What’s new with the Functional Dog Collaborative

by Aug 10, 2020Podcast, Updates0 comments

Jessica Hekman: Welcome to the Functional Breeding Podcast. I’m Jessica Hekman, and I’m here interviewing folks about how to breed dogs for function and for health: behavioral and physical. This podcast is brought to you by the Functional Dog Collaborative, an organization founded to support the ethical breeding of healthy, behaviorally sound dogs. FDC’s goals include providing educational, social, and technical resources to breeders of both purebred and mixed breed dogs. You can find out more at www.functionalbreeding.org, or at the Functional Breeding Facebook Group, which is a friendly and inclusive community. I hope you have fun and learn something.


Jessica Hekman: Hi, friends. So you are stuck with me this week. No one else. And I’m starting out with some announcements. We have T-shirts now. You can wear them with pride and use them to start conversations and spread the word about the Functional Dog Collaborative. To find them, go to functionalbreeding.org and click on Merch in the top toolbar. I am really excited about these shirts. I personally am very picky about my shirt styles. And these come in so many different styles and options that I was actually able to find a size and shape and color that I was really happy about.


Second announcement is that we now have a Patreon page. Patreon is a website for letting you support content creators and get some extra stuff in return. In this case, you make a small monthly donation and you get early access to podcast episodes and the opportunity to suggest questions for me to ask scheduled guests. So to find out more about that go to patreon.com/functional breeding.


And then my third announcement is that this will be the last episode for several weeks. My producer Sarah Espinosa-Sokal and I are taking a summer break. We had a lovely buffer of something like six episodes when we started releasing this podcast, and we have finally eaten through that. So we want a few weeks to buffer back up. And also just to relax a little bit because a lot of this stuff has been quite overwhelming with keeping the podcast going and everything else that’s going on. And I have been releasing the podcast on Mondays, but when we come back from our summer break, we’re going to start releasing it on Thursdays. So this is just basically to catch our breaths and relax a little bit. But probably moving forward, we will continue to release the podcast in clumps like this. So a bunch of episodes, get to the point where we feel like we need a break of a few weeks, take a break of a few weeks and then release a bunch more. I suppose I could do what some other people do of releasing old episodes again. But I don’t feel like the podcast is quite old enough for that yet since my very first episode was only a few months ago. So maybe eventually we’ll do that.


So yeah. We’ve accomplished a whole lot in the first month of the Functional Dog Collaborative, and some members of the team suggested that it might make sense to have an updates episode. So I’m kind of thinking of this as a bonus episode. Otherwise, we would have gone straight into that hiatus at this point. But I wanted… I thought it made sense to have an episode to let everybody know what’s been going on behind the scenes, and how much work a whole bunch of different people are doing on what is turning into quite a big project.


So for those who don’t know, this podcast is part of something larger. The Functional Dog Collaborative, or FDC, is trying to provide support for breeders who are breeding functionally, meaning that they focus on function over form. And there’s going to be more in this episode on what I mean by that. But the FDC, as I envision it, has three arms: social, educational and technological.


So I figured I’d just take it arm by arm and start out with social because that was really where we started with the Facebook group, which has grown to over 1400 members in just a few months, which I find amazing. We get so many requests every day. It was only about 200 people when this podcast started and I am really proud of how we’ve managed to keep it friendly and polite. This has been almost entirely due to our new fantastic moderation team: Chana Perlman, Bliss Cane, Tara Doherty, Karen Hinchy and Dana Daniels. On this team, we have experience from all different parts of dogs. There we have people with experience in dog breeding, someone from the shelter world and someone coming from communications which has been really essential, incredibly helpful. They have been tireless in engaging with really challenging conversations, keeping people on track and actually talking to each other. I cannot say how much I depend on them.


As the group grew, before I had them, I started realizing exactly what I had cut out for me. It’s really rare on Facebook to have these different dog communities side by side like we do. We have cross breeders. We have outcrossing projects. We have purebred breeders. We have dog trainers, behavior consultants, people from the shelter communities, scientists, veterinarians, and then we have a whole pile of really committed dog owners who want it to be easy to find better dogs. And these people are all really passionate about breeding dogs. But they all have different needs and different perspectives.




