MyDogDNA as breeding tool for Cirneco dell’Etnas

Although considered as one of the oldest breeds in Europe, according to present knowledge, the global population of our breed, Cirneco dell’Etna, is relatively small. Cirneco-like dogs have appeared on the Italian island of Sicily for about three thousand years. During the last centuries the Cirnecos have been used in hunting wild rabbits on the challenging slopes of the volcano Etna.

The breed was approved in its home country Italy in 1940 and internationally only few decades later. The amount of annual registrations of Cirneco dell’Etna dogs has decreased in Italy since the popular years of the 80’s and 90’s; during the last 10 years, an average of just over 100 Cirnecos have been registered annually. Equal amount of Cirnecos is born outside Italy each year. Luckily the breed has an open studbook in its home country and unregistered individuals can be brought in the breed.

Before assessing the breed’s genetic diversity with MyDogDNA, we did not know what the actual genetic variation in the breed was. In the past, there had been many popular sires and inbreeding due to the fact that the Cirnecos were bred by hunters that did not much collaborate with one another. In most cases, they bred their own dogs without taking into consideration the close kinship of the dogs. In addition, only few of the hunters were registering their dogs to the Italian Kennel Club. Even today, there probably are twice as much unregistered Cirnecos in Sicily than registered ones.

The Cirneco dell’Etna breed arrived to Finland about 20 years ago, and currently it is the home country for about 250 Cirnecos. I and my mother Erja started our Cirneco hobby among the first ones on the 90’s and our first litter was born in the year 2000. So far we have had 14 Cirneco litters. Our foundation dam is represented in the pedigrees of most Cirnecos born in Finland. At least one of the parents of most of our litters is an import dog, or a sire living abroad, although our latest litter introduces the fifth generation of our breeding work. Few other breeders have also imported dogs to Finland and the Finnish breeders can use most of the same registered lines as the Italian breeders.

Watching back and inspecting the Cirneco pedigrees breaks out cold sweat – same foundation dogs can be found in the pedigrees of most dogs, even though the first four-five generations would be different. Based on this observation, one might assume that the gene pool would be quite narrowed in the breed. The genetic diversity analysis included in MyDogDNA has given us an answer and the answer is reassuring. Based on over 50 MyDogDNA tested Cirnecos (of which most come from Finland), the median diversity of the Cirneco dell’Etna breed is 34.0 %. It is more than, e.g., of the ”Ancient dog breeds” breed group (31.9 %), but less than the median of all tested dogs (including mixed-breed dogs), 34.6 %. Therefore, our breed seems to have quite a lot genetic variation.

We have now tested eight Cirnecos from eight different litters and six imported dogs. In addition, we have tested one Italian Greyhound. Some of these tested dogs are not used in breeding. Nevertheless, we have wanted to test them to gain fully comprehensive information about the genetic variation and health in the Cirnecos of our kennel. In the future, we will be testing more dogs from our breeding. The Genetic Health Index (GHI) varies from 97 to 114 and heterozygosity between 29.6 – 39.7 %. High coefficient of inbreeding correlates clearly with low GHI and low genetic variation. However, the inbreeding coefficient does not reveal the actual genes the dogs have inherited from their ancestors. Therefore, we utilize the MyDogDNA Breeder Tool that allows us compare our breeding dogs to other Cirnecos in the Breeder Tool. The tool enables looking for as genetically diverse combinations as possible, if both potential parents are MyDogDNA tested, although we naturally take many other criteria in consideration when selecting breeding partners. 

My latest personal inspiration in the MyDogDNA test is the set for coat color tests. The Cirnecos are roughly all of the same color, when viewed with the naked eye: Yellowish-brown dogs, nose and skin included. Through MyDogDNA, I have learned that not all Cirnecos are so-called recessive red. Recessive red is common in the breed and hides other genetic colors and patterns of the other loci in the dog appearance.  A recessive red dog can therefore carry many other colors and the offspring can manifest them if their E loci contain some other than two e alleles. For example, we have encountered results with Em and E alleles in few our dogs. In addition, all Cirnecos carry b dilution that turns all black to brown. Genotypes associated to mask or sable could probably not be distinguished from recessive red, but the Cirnecos carry KB allele in the K locus that would cause liver brown color with b dilution. We have also seen few dogs carrying tan points and they are all related to one another. In the future, we can make use of the MyDogDNA test to avoid combining two tan point carriers or dogs with E alleles for not to have unwanted colors in the litter.