Job of a Lifetime
Herding Group Breeder of the Year Anne H. Bowes says creating a top line is the life's work of a master breeder.
Courtesy Anne Bowes
On the evening of December 1, 2007, 40 years after I walked onto the grounds of my first dog show, I stood with eight other recipients of the coveted AKC Breeder of the Year Award in the large ring at the AKC/Eukanuba National Championship. It was a thrilling and humbling experience.
As I listened to the credentials of the other breeders being read to the crowd, it struck me that there was one accomplishment we had all achieved which enabled us to have been considered for this award: We had all established a breeding line in our chosen breeds which continued, through the years, to produce outstanding show dogs and producers in both conformation and performance events.
I think the ability to create a breeding program that keeps producing exceptional dogs is the hallmark of what Pat Trotter calls “master breeders.” It is a difficult achievement, but it’s certainly worth dedicating one’s life to reaching it.
Filling the Job Description
I doubt that any of us really knew what we were getting into when we started down this road. If we had been able to read a “job description” of a dedicated dog breeder, it might have read like this:
“Position available for goal-oriented, high-energy, disciplined individual with a passion for dogs and puppies who thrives in a challenging, fast-paced environment. Must be able to work long hours.
Requirements: thorough knowledge of the breed standard and the basics of genetics, strong back, strong stomach, thick skin, and a heart not easily broken. Rewards: the intense joy and satisfaction which comes from creating beautiful animals who give a lifetime of love and devotion to their owners.”
So, what is involved in creating a breeding line? Here are some observations gleaned from 40 years of trying.
Totally dedicate oneself to the pursuit. The lives of breeders revolve around the reproductive cycles of their bitches and the requirements of their puppies. Many other normal human activities are subjected to these considerations and often must be sacrificed.
The dogs and their needs must always come first.
Cultivate an understanding of the basics of genetics. Many successful dog breeders have done well without formal genetic education, but it is very beneficial to have a basic knowledge of how the mechanics of genetics work. A seminar on genetics or an introductory college-level genetics course will go a long way to improve a breeding program. Linebreeding, inbreeding, and outcrossing are tools the experienced breeder uses to set type. A thorough knowledge of the pros and cons of these methods and when to use them are necessary for an ongoing and productive breeding program.
Develop a comprehensive and unbiased understanding of the standard. Breeders must be diligent students of the standard for their breeds. Develop a mental picture of your ideal dog based on that standard by attending breeders’ and judges’ seminars and by reading everything your can get your hands on about your breed. Show and breed from only the best.
Kennel blindness is a fatal disease and must be avoided. Learn how to objectively evaluate your stock, and don’t be afraid to solicit the opinions of other breeders, inside and outside of the ring.
Become a walking encyclopedia of pedigrees. A broad knowledge of the influential pedigrees in your breed and what they can be counted on to produce is essential to building a breeding line.
Visit as many litters as you can, go to specialty shows outside of your own area, and attend your national specialty every year. The more dogs you see, the better understanding you will have of the pedigrees important to your program.
Develop a breeding plan. There should be a plan. Pick the bloodlines and pedigrees you most admire, and then stick with them. Introducing an unrelated pedigree just because a certain dog from that line is winning is usually not a good idea.
The goal should be to have an outstanding example of the breed who is also an excellent producer on both sides of the pedigree within the first three generations.
The important thing to remember is to always put high-quality dogs into your pedigrees—dogs with excellent health and temperaments who have won well at specialties under breeder-judges. These are the pedigrees that are going to produce for you in the future.
Mediocre quality cannot be expected to produce excellent quality.
Breed for the future. A breeder must look at each breeding for not only what it can produce now, but for what it can contribute to your line in the future.
Many breeders get seduced into breeding to the “hot” show dog of the moment or repeating litters that have produced well in the past. Both of these actions will delay the development of a line—temporarily or permanently—because they will only enhance the present, not look to the future.
Overcome discouragement when things go wrong. There will be setbacks. That beautiful puppy you are basing all of your hopes on may not turn out and needs to be sold into a pet home.
Or the litter you were counting on to produce your next winner may have nothing of quality in it. That happens. If it does, revisit your plan, modify your tactics, and try again.
You may have to change your direction slightly, but never lower your standards. Breeding beautiful, healthy dogs, litter after litter, is extremely difficult, but that is what makes it so satisfying.
Avoid overconfidence when things go well. One of the wonderful things about our sport is there is always something to learn, always someone who knows a new way to do things better.
Never stop going to seminars and listening to what other experts in our field have to say. One outstanding winner is fabulous, but it takes many exceptional dogs to create a line.
Give back to the sport. Our sport is largely run by volunteers. Active members of all-breed or specialty clubs not only help run the sport but also learn a great deal from fellow club members and from breeders from around the world who come to club events.
Generating pedigrees that keep producing dogs with type and quality takes years and years of hard work and self-discipline. However, I cannot conceive of any endeavor that gives more pleasure and fulfillment than creating beautiful, healthy, and affectionate dogs who are a real credit to the breeding programs that produce them.
Anne Bowes, recipient of the 2007 Herding Group Breeder of the Year award, has owned and bred Pembroke Welsh Corgis for 40 years. She has breed over 65 champions under her Heronsway kennel name, the large majority of which were breeder-owner-handled to their titles.