I was sort of trying to listen to everyone for a while, and having a lot of trouble balancing all of that. And I really didn’t want these groups to interact in some of the ways that they often do on other corners of Facebook. But when the Functional Breeding Facebook group grew so quickly, I realized that I didn’t have the skills or really the time to handle it on my own. Trying to figure out what to do, I hired a consultant with expertise in managing large groups who helped me set up group rules and a moderator team. And this team and I work together to build team guidelines for how to manage the group, and also group guidelines for what is acceptable discourse. So if you’re curious about those, you can find those guidelines in the file section on the Facebook group.


And then I have a separate team of volunteers, Kim Palermo and Sue Nowak, who just managed the join requests of which there are quite a few. And they’re making sure that people who asked to join, but have not actually agreed to the group rules, are contacted and given a chance to do that. If you didn’t know Facebook is really kind of a terrible platform for this kind of thing. And it doesn’t always show the rules to people. So we want to make sure that people have a chance to agree to them. We also find it’s really important that people actually see those rules before they come into the group and know what they’re in for.


So I’m really deeply grateful to these teams. Without them, I was unable to focus on moving the rest of the project forward. Because I was spending all my free time and then some just on keeping the group civil. And there was one day after I got these teams in place when there was a blow up on the group. And it was right before I was sitting down to dinner and a movie with my husband. And I realized that before that team was in place, I would have had to say, “Sorry, honey. I’m going to spend the rest of the night on Facebook, which causes some marital strife. And also I would have been exhausted by it. And instead, I was able to have a lovely evening and do the work that I want to do for this group at a different time when it was right for me. And I was so, so grateful to these people who are helping out to make that possible.


Now, as we started working with the group, the moderator team and I also realized the importance of guidance about what the purpose of this whole project is. Somehow I think I thought that everyone would see in my head what exactly we were trying to support. But, you know, people had questions. What do we mean by functional? Or if I say “supporting function over form,” what exactly does that mean, and what are the implications for it? So the moderator team and I wrote guidelines about sort of what all that means. And then we asked for feedback from the Facebook group twice. The second time with an anonymous feedback option to make sure that we really heard from people.


And so basically the guidelines say that the FDC supports the breeding of dogs who will have equal or greater physical health compared to all other dogs. And it defines what we mean by physical health as physical comfort, ability to reproduce naturally, low rate of genetic disease, a low rate of disease caused by the dog’s physical form, long healthspan and long lifespan. So that means that we support breeding practices that produce dogs that are as healthy as the average dog. And so that includes both dogs from all breeds and mixed breed dogs. We also support breeding practices producing behaviorally healthy dogs, again, compared to all other dogs. And the guidelines define behavioral health as minimal fear of new people, minimal fear of new dogs, ability to cope with changing environments, but you know, within reason. So a farm dog may have trouble in a city. That’s fine. That’s not what a farm dog is meant to have to deal with. Minimal behavioral pathologies. So that’s pathologies being problems that a veterinary behaviorist may diagnose, for example, separation anxiety, or compulsive disorder, and then minimal aggression.


And we really struggle a lot with how to phrase the aggression thing. Some channeled aggression is appropriate in some jobs, like in livestock guarding dogs, or dogs used for bite work. But that is channeled into their jobs. Dogs who randomly bite their owners would not be included in this. That would be unacceptable. And so we also note that channeled aggression is acceptable in ethical jobs. And so just to be clear, we don’t consider dogfighting to be an ethical thing to breed dogs for.




So then the guidelines come to grips with what these goals mean for realistic breeding. There are people who find it challenging to meet these goals without outcrossing or, while at the same time, prioritizing breeding to a standard. By that I don’t mean that they can’t meet these goals within a standard. I only mean that there’s only so many things you can breed for. You’re balancing all this stuff. And so if excessive white markings is a deal breaker for you, then prioritizing that may make it hard to also successfully breed away from high cancer rates, for example. So are there people who in these situations, are they still welcome in the FDC and on the Facebook group? They absolutely are. But the guidelines caution that we may have in these places frank conversations, both on the Facebook group or in our educational materials which includes this podcast, conversations that address health issues. And we want people who are coming from these perspectives to recognize that our approach to solving these problems may not be the same as their approach. We can all breed our own ways. We just wanted to make clear which particular approach this group is focused on up front, so there was no confusion.


