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When pursuing success in breeding dogs, there is no substitute for hard work, and there is nothing more necessary in that endeavor than establishing a great female line. “Great bitches come from other great bitches” was the advice of my mentor, Alma J. Starbuck. And she knew of what she spoke, having produced one famous brood bitch after another that left an enviable record for Ambleside, both in the show ring and whelping box.

Mrs. Florence Nagle, of England, whose Sulhamstead Irish Wolfhounds held a unique place in the Wolfhound world, had this to say in an article on breeding:

“Having obtained a well-made bitch, absolutely sound, with good powerful hindquarters, whose dam and grand-dam are, if possible, the same, mate her to the best dog you can find who is particularly good in any points in which your bitch is a bit weak. I like to line-breed to any really good hounds, as a violent outcross is not so likely to be satisfactory, as one brings in unknown factors. In my opinion, the bitch is by far the more important, though one does get some outstanding sires that produce good stock from almost any bitch. However, if your bitch comes from a good line of first-class hounds, you cannot go far wrong.”

In the selection of a foundation bitch, it is better to take a companion puppy from an outstanding, established line than a show prospect with a pedigree containing nothing but a mix of unrelated individuals. To do so allows the amateur, with limited resources, to profit from the arduous study and research already done by the breeder of that line, whose intimate knowledge of the ancestors and family characteristics allows him or her to make skilled decisions in the selection of breeding stock. For the novice to be able to build upon such a breeding program leaves little to chance in his first generation.

Dr. Braxton B. Sawyer, in his seminars, always suggested careful selection when choosing a brood bitch, and listed three points of investigation: the individual herself, her pedigree, and the progeny (this is where the “horizontal pedigree” of siblings, aunts, and uncles gains importance). Because the brood bitch’s window of opportunity to demonstrate what her bank of genes will produce is so much more limited by the number of offspring as compared to the stud dog, great care should be taken in her selection. 

A great brood bitch becomes the jewel in your crown. She carries your hopes for the future, nourishes and cares for the puppies upon their arrival, and during those early, critical weeks she imprints them for a lifetime as she teaches them how to live in the world they will inhabit.

The dam may only contribute one-half of the chromosomes, but her influence is far more reaching when you consider that she helps shape the puppies’ character. This is why it is so critical to breed only from bitches with solid temperaments, as the puppies take their cues from their mother as she interacts with humans.—L.J.T., Fleetwind Irish Wolfhounds.

Lois Thomasson is the AKC Gazette Irish Wolfhound columnist and author of the book “Irish Wolfhound Passage”. She is a member of the Irish Wolfhound Club of America.

See a classic photo of Ch. Ballymacad of Ambleside, bred by Alma Starbuck, here.
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