AKC eNewsletter

Winter 2008
"Shortcuts Are Not Acceptable!"

Pouch Cove's Peggy & Dave Helming, 2006 AKC Breeders of the Year, say breeding is a matter of patience and careful study.

We were pleased to be given the opportunity to share some thoughts with the fancy on breeding dogs. These observations have been gathered over the 40 years we have been engaged in breeding Newfoundlands and, more recently, during the last 10 years while breeding Portuguese Water Dogs.

Dave & Peggy Helming
Mary Bloom ©AKC

For new breeders, it is important to start out slowly and spend endless hours studying the breed with the most knowledgeable people you can. The breeders we have shared time with over the years have been dedicated to improving and preserving the qualities of the Newfoundland and Portuguese Water Dog. The wealth of information and experience they have shared with us has been invaluable. It is amazing what can be accomplished, even in a competitive environment, when people openly share their knowledge with one another in pursuit of a common goal.

You need to take the time to fully learn your standard and develop a clear mental picture of what you need to do to produce dogs in your breeding program who meet the requirements of your standard. Successful breeders have a sound knowledge of genetics and, most importantly, are objective. Invest in the best breeding stock you can obtain and, if the best is not readily available, wait until it is. Although easier said than done, be patient as it will take time to reach your goals.

It is very important that you have the time and proper facilities to provide quality care for the animals in your breeding program. Shortcuts here are not acceptable! A statement by the famous Newfoundland breeder-judge Bea Godsol has served us well for many years. She wrote, “Remember you are dealing with living things, whose fate is your keeping. The responsibility for the welfare of the Newfoundland, as well as the future of the breed, is yours.” This advice is so true today and pertinent to all breeds.

The Sound Stud
Many breeders ask us what we look for in a good stud dog. First and foremost, a potential stud dog must be a correct representative of the breed, with good breed type. A stud dog can ultimately influence a breed far more than a bitch, so he must be very special—no economizing in this area. We thoroughly research a potential stud’s background, and we often find it is a plus if he is not the only good male in his litter. It is key to know all about the overall soundness of a stud and his family.

When referring to soundness, we look for a number of important attributes. These include hips, temperament, skin, elbows, hearts, patellas, thyroid, eyes, and so on. Clearly, you must be guided by the relevant attributes of your breed in this area, which most likely will guide you in developing your own “soundness” list. It is also important to keep reliable records of what he is producing. This information is a valuable tool to use when determining breeding combinations for the future.

Your Best Girl
What do you look for in a good brood bitch?

Again, a brood bitch must be a good and correct representative of your breed, with a strong genetic background for the qualities you desire to produce. The research, previously mentioned, that we do on stud dogs also pertains to potential brood bitches. Sometimes, personal feelings don’t always work when it comes to the whelping box.

For example, in Newfoundlands we like a large, substantial bitch, but unfortunately in our initial experiences many of these “doggy” type girls do not produce. One example of this was a gorgeous, strong, and sound bitch we had who was awarded a 4-point major by Kitty Drury, a very well-known Newfoundland breeder and judge. While getting a picture of this achievement, Kitty asked if we had been successful in breeding this bitch to which we replied no. Kitty smiled and said, “I never had much luck in getting my doggy bitches pregnant either.”

So, back to the drawing board, as we still desire a substantial bitch, but one who is more moderate in size. We have found they have been more healthy reproductively and are still capable of producing size and substance in their offspring. Giving a little here and there is all part of striking a balance in your breeding program.

The pedigrees of potential breeding animals are data sources we take seriously as they contain the genetic makeup of puppies to be. It is important to try and balance the pedigree (genotype) and the physical qualities (phenotype) of the dogs being considered. We try several different combinations on paper and then troubleshoot the pedigree of a potential breeding—often over and over.

The grandparents are also an important factor to consider when evaluating pedigrees for breeding. In the end, it is hoped that the right judgment is made, one that produces superior quality animals with the least risk of health problems. An important objective of our breeding programs is always attempting to strengthen the desired qualities with each combination for future generations. 

The Breeder’s Fantasy
Another valuable learning tool is how well the puppies actually turn out from breedings. We constantly evaluate the puppies (which can be an educated guess at best with growing Newfoundlands), but you can begin to get a little serious from 6 weeks on. Every move puppies make tells you something about them mentally as well as physically. Remember, there are no absolutes in picking a puppy as there can be “exceptions” to the rules. We often grow out puppies for a while and work with other breeders in this effort in an attempt to continually improve the quality of the dogs that we produce and breed. If you are just starting out, consider selecting the safe puppy as they usually turn out to be a good beginning.

Once you have a solid foundation, you will have the chance to raise a more “risky” puppy. If that pup reaches its full potential, you just might be looking at a future specialty winner.

Breeding and showing purebred dogs rests almost exclusively on the agreement of breeders, judges, and exhibitors to be guided solely by the breed standards. These are the words that chart us all on a journey toward a common goal of working diligently to meet these standards when breeding dogs. Individual interpretations of the breed standard play a major role in breeding, showing, and judging a breed.

We are all acutely aware of the boundaries, the rules, the extent of how far we can go with our interpretations of what, in our case a Newfoundland or Portuguese Water Dog is or is not. “I think”—”I feel”—”I believe” are all part of a clever breeder’s fantasy.

Ronald N. Rella, Director, Breeder Services
Email: AKCbreeder@akc.org
Customer Service | Phone: 919-233-9767 | Email: info@akc.org

© The American Kennel Club 2008