Making a Breeding - to Make a Breeding
Posted on 11/21/2005 in Ringside Conversations.
By Richard G. (Rick) Beauchamp
At times it seems like only yesterday that I was the new kid in dogs that had an obsession with American Cocker Spaniels. (Admittedly there are those other times when thinking back to those early days is like taking a trip back to the Dark Ages!) Then, I was like a sponge. I soaked up every word uttered by and between the celebrities of the breed.
I was very fortunate to have some wonderful mentors and several noted breeders take me under their wing even allowing my presence at what I remember them calling their “puppy picking” parties. Someone with a new litter would ask two or three fellow breeders over on an early summer’s evening to take a look at their latest youngsters. They wanted outside input on the young litter, as the puppies were approaching the age where decisions were to be made in respect to what to keep and what to let go. The puppies would be allowed to just gambol and play on the lawn, and the humans would relax on Adirondack chairs observing the pups for sometimes hours on end. The puppies would steal toys from each other and then with heads held high trot off across the lawn with new treasure. It was then we had an opportunity to see how they were put together and how they used their parts.
Occasionally I would hear the breeder of the litter say something like, “I bred the bitch to my old Black Knight dog because I wanted to get something I could take to one of the dogs in Mary Brown’s line. She’s coming up with some things I could use.” I can recall wondering why the bitch wasn’t bred to “a dog in Mary Brown’s line” right off the bat?
I did ask that question of one of the breeders who had made such a statement. She explained that the reason she hadn’t gone directly to the other line was quite simple. While she thought the bitch she was breeding was of the phenotype suitable for the outside line, she wanted to make sure what she was using to cross out was strong enough genetically (genotype) to hold on to the characteristics she the breeder had developed in her own line. In other words, she was making a breeding to make a breeding. She admired certain qualities in the other line and felt her line needed them but she didn’t want to run the risk of losing the ground she had gained in her own breeding program.
It is also important to note that her object was not the show ring but the whelping box. Should a show dog emerge from the litter, fine. If not, also fine.
As circuitous a plan as this may seem on the surface, it was very sound approach and through the years I saw these generational breedings bear fruit. Sadly, I do believe these next step kinds of breedings have become a relic of the past. Today litters are bred primarily to get “something to show” and the current winning look often supersedes correctness. It’s the old “breed-what-you-have, keepwhat- you-get, show-what-you-keep” syndrome.
All this was opposed to the day when breeders were so dedicated to their breed that they were fully prepared to take several temporary steps back in order to give their line and their breed a permanent step forward. This may simply be another case of “that was then and this is now,” but I hope not.
It Takes Time
When I was still breeding American Cockers, the “chocolate” color Cockers (their color is actually liver) were enough to send chills through the veteran Cocker breeder–narrow muzzles, flat skulls, high-set and thick ears, yellow eyes. All those faults, along with short necks and buffalo-style shoulders, made us wonder why anyone would want them.
One could get correct type blacks in a litter, while the littermate chocolates were of disastrously poor type. Still, the fanciers of the color persevered and then occasionally a chocolate would come along that looked somewhat like a Cocker should. Again, those that fancied the color kept on. Eventually there was a crossover–black type, brown color. It did not happen overnight, and the percentage of showable specimens resulting from the breeding programs was always small, but it did happen after sacrificing many generations of show dogs. Now the good chocolates can stand alongside good ones of any of the varieties.
There have also been cases in which a breed, a variety or a color has slipped so far away from correct type there has been nothing available domestically to take it back to the source. The last resort was to turn to foreign imports to help the breed back to where it should be.
“Of course,” you might say, “Definitely the smart thing to do.” But let’s stop and take a good look at the picture. When a whole breed has drifted far from its origins, bringing in something that harks back to where the breed should be takes more courage than you might imagine. Don’t forget, these imports, representing what in fact is an entirely different look, will stand out like a sore thumb.
How many of the courageous one’s competitors would be willing to say, “We’re all wrong; you’re the only right one?” How many judges are going to take the one dog that is different from all the rest and acknowledge its correctness?
I am afraid anyone who thinks this courageous step is going to be met by thousands cheering is rather naive. No, the purist will have to spend several generations working the lost qualities into his line so that the corrections are made, but not too abruptly and not departing entirely from what is accepted and familiar. He must juggle the good with the bad, the negative with the positive, what is right with what is wrong.
Imagine taking a European Boxer and placing it among the streamlined version of the breed holding forth in America today. The European Boxer represents the antithesis of how the breed has developed here in America. Granted, the American dog is far more elegant of line–long of neck and well-angulated, with lovely head and eye-pleasing markings, but all this has not been without cost. Round, sturdy bone right down to the pasterns, tight compact feet, short loins, rock solid toplines–all qualities to be prized and admired but not easily come by.
Going back to the source from which a breed emanated and may be the source of real quality can take far more time, effort and criticism than what the modern exhibitor is willing to contend with. One must never forget that there are many exhibitors and judges as well who may never have experienced what a breed was like in its golden years. It can be very hard to appreciate a dog who is really good and totally correct if one is not accustomed to seeing the breed in that form. The question that arises of course is, “Is that one who is so different than all the rest different right or different wrong?”
Those who know the English Springer Spaniel breed well know the breed has a myriad of problems, some of which provide a serious threat not only to the breed but also to the people who own the breed. A small group of those devoted to the Springer have turned to English imports to help them out of the bind they are in.
Now, the English and European English Springer Spaniels have a significantly different “look” than their American cousin. One major difference is the concept of rear quarter angulation. Generally speaking, the British and Europeans tend to see ideal angulation both in the Springer and most other “well-angulated” breeds corresponding to a line from hock to foot that, when viewed in profile, is just clear of a vertical line drawn along the rear edge of the buttocks. Americans are inclined to see this hock-to-foot line extending significantly beyond that point.
This may not sound like a dramatic departure from the other until one sits down and examines the entirely different picture it creates. This gives England’s English Springer an inclination toward a slightly rounded look to the croup, and it at least appears to the American viewer that the rear quarter is turned under the dog somewhat–certainly lacking angulation by American standards.
Who is right and who is wrong is immaterial in this case. To the American, it looks strange and different. The American breeders who have gone to the Englis
h dogs for their many qualities must deal with this problem when showing the offspring from these unions. Out of dedication to their breed, they are doing so. They are willing to take those few steps back to eventually rid their breed of problems they consider devastating. Not everyone agrees with what they are doing. However, time itself seems to be proving success as their ultimate goal is on the horizon.
A bit has been lost in the markings we are accustomed to seeing on our American lines of Springers (if, in fact, such a minor difference can be considered a loss). The actual general “look” is a bit different, perhaps more different to the newcomer than to those who have experienced the breed over many years.
Breeders who set out to correct a fault or make improvements in their line, rather than simply accepting it as “part of the territory,” may spend generations doing so. In the end however, the persevering breeder usually accomplishes his goal.
Good breeders not only know which sires are producing quality; they know which sires are producing quality in one sex or the other. They are the breeders who make breedings to get a good bitch or a good dog, depending upon what they need to go on with.
Getting an animal good enough to show is one thing. Getting one good enough to carry your breeding program or the breed one step further takes time, perseverance and often great disappointment. However, the dogs who have carried our breeds to greater heights are usually the result of someone’s willingness to deal with all these setbacks.
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.