We also tried in these guidelines to address how to handle disagreements on whether particular issues affect health. So the example that came up in the Facebook group that inspired this was a discussion of whether brachycephaly, or having a very flat face with a very short muzzle, is correlated with breathing issues. And what is appropriate to do about that. So we recognize that breeder experience is important and should be evaluated, but that we will prioritize peer-reviewed scientific papers first. So breeder experience is welcomed, but if it goes in the face of scientific evidence then we suggest to really have a serious conversation comparing those two different forms of evidence. The best way to present the evidence that you have would be from very detailed data from your own breeding program, basically, to show what you’ve seen. And there’s more details again, in the guidelines about that.




And if you want to take a look directly at these guidelines, go to functionalbreeding.org and click on About Us and you’ll see all kinds of information on that page about what the group is about.


So with all this work on the culture of the group, I am really proud now of where things stand. The group has its dustups, but they are managed promptly. For the most part, we have people talking about some complex and emotional issues really civilly, which means we can actually learn from each other’s perspectives. And what I love most is seeing people making connections on the group, on the Facebook group. I have seen different outcross projects find each other for the first time and be able to talk about how they each handle their operations. I have seen cross breeders find purebred breeders who will sell them breeding stock, which is one of the hardest parts about crossing dogs, finding good quality breeding stock. I have seen owners find breeders producing exactly the pet or sport mix that they wanted, but that they didn’t know was out there.


And I have realized that this group is serving as a resource to what we could call “conventional purebred breeders” too, which is something I didn’t expect, but something I’m really happy to be able to provide. And I think it’s worth talking about what that means, particularly in light of the guidelines that I just finished talking about. That we are a resource to breeders who may not have the same priorities we have. So someone asked about this specifically on the group just yesterday about whether it could be a place for her if she was not interested in outcrossing, but wanted to breed more functional dogs within her breed. So the situation that I posed to her was, suppose you ask a question on the group about a problem that you’re trying to breed away from. You ask how to solve it. This group might suggest outcrossing as a solution. You might say you’re not comfortable with that, although it’s cool with you if other people do it. Possibly then someone else on the group might suggest another solution that you could do without outcrossing. It might be slower, but it would get you there. That kind of interaction is fantastic. And it’s the kind of thing we’d love to see happen on the group.

So to support people making connections, we had a bunch of threads on the group to call out breeders and people looking for mentors so that people could see who is there and make those connections. The obvious next step is having a directory for people to use to find each other with searchable tags. I’ve been trying for a while to find the time to do that. And then Atlanta Jackson offered to help. So that is something that we hope to be able to offer in the future to help people connect and find others who can mentor them, help them find a dog for their breeding program, or, hey, even help potential puppy buyers find people doing the, maybe somewhat off the beaten track but still responsible and well planned out, breeding that they’re interested in.


Now, another big thing that breeders who have breed clubs to support them have is National Specialties. And this is something cross breeders don’t have and that outcrossers might be interested in, but are not often welcome at. We haven’t really started thinking about what this would look like concretely yet, because this kind of thing is not possible during the pandemic. In the future though I would love to have an annual get together. We could call it a convention or camp. We’d get together in person. There would be on site sports competitions. There would be health screenings. I would love to have a sports med vet or rehab vet there to provide physical exams for your dogs to help you figure out if they’re good breeding prospects orthopedically or if they’re a good candidate for the sport of your choice. And, of course, places to spend ridiculous amounts of money on things for your dogs that you really don’t need, but you just really want like that perfect collar. So I personally am not a collar fetishist, but I know some of you are. For me, it’s about the dog beds. But more than that, it’s about the dog toys, and especially the food puzzles, so to each their own. But if you have ideas for how we could provide more online social interactions until the pandemic eases up a bit, then by all means, let us know.


Now, the other thing we would have at this future in-person get together would be an educational component: seminars and classes that we can definitely do online. So we have been moving forward with the education arm of the FDC. So now I’m transitioning to this second arm: education. So with the help of some fantastic volunteers, we produced a curriculum outline. The original core of that came from volunteer work by Amy Townsend, and then a bunch of others chipped in to refine it and fill in any gaps. This curriculum outline provides a guideline for what we think a competent breeder ought to know. The next steps are finding resources that we can recommend for actually learning all that stuff. And after that, filling in the gaps where we can’t find good and accessible resources.




