, RN, RA, CD

Thórdunu Kría CGC, RN, RA, CD

Kria earned her third Novice leg Thursday, January 21 at the Rock Financial Center in Novi, Michigan, so in the AKC she now has her Canine Good Citizen, her Rally Novice, her Rally Advanced and her Companion Dog titles.

She also got her second leg for her Rally Excellent title so she now has two legs of her Rally Excellent title; one to go.

Today I went to watch my students work on their rally title legs. They were fantastic. I get so much pleasure from watching them 'work'; I am so proud of them. They all did great both yesterday and today. (Ive been told to hide while the dogs are in the ring. I think they're afraid the dogs will bolt and run out of the ring when they see me. (I've not been told whether that's run away from me or run towards me - - - - )

Monday, January 18, 2010

Progressive Retinal Atrophy

I wanted to share my answer to an email I received recently. Here are the question portions of the email, edited and with identifiers removed.

I (am) concerned about the possibility of PRA and called my Vet to see about having my dog tested through Optigen for the gene that causes it.

My Vet said "they can not test my dog as they do not test Icelandic's". Do you know whether somebody can test in the US?


You ask great questions. I'll try to answer them. If I miss one, let me know, OK?

My dog does NOT have PRA. (PRA stands for Progressive Retinal Atrophy.) She turns six this year and, if she had PRA, the early symptoms should probably have presented by now.

Neither of her parents have PRA either. Her mother is ten years old now; her father nine.

In fact there are no Icelandics that we know of YET that have been diagnosed with PRA.

There is one suspected case of PRA in Iceland. The female dog that has this "suspected"case of PRA has the same father as my dog but not the same mother.

If the suspected case does turn out eventually to actually be PRA, that probably means that dad and mom each carry one recessive gene for PRA that they each gave to that daughter.

My dog's mom most probably does not have the PRA gene.

If my dog's dad does have the gene, then there is a 50% chance of inheriting that ONE gene from dad.

Listen up: -
If he does have the gene, my dog has a 50% chance of inheriting that gene from him. (My dog has 50% chance of getting the normal gene instead.) Your dog has a 25% chance of inheriting that same gene. (Your dog has a 75% chance of getting the normal gene.) Your dog's pups, if there are any, would have a 12.5% chance of inheriting that gene.

That might sound bad. A better way to say the same thing is: Your dog's future pups would have a 87.5% chance of NOT inheriting the PRA gene. Those are really good odds.
Every dog has on the average 6 - 8 harmful genes that they carry in the hidden or recessive condition. All dogs (and people too) can pass those harmful genes on to their offspring. The bad traits show up only when the offspring inherit one bad gene from dad and one bad gene from mom for the same bad trait.
* Even if both parents have the same bad gene, because dogs have litters with several puppies, there will be a variety of pups produced in each litter. (Animals that have only one offspring at a time have a disadvantage.)

* One puppy from a litter may actually get two of the same bad genes (one from mom; one from dad). If they get two bad genes, they will actually have the trait. The odds of that happening are 1:4 (25% chance).

* Half of the puppies in that litter will get one bad gene from dad OR one bad gene from mom BUT NOT BOTH; they will NOT have the bad trait. The odds of that happening are 2:4 (50% chance).

* Here's the interesting fact that is usually overlooked by gloomy people. One puppy from that litter will NOT get a bad gene from dad nor a bad gene from mom and will not carry the gene as a hidden recessive nor have that bad trait. The odds of that happening are also 1:4. (25% of the pups will be completely normal.)
You're right. There is no gene test yet for Icelandic Sheepdogs for the PRA gene (genes actually, there is more than one kind of PRA). Every breed of dogs has PRA. Even wolves have PRA. That helps put things in perspective.

