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“Breeding the Great One”
Posted on 08/17/2007 in Ringside Conversations.

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Richard G. (Rick) Beauchamp
“He is always right who suspects that he makes mistakes.”

From an old Spanish Proverb

When does the novice really become a player in the dog game? In all the interviews I have conducted through the years, even the most directed and successful invariably spoke about that “first puppy.” They found one, bought one, got adopted by one or even, in some cases, reluctantly had one foisted upon them. Even those whose first dog was purebred almost inevitably made the decision to have a dog hastily and the pup was of less than winning quality.

Although some had a vague notion of “going into breeding” or perhaps even showing their dog, the reoccurring theme seemed to be: first the urge, then the purchase, and finally the realization that “Old Shep” or “Little Nell” was exactly what they did not need to get started in the right direction. So they loved their first one, had it spayed or neutered and moved on realizing their mistake. Step number one completed.

Step number two is the critical one, and unfortunately the one all too often skipped. But for the wise, those who are willing to learn by their errors, this is also the step at which the individual begins to follow a separate path from those who are not willing admit they have made a mistake. It is here the wise forge ahead with a strong mental note to think long and hard before adding to their canine population.

After one has studied and observed, researched and reconsidered it becomes obvious some lines are more successful than others in producing quality stock. Where from among the many lines available does one decide to actually buy?

The days of the large kennels of the past are gone. There were those glorious days when the envied wealthy could afford to house scores of the finest dogs available in a given breed - dogs representing the world’s greatest bloodlines. These people hired the great stockmen and women of Europe to manage their kennels and assist in developing intelligent breeding programs.

When necessary, every experimental breeding combination possible was made at these large breeding kennels in order to achieve their breeding goals. Dominant producing lines were developed and outstanding and influential individuals evolved. Interestingly, when kennels house a large number of dogs today and they produce a sufficient number of litters to achieve those same goals they are looked upon with derision and called “puppy mills.”

Mexico’s most notable judge, the late Robin Hernandez, once made an interesting observation regarding this very situation when we were discussing the changes that have occurred in the dog game over these last half century. “When dogs moved out of the large kennels and into our homes as members of the family,” Hernandez commented. He went on to say, “Our attitude toward the dogs changed. They became ‘little people.’ Unfortunately this was accompanied by a disintegration of our ability to view the dogs objectively - as breeding stock. It isn’t too easy to objectively critique a beloved member of one’s household.”

At any rate, most of today’s quality lines are produced by small hobby breeders. They are most often successful when several of these smaller breeders work together toward a common goal.

As to where one should actually go for that all-important foundation puppy - personally I would want to make certain the puppy came from a breeder who whelps their bitches in the kitchen and raises the youngsters “behind the stove,” so to speak,

This may not always be possible for all breeds, but in my estimation the socialization they get in this manner is irreplaceable. Whether the litter is Great Danes or Pomeranians, there is no better place for them to spend their first weeks on earth than in close and constant proximity with humans.

This is not to say good temperaments can not be produced in a kennel environment, but it takes diligence and some extra thought. I have friends who maintain a relatively large Boxer breeding program. There, an intelligently planned number of litters are whelped each year. Temperament in the parents is stressed, and this characteristic is obvious in the many winners emerging from that bloodline each year.

When their puppies make their eventual move from whelping box to the kennel environment, they are placed in the most strategic locations. Every person who enters the kennel, employee or stranger, must pass directly by the area where the puppies are kept. Who could possibly resist stopping to play with a pen full of loving Boxer puppies? As a result that all-important support and development of the inherited temperament continues. This early and continuous socialization is critical for all dogs, particularly those destined for a show career.

Some breeds have had a long-standing reputation for difficult temperaments until dedicated enthusiasts admitted to the problem and took the situation in hand. Chow Chow fanciers, as a whole, owe a great debt of gratitude to the long-time breeders who relentlessly preached good temperament and the socialization principle to people in their breed through the years. It shows in their dogs and in the effect their efforts have had on today’s Chows.

The Chow Chow by its very nature somewhat wary of strangers. Some attribute its hand-shyness to poor eyesight. Whatever the reason, if the Chow Chow youngster is not socialized early and well, the inherent wariness can provide problems. The socialization campaign undertaken by responsible breeders has brought around the confidence of the Chow Chow to where one seldom hears so much as a minor incident due to poor temperament.

Pat Trotter, of Vin-Melca Norwegian Elkhound fame, had a unique way of ensuring that her “high hope” puppies get the socialization they deserved. Often she would have two puppies she especially liked and found too close in quality to make an early decision on which to keep. Since she was a full-time school teacher while she was campaigning her dogs, these promising puppies were at risk of not getting all the socialization she felt they needed.

