It is important to begin with a mental picture of what you are trying to accomplish. A through knowledge of the breed standard is the most basic requirement. Beyond the standard, however, there is an elusive something extra, a certain almost extra-sensory perception that gives success to those who have it.
A successful breeder is one who knows the virtues and faults of all the dogs in a pedigree for four generations. He or she will have the judgment to pick the best puppies and the willingness to eliminate as breeding stock all defective or substandard animals.
Knowledge of this sort does not come quickly or easily. You need to learn everything you can about your breed, especially the bloodlines from which you plan to choose your stock. Visit as many kennels as you can, talk to the owners and see the tried-and-true producers, the winners, and the retired dogs.
Keep in mind that a pedigree ensures only that the dogs are registered with the AKC or a similar organization and are the breed they seem to be. It does not testify to the quality of the dogs in question. Pedigrees are important because they are the means to study bloodlines and learn the relationships among dogs of a particular breed. They are of greatest value when the dogs are known to you or have actually been seen. The contribution of a superior dog who appears several times in a pedigree can be determined mathematically. Now that pedigrees, such as those from AKC, include some health certifications, the pedigree will be more helpful for health studies.
Some registries are now requiring a DNA profile before a dog is bred, so that parentage can be verified. This is done with a cheek swab. This helps ensure that pedigrees are correct.
You will notice that the successful breeder is the one who sees faults in his or her own dogs as readily as those in a rival’s. Perhaps the little “something extra” is the good sense to breed with the whole dog in mind—not to emphasize one particular attribute at the expense of the overall dog.
Breeding Purebred Dogs – Following Bloodlines
A conscientious breeding program seeks to maintain and improve the quality of the breed. Dogs who are poor examples of breed type should be avoided in favor of those who are excellent examples. When outstanding dogs are bred repeatedly to dogs of similar type, the type becomes fixed and the line breeds true.
In essence, this is the strategy behind most planned breeding programs. The relationship between the various breeding individuals is kept relatively close in order to concentrate the desired genes in the offspring. This method is called inbreeding.
Inbreeding involves mating parent to offspring and full brother to full sister. A variation on inbreeding, called linebreeding, breeds individuals who are closely related through a common ancestor. Skillful linebreeding is the best method for perpetuating desired characteristics.
Inbreeding and linebreeding expose both good and bad qualities in the animals being bred. If the line carries undesirable traits, this becomes evident after a few generations. While this may seem a disaster, in the long run the exposure of such traits is in the best interests of the breed. By choosing not to breed affected animals and their relatives, the undesirable trait can be eliminated from the bloodline.
A common misconception is that inbreeding causes high-strung, nervous, or aggressive dogs. However, it is not the breeding process but the genetic potential in the bloodline that determines the animal’s temperament. A kennel that uses unstable dogs in its breeding program is likely to have problems. One that uses fundamentally sound dogs produces sound dogs.
Close breeding for three or four generations generally fixes type in a line, after which further improvement becomes more difficult because of uniformity and loss of genetic diversity. In fact, the overall effect of uninterrupted linebreeding is a decline in reproductive fitness. Fewer litters are produced, the number of pups in the litter decreases, and some of the puppies fail to thrive. Most breeders have found that it is wise at this stage to bring in new breeding animals.
Using a stud dog from a totally different line may be considered. This produces an outcrossed litter and reshuffles the genes that have tended to become more or less fixed. Many times, particularly with an overly refined bitch, an outcross gives surprisingly good results. An improvement in the health and vigor of the resulting puppies may be noted from birth.
While an outcross litter sometimes lacks uniformity, some very good show dogs have been produced in this way. Puppies from such matings usually are bred back into the line of either the sire or dam, thereby recapturing the benefits of previous linebreeding.
The third and final strategy is to breed a dog and a bitch who are unrelated and of varied ancestry. In other words, neither animal has a linebred background. With this approach, it is essential that the breeder have a definite goal in mind. One dog may carry an attribute or quality that is totally lacking in the other. However, mating animals of such genetically diverse backgrounds in the hope of finding show-quality puppies is rarely rewarding. Even if outstanding puppies are produced from such matings, it is unlikely their offspring will be of similar quality.