What Does Improvement Mean To You?

By Derby Tom Suszczewicz

Improvement breeding, improved lines, health tested. There are many terms tossed around by breeders, but what does improvement mean to you? Buyers and breeders have different goals in mind when selecting a puppy. Whether you are looking for a performance athlete, show prospect, or family pet there are certain marks of quality to keep in mind. There are many ways to improve a breed and one’s breeding stock. The most obvious are deliberate efforts to:

1. Better genetics by expanding the gene pool.

2. Strengthen pedigree through titling and breeding to titled lines.

3. Performing health screening to follow responsible breeding practices. You can learn more about this on the Silver Lab Improvement Movement page.


Regardless of the breed or type, genetic bottlenecks will occur. It is the job of responsible breeders to introduce stock from lines not found in the immediate gene pool to help strengthen and diversify the pedigrees in that specific community. As small as the dilute Lab gene pool is, it is important that breeders are bringing not just traditional colored Labs(Black, Yellow, & Chocolate) to their stock, but proven titled lines from both show and field champion parents. Introducing poor lines will only result in poor examples. If not titling their own dogs, breeders should be at a minimum seeking stock from titled parents.

One thing to consider is the concept of the “health tested” dog. Just how many tests are done and which ones can tell you a lot about a breeder’s priorities and their overall intentions. Responsible Labrador Retriever breeders will perform genetic screening for inherited diseases like Exercise Induced Collapse(EIC), Centronuclear Myopathy(CNM), Degenerative Myelopathy(DM), Progressive Retinal Atrophy(PRA-PRCD), Retinal Dysplacia/OculoSkeletal Dysplacia(RD/OSD) as well as veterinary diagnostics for hips and elbows(OFFA or PennHip), and eye screening(CERF). Dogs are often advertised as health tested, but given the gap between the number of known disorders, the number of available tests, and which ones are actually performed this can be quite misleading.  While breeders would like affordable options for more DNA tests, it also complicates the process. If each individual screen potentially limits breeding options, at some point responsible breeders will find themselves tiptoeing through a genetic minefield across which it is impossible to find a clear path. Even today, some of the most sought after champions carry recessive genes for one disease or another, and it’s only with careful and deliberate planning that their best qualities are perpetuated, and the undesirable genes mitigated.

This is not meant to suggest that breeders should not be doing DNA tests. Breeders must understand that appropriate breeding strategies are fundamental to controlling genetic disorders. DNA testing is an extremely valuable tool, but just one tool in a bag of options. Used with inappropriate breeding strategies, even breeding health screened dogs can very well produce an undesirable outcome.

Management of heritable diseases does not happen overnight. There are many factors to consider as it is a very complicated process. When searching for your new pet and family member, make sure you are asking the right questions. Ask to see health clearances. Make sure that the breeder you buy from has an understanding of what it really means to improve the breed. Ask yourself if this is what you want to contribute to. Improvement breeding has been a hot trend in the dilute Lab community. Search out breeders that have both dilute and traditional colored examples in their stock, and are not just producing dilutes. Support those that are not just producing for color, but are truly keeping the future and legacy of the breed in mind.