Invest in Gold!
Posted on 02/27/2007 in Ringside Conversations.
By Richard G. (Rick) Beauchamp
If the sincere breeder-to-be has been studying and observing his chosen breed, he will have undoubtedly have begun to draw some conclusions. Hopefully one observation he has made is that there are some breeders who seem to have the knack of breeding fine dogs. Year after year these same individuals are able to produce dogs that take the rings by storm. This seems to be the case whether the breeder shows his own dogs locally or if they are shown by others in different parts of the country.
As is the case of anyone who stands at the top of the mountain, these gifted breeders did not fall there; they got there by hard work. They understand the blueprint of their breed, they use it constantly as a guide, and they cull without mercy to make sure they only use stock that conforms to their ideal.
Should you be so fortunate to number one of these gifted individuals in your circle of friends or acquaintances, cherish them. Treasure what they tell you and pray they will some day sell you a bitch.
A bitch? Yes, a bitch. If you are serious about breeding top dogs, I can give you no better advice than to obtain a well-bred bitch selected for you by a successful breeder from his own producing line.
Without exception, every noted breeder we have ever spoken to, regardless of country, breed or size of breeding program, has agreed that there is no more important ingredient in creating a breeding program than the bitch. They are solid gold and without-a-doubt the keystone upon which the entire structure of what you will build must rest upon.
While science might say a bitch contributes fifty percent to what each of her puppies will be, I feel that is because science” does not breed show dogs. I make the bitches’ contribution to her litter an easy seventy-five percent! I’m not alone in this. There are a good number of experienced breeders who feel exactly as I do.
Not only does the brood bitch have to be well bred, she must be a worthy representative of the breed herself, and must have the genetic where-with-all to be able to pass on the right stuff to her offspring. She also has to provide her litter’s nutritional needs while they are in the womb and while they are nursing. Equally important, she contributes her emotional stability, or lack of it, as the puppies are nursing and growing up.
Do not underestimate the latter. A dam that becomes hysterical at the sound of a doorbell or some other unanticipated sound, one who flies into a rage or runs away and cowers when a stranger arrives, affects her puppies adversely. I’ve seen entire litters panic without knowing why other than their mother was overreacting to some unexpected occurrence. Stability is both inherited and environmental. If a bitch is genetically shy or hysterical, you can certainly see that she could have twice the disastrous affect upon her offspring’s character.
The checklist that should govern your search for that all-important first bitch should include: genotype (how she’s bred), phenotype (what she looks like), and temperament (how she behaves). I make each of the three equally important.
A friend of mine from many years ago who bred 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!”
I have never forgotten that. Over the years it has become progressively more meaningful with each breeding I’ve made and every successful breeding program I have observed. It has made me very selfish with my bitches regardless of the breed I was concentrating on.
Back in the 1970s I was trying to establish a line of Bichon Frises. The breed was new then so I was particularly careful about where my good bitches went. I never sold a top show quality bitch puppy without retaining co-ownership until the bitch was shown to her championship and had produced her first litter. Nor were these decisions left to the option of the new owner. The bitch was returned to me when ready to be shown and stayed with me until she became a champion.
It was then I who 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 me. This not only gave me control over the breed’s best bitches, it kept my entire breeding program moving in the direction I wished it to go without having to house an inordinate number of dogs.
Further, and by no means less important, it provided the line with a fail-safe testing ground for the producing abilities of any young male I had decided to keep. Not only was the prospective stud dog given access to bitches of both outstanding phenotype and genotype, the bitches had pedigrees which were in most cases perfectly orchestrated for his genetic makeup.
Stiff terms for the buyer? Without a doubt! However, I felt my first responsibility was to the line I was trying to establish. That the plan bore fruit can be attested to by the number of exceptional champions that were produced during this time. From these outstanding bitch champions came many top-winning males. True, the prospective buyer met with demands that some might well consider unreasonable; but he or she not only wound up with a top class champion bitch, they were almost guaranteed an outstanding producer as well.
I knew what I wanted and bred to maintain it and knew where to go to get what the line didn’t have. The buyers were automatically enrolled in a network which more often than not would continue producing top quality for generations to come. I am fully convinced that the quality present in the bitch classes of the day determines the quality of the entire breed in the next generation.
The best of studs needs the help of good bitches in order to keep a breed moving in an upward 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 this influence beyond that first generation, and remember - that mediocre bitch remains in a pedigree forever.
