Common problems - toolkit for breed health co-ordinators

Bichon Frise running outdoors
The role of a breed health co-ordinator can be a rewarding but formidable one, often requiring patience, determination, innovation and an ability to resolve conflicts. The role is not just about collecting or assessing information, or giving health advice, but often has political and social aspects as well. Being a breed health co-ordinator can mean you are directly involved in helping your breed, but it can also be about how you can motivate other people to help you achieve breed goals.

The content of this toolkit originates from the breed health co-ordinator (BHC) symposium workshop (held on 18 September 2013), where breed health co-ordinators were asked what they thought were the main challenges they were facing at the time, and how these challenges could be managed. This toolkit discusses the top 5 challenges that were mentioned most frequently by the breed health co-ordinator groups, and their ideas on how to tackle them.

Honesty and confidentiality

The top challenge that most breed health co-ordinators face is honesty and openness within the breed. Some breeders may have trouble facing, or openly admitting that their dogs have health problems and might be reluctant to make this public. Breed health co-ordinators often aim to encourage breeders to appropriately health test their dogs and participate in any research or surveys which may benefit other dogs within the breed. Sometimes people with affected dogs will worry that they will be persecuted and so may be reluctant to take part in any health initiatives.

How could these issues be resolved?

Building relationships
Building relationships starts by getting to know breeders within your breed community and your relationship with them must be based on trust and respect. A good relationship with colleagues in your breed will allow them to feel more comfortable when approaching you about any
delicate issues that they may be concerned about. In turn, you can advise them appropriately and reassure them that any issues raised with you can be kept in confidence. If you haven’t done so already, you may wish to consider building relationships with organisations, such as the Genetics centre at the University of Cambridge, that are investing in helping you achieve your goals.
Honesty will encourage people to communicate more openly with you. Being honest yourself and open about how best to initiate changes in your breed will lead people to perceiving you as trustworthy.
Leading by example
Leading by example and earning the trust of others will help to build an honest relationship with them, e.g. If you publish your own dog’s test results as part of a breed-wide campaign, others may feel more comfortable about doing it themselves.
Confidentiality is important once you have earned the trust of your peers; do not break that trust, but ensure that any information that they have provided to you is kept in confidence. e.g. if you are carrying out a health survey that involves people giving you data, ensure that the data is handled appropriately and kept confidential. People will be more likely to withhold information, or not participate at all, if they have had confidentiality issues before. Maintaining this integrity will encourage others to respect privacy.
Make it the norm to talk about health
The more people that are open about health conditions which may exist within the breed, and their own dogs, the more people will feel that they can also be honest and seek the appropriate support and advice that they may need.
Be non-judgemental
Listen and take account of people’s views on breeding practices and recognise that there are many different approaches that breeders may take. If people can feel that they can talk to you without being judged, they may be more likely to approach you for help and advice. When giving advice, try to stick to the facts and let others come to their own conclusions. If people are presented with factual information in a sober and calm way, they will hopefully come to the correct solutions themselves. It is important to remember that it is rare for anyone to deliberately create a health issue; they are more likely to have come about as a result of misinformation, ignorance or bad luck.


It takes effort and willpower to achieve goals. The main goal of every breed health co-ordinator is to facilitate the improvement of the health and welfare of their breed. However, sometimes this can prove difficult, especially if there is a lack of motivation and an unwillingness to engage within the breed. Apathy within breed clubs or councils can sometimes make those who are trying to set and achieve goals feel unsupported and unappreciated.

Characteristics of apathy

  • Lack of productivity and creativity
  • Indecision
  • Lack of motivation
There are many ways in which to engage your breed community to help them feel that they are supported:
Strategic plan
Having a strategic plan is an effective way of improving levels of motivation. Knowing what needs to be done and how it can be accomplished makes working towards goals a lot easier. When you do manage to complete items on your plan, or are making headway towards them, then make sure you shout about your achievements.
Setting goals is an essential component to long-term success. Knowing your strengths and weaknesses as a breed community allows the establishment of goals. With goals in place, the community can focus and efficiently use time and resources to achieve those goals.
Good leadership
Good leadership is an important way to guide and keep others eager to contribute. It is important that leaders ensure that their behaviour and attitude send the right messages to their peers. Having a positive attitude and giving encouragement can make a significant difference, increasing the drive to achieve.