We have our breeding dogs looked at by veterinary ophthalmologists annually. The test is called a CERF test. (Canine Eye Registration Foundation - I think.) The ophthalmologist looks for anything wrong with the eyes but for our dogs there are three things (now) that we have to specifically ask them to look for: 1. distichia (tiny extra eyelash hairs), 2. cataracts (juvenile ones that start while the dog is still young), and now - 3. PRA

So what does the ophthalmologist look for when they are looking for PRA if they do not have the gene test?

They look at the retina on the back of the eye for early signs of retinal atrophy. They look for blood vessels that look unusually thin. That seems to restrict the flow of blood to the retinal cells starving them slowly. They also look along the outer edges of the retina (like a dinner plate) to see if the cells there look healthy and vigorous. If they do not look strong, then that could mean PRA. Because the changes happen slowly, dogs need to be looked at annually.

So, you could schedule your dogs for their first annual CERF test just to ease your minds. They will be fine.

Ask your vet to find you a place where they do CERFs. Usually there are clinics where lots of dogs are tested for a reduced fee. If you make a special appointment, it will cost more. There's no hurry.

A drop of dilating fluid will be placed in their eyes and, when the pupils have dilated, the ophthalmologist will take a good look inside. Let them know the three things that could be there so they will take a more careful look for those three things (1. distichia, 2. juvenile cataracts, 3. PRA) It's a quick easy visit.

Unfortunately there is currently nothing to stop the loss of retinal cells. Perhaps a good diet now helps put off the damage. I have always fed my dogs raw carrots for lunch - to reduce their calories and add bulk. Now that we know this, maybe carrots are also good for healthy eyes, at least my Mother always told me that.

If there is a bright side, it's that the condition is not painful nor life threatening. Yes, eventually the dog does go blind but that may not happen until the dog is old. I know that does not sound good. I think your dog will be just fine.

When I talked with the two ophthalmologists, they both told me that it would be OK to breed my dog again as long as I chose the mate carefully; choosing one that was not a carrier - - even though my dog may not carry the hidden recessive gene - there's no way of knowing because there is currently no test - no genetic test, that is - for Icelandics. Perhaps the mother country of the breed will check into finding one for our dogs.

I hope this helps - - - -

Wednesday, January 13, 2010

Thrymheim Bjarni

Check out this wonderful male puppy from Thrymheim Icelandics in Michigan.

His name is Bjarni and he has the classic and classy old fashioned Icelandic Sheepdog look.

(Click on photos to enlarge them.)

For more information go to the Thrymheim website: -
Bjarni is puppy number four.

Cathy can be reached at: -

Progressive Retinal Atrophy

I have been asked by this person to remove her photo and all of my references to her.

I recently received this letter by snail-mail from my good Icelandic friend (I have been asked to remove this person's name from my blogs).

Dear James L. Hansen,

In the course of an eye examination by Finn Boserup on 29th November 2009 Icelandic Sheepdog Fljóta Táta, IS08170/04 was diagnosed with suspected Generalized PRA.
The veterinary surgeon recommends that she is not bred from until she is re-examined after 8-10 months.

In the Icelandic Kennel Club's regulations regarding pedigree registration it states that when a dog is diagnosed with PRA the dog itself, any progeny it might have, both parents and all previous progeny from the parents are banned from breeding.

As your dog Thórdunu Kría has the same sire as Fljóta Táta she is marked as banned for breeding with the Icelandic Kennel Club until Fljóta Táta is re-examined.

The Icelandic Kennel Club recommend that you have Thórdunu Kría eye-tested as soon as possible.

With kindest regards,
(Helga Andresd.)

Copy to DIF, the Icelandic Sheepdog breed Club in Iceland
(I have been asked to remove this person's name from my blog.)

Here are some excerpts from my response.

Hello (I have been asked to remove this person's name from my blog),

It was nice to receive your letter today even though it contained extremely sad news about finding a suspected case of Progressive Retinal Atrophy, PRA, in one of your dogs in Iceland, Fljóta Táta (IS08170/04).

What a horrible thing to happen so close to Christmas.

That is truly devastating news.

