By Claudia Waller Orlandi, Ph.D.
A dog breeder#8217;s knowledgeable use of genetic
principles is of paramount importance to the success
of a breeding program. But an all-too-common phenomenon
known as kennel blindness can stop some breeding
programs dead in their tracks. Most works on dog
breeding devote relatively little space to the concept
of kennel blindness, although the seriousness of
this #8220;breeder defect#8221; and the lasting harm it can have
on breeding success merit a closer look.
breeder, to be successful, must look his dogs#8230;not
only in the face, but in the body, front and
running gear. Even to themselves many breeders
will not acknowledge their failure when they
fall short of their objective (p. 179)#8230;and
in an effort to convince others of the perfection
of their dogs, [they] convince#8230;usually
only themselves#8221; (p. 183).
--From The New Art of Breeding Better Dogs
by K. Onstott
Found in many purebred dog kennels, kennel blindness
is a #8220;disease#8221; that results in breeders#8217; inability or refusal to admit
to the failings in their own lines of dogs, whether
they relate to conformation traits described in
the AKC breed standards, behavior or genetic disease.
Kennel-blind breeders are given to justifying the
dogs they breed by developing warped and unrealistic
interpretations of their breed#8217;s standard, said Ann Seranne in
her book, The Joy of Breeding Your Own Show
Because a kennel-blind breeder can become #8220;blind#8221; to serious faults and health defects
in their dogs, these problems may become fixed in
a couple of generations. Unless quickly diagnosed
and treated, kennel blindness can lead to the demise
of a successful breeding program.
Fortunately, most common symptoms of kennel blindness
are easy to spot. Following are three of the most
The tendency to ignore the virtues and focus on
the faults of a competitor#8217;s dogs. Kennel-blind
breeders tend to focus on negative features in dogs
that are not their own. Oftentimes, what they view
as a fault in someone else#8217;s dog may be an acceptable
variation of a style in that breed.
are breeders#8217; guides
Each breed of dog recognized by the AKC has
its own standard, which is written by the national
breed club or #8220;parent club.#8221; The
breed standard provides a blueprint or complete
picture of what the ideal dog of a particular
breed should be like in appearance, structure
and temperament. The standard may specify everything
from the curvature of a dog#8217;s tail to
the color of its eyes. The breed standard is
the official guide by which dogs are judged
at dog shows.
to view a complete breed standard for all
the breeds recognized by the AKC. You may
order breed-specific educational videos from
the AKC. Many parent clubs offer more detailed
information on the standard, such as amplifications
and illustrations. Visit the AKC web site
for links to national parent clubs.
Reread your breed#8217;s AKC standard and understand that
standards outline the essential aspects of a breed
and that more than one style may be acceptable
in your breed.
Be sure you understand the difference between breed
type and style. A dog#8217;s breed type is defined
by its breed standard, which is the written description
of the ideal dog of that breed. Style, on the other
hand, is how individual breeders interpret the standard
and artistically express various elements of breed
type in the dogs they breed. Each breeder#8217;s
interpretation of the standard can therefore result
in a variation of styles within a breed. This may
produce a range of excellence in a breed and allow
dogs of various styles to be correct and fit their
Finally, pretend you are a dog show judge, and get
into the habit of looking first for the virtues
in dogs bred and owned by others. If a dog is consistently
winning under a number of different judges, it usually
means that the dog has obvious virtues compared
to its competition.
The belief that you have bred the #8220;perfect#8221;
dog. No #8220;perfect#8221; dog has ever or will
ever be bred in any breed. Even what you consider
your best can usually be improved upon.
Realize that your concept of what is an ideal representative
of your breed may become modified with the passage
of time. Experience with a breed may gradually change
the priority a breeder gives to certain features.
A breeder who is a stickler for correct heads may
gradually start realizing that angulation and movement
are also important aspects in their breed.
Blaming the fact that your dog is not winning on
bad judging, politics or anything except the possibility
that there may be something wrong with your dog.
Bad sportsmanship and kennel blindness can go hand-in-hand.
Kennel-blind people always have an excuse for why
their dog didn#8217;t win. While some of their
reasoning may be legitimate, consistently losing
under a variety of judges usually means a dog does
not fit the standard in one or more important aspects.
