I am often reminded of how much time and effort goes into building a successful breeding program when examining the pedigrees of the top-performing dogs at local and national field trials. Field trials have been and will continue to be a place breeders turn to evaluate and prove their breeding program and bloodlines.
Competent breeders seek to understand the strengths and weaknesses of all the dogs in a four-generation pedigree and carefully evaluate each dog in the pedigree of a potential mating. The goal of any breeding program should be the continual improvement of the breed. Breeders have an ethical responsibility to do everything they can to ensure that future progeny are free of both physical and performance faults. He or she must also be willing to eliminate breeding stock from his program that exhibits substandard traits.
Physical Traits and Genetic Testing
Responsible breeders check the genetics of all the dogs in a four-generation pedigree. He or she should have proof of hips being certified and eyes checked for congenital defects. Do not accept a puppy from a breeder who has not taken the necessary precautions to ensure at the minimum that both the sire and dam are genetically clean and can produce the documentation to back up this claim. Ask the breeder for a copy OFA and CERF certifications. If he or she cannot produce such documentation, look elsewhere. Some breeders will proclaim, “My dog’s hips are good” or “My bloodlines have no genetic problems” but cannot produce the certifications on their breeding stock to prove such claims.
Some breeders even breed generation after generation without checking either the hips or eyes of the sires and dames in their breeding program. This is simply irresponsible and can have ramifications that affect a client’s family for many years. Just imagine getting that gundog of a lifetime, which has become part of the family, just to find out that he/she has bad hips or eyes and his/her quality of life is significantly impacted. Don’t get me wrong, genetics are not foolproof, but taking proper precautions can dramatically reduce the risk of genetic problems in breeding programs.
Performance Traits and Field Trials
Identifying performance faults are considerably more difficult than identifying physical and genetic faults. The difficulty lies in the subjectivity of evaluating a dog’s performance. Field trials allow breeders to selectively breed based on performance traits, such as marking ability, desire, trainability, etc. Professional breeders spend countless hours researching potential mates for their dogs in their breeding program. Looking strictly at titles in a pedigree does little or nothing to help a breeder make a determination on a suitable mate. It is imperative that a breeder knows the strengths, weaknesses, and dominant performance traits of a suitable mate before making a decision on whom to breed to.
A dominant trait is a trait that is thrown by a sire or dam no matter whom he/she is bred to. A field trial is a great place where breeders can determine the dominant traits of a particular sire or dam. Carefully evaluating the offspring of a particular dog (sire or dam) will reveal common physical and performance characteristics – these are the dominant traits that a dog throws when bred to.
All this research is important when a breeder is effectively trying to improve on a weakness in a bloodline. In contrast, by doubling up on a dominant trait that is a fault will inevitably cause undesirable results.
A recessive trait is one that is not readily apparent in either the sire or dam of a litter but is present in the offspring. Recessive traits can hide for generations and only reappear when bred to a dog that shares the fault. For this reason, it becomes important for a breeder to critically evaluate each dog in the pedigree.
Common Breeding Techniques
Breeders may seek to improve the qualities of a bloodline by utilizing one of three common breeding techniques: outcrossing, linebreeding, or inbreeding. In essence, the latter is less often practiced that the former.
Inbreeding involves either breeding parents to offspring or full brother or sister. This form of breeding is not very common today and requires that both dogs be from fundamentally sound breeding stock and of genetically clean lines.
A variant of inbreeding and a slightly less intense breeding technique is known as linebreeding. Linebreeding involves breeding dogs that are relatives through common ancestors, such as aunt to nephew or uncle to niece. Both inbreeding and linebreeding techniques quickly expose both the virtues and faults of a bloodline. If there are any faults in a breeding program they will be exposed when bred heavily, typically for 3 or more generations.
A common misconception is that inbreeding causes high strung, nervous and aggressive dogs. This is simply not true. The temperament of a dog is determined by the genetic makeup of the parents and the fact that a line was bred closely will not alter the disposition of the offspring. A breeder who uses dogs with volatile temperaments as breeding stock is likely to have problems in their lines. In contrast, a breeder who uses dogs of sound temperament will produce dogs with sound temperaments, even if bred closely.
Careful line breeding has proven to be the best method to perpetuate desirable characteristics in sporting breeds. However, closely breeding on a strain of gundog for more than four generations will stagnate the line and make dramatic improvements of a strain more difficult because uniformity has been established in the line and the possibility of improvement is no longer possible. The decision to utilize an outcross breeding technique and go to a stud dog from a different bloodline is necessary to mix up the genes that have become uniform through line breeding. Often linebreeding purists, will take a puppy from the outcross litter and breed it back into one of the two lines and recapture the fruits of their breeding program.
Remember the goal of any breeding program should be to continually improve on the breed. When selecting a puppy from a particular breeding, ask the breeder what he considers the strengths and weaknesses of both the sire and dam. Stay clear of the breeder that proclaims, “My dogs don’t have any weaknesses.” Every dog, even history-making retriever 2xNAFC/2xCNFC/FC/AFC Ebonstar Lean Mac – “Max”, has traits a breeder should look to improve on. Admittedly, a dog like Max has fewer than most. A competent breeder understands the virtues and faults in both the sire and dam and looks to improve the breed through responsible breeding.
Note – Since the time this article was originally published in GundogsOnline.com a genetic marker for EIC (Exercise Induced Collapse) was identified come to find out that 2xNAFC/2xCNFC/FC/AFC Ebonstar Lean Mac was a carrier of this gene.