If you agree with my basic premise that the bitch contributes more than half to a litter’s success, what chance does a breeding out of a poor, or even mediocre bitch have? Of course, accidents (throwbacks) can and do happen - a flyer can appear in just about any litter that boasts at least a few decent ancestors, but do not depend upon that “flyer” to ever fully escape the influence of his or her poorest parent.
This is not to indicate that 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!), and secondly it is not always the “glamour girl” that is the best producer.
The late Cam Milward, Australia’s master breeder of the Grenpark Smooth Fox Terriers, gave some interesting advice to the beginner in the interview we conducted with him in l985. “I have always advised new breeders that the tap root of their line should be the best bitch they can afford to buy and this should be their first task in the plan. The beginner might not find this the easiest mission in the world in that no breeder is anxious to sell his best, for top breeders love and cherish their bitches, value their genetic potential and know how quickly this can be wasted in the wrong hands. But the newcomer must try his best - if you can not get the bitch you wanted, you may be able to buy a sister - but above all, make sure you get a sound foundation bitch, one from a reputable breeder that has consistently produced good winners and producers, one that has the potential to help you attain your plan.”
Few accomplished breeders say anything about trying to obtain a glamour bitch. Rather, they indicate that what you really should look for is a rock-solid foundation. Many times this comes in the form of what I refer to as the “peasant bitch”. This is the one that exhibitors with aspirations of “winning big” are most apt to ignore in pursuit of obtaining her flashy litter sister. The peasant bitch is normally one that adheres to the “blueprint” (well made with all the right angles but just isn’t as pretty as her bound-for-glory sister).
The peasant bitch is not the kind that makes spectators stop you on your way out of the ring with lust in their eye and checkbook in hand. She may not even have that sparkle which is usually an integral part of the 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 when the time comes and presto, you could be on your way in the next generation!
Another instance of the value of the well made but unglamorous bitch occurred several years ago at a Cocker Spaniel Specialty. A close friend and former Cocker breeding associate of mine and I were watching the judging together. We simultaneously spotted a black bitch in one of the classes that intrigued the both us. The bitch placed in her large class. I think she was third or fourth. Later in the day we asked the owner if we might go over her bitch. My friend and I agreed the bitch was definitely one we would love to own if we were to start breeding Cockers again. I said to the owner, “Ma’am, this is going to make one hell of a brood bitch, I assure you.” I found out at a later date that the owner was quite offended that I had relegated her show prospect to the role of “brood bitch”.
A few years passed and upon returning from a judging assignment in Nevada, an acquaintance called to tell me of a Puppy Dog he had carried from the Puppy Class clear on through to Best In Show over an entry of more than one hundred Cockers which included many champions.
I got to see the dog some time later myself and was duly impressed as he was truly an outstanding youngster. It should come as no surprise that the young dog was a son of the “brood bitch” my friend and I had admired so highly in California. The bitch had produced an all-champion litter which included this quality male who went on to become an important winner and considered by many of us to be one of the best Cocker Spaniels to have been shown in this country in many years.
Quite frankly, in my mind there is no higher compliment that could possibly be paid the distaff member of a canine family than to say she is good enough to be a “brood bitch.” The pedigrees of my breeding stock were as often as possible linebred, not to the males, but to prepotent females. Should a breed be fortunate enough to have two or three of these influential matriarchs within the span of a few generations, I would advise the wise young breeder to concentrate as much of the blood of these bitches as is possible in his or her pedigrees.
This is generally referred to as “pedigree building”, but usually is accomplished by linebreeding on males rather than bitches. I find it quite interesting, however, that a good number of breeders I have spoken to agree without reservation that the best built pedigrees are those which have a strong producing bitch foundation.
I use the sons of these outstanding bitches in my breeding program as much as possible. In fact I so strongly believe in this son-mother connection that I would have to think long and hard before I would ever consider using a dog at stud whose dam I absolutely did not like. Very often, I am “sold” on using a dog in my breeding program on the basis of who his dam and who his sisters are.
Does the reader find me biased in behalf of bitches? It is only because I am - totally, completely. Give me an outstanding bitch or two in any breed and with any luck at all in just a couple of generations I’ll make you a bloodline you’d be proud to own. Invest in these golden girls and chances are your return will exceed all expectations.
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.