So Bliss Cane is heading a curriculum team that is working on vetting a complete list of open resources that would launch a responsible novice breeder on her way. She asked me to remind you all that the curriculum outline is available to look at. You just go to functionalbreeding.org, and follow the link for curriculum. Oh, well, maybe it’s education. I should have checked on that before I actually started talking on this podcast. But it should be pretty clear. Top right. So she wants to remind all of you that the curriculum outline is available, and that if experienced breeders have any particular sources that they love, or favorite pieces of advice from their repro clinics or mentors, she would love to hear about it. So you can find her on Facebook, Bliss Cane, or you can send a message through the Contact Us form on the website at functionalbreeding.org, once again. And I will make sure that that gets to her.


Now there is of course a need for educational opportunities for the other end of the spectrum: the breeder nerd. Right now we’re envisioning two parts to that. The first is a series of summaries of scientific articles with relevance to dog breeders. Emily Hightower has already written the first article summary and is working on the second. Tara Doherty is setting up the technology on the website to publish the series in an ongoing way. So I’m really hoping we’ll start getting that out to you in the next few weeks.


Then, the other really obvious thing that we could offer would be webinars. That is for sure in the plans. We are still getting together plans about exactly how that would work, what platform we’d use, that sort of thing. But that machine is starting its gears up. So I’m hopeful that we’ll have those to offer you maybe by the end of this year. And then this podcast is supposed to be another part of the education component of the FDC. So if there’s something, someone you’d like me to interview for it or a topic you’d like to see covered, definitely please let me know.


And then the third arm of the FDC is the database, which I referred to previously as technology. And it’s clear that we will need a place for breeders to record pedigrees, share health test results, maybe even collect health and behavioral reports directly from puppy owners if that’s of interest to a particular breeder. So this would be a way to connect with others who are breeding dogs who interest you either for your own breeding program, or as a puppy buyer as well. This is obviously a really massive project and not something to be taken lightly. Brian Batchelder is the head of this particular project and we have a team of volunteers to help out, though if you have technical expertise in this area, front end or back end, and want to donate your time to help please let us know. And thank you so much to those who have already agreed to help: Tess Star, Erin Witham, Jennifer Grebinoski and Rebecca Ysteboe. 


Finally, with all this going on we have been depending heavily on and greatly appreciating volunteer time, but we need to make sure this project is financially sustainable. My first goals of bringing in funds have been to pay my amazing podcast producer Sarah Espinosa-Sokal, so that she does not have to leave me for paying projects. My second goal is to pay for professional transcription of the podcasts to make them more accessible. So in light of that, we now have a support link on the website which will show you how to donate if you are so inclined. Or as I mentioned previously, we now have a Patreon page for a monthly support option. Because we really want our content to be accessible to all, we did set all different Patreon tiers as having the same perks. In other words, you pay what you feel comfortable paying. It’s about supporting us, not about getting stuff. There are three tiers all allowing the same access starting at $1.50 a month, which hopefully should be pretty much affordable to everybody. Then $5 a month, then $10 a month. Again, the only difference in these tiers is what you feel comfortable doing. Everyone gets the same thing out of it. So that again is patreon.com/functional breeding.


The donations that we’ve already received will pay for the production of three podcast episodes. And the revenue from Patreon and the T-shirt sales has made me feel confident enough to start researching how to find good professional transcription and start assessing its costs. So thank you to everyone who has donated. It is really huge, not only to have the ability to start expanding what we offer, and to reimburse my producer for her very valuable time, but also to know that there are people out there who feel that this cause is worth supporting. So that’s where we are for now. And if you want to get involved, or have other ideas for how we can help support people who are breeding for function, post in the Facebook group, or use the Contact Us form on the website to let us know. It has meant more to me than I can say to have so much positive feedback from the community and to have this podcast be so well received. So thank you so much to all of you.

Thanks so much for listening. The Functional Breeding Podcast is a product of the Functional Dog Collaborative and was produced by Sarah Espinosa Socal. Come join us at the Functional Breeding Facebook group to talk about this episode or about responsible breeding practices in general. To learn more about the Functional Dog Collaborative, check out www.functionalbreeding.org. Enjoy your dogs.

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