Even the Gods Can't Unscramble Eggs
Posted on 09/09/2013 in Ringside Conversations.
A good many of the letters I receive are requests for mentoring in the writers’ breeding programs. Time permitting; I do what I can to help. Telling someone how they should go about getting started is the easiest part - go to the best to get the best and follow their time-proven plan until every nuance is completely and thoroughly understood.
One successful litter doesn’t make the novice a master breeder. Far from it. If the beginner has followed the mentor’s plan, it all goes to prove that what they are being taught works. Early success all too often goes to the young breeder’s head and creates the urge to go off into uncharted territory. At times this may work; more often than not, all that has been gained is lost and the adventurer finds he has little or no previous knowledge to help him escape the trap he has put himself into.
It doesn’t take genius to advise someone to start off with what has proven over time to be successful. However, the vast majority of individuals have already begun so to speak, they have a dog or several dogs and may even be along a generation or two in their breeding attempts.
Pictures usually accompany the requests I receive for mentoring, and they can be but are not always helpful. In making an evaluation from a photo, it has to be understood that the evaluator can only judge the picture and not the dog portrayed. I have had unusually fine dogs that have never taken a good picture in their entire lives, and on the other hand dogs of far less quality whose photos always flattered them beyond expectations. (The kind, I’ve often said I should have left at home and shown the pictures instead!)
“The Line” starts where?
So much for pictures. Let us assume that what has been sent are true representations of what the writer’s dogs actually look like. Note that I do not say the writer’s “line” of dogs. Because someone has bred a generation or two does not create a “line” of dogs. A breeding line constitutes something far more expansive and complex than one, two, even three, or four litters.
When I advised going to the best known for having produced the best, these individuals have not only produced quality, they have produced dogs that bear such a striking resemblance to each other that it becomes totally unnecessary to look into a catalogue to determine their lineage. That, in a nutshell, is a line.
Invariably, there is a portion of the letter that will begin something like, “… and this is our wonderful ‘Bowser’ that we plan to use as our foundation stud.” Normally when I read that part of the letter, I cringe before even looking at the photos. Seldom is that “foundation stud” the kind of dog you would look at and say now here’s what the breed is all about!
In the first place, let’s face it, how many dogs are there around that look like that? Those rare fellows are usually housed at the kennels of those people I spoke of earlier. The ones who have consistently produced the best. They don’t come along often, and then when they do appear, we can only hope and pray that they will also produce.
The hobby breeder who is interested in establishing a small breeding program and doing the best he can to set a distinctive and representative style, needs only to house bitches. It is practically pointless, in fact, counterproductive for any beginning breeder to house males.
A small kennel male will seldom if ever be used on his mother who produced him or his sisters or his daughters. Regardless of how promising a sire he might be, if you can’t use him on any of the bitches in your own breeding program, what is the reason for keeping him?
Even if you have been so lucky as to wind up with an above-average male, is he in fact the dog that you would go out and pay a stud fee to breed to your specific bitch? “Your specific bitch” are the operative words here. Is he that good that he is the right dog for not only her but also all the bitches you have in your kennel? How fortunate, if so. You are among the chosen few! Most of us are seldom that fortunate because rarely no dog, even the breed’s great sires, have been entirely appropriate for every bitch in the breed.
My first word of advice is forget about males for the initial years of your breeding program. Become known for producing the best bitches in your area. Do so by merit of breeding each and every one of your existing bitches to the best possible sire you can find for her!
Fortunate are those who have a mentor to go to who knows their line well. They not only have the picture of the ideal dog of their breed firmly implanted in their mind’s eye, but also know which dogs within the line are most able to produce that picture. They also know which part of the line best gets you certain specifics you are looking for and which part of the line might need assistance in that respect.
Not everyone is that fortunate, and many highly motivated breeders-to-be find themselves with a number of dog of their breed (hopefully females!) that are somewhat related and bear some similar characteristics. It is time to unscramble the eggs.
I have instructed any number of young breeders to reduce their stock down to one or two of the best bitches of the lot and begin there. The others can be placed, or if they are among the “favorites”, spayed or neutered, and concentrate on the best quality that is there.
The next critical step is breeding the remaining good bitches to the best possible studs that can be found for them. If you’re fortunate that the same dog is suitable for both the bitches, fine; if not, breed the best of what you have to the best out there that is right for the respective bitch.
Sex Linked Characteristics
What a lot of my students seem to have a difficult time understanding is that, in some cases, the sexes of the individual dogs that are used have a great bearing on what characteristics are passed along. These are referred to as sex-linked characteristics.
Long-time breeders often find that the dogs of another line carry very desirable attributes they are lacking in their own line and will send off one, often more, bitches to a stud dog of the outside line. Yet even though the resulting offspring are of high quality, they do not carry the attributes that the breedings were actually made to introduce.
In some cases, it will be the male that will be best at bring the desired qualities to another line, and at other times, much to many a good breeders surprise, it is he the bitches within the outside line that are best able to transmit those qualities.
This might well entail the purchase of an outside line bitch, or an exchange of some sort, but the clever breeder never hesitates at doing what is necessary to move forward, and, as a result, making what could prove to be a stop, or only a pause, along the road to success.
The Point Of It All
Getting an animal good enough to show is one thing. Getting one good enough to carry on your breeding program or to take the breed one step further along the line of progress takes time, perseverance and often great disappointment. However, the dogs who carry our breeds to greater heights in the show ring, in competitive events, and as producers are usually the result of someone’s will to deal with all these setbacks.