Make sure that you don’t bear the burden of your breed’s problems on your shoulders alone. It is important that as breed health co-ordinator, you have a good network of support and a team of trusted individuals that can help you achieve your breed’s goals (and sometimes share your frustrations too - a problem shared is a problem halved!).
Interact and participate more
It is a good idea to get your breed community to interact and participate more by showing them that what is being done within the breed is in their own interest and has a positive impact on the health of their dogs. In addition to encouragement, showing your appreciation for hard work and contribution is also important; positively rewarding contribution will encourage further involvement in the future (e.g. awarding certificates for actions taken to improve the health of their breed, or mentioning their hard work publicly on your website).
Displaying success stories
Displaying success stories of your own breed, and maybe other breeds, on your website can be an advantage, as it gives others something to aspire to and follow. Measuring progress in some form will help to continue work to improve your breed.
Encourage education
Encourage education within your breed community. There may be some amongst your breed that have not been part of the breeding world for long and may therefore want to learn more about the ways of breeding and your breed in general. Organising these sorts of events is likely to be time consuming, so you may need help from enthusiastic colleagues within your breed.
Reconcile yourself
Reconcile yourself to the fact that you may not be able to please everyone all the time.

Breed politics

Conflict can be significantly disadvantageous to making any progress and often requires you to divert your time and resources away from where they are needed most. Many breed health co-ordinators have experienced conflict between individuals within their breed.

Common causes of breed politics

Some people have more power or influence over decisions than others, and this can cause a lot of disagreements.
Differences in opinions on decisions and steps that should be taken to further improve ways to achieve certain goals.
Personal goals vs breed community goals
There may be some that won’t share a particular common goal and instead seek to further their own goals rather than helping to further the improvement of their breed.

Ways to reduce the occurrence of politics

Be a good example
Members of your breed community will look to you as a role model, as well as for guidance and advice.
You most likely already refrain from involvement in this, but gossiping should be avoided, as it may well lead to increased arguments and tension within your community. In addition to being honest with your peers, being open about what is happening involving the breed may leave fewer opportunities for rumours to be instigated.
Listen to your peers
it is good to have an authoritative voice and be able to give advice, but it is just as important and significant to listen to the opinions of others, which allows them to feel more involved and in turn more enthusiastic.
Maintain a positive attitude (where possible)
Your breed community is more likely to be positive if you are. Keep pushing forward towards your goals and maintain determination.
Overcome interpersonal conflicts
You probably already refrain from doing this, but avoid getting pulled into unnecessary arguments as they may lead to more long-term problems, and may damage the relationships you have invested in.
Common goals
Ensure that your goals are in line with the majority of your breed community; improving the health and welfare of your breed. Frequently remind your breed community of this long-term goal. Have the goals of your breed displayed where everyone can see them.
Social events
During your time as breed health co-ordinator, you may have experienced conflict between other clubs. A suggested way to help minimise the occurrence of this type of conflict is to hold social events. Use this more relaxed environment to get to know the other club members on a personal level – and everyone may find they have more in common than they thought.

Public awareness

Making the public aware of what you are doing and what needs to be done for the health of your breed is probably the most valuable approach to getting as many people on board with your health plans and strategies, and also a good way to keep them up to date. Reaching and distributing information to the public can be difficult, but there are many ways to do this. Emphasising health issues and educating the public about how to deal with them is important for achieving progress in the health of your breed.

How could these issues be resolved?

