by Phyllis A. Holst, MS, DVM
For someone like myself who was never very good at drawing pictures, painting, or making figures out of clay, who never seemed to be able to catch on to music and could only sing a tune after hearing someone else sing it first—where is that creative outlet that we all need? I found it to a certain extent as a youngster when I learned to knit. After a few years of practice I could take virtually any pattern, follow the written directions, and turn a simple strand of yarn into something truly lovely, warm, colorful, and useful. But there was some limitation to that. I was only following the pattern that had already been written, recreating a sweater or a mitten that had already been created. But, after I have done the most complex pattern, then what? One answer for me and many others is the “art” of breeding dogs. Here is a creative project with unlimited possibilities for originality, self-expression, constant challenge, new learning, new experiences, and, as a bonus, new friends.
However, there is a very important difference between creating with dogs and creating with pen, brush, yarn, or clay. The difference is this: We are not beginning the project with a brand new, never-touched ball of yarn. The dogs that are the subject of our craft are already made—they come from somewhere. Our task is not to create a dog from an amorphous mass of flesh and hair, but to make a better dog from the dog we have. And the dog we have is the end product of our own, or more likely, someone else’s efforts in the past to create a better dog from the dog at hand. Just think what it means to have a purebred dog. It is a purebred dog for only one reason: because someone cared and supervised the birth of every single generation. For decades past, or even for hundreds of years in some breeds, someone saw that the right dog was bred to the right bitch, and reared the pups to a healthy adulthood. Think how hard it is to keep a bitch in heat from cavorting about with any cur that passes by. Do you think that she cares about the lineage of her whelps? No! Humans care! And ever since the breed was originated, humans have supervised every step to improve on the features that make every breed useful, special, and unique.
So, we are involved in the art of breeding dogs. What criteria should we use in making the decision to breed or not to breed? First, we must be aware of our responsibility to keep our breed pure and strong and correct. We must be aware of the love and devotion that are behind the dogs with which we are working today. Second, we have a responsibility to learn about and to study our breed and to know what is correct. It is no excuse to say “I haven’t been in the breed long enough yet to know what a good shoulder is.” You must learn what a good shoulder is, how to recognize it, and where to find it. Until you know, you have no right to tamper with the breed in which you are interested. There is no excuse for ignorance. Many learning resources are available, including breed and all-breed clubs, magazines, and hundreds of books, as well as personal contact with experienced people.
A third requirement is that a dog be of excellent quality. And, once again, no excuses for ignorance. You must know what you have. You must be able to objectively evaluate your dog and know his or her strengths and weaknesses in relation to the breed’s standard of perfection. Of course, no dog is perfect, but some are close to the ideals toward which we strive. Others are far removed. There is no need to bother with a dog that is not an excellent example of the breed. Such a dog may have a place in this world, if he is cute, pretty, fun, friendly, or talented, but if he is a poor example of his breed, the genes should not be propagated.
Fourth, regardless of any specific breed characteristics, a dog considered for breeding must be in excellent health and be free of hereditary defects. He must have an excellent temperament—no exceptions. There can be no ifs, ands, or buts in the areas of health and temperament. Do not be fooled into thinking that this dog is so outstanding in head, or coat, or whatever, that he can be forgiven his spooky or aggressive nature. Your breed does not need that. Plenty of dogs are being whelped and registered,, and you can afford to be very fussy with breeding stock. As much as you love your dog, chances are there are many others around with the good features you prize which also have the correct temperament for the breed.
A fifth consideration in deciding whether to breed is your own commitment to the puppies. Raising dogs is a time-consuming, demanding, and expensive project. But, like everything else, the rewards are there in equal measure. Be sure this is for you and that you have the needed time to devote to it. If you can answer yes, then by all means go ahead and enjoy!
My book, Canine Reproduction: The Breeder’s Guide, is written for the many people I have known through the years who do want to breed dogs, who are serious about it, and who do feel the kind of commitment to their breed which will enable them to make a contribution. This book should help to eliminate some of the misinformation about the biology of reproduction and the technical aspects of breeding dogs. It has been derived from the most recent scientific research available. Some of it contradicts commonly believed notions about dog breeding, such as the possibility of pups of different ages in a single litter. Read it carefully and it will become clear that the reproductive processes in dogs are just as orderly as the rotation of planet Earth around the sun.