Adapted from a story originally published in the June 2011 AKC Gazette:
After nearly a half-century in Borzoi, the best advice I can offer is to proceed slowly. When you begin to breed dogs, your first show dog will represent the ideal in your mind. That dog morphs in memory to near perfection in the years after it is gone, and will set your mind’s eye as to the type you believe to be correct. As wonderful as that first dog, usually a bitch, may be—even if she has won the breed at your national—she is often not the right choice to become the foundation of a kennel.
Remember that as your breeding program evolves, your foundation will always be at the core base. You will be crossing back to that base innumerable times, preserving not only the good qualities but bringing out whatever recessive genetic junk lies hidden. Unless you are aware of the pedigree—its faults and virtues going back many generations—and the dogs you will be combining (again from many generations back) you could be heading for a genetic nightmare.
The Breeder’s Syllabus
Regardless of how long you have been in dogs, you will benefit from constantly researching all that is available. Memorize your breed’s standard to form a picture in your mind of a visual interpretation. There will never be total perfection in a dog, but you will learn to recognize the dog who embodies correct breed type, is sound and shows well, and fits into the blueprint of the standard’s basic requirements. Learn from those who understand why some flaws in the dog are considered minor, may be accepted, or more easily bred away from, while learning which faults are unacceptable as detrimental and difficult or impossible to eradicate.
How to Pick a Mentor
Show-ring successes can be quite heady. The newer breeder-exhibitors often fly high showing successfully and breeding dogs obtained from established kennels. They believe the successes of those kennels will carry them forward. They often will for a while. The newly successful quickly become overwhelmed with too many animals, expenses, and inevitable heartaches. Their breedings, usually to their own stud dogs, do not turn out as they envisioned. Sales or placements fall through. Many pups do not fulfill their early promise or have health problems, others with the same problems are returned by disappointed owners. Often these owners were not suitable homes for dogs.
A novice can have difficulty discerning just what constitutes a proper home for their chosen breed. An experienced breeder has a sixth sense when it comes to placing their pups, and knows the right questions to ask. For the novice, expenses and the heartbreaks of dealing with living animals quickly mount. These reasons and so many others are why many will come into dogs, become that successful “flash in the pan,” and then simply fade away.
Co-Breeding and Co-Owning
Successful breeding and exhibiting of dogs is not just about who does the most winning in the ring. It is always about the proper maintenance of the dogs and the welfare of the breed. So much of dog breeding relies on instinct and experience rather than science—everything from choosing the correct pedigrees to combine, to the aforementioned letting puppies go to the right homes, or, more importantly, not letting pups get into the wrong homes. Poor choices of homes become the nucleus for each rescue.
Most of us in these modern times are unable to keep more than a few dogs or to breed an occasional litter. It is beneficial in any breeding program to have as large a gene pool as possible to cross back and forth to, so many breeders have begun combining their resources and bloodlines to the benefit of all. Of course the major drawbacks to co-ownerships or co-breedings of any sort are the emotions involved in parting with dogs we have given our hearts to. Each step of any “deal” should be carefully spelled out and explained, then written in a carefully worded contract to avoid heartaches, disappointments, arguments, and lawsuits. The breeder-mentor, to be fair, must also recognize that when the dog goes to the co-owner, it becomes that person’s dog. Though always a co-owner of record, he must be willing to relinquish his hold on your dog, as is stated in a contract, and trust that you will continue in the partnership. With any truly exceptional pup, this part is difficult for all involved.
I have found that one of the more personally rewarding aspects of mentoring and co-ownerships has been gaining relationships with people who have become lifelong friends. We keep in constant touch, openly discussing our plans, our breedings, our dogs, our losses, our triumphs, and failures. We are there to cheer each other on and to comfort each other when needed. We are always there for each other. We all benefit in so many ways. I especially benefit from having the friendship of those whom I would never have met if not for our common and passionate love for our dogs.
Karen Staudt-Cartabona began her Majenkir line in the early 1960s and has produced more than 300 U.S. Borzoi champions. She was the Borzoi Club of America’s AKC delegate for nearly 20 years and in 2005 was named AKC Hound Group Breeder of the Year.
For more dog-breeding stories like this, visit the AKC Gazette Breeder’s Forum; to read more about Borzoi, see “Louis Murr: The Tsar of Spring Valley” and “The Great Borzoi Controversy”.