Patience My Children, Patience!
Posted on 01/07/2011 in Ringside Conversations.
This article appears in the February 2011 issue of BLOODLINES Dog Event News, along with the list of Top Producing American Pit Bull Terrier Females and the 2011 Carolina Classic Premium List.
Richard G. (Rick) Beauchamp
When I compare our approaches to breeding back when I began in dogs to the scientific methods espoused now by the many authoritative books of the day I wonder how in the world we ever got anything good enough to show much less to win with! Oddly enough the people I studied under those many years ago managed to breed some wonderful dogs. Actually, I think a lot of it had to do with patience and the willingness to take the time necessary to get what was actually wanted.
I was very fortunate to have had some wonderful mentors, and several noted breeders took me under their wings, 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 objective outside input on the young litter as the puppies were approaching the age where decisions were to be made in respect to what was to be kept and what had to go. The breeders of the litter wanted to make sure that their own prejudices and subjective opinions were not standing in the way of recognizing faults and virtues that a totally objective outsider might recognize.
The puppies would be allowed to just gambol and play on the lawn and the humans would relax on lawn 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 that we had an opportunity to see how they were put together and how they used their parts.
Those present never picked up or posed the puppies. The purpose of the exercise was to see what the youngsters looked like without interference.
Occasionally I would hear the breeder of the litter make a comment like, “I bred the bitch to my old Town Talk 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 gather up the courage to ask one of the breeders that question. 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 produce the right kind of individual that would be suitable to take to another line. 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 by breeding this bitch out prematurely, too soon in the sense that the bitch might not carry the genetic strength to hold on to what the breeder wanted to hold.
It is critical to note here that her objective was not essentially the show ring, but actually the whelping box. She was creating breeding stock that she could be relatively sure would produce what she wanted to keep and hopefully might additionally take on the needed quality or qualities she sought in the outside line. Should a show dog emerge from the litter - a bonus, but importantly, not the point of the breeding.
As circuitous a plan as this may seem on the surface, it was a 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, keep-what-you-get, show-what-you-keep” syndrome.
All this opposed to the day when we had breeders who 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
There have also been cases in which a breed, a variety, or a color within a breed has slipped so far away from correct type there has been nothing available domestically to take it back to the source. The last resort has been to turn to foreign imports to help the breed back to where it should be.
At first thought this appears the obvious way to go but 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, the imports, representing what in fact is an entirely different look, will stand out like a sore thumb.
How many 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? It’s all too often a case of “odd man out.”
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. The round sturdy bone that extends right down to the pasterns, tight compact feet, short loin, and rock solid toplines are all qualities to be prized and admired but not easily come by in too many American Boxer lineups.
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 that 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 that is so different than all the rest different right, or different wrong?”
The English and European English Springer Spaniels have a significantly different “look” than their American cousins. 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 rearward beyond that point.
This may not sound like a dramatic departure one 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 English 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 in 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 a 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 that have carried our breeds to greater heights are usually the result of someone’s being willing to deal with all these setbacks.
Richard G. (Rick) Beauchamp has been successfully involved in practically every facet of purebred dogs: breeding, exhibiting, publishing, writing. He is the author of numerous breed and all breed books including the best-selling Solving the Mysteries of Breed Type and Breeding Dogs for Dummies. He has judged all breeds throughout the world and was one of the United Kennel Club’s first all breed judges.