the fire within...

The Choices and Consequences in Breeding Dogs

The first article in this series offered some ideas on what working temperament is, and why it is important to train dogs to work if this temperament is going to be maintained or incorporated into a breeding program. The second article offered some suggestions for evaluating the working temperament of dogs that have at least a minimal level of training in some sport. This final article will highlight some of the decisions and inherent tradeoffs that are a part of any breeding program that attempts to balance working quality with the overall well-being of a breed.

You decided to bring some working ability into your established show line. You became educated on what working temperament is, and you became knowledgeable about your chosen sport so that you could recognize a good dog when you saw one. Now you've looked for over a year, and you're about to give up. The dog you want isn't out there. Not even close, actually. Now what?

Begin by expanding your search. Many sports have limited regional or national popularity. If you breed Malinois for conformation, and you want to incorporate French Ring working drives, it is likely that you will have to go to Europe to find a large enough selection of dogs to find one that meets your requirements in both areas. Being willing to spend the time and money to conduct both an international search and then to breed your bitch (or dog) to a foreign animal is a significant investment, but it may be the only way to accomplish your goals if you are really serious about your intentions. This is where the Internet and personal connections will really pay off. Having friends that are knowledgeable about your sport in foreign countries can allow you some access to the dog in question without actually seeing the dog yourself. Ask someone you trust to evaluate the dog. You may need to have more than one person evaluate the dog, if multiple dimensions are being considered. For example, you may want one person to evaluate the dog as a French Ring prospect, and another to evaluate the conformation of the dog.

The rarer the quality that you wish to incorporate into your line, the more you will be required to give up in order to get it. Using the above example with French Ringsport, you are going to have much better success finding a suitable mate for your dog if you are a breeder of Belgian Malinois than if you breed Belgian Tervuren. There are simply more Belgian Malinois performing well in French ring, so you can move on and compare dogs based on other qualities that are important to you. In Tervuren, you may only find a handful of dogs in the whole world that are competing in French Ring, and they may be a far cry from your ideal dog. Re-evaluate your goals with an eye towards finding compromises that are acceptable to you. Keep in mind that if you are able to breed in a very rare quality (FR in a Tervuren, for example), you can always breed that dog back into a line that has the more common qualities in a later generation. Plan for your well rounded dog in the second or third generations rather than the first. Keep in mind improvement with each successive generation, and don't get hung up on perfection.

Closely related to the issue of how many dogs in your breed are participating in your chosen sport is the degree to which your breed is known to excel. If you ask a serious border collie herding enthusiast to rate the quality of your Belgian Tervuren in herding, don't be surprised if they are less than impressed by the best outrun you've ever done. Their expectations may be incredibly high. Try to compare your dog's performance against others that are available to you in your breed rather than comparing against the best of a breed that is generally accepted as outstanding. If you want to breed obedience ability into your Newfoundland, you will be better off looking for the best possible Newfoundland rather than worrying about the fact that the best Newfie is nowhere near the best Golden Retriever. You can always strive to breed Newfoundland's that are as good as top Golden Retrievers, but that goal isn't realistically achievable in the short term.

Show dog breeders who strive to obtain both structural soundness and good breed type are common, and therefore there are many examples of dogs that do fairly well in both areas (but still excel in one or the other). Breeders who emphasize both show and working characteristics are much rarer, and therefore you will be starting without generations of other people's efforts behind you when working with the show/working dichotomy as opposed to the structure/type dichotomy. If you can find someone else who has been striving to produce what you want, don't hesitate to seek out that person and benefit from their knowledge and their personal successes and failures. Better yet, tap into their pedigrees wherever they have met with success.

If you goal is to breed for a dual or multi-purpose animal, then your breeding goal should be improvement, not phenomenal success. When you are breeding for multiple qualities, you will always have to make compromises. Remember that the chances of finding a dog that excels in multiple fields (i.e. Breed type and protection, for example) are not great. A reasonable goal may be to work towards developing a line of nice looking dogs that can perform acceptably well in French Ring, but you are not likely to breed top winning conformation dogs that excel in French Ring. Even if you do manage to produce the superstar that can do it all, you aren't likely to have a strong enough pedigree behind that dog to produce it with any degree of regularity.

Your work does not end once you have located promising animals for your breeding program. Potential breeding animals should posses some basic qualities of health and sound temperament to ensure that all puppies produced can find good homes. Even in your best-planned combination, it is initially unlikely that more than one or two puppies per litter will have the desired combination of qualities that you are striving to produce. An ethical breeder is responsible to the entire litter, not just the puppies that appear to further the breeder's goals. Breeding dogs means bringing more pets into a world that is already severely overpopulated. Think hard before undertaking a breeding that is inherently risky in terms of mental soundness or health.

Breeding for both working ability and other qualities requires initially choosing your goals and priorities, doing extensive research on the available breeding population, selecting high quality breeding animals, and taking responsibility for whatever is produced. While the challenge is great, so are the potential rewards.

Articles: Incorporating Working Temperament Into a Breeding Program

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