If your dog is not winning, ask several knowledgeable
people to objectively evaluate your dog. Tell them
to be honest, and listen to their comments with
an open mind.
Are you at risk?
Kennel blindness is more apt to be a problem for
Breeders who do not have an #8220;eye#8221;
for a dog.
An eye for a dog is an almost innate ability to
view a dog as one piece and to recognize balance,
quality and correctness in any breed. Some breeders
are simply not born with an eye for a dog. Despite
having read and studied their breed's standard,
they may be incapable of correctly evaluating structure
and movement in the dogs they breed. Hence, they
are blind to their dogs#8217; shortcomings.
Novice or even long-time breeders who
are strongly affected by a dog#8217;s temperament
Many kennel-blind breeders think all puppies are
cute. These owners usually decide to breed their
dog, not to improve the breed, but because they
love its personality and want more puppies just
like it. Breeders such as these are blinded by the
love they have for their dog and can remain #8220;blind#8221;
to the fact that their dog may lack quality.
Breeders who have produced quality
animals in the past but are now struggling to stay
Breeders who may have had a superstar in the past
are usually looking for their next big winner. In
some cases, their superstar may have resulted from
good luck as opposed to thoughtful breeding practices
based on genetic principles.
One scenario is a breeding program based solely
on non-genetic breeding practices, such as like-to-like
matings. Offspring of like-to-like matings cannot
usually be counted on to pass on their traits because
their homozygous gene pairs are not identical
by descent. It is an accepted genetic principle
that offspring that carry higher proportions of
identical by descent genes have a greater chance
of passing on traits that are influenced by these
genes. As a result, there may be less consistency
and quality in the offspring.
A second scenario concerns the breeder who is confronted
with inbreeding depression but refuses to consider
outcrossing (the mating of unrelated individuals
of the same breed) to bring in hybrid vigor. With
each generation, the quality of dogs declines.
In both scenarios, a burning desire to produce the
next star may make breeders blind to the fact that
they are producing below-average dogs.
breeders are always aware of what they need
to improve in their next generation.
Breeders working with small numbers
Because small breeders have less to choose from,
there is more pressure to make a litter #8220;work out.#8221;
Breeders for whom every waking moment
revolves around dogs.
Making dogs a live-or-die situation can hamper the
breeders#8217; ability to objectively admit to
their dog#8217;s shortcomings.
Individuals who were mentored by kennel- blind breeders.
In these cases, like may beget like.
Characteristics of the NON-kennel-blind
- They are truly objective concerning what they
produce and are always aware of what they need to
improve in their next generation.
- Regardless of time and effort already spent, they
are ready to remove dogs from their program that
do not pan out, even to the point of starting over
with new foundation stock.
- They have an eye for a dog and can appreciate
an outstanding dog regardless of who bred or owns
Tips for correcting vision
If caught in time, kennel blindness can be cured
before it has a lasting, detrimental effect on your
breeding program. Try these tips:
- Avoid over-emphasizing a certain feature in your
breeding program to the detriment of overall correctness.
Although many breeders try to emphasize the excellence
of the whole dog, it#8217;s human nature to be
drawn to certain features. In fact, the importance
we give to a particular trait in our dogs may be
part of how we express our breeding style. One breeder
may be a stickler for fronts and another for backlines.
The danger here is that by focusing on just one
feature we can become blind to
other faults that may be creeping into
the breeding program.
- To assess your kennel blindness level, ask someone
whose opinion you respect to objectively evaluate
your dogs. Some of the best people to ask are knowledgeable
breeders who have produced good dogs and who are
not kennel blind themselves. Request they honestly
critique the virtues and shortcomings in your dogs.
Ask more than one qualified person, and compare
their evaluations with your own.
- Be prepared to make changes, even to the point
of eliminating or adding new dogs to your breeding
program. As difficult as it is to admit we are not
succeeding, the realization that our dogs are not
measuring up to our expectations can be the first
step in devising a plan to obtain what we really
Portions of this article have appeared in TALLY-HO,
the official newsletter of the Basset Hound Club