If you tease through history books looking for the roots of the Kennel Club, you eventually come to The Field magazine, and John Henry Walsh, its editor
The Field was founded in London 1853, and its target audience was "those who loved shooting, fishing, hunting and could sniff out a decent claret at 1,000 paces."
John Henry Walsh was on of the judges at the first formal dog show, held in 1859, and he was the person who came up with the points system that guides Kennel Club selection in the show ring to this day.
I bring this up because in an article in the current issue of The Field, gun dog man David Tomlinson says, we must change our attitude to breed purity in order to save gundogs.
Go to Breed Population Analyses on the KC’s website. You will find the EPS for all our gundog breeds, and there’s not one that looks good. Take the English springer spaniel, for example. For many years the springer has been in our top three most popular breeds, with well over 10,000 registrations of puppies a year. But according to the KC, “the rate of inbreeding has remained consistently steady and high over the period of the study (1980-2014). This implies genetic variation is being steadily lost from the breed.”
The KC gives the EPS of the springer as 45.1. It warns: “below an effective population size of 100 (inbreeding rate of 0.50% per generation) the loss of genetic variation in a breed/population increases considerably. An effective population of below 50 (inbreeding rate of 1.0% per generation) indicates that the future of the breed may be at risk.”
There’s no chance for labrador enthusiasts to feel smug. The labrador EPS is 81.7 but, the KC notes, “there appears to be an extensive use of popular dogs as sires in this breed”. The EPS for flat-coated retrievers is 67.9; golden retrievers, 61.9; cockers, 49.1; Sussex spaniels, 32.2; English setters, 29.8; clumber spaniels, 24.5.
Bottom line: Outbreeding is critical for gundog survival.