By Gayle Bontecue, longtime breeder of Gayleward Scottish Deerhounds and 2004 AKC Breeder of the Year Hound Group recipient
Two dogs + two months = breeder.
Gayle Bontecue. Courtesy
of Gayle Bontecue.
It might seem as if that#8217;s all it takes, but there#8217;s much more to doing it right,
producing puppies that will shine#8212;whether they are destined for the
show ring or a pet home.
Breeding is a combination of so many separate aspects.
It#8217;s similar to building a house from the
foundation to the roof. Breeding is an art form,
an engineering project#8212;labor and time intensive
and an emotional and financial commitment. It is
not something to enter into lightly or without adequate
The best breeders seem to have a #8220;sixth sense,#8221;
an intuitive understanding of the breed and of a
#8220;line.#8221; It sometimes seems mystical,
but there#8217;s no magic involved. It does not
happen overnight; nor does it come easy. Time, research,
and observation are the only real ways to develop
a sound knowledge of the breed, what appears to
be a sixth-sense.
Prospective breeders must become students of the
breed, absorbing everything they can from the written
record, the master breeders and the dogs themselves.
Where should a novice start? Obviously, it would
be with the written word #8212; an in-depth knowledge
of the very important AKC standard as well as the
breed's purpose. If you have a good visual picture
of what you want the finished product to look like,
you stand a better chance of choosing the best possible
parents. Read about the dogs, learn their history
and, most importantly, their function, because in
the best dogs, form follows function.
The next step would be to seek out the master breeders.
Luckily, today there are many ways to find them.
This was not the case years ago when I chose the
Scottish Deerhound as my life#8217;s passion. I
first saw one in the 1940s, when a famous sculptress,
and animal lover, imported 70 of them from Europe
to save their lives. Like many large breeds, they
had practically been wiped out during World War
Much time, research and
observation help breeders develop a "sixth
sense." (Scottish Deerhound; Mary
When I got my first Deerhound in 1960, it was very
difficult to find people knowledgeable about the
breed in the United States. I had to travel to England
to find experts.
Today, most breed clubs have specialties or supported
shows, and most of those shows will have a mentoring
program. These mentors, breeders with decades of
experience behind them, will discuss the dogs in
the ring as they are being shown. There are mentoring
programs for fanciers and judges; the process of
education is never-ending. Call the show chairman
and ask to participate; most will eagerly welcome
a person who shows an interest in their breed.
In addition to formal programs, it#8217;s important
to watch the judging carefully. Scrutinize the dogs
that go back into the ring, not just how they#8217;re
built but how they move and their attitude. Then
seek out the leaders, the breeders with decades
of experience. Look around. See who has been in
it for awhile and who has the best dogs.
Then ask questions about a breed#8217;s strengths
and weaknesses, about the less obvious specific
breed needs certain litters might require. Some
more delicate babies,
for example, need extra heat, more medical attention,
bottle or tubing supplementing, or C-Section, for
This is the kind of knowledge you need before even
considering the next step #8212; choosing the mating pair. Each
breeder may have a very different way to decide
on parents. However, in all respects, health and
temperament are of the utmost consideration. Research
the siblings, parents and veterinary records of
potential breeding stock.
Attend shows where your dog#8217;s relatives are
being shown. If the relatives do not do
well in competition, think twice about breeding
your dog. Using a #8220;popular#8221; stud
dog can be a tricky decision. Really look carefully
at the dog, not the grooming or the handling. Not
every heavily campaigned dog makes a good choice
for your bitch. Use
your own judgment based on research, not a successful
Once you#8217;ve visually decided upon a combination,
go over the pedigree in depth to assess which dogs
are closely related or #8220;doubled up#8221;
and which are unrelated or #8220;out-crossed.#8221;
It is not difficult to find an out-crossed dog with
the same physical traits. There is an old adage
saying the difference between in-breeding and line-breeding
is #8220;...when it works it#8217;s called line-breeding...#8221;
I personally think that out-crossing is in the best
interest of my breed when it comes to health and
Do not be in a hurry to breed a litter. Develop
an eye for what you like and want, and stick with
the needs and purpose of the breed. Be certain to
evaluate, and do not hesitate to make changes, as
long as they are in the best interest of your breed.
Even if you#8217;ve done your homework and have
studied hard to learn as much as you can, there
will be surprises. Breeders producing show dogs
will always have pet quality puppies available as
Before considering breeding a litter, be sure you
have planned for every pup#8217;s future, whether
they are Best in Show specimens or not. I keep a
list of people who are interested in pet-quality
puppies. Some of them are willing to wait, sometimes
for years, for one of my Deerhounds. It is important
to me that all my dogs, not just my champions, have
Finally, keep in mind that every problem you can
think of will most likely arise. Your bitch may
need a C-section or there will be health complications
with the litter. If you
can handle these and you have done your homework
on the breed and on mom and dad, go for it. And
save your Sunday#8217;s Times.