The Dual Breeder: Breeding for Both Conformation and Performance
By Arliss Paddock
Part One: Dogs Doing What They Were Bred to Do
Gordon Setter DC Tarbaby’s Setanta T Rex, JH, is his breed’s 46th dual champion. For breeder Frank Watters, producing dual dogs is a passion that is its own reward.
Legendary judge Anne Rogers Clark and her husband, James Clark, once bred and owned a Standard Poodle bitch they nicknamed “Horse” because she was very tall and elegant. Ch. Rimskittle Rampant went on to win Best of Variety at the Poodle national, and several Bests in Show, and placed twice in the group at Westminster.
Once Horse was retired from the ring, the Clarks cut down her coat and decided to work her in the field a bit that following summer. She learned to retrieve a bumper on land, then to do water retrieves in the nearby river, and by fall was finally ready to be tried on real birds.
The first retrieve was a little overenthusiastic, the pigeon a little mangled. But on the second try, “Horsie” dashed eagerly to the bird, picked it up neatly, and trotted back with her head and tail up, her neck arched, and “pride of accomplishment oozing out of every pore,” as Anne would later recount. “She was the picture of what we wanted to breed and perpetuate in conformation and carriage in the Standard Poodle,” she wrote. “I get goose bumps today, thinking of that picture of a Poodle doing what it was bred to do, and loving every moment of it.”
For those with a passion for dogs, “goose bumps” are indeed characteristic of the experience of seeing a correct, well-made purebred dog joyfully and wholly involved in the breed’s original function.
Many Breeds, Many Jobs
Your first responsibility as a breeder of quality dogs is to learn all you can about your breed. Understanding your breed’s original function and taking to heart how the points of the breed standard relate to that function is essential.
Defining specific aspects of original function may be difficult regarding a few primarily companion breeds. For a few breeds, such as the Bulldog, the original function has either disappeared or largely become obsolete—yet an understanding of how function shaped breed type is as essential with these as for any breed, because function made the breed what it is.
The great majority of our breed standards closely relate points of breed conformation to the breed’s original purpose either explicitly or implicitly. In the AKC standard for the Beagle, the “General Appearance” portion consists of one sentence that draws a vivid image of that breed at work: “A miniature Foxhound, solid and big for his inches, with the wear-and-tear look of the hound that can last in the chase and follow his quarry to the death.”
The German Shorthaired Pointer’s standard begins: “The German Shorthaired Pointer is a versatile hunter, an all-purpose gundog capable of high performance in field and water. The judgment of Shorthairs in the show ring reflects this basic characteristic.” The standard for the Cairn Terrier notes his appearance as “that of an active, game, hardy, small working terrier of the short-legged class.” And so on, standard after standard describing a dog perfectly suited to a certain purpose.
Never Lose Sight of Breed Purpose
“Form follows function” is often quoted among knowledgeable breeders and judges as a reminder to keep consideration of original purpose foremost in evaluating stock. Esteemed judge and canine authority Dorothy Macdonald, who has bred, shown, and field-trialed Brittanys, communicates that message well. In her breed, pups are likely to be graded first in terms of natural ability and working style. “You are breeding,” she has said emphatically, “for the field.” The breed’s parent club, the American Brittany Club, says that part of the club’s purpose in serving the breed is “to keep it forever a dual dog.”
Whether the breed’s original job was hunting, coursing, retrieving, herding, going to ground, or pulling a cart, many AKC parent clubs have special provisions in place to help ensure the preservation of the breed’s capacity to perform that job. Noncompetitive working tests administered by many parent clubs assess a dog’s inherent—untrained—ability. There are also AKC herding tests and earthdog tests that offer breeders a gauge of their dogs’ natural aptitude in those areas.
The Labrador Retriever Club, Inc., the AKC parent club for Labrador Retrievers, is especially committed to preserving natural breed ability, requiring that no member of the club use a “Ch.” in front of the name of a Labrador Retriever that has completed its AKC conformation championship until that dog has received from the parent club a Working Certificate, or its equivalent. The club’s Working Certificate affirms that the dog is naturally able to perform as a retriever: that it is not gun-shy, and that it will retrieve a shot game bird from a minimum distance on land, and then twice in succession in water—the second time to establish the dog’s willingness to not just enter but reenter water.
Taking It a Step Further
To seek to breed dogs that are outstanding both in conformation and in demonstrated ability to perform the breed’s original function is the considerable challenge of the “dual breeder.” Some consider it the ultimate pursuit in breeding: a commitment to proving the quality of your breeding stock in the performance field as well as the show ring.
By breeding toward the ideal described in the breed standard and proving their stock in the conformation ring, breeders preserve breed type as shaped by the breed’s original function, and preserve the breed’s unique traits.
Dual breeders do this and then take it to the next logical step by testing their dog’s actual performance of breed function against others of its breed.
By doing so they prove that their beautifully constructed dog also excels in, as Anne Clark put it regarding a bird dog, “the motor that runs the machine—the brains, desire, nose, and heritage that dwell inside that beautiful head.”
Generally this entails involvement in a whole realm of performance competitions separate from conformation showing. Constraints of cost, logistics, and sheer time required are sufficient obstacles to make dual breeding a lofty but daunting prospect for most breeders, who are already dedicating so much of their lives to their dogs and probably already traveling many weekends of the year.
What drives dual breeders to set such a goal for themselves?
Ann Witte, of Artisan Bearded Collies, has bred more than 85 show champions, four herding champions (including two dual champions), and numerous herding-titled dogs. “For me, as a breeder,” she says, “I seek the dog that conforms to the breed standard in the absolute sense, and additionally shows the natural stock-sense and biddability to become a valuable working dog.”
Witte can attest to the obstacles involved. “Aside from the travel time,” she says, “dog shows are quite easily done compared to herding! For the latter, one has to have access to good stock, a knowledge of the breed’s normal behaviors (or access to a trainer with that knowledge), be able to develop an understanding of livestock and canines, then have access to locales where the dog can compete for herding titles.”
For some, like dual Gordon Setter breeder Frank Watters, it is a passion that is its own reward. Watters judged the Hunt Test at the Gordon Setter Club of America’s 2007 national, and his dog DC Tarbaby’s Setanta T Rex, JH, is the breed’s 46th dual champion. “It can get expensive, and there are a lot of practical challenges involved,” he says. “But I can’t think of anything I would rather do.”
In part two of “The Dual Breeder,” we’ll discuss the challenges and approaches in dual breeding.
Arliss Paddock breeds and shows English Cocker Spaniels and is former managing editor of the AKC Gazette.