1. Start slow.
Regardless of how much you think you know, you probably don’t know very much when you are a fledgling dog breeder. The faster you go, the more mistakes you will make and the more messes you will have to clean up. Plan your first few litters with great care and a lot of help from your mentors, and take the time to watch them grow up before you breed again. Waiting and watching those first litters will fill you with knowledge that you didn’t realize you were missing.
2. Believe in survival of the fittest.
This is one of the most difficult lessons a dog breeder must learn but also one of the most critical. Going to great lengths to save a puppy that nature says was not meant to survive brings nothing but heartache. I have yet to see a happy outcome at the end of a monumental attempt to save a dog at all costs.
3. Listen to the opinions of your peers.
An opposing opinion from a successful breeder may give you something completely different to think about. Nobody says you have to do what other people tell you, but by all means be open to what they have to say.
4. Don’t succumb to Frequently Used Sire syndrome.
It happens all the time. Ten other people bred to a dog, so you think you should breed to him, too. Stop and ask yourself why you think you should breed to that dog. Are you familiar with several generations of the dogs in his pedigree? Does he have ancestors in common with your bitch that were strong for the characteristics you are looking for from your litter? Have you had your hands on the dog and a number of his children? Does he (and do his children) have the strengths you are looking for? If he is a total outcross for you, is he even the same style as your bitch? Are you comfortable with not only his health clearances but also those of his parents, grandparents and siblings? Forcing yourself to honestly answer all of these questions may bring you to the conclusion that he is not at all the right dog for your bitch.
5. Listen to your gut, not to your heart.
Difficult as it might be, do not let sentimentality enter into your breeding decisions. I don’t care if your best friend has a dog that she wants you to breed to; if he isn’t the right dog, say no. I don’t care if you raised a singleton puppy and are incredibly attached to it; if it isn’t of the quality to move you forward in your breeding program, find a pet home for it. I don’t care if you have two dogs of your own that you absolutely love; if they are not the right match, then don’t breed them to one another. If someone wants to buy a dog from you but your gut is telling you it’s a bad idea, then I will bet you that it is a bad idea. Just say no. Learning to say no is very important. Do not get sucked into anything that your head and your gut tell you is wrong. You can be nice and say no at the same time. It is a word that will serve you well.
6. Create your own stud force.
Having watched the most successful breeders in many breeds for 50 years, I firmly believe that your family of dogs will be better if you create your own stud dogs to breed to your own bitches. Make two lines of dogs that are loosely related yet far enough apart so that you can breed them back and forth to one another. Keep the characteristics that you consider critical in your breed prominent in both lines, but differ the style of the two lines somewhat.
For example: You cannot keep breeding elegant to elegant to elegant without eventually losing size and substance. If your breed should be strong yet elegant, you can maintain size and substance and also keep the correct amount of elegance if you breed two lines back and forth where one is more elegant and one is more compact, bigger boned and ribbed. The blending of your two lines of dogs will result in a family that has a specific look that will be recognizable as having come from your kennel. Your dogs will breed more true and consistently higher in quality than if you just keep a few brood bitches and continually breed them to the stud dogs around the country that are the flavor of the month.
7. Know how to add new blood to your program.
Obviously, you will eventually have to introduce at least a partial outcross into your family of dogs. I learned long ago from a very savvy breeder that the way to do this is to buy the right bitch to bring in to breed to your own stud dogs. Choose very carefully. Buy one that is the same style as your dogs, from a pedigree that has some common ancestors with your dogs and make certain that she (hopefully) will be useful to breed to at least two of your own stud dogs. If you are looking to introduce a characteristic that you think is somewhat lacking in your breeding program, be absolutely certain that not only does the bitch have that characteristic but that she is from a pedigree filled with dogs that had it. Then when you breed her to your dogs, select those that have the characteristic and breed those back into your lines. In this manner, your dogs will not lose their “look,” and you will have introduced some new blood and a new strength to your bloodlines.
8. Look back often, but never go backward.
Advances in the use of semen from dogs long dead have given breeders options never before available. It’s one thing to use frozen semen from a dog that was your own or a dog you knew well. It’s quite another to use frozen from a piece of breed history that you never laid eyes on. Predicting the outcome of such a breeding is not possible, and it could be a giant step backward. I also have watched while some breeders have used semen from one of their own deceased dogs over and over and over, which results in a program that never moves forward. The outcome of someone using a particular dog over and over is a decrease in the general quality of their family of dogs. Breeding programs are meant to move forward with each generation, in my opinion, and while an occasional dose of a long-deceased dog might be a wonderful thing to have, I believe that too much can lead to ruination.
9. Deal with your mistakes.
Everybody makes mistakes, but it’s what you do about fixing it and trying to never make that same mistake again that defines you as a dog breeder. Keep the best interest of your breed, not just your own dogs, foremost. Follow that path and you will leave your breed healthy, sound and full of quality for the next generation of dog breeders. Honesty is always the best policy in dog breeding. If you create a problem, own up to it and perhaps you will save someone else from the same fate.
10. Be objective about judging.
The first thing I would ask you all to do is to remove the word “dumped” from your vocabulary. Just because your dog did not win does not mean that it got dumped. I have always disliked that word and never use it in reference to judging. Train yourself to understand what individual judges are looking for. Different people have different priorities, and understanding those priorities will help you decipher their judging. If you feel that you have a legitimate question about why another dog defeated yours, there is nothing wrong with approaching the judge when on break (with your dog in tow, please) and asking. Please do not open the conversation with, “What didn’t you like about my dog?” Instead, ask why the other dog placed over yours. Try to make the conversation a positive learning experience. If you find that dogs from a particular family consistently defeat yours, sit down and watch those dogs, and try to understand why. If your dogs don’t win, do not immediately think politics. The great majority of the time, it simply isn’t. School yourself in your breed, how to condition, trim and present it to its absolute best, and take a step back and ask yourself if your dogs are truly worthy of winning in good competition. Ask seasoned, successful breeders for advice. We want you to stay in our sport, not get frustrated and leave because your dogs don’t win. We want you to learn, have good dogs and develop into the next generation of knowledgeable dog breeders so that we can breathe easy when we hand the reins of our breed over to you.
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