Social media and websites
When used correctly, social media (Facebook, Twitter, etc.) and breed websites are one of the most effective ways of informing the public about developments in dog health. Be careful of the dangers of social media and make sure all the information you publicise is clear and
easy to understand. The last thing you want to do is to cause confusion, which leads to misunderstandings being spread.
Media releases, newsletters and other publications
Sending out media releases, newsletters and other publications may also be effective, as it provides an alternative way of publicising information non-digitally. But these are also effective in digital form.
Ask for feedback
You can upload newsletters onto your breed club websites and ask readers to give their feedback. This engages the public and helps them to feel they are contributing to improving the ways in which breed health co-ordinators are reaching out to the public and making a positive difference in the way they perceive health issues within the breed.
Develop and maintain your website
Increasing and updating the information on your website will help keep the public well informed of any current or perpetuating health topics and what they can do to help. If you do not do so already, it is useful to put up details of upcoming seminars and surveys, and also regular articles of what is going on within your breed and breed society.
Advertising at veterinary practices and pet shops, e.g. flyers and leaflets, is a good, traditional way to inform the public of any events or information that you deem to be relevant.
Holding social events
Holding social events provides a great platform for direct interaction between you and the public and is especially effective for informing those who prefer being informed by word of mouth instead of via internet, email or post.
Ask for help from The Kennel Club
The Kennel Club offers a service of free promotion of health events and seminars organised by breed clubs and breed health co-ordinators. These promotion methods include social media (Facebook and Twitter) and our website. These methods all target a wide audience of dog owners and breeders.
Keep information clear and simple
While the method of distributing information is important, how this information is presented is also critical. Information should be clear and simple enough for all members of the public to understand. In addition, aim to make the information appealing to readers and easily accessible.

Data access and management

Regarding data, one of the problems discussed at the 2013 BHC symposium was that there is a severe lack of it (possibly due to not enough people participating in surveys, a deficiency of samples due to the small population of a breed or a feeling of no access to research facilities). Subsequent
problems discussed were the accuracy of the data and what to do with it, managing surveys and publishing results.

How could these be resolved?

Creating health surveys
The Kennel Club offers a number of breed health surveys toolkits which discuss why breed health surveys should be carried out, types of survey (e.g. advantages of using an online survey), getting organised to carry out a survey, the survey process, and analysing and reporting survey results.

Health survey toolkits

Promoting health surveys
The Kennel Club offers a service of free promotion of health surveys designed by breed clubs and breed health co-ordinators. These promotion methods include social media (Facebook and Twitter), our own website, media releases from The Kennel Club and an email to breed owners inviting them to participate in the breed health survey. These methods all target a wide audience of dog owners and breeders, helping to gather a substantial amount of data.
Helping your breed
The Kennel Club's resource Bringing About Research Collaboration (BARC) aims to help bring researchers and clinicians together with regards to research projects, to facilitate the collaboration of different ideas and information. It also acts as a central platform for researchers to request samples they need to undertake their current research. This is a revolutionary way to collect more data from breeds and to help breeders to do more for the health of their breed. If there are any research projects that involve your breed, we will inform you and direct you to the BARC page.
Health test results
The Kennel Club stores health test results for official DNA tests and BVA/KC health schemes on our database and we publish these on our Health Test Results Finder, which is accessible by the general public.

Many laboratories send their results automatically to The Kennel Club. Breed health co-ordinators can request any breed-specific health related data from The Kennel Club for free, providing that it is already available in the public domain.
External data
External data from research bodies such as the Animal Health Trust (AHT) and the British Veterinary Association (BVA) may also be available, e.g. publications of research studies. The Royal Veterinary College’s (RVC’s) VetCompass project collects health information from primary-care veterinary practices, aimed to investigate the most common disorders diagnosed in dogs.
Sharing information
Sharing information with people within the breed and other breeds is an effective way to distribute and obtain data. In addition, breed clubs could publish more easily accessible information about their breed, e.g. the percentage of a breed hip scored over the past 10 years. It may also help people to work together more efficiently, both within a breed and between breeds.
Data requests
Data requests can be directed to The Kennel Club, provided the type of data requested is recorded on The Kennel Club's database. Access to some data will be subject to approval.
The Kennel Club data
The Kennel Club publish data on the number of dogs in each breed that have been tested each year. This is useful to show any trends occurring regarding an inherited condition prevalent in a breed.
The Kennel Club survey data
The Kennel Club have conducted two nationwide surveys of UK purebred dogs, one in 2004 and one in 2014. These aimed, with the help of owners, to identify important health conditions in UK dog breeds.

Post-it note word cloud

For the 2013 BHC symposium, the breed health co-ordinators took part in a word cloud activity. Each breed health co-ordinator had to write a positive (pink sticky notes) and negative (yellow sticky notes) comment based on their experiences in the role.

Below is a selection of these comments.
Word cloud of post-it notes
Word cloud of post-it notes


We would like to thanks Philippa Robinson for her contributions to this toolkit.