Bitches - Show Career or Whelping Box?
Posted on 06/21/2007 in Ringside Conversations.
By Richard G. (Rick) Beauchamp
“A woman’s place is in the home!” If I heard that once growing up, I heard it a thousand times. It wasn’t that my father was alone in his chauvinism; it was typical of the day. Actually it was typical well on through a good part of the twentieth century!
It’s obvious I grew up in a world in which sexual equality had not yet arrived. America saw a female’s role in society as secondary, and what “real men” (and their women) believed did spill over into the dog game.
Males were the show dogs. Females were for having puppies. It took just as long for the dog game to get past its flawed philosophy as it had in the real world. Some times I wonder if we have entirely.
Those who advocate confining the contributions of a bitch to the whelping box legitimately offer the fact that a prolonged show career will often interfere with that purpose. But having puppies may not always be the only contribution a bitch can make.
A lengthy campaign may cast a shadow on her future as a producer, but great show bitches have already made an enormous contribution by serving what may be referred to as “goal models.” It would certainly be unfortunate if a truly outstanding bitch could never give us puppies, but perhaps just as great a disservice having never been seen by fanciers and judges of the breed.
A perfect example of all this is the Bichon Frise bitch, the record-holding CH Devon Puff And Stuff. While she was certainly not the first Bichon Frise with correct make, shape and balance, she was the one who, through her incredible style and attitude, brought the proper look to the attention of not only the dyed-in-the-wool dog fancier but also the general dog owning public. As the Bichon breed has continued to progress, we now expect better and better specimens to come along, but they will all have to pay homage to the little bitch who articulated her breed standard so well.
None of the foregoing is meant to diminish a bitch’s importance when it comes to breeding - obviously from what I have already said, this is not the case. Rather it is offered as encouragement to get the top bitches into the ring for as many as possible to see.
All too often the males will be campaigned, photographed, advertised and otherwise given every opportunity to become a permanent visual part of a breed’s history. In many cases, the bitches, whose only place to shine was in the whelping box, are destined for anonymity other than having their name on a pedigree. Those who place as much, if not more, emphasis on the contributions of the distaff side of a pedigree are often left to guess what key the bitches in their pedigrees played in what they have today.
Do not think for a moment that campaigning a bitch is a bed of roses. In many breeds, there is the problem of coat loss when the bitch comes in season. The season itself has a set of problems all its own, not the least of which is that fragile emotional state referred to as “PMS” among humans; or worse, a false pregnancy. Certainly those “delicate feelings” can be worked with but when they come into play moments before the judge is ready to point for a Best In Show award, it can prove to be more than a little unnerving!
There are some bitches, however, who never seem bothered by anything. They are every bit as tough as their male counterparts and in many cases are only a shade or two less in stature, coat and muscularity. Many of these have become the all-time record holders in their respective breeds. By virtue of the very characteristics that did in fact make them great show winners, some believe their futures as producers are compromised.
It is my theory, based on no scientific fact, that the more masculine traits many great show bitches possess are hormone induced, or probably better stated - due to an imbalance of hormones. This imbalance shifts some obvious characteristics in the direction of masculinity. As stated, there is no scientific fact on which to base my theory, but it is interesting to note how many of the big winning bitches pale in the producing department. A good many never produce puppies at all. There are exceptions, of course, but thinking back over the years there are enough examples to make one at least wonder if there isn’t some truth to this pet theory of mine.
Some day science may reveal why, in so many cases, record-holding bitches do not make equally stellar contributions in the whelping box. Does, in fact, the show career interfere with producing ability of a bitch? Or is it that the bitches who have the ability to stand up against their male competitors have what might be considered a hormonal induced influence?
Another contributor to this lack of producing ability could be attributed to the use of the medications used in order to keep bitches from entering into their heat cycle. Many bitches put on this medication never do have a normal season again.
These medications are used by both handlers and owners who aspire to show a female champion through an extended campaign. However, a handler who intends to inhibit the heat cycle should advise the owner before doing so and the owner should make their wishes very clear in this respect.
