More than Just Puppies (Breeding with a Purpose)
By Kim Blutreich
I must be delicate for it is far too easy to offend people on this subject - and yet, offending anyone would be totally contrary to what I'd like to accomplish. Few subjects in dogdom are as prone to reactions of animosity as the question I'd like to pose: why do you want to breed this litter?
I think the reason people react so negatively to this question is, simply, because they haven't bothered to think about it; therefore, they do not have a ready answer; therefore, they feel that they've been put on the defensive and the best way out of that position is to lash out in return. They assume the question is meant as criticism - they are wrong. The question is meant to protect the breed! We always ask persons seeking stud service, "why do you want to breed this litter?"
Basically, if it is obvious that the caller has not given the matter any thought past "she's in heat right now," we will refuse the breeding AND try to talk the people out of breeding altogether. Usually, though, we do get an answer to the question. Answers have varied. We have actually had, recently, our first, "So my children can witness the miracle of life!" ...we thought one only read that in books as an extreme example. We have had, "Because she is so pretty!" and, "My brother wants a puppy, and my neighbor will take one also," and, one of our most common, "We would like for her to have a litter before she's spayed, so she will be fulfilled." Nobody mentioned greed directly or using puppy sales to finance something or other, but that, too, has been obvious on occasion.
Actually, for "serious" breeders, the only valid reason to breed is that there's a reasonable chance that, in this litter, will be the next great influence in the breed; the dog that will set dogdom on its ear, and will appear in the great pedigrees of the future. It is the chance of getting a dog like that that justifies the effort, expense, and responsibility of raising and placing the other puppies in that litter. The smaller the chance of getting the "super puppy", the less reason to breed. It is, of course, imperative that the potential breeder be mature enough, educated in the breed enough, and down-to-earth enough to be able to make a reasonable, dispassionate assessment of this choice and chance. Make no mistake about it: Breeding, when done responsibly, is a nerve-wracking, heart-breaking, money-losing proposition.
There are several corollaries of this philosophy. One is that, assuming that good homes for all puppies can be found, it may be necessary to plan a series of breedings to get "Super Puppy." In that respect, the established breeders have a big advantage in that they can breed more litters knowing that there is a waiting list for their puppies. The rest of us, however, must be very careful in this multiple-step approach because we have to work much harder to find suitable homes for the puppies. You must make a solemn oath as a breeder that you will spare no effort to find suitable homes for all puppies. Until all puppies in a litter have been successfully placed, you, as a breeder, are not allowed to even think about the next breeding!
Another corollary is that you never breed a litter without planning to keep a puppy (either super pup, or the next step in the multi-step process of getting super-pup). Of course, it may not work out - there may be no "keepers" after all is said and done. Still, each litter should be bred with the expectation, the fervent hope even, that one (or more) puppies will stay at home.
One last corollary (there are may additional points, but one strives to be brief) is that the better planned the breedings are, the fewer steps to super-pup. Granted, the super-pup is a genetic accident - the best planned breeding still has only a miniscule chance of getting a Best in Show dog. But then, what chance does a poorly planned breeding have? Maybe not zero, since mathematically it is possible, but certainly not high enough to justify breeding in the first place - and especially, since in such a case super-dog would probably not pass the super-traits on to progeny.
The research that should go into any planned breeding has been discussed at length in various dog publications. I will leave it to the potential breeder - my only comment is that few things are likely to have a more spectacular payback than the time spent researching pedigrees, looking at actual dogs, and talking to experienced breeders.
Keep in mind that, contrary to what you may have heard, most breeders (and virtually all of the truly experienced) hate to say bad things about anybody or any individual dog - including yours. You will have to make proper evaluation, sifting through all available information. Be objective - you may have the most lovable female in the world, but if she's cow-hocked, straight-shouldered, and over-sized, why on earth breed her? And be careful - you may get comments from less experienced persons, based, not on your animal's quality, but rather on the other person's desire to steer you into their line, or sell you a puppy.
I watched an interview on TV with an old gentleman from New Zealand who bred exceptionally good Border Collies to herd sheep. When asked for the secret of his success, the gentleman said, "Well, if the great-grandparents could herd, and the grandparents could herd, and the parents could herd, I figure the puppies should be able to herd!" This is, of course, selective breeding with a specific purpose, based on knowledge of the animals involved in the line for several generations back. It is what our friends call "breeding a high-probability pedigree." It is the right way to do it.
For non-specialized breeds, things are even touchier. A high-probability pedigree should involve animals of the same family tree, to minimize surprises. At the same time, the prospective sire and dam should not share a common fault, for this would make the puppies almost certain to carry it. And, if one of the parents has an exceptionally good feature, the other parent shouldn't be exceptionally weak in that same feature, so the puppies will be odds-on to have that good point. It can make things very difficult, and it is at this point that a great many people stop, decide that it's an OK dam and an OK sire, and it's easier to take her ten miles to breed her than 400, and they may have great puppies anyway. And so mediocrity goes on for another generation, and splayed feet, and bad tailsets; animals without a glaring fault, but animals that are, at best, dead average, sold to well-meaning people who will later on have difficulty answering when we ask: why do you want to breed this litter?
I have written this far and have not mentioned any specific breeds, because I think this applies to all breeds. Each breed has its own specific problems and requirements, which must be added to the general points already mentioned. In our own case, our breed is Dalmatians. For Dalmatians, we have the added problem of the breed's enormous surge in popularity, which makes puppies easier to sell and, therefore, increases the temptation to breed. But it's a temptation best resisted because this breed's dormant faults are not minor; there are monsters in the closet that are best left locked up there. There are old, famous sires, that are probably best not to use for line breeding for there is a mean temperament hidden in some of those old dogs that we don't want resurrected. There are great dogs with a tendency to throw deaf puppies - I'd rather not have them on both sides of a pedigree. There are long backs, straight shoulders, cowhocks, bad bites - entire bloodlines with strong tendencies toward flaws that should certainly be avoided if possible, and used only with caution and eyes wide open.
There is no substitute for knowledge, and there is absolutely no demand for mediocrity. We've got to know what it is we're after; we've got to know what we have at home and what we seek as its complement; and we've got to know how we propose to accomplish this grand plan. It takes a lot of work to answer these questions satisfactorily, and it's silly to assume you'll have these answers a year after you've acquired your first dog. Invest a few years in showing and learning. But then, when you call and are asked why you want to breed this litter, you'll be able to answer in very definite detail, and the odds are that you will get not only a stud dog, but a long-term friend and ally as well.
As for whether we ourselves practice what we are preaching here: we've owned Dals for thirty odd years, shown for nine, and bred our first litter six years ago out of the fifth female we have owned. The first three were not deemed good enough to breed (and were spayed), the fourth wasn't as yet a Champion.
We have bred five litters to-date. Each litter was the result of extensive agonizing, long conversations and high hopes. Each litter has produced at least one "show prospect". No Super-pup to date. Any future litter will be equally carefully planned. It could be wonderful! Then again...
It may work; it may not work; we hope we can be objective when we evaluate our own puppies - we are rather a soft touch when any puppy licks our noses. At any rate, we have a plan - it's a start. We strongly advocate that anyone thinking of breeding also have a plan - if not, please go and see the dogs waiting at the local animal shelter. It's the knowledge that such dogs exist that keeps us asking the question: so, why do you want to breed this litter?
© J.N. (Kim) Blutreich