On occasion she would place both puppies with a family interested in owning a quality Elkhound. She was particularly partial to families with young children. The agreement was that Pat would return at a given time to reevaluate the puppies and select the one she wanted to keep. The other pup remained with the family. This practice produced beautifully socialized puppies and provided the family with a quality Elkhound it might not otherwise have been able to afford or have access to.

Evidently, her program worked. No matter what kind of criticism the detractors of her dogs might have come up with through the years, no one could ever say the Vin-Melca Elkhounds were anything less than outstanding show dogs with reliable temperaments. Her unprecedented record of 10 Group First wins at the famed Westminster Kennel Club show was earned with dogs whose steadiness and willingness to cooperate was legendary.

Evaluating Puppies
Some breeders say they select their puppies at birth. Possibly so, and if this is the case I give these people all the credit in the world. How one keeps track of good, better and best from a litter of all black Cocker Spaniels, white Bichons or red Irish Setters has always proven a bit of a challenge for me. There are also those temporary womb-incurred distortions at birth that must be considered. I am not saying this at birth selection process can not be done, only that it indeed must be a unique gift.

My childhood idol, Albert Payson Terhune, author of all the Sunnybank Collie books, claimed he did it regularly and who am I to doubt the word of that venerable icon? I, on the other hand, would be hard-pressed at times to determine so much as the breed of some newborn litters because of their at-birth similarity. I leave this method of selection to others.

I used to get quite a chuckle when young breeders would call to report they had a litter, often their first, sired by my Bichon Frise, CH Chaminade Mr. Beau Monde. Mr. Beau Monde, whelped in 1970, was a very prepotent stud and eventually became the top producing sire in the breed, a distinction which he holds to this day.

Obviously a litter by him created high hopes for the owners of the bitches bred to him. In their enthusiasm, neophyte breeders would made some astounding claims - “Three could well be Group winners, and there’s one that I’m willing to bet will be our first Best In Show dog!” When I would ask how old the pups were, they would respond, “Oh, they’re already eight weeks now!”

I’ve never been sure I had a Group or Best In Show winner until the dog had won a Group or Best In Show. I have had some dogs I felt should have and never did. Others have surprised me completely with just how much they did win. Know ahead of time? One can always hope, but know - I think not! That is up to the whims of the right time, the right place and the very subjective opinion of the judge.

I like to evaluate my puppies over a long period of time, tracking and eliminating as I go. In a good many breeds eight weeks is that “magic” age which for some inexplicable reason, the pups are almost a miniaturized version of what they will be as adults. This varies from breed to breed, but most breeders seem to agree it is about then that it will take place. We are speaking in a general sense of course, an eight week old puppy to look like the finished product!

The Charting System
Employing the use of a charting system to track the development of puppies from a litter takes time and some careful attention to detail, but the payoff is far greater than what you might imagine. A chart is made up for every puppy in the litter, whether the puppy is to be held on to or not. If the decision is to sell the puppy at eight weeks after the first evaluation, no more notations need be made after that time. The chart, however, is kept on file with those of the other members of the litter.

After a generation or two, used in tandem with pedigrees, the charts begin to reveal answers to problems that some breeders never seem able to solve. Complete and accurate charts reveal developmental stages and patterns that can be compared to future litters and individuals. The charts can eventually provide a very accurate picture of what a specific sire or dam’s is dominant and weak in passing along to their get. Kept over an extended period the charts can paint a very clear picture of how one’s line nicks with other lines, pointing up consistent faults and virtues along with gains and losses made each time an outcross breeding is made.

It is important to begin the system at the time the litter is first graded. Puppies seem to stay in that “miniature adult” stage of eight week or so only briefly. Shortly after this, many breeds begin to go through all kinds of peculiar stages. Few puppies “enlarge” in proportion. Some breeds get very gangly and long-legged; others appear cloddy and long-bodied.

The notes made at eight weeks include both faults and virtues. Simply record at this point. It is important not to be too hasty with an otherwise good puppy with an obvious flaw. This is especially so until you have been charting enough over several generations to know which shortcomings are temporary and which will not go away or may even get worse.

Here, the question to ask is the same as one would ask of any dog of any age, in the ring or out - “How much good is there in this individual?” If the answer is anything less than “quite a lot!” there is little point in running the puppy on.

The second evaluation should be made one month later. Even in that short time it will be obvious that some problems may well have already changed: bites can change, a pup can come up on leg, ear carriage can change, the runt of the litter can suddenly catch up, even surpass its litter mates in that brief period.

There are some faults in which change is highly unlikely, however. That’s why the note taking is important. You want to be able to observe the direction a pup is taking. Is the low-on-leg pup getting more so, or is it improving? What has the bite done? The point here is to see if the problem is correcting itself or if it is growing worse.

Next - More on Evaluating Puppies

The information contained in Mr. Beauchamp’s “Solving the Mystery of Breed Type” series that appeared in BLOODLINES, can be found in his book, Solving the Mystery of Breed Type, published by Doral Publishing, Inc.