Of course Thórdunu Kría, Leiru-Thórshamar Týri x Thórdunu Eyja, is tested annually for possible eye problems and has so far been OK. She will be six years old this year.

I will schedule an appointment for Kría as soon as possible. When I take her this year, I will be sure to ask her veterinary ophthalmologist to look very closely for signs of PRA. It should go without saying that I will not breed her this year because of this suspected case of PRA in her half-sibling, same father, different mother (Leiru-Thórshamar Týri and Galtanes Röskva).
= = = = = =
1. Do you have a list of all of the affected dogs besides Kría? Could I please have a copy?

2. Have there been any other cases or even suspected cases of PRA or premature unexplained blindnesses in Iceland?

3. Do you have any idea which ancestors, besides Leiru-Thórshamar Týri and Galtanes Röskva, might have been carriers of this gene?

4. There is a university in the state of Pennsylvania (Actually it's in New York.)that will test for the presence of the possible genes for the different kinds of PRA.

It might be worth sending them DNA samples from Fljóta Táta and her parents Leiru-Thórshamar Týri and Galtanes Röskva.

There is, as you know, more than one kind of PRA. I'm absolutely sure you know there are several genes that could be the cause of the problem in Icelandics.

Here is their email address: -

There is also the possibility for further research into our problem at that University: -

5. Would it be possible for you to contact them directly?

6. Have there been any cases of PRA in Europe?

7. If so, do we know the suspected carrier ancestors in Europe?

Perhaps the worst part of all of this for all of us is simply not knowing what to do, isn't that right?

In the past we have found that a lack of direct communication has exacerbated the problems we have had. It would be nice to be able to avoid that happening this time.

It would be great if this proves to be a false alarm and the suspected case of PRA is not what we all fear.

If it indeed turns out to be one of the several forms of PRA, then it would be wonderful if we could find the correct gene and the gene test so we could test all of our breeding age dogs and remove all the carriers from the gene pool or, using them very carefully, breed carriers to known PRA-gene-free dogs and screen their offspring to retain as much genetic diversity as possible for the future. (We should all be able to agree that we do not need another genetic bottleneck at this point in time.)

Fortunately, from what I have read, it seems that the inheritance is not complicated like it appears to be for hip dysplasia. Simple autosomal recessives with genetic tests are fairly easy to eliminate from the gene pool with careful controlled breedings.

Alienating well meaning conscientious people from this project would be counterproductive and, in the long run, very detrimental for the breed. I hope we can avoid that.

8. Might it be possible to either:
a. actually ship Fljóta Táta to the states for examination by several veterinary ophthalmologists?
b. send an expert ophalmologist from the states to Iceland to examine Fljóta Táta?

It seems that time is of the essence here. Having to wait an additional eight to ten months for an update seems like a long time.

The sooner we can prove that the suspected affected dog either has PRA or does not have PRA, the faster we can eliminate the gene.

= = = = =

Best regards,

James L. Hansen

I did not get a response to my email yet.

(As of March 2, 2010 I have still not received a response to my questions. I do not think they were inappropriate.)

I did take Kria to two certified Veterinary Ophthalmologists recently. She has healthy eyes. She will be six years old this spring (2010) and should show signs of PRA by now if she has the condition.

Both of the Ophthalmologists explained PRA and saw no reason not to breed her.

Tuesday, January 5, 2010

Puppies from Schloss Neubronn

Look at these charmers -
a very nice red male with his mother, Fjalla Skjona vom Lindenweberhof, and his litter brother a tan shade chocolate (TSC) born on November 20, 2009 at the famous Schloss Neubronn Kennel in Germany.

You can find out more by visiting the ISIB website in the upper right hand corner of this window.

If you're interested in more information or in seeing a pedigree for these boys and their three litter brothers, ask me.

Arne Håkon

It's always nice to put a name and a face together. Here's a photo of my good friend Arne Håkon from kennel Isheim in Norway.