Breeders’ Thoughts On The Foundation Bitch
Norma Warner, who many may remember for her famed Cleveland, Ohio-based Norbill Cocker Spaniels, had a little sign posted in her puppy room that read, “A beautiful female is something to behold. A beautiful bitch is something to hold on to. So don’t ask me to sell you my best one!”
When Pauline Waterman and I were at the height of our Bichon Frise breeding program, we made sure that we did not lose sight of the good bitches that our line was producing. I told her about the system that the great Cocker breeder of the early 20th century, Herman Mellenthin, had used in the early days of Cockers. We decided employ the basic principles of that system ourselves.
We never sold a top show quality bitch puppy without retaining co-ownership on the bitch until she was shown to her championship and had produced her first litter. Even at that, we were extremely discerning about where our best bitches were placed. There were few decisions left to the option of the new owner unless the new owner was an experienced and successful breeder.
The bitches we sold were returned to us when we felt they were ready to be shown, and until the bitch had gained her title, she remained in the expert hands of Pauline’s husband Joe Waterman. Once the championship was completed, Pauline and I decided which stud the bitch would be bred to for her first litter. The choice puppy from the litter, usually a bitch, came back to us. This not only gave us control over the breed’s best bitches, it kept our entire breeding program moving in the direction we wished it to go without having to house an inordinate number of dogs.
Further, and by no means less important, it provided us with a fail-safe testing ground for the producing abilities of any young male we had decided to keep. Not only was the prospective stud dog given access to these bitches of outstanding phenotype and genotype, the bitches had pedigrees which were in most cases perfectly orchestrated for the dog’s genetic makeup.
Stiff terms for the buyer? No argument there. However, we felt our first responsibility was to the breed and to our Beau Monde line. The number of exquisite Group and Best In Show winning bitches that we produced during this period attested to the success of the plan.
A prospective buyer did not have to accept our terms if they felt they were unreasonable. In fact, we were always ready to refer buyers elsewhere. There were plenty of young Bichons offered for sale throughout the country, but if the terms were weighed against the results of the arrangement, the buyer did nothing but benefit.
The buyer not only wound up with a top class champion, their bitch was bred in the proper way and the bitch produced a high quality litter. The owner was also automatically enrolled in a network that more often than not would continue producing top quality for generations to come.
It seems generally agreed upon in most breeders’ circles that the quality present in the bitch classes of the day determines the quality of the entire breed in the next generation. It was important to us, particularly so in those early days of the breed, that we kept the level of quality in our bitches as high as possible.
The best of studs need the help of good bitches in order to keep a breed moving in a forward direction. There are very few studs that are able to compensate entirely for their mate’s lack of quality. The few that on occasion can are seldom able to extend that influence beyond the first generation. It should be remembered a poor or mediocre bitch remains in a pedigree forever.
If one agrees with the basic premise that the bitch contributes so heavily to a litter’s success, what chance does a breeding out of a poor or mediocre bitch have? Of course accidents (throwbacks) can and do happen. A flyer can occasionally appear in just about any litter that boasts at least a few decent ancestors. It would be foolhardy, however, to expect that flyer to ever fully escape the influence of the poorest animals in its pedigree.
This is not to indicate the only way to found one’s breeding program is with a top flight show bitch. First off, you might spend several years before you found one that was for sale - especially to a novice. Secondly, it is not always the “glamour girl” that is the best producer.
The great Dachshund breeder Peggy Westphal, whose Von Westphalen bitches have left such an indelible mark on the breed. was the first person I ever heard refer to the not terribly glamorous females as “peasant bitches”. Peasant bitches are the ones who exhibitors with aspirations of say, “winning the Garden” are apt to ignore in pursuit of obtaining their flashy litter sisters.
This very basic bitch is normally well made, with all the right angles, but just lacks the essential beauty of her bound-for-Best In Show sister. She’s not the kind who makes spectators stop you on the way out of the ring, with lust in their eyes and checkbooks in hand. She may not even have the sparkle that is usually an integral part of the winning showgirl’s makeup, but because she is so well constructed all you need do is find the fancy dog within her line to breed her to. Success could easily be yours as soon as the next generation!
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.