by Joanna Kimball
“Good breeders never breed back to back.”
“I’ve been in the breed fifteen years and have bred only three litters.”
“Did you see that Harriet had FIVE litters this year? I guess she’s our new puppy mill, huh?”
“Ladies, check out Gloria’s new litter – and you know she’s still got those four-month-olds from the last one!”
“I’m glad to see puppy registrations decline; we should all be breeding less.”
Spend more than five minutes in a dog forum on Facebook, or hang out ringside with any breeders, and you’ll see that these are close to direct quotes. The only thing two breeders can agree on is that a third breeder is doing something wrong, and the easiest target is when the third breeder has broken the sacred barrier and is (gasp!) breeding IN VOLUME.
We are making a TRAGIC mistake. We have forgotten that the word CAREFULLY and the word SELDOM are not the same word.
We know we’re supposed to be careful in how we breed. But somehow that has become twisted into “The better a breeder you are, the less you breed.” I’ve seen people actually brag, trying to one-up each other on how few breedings they’ve done, with the clear implication that breeding almost never means you are more responsible than someone who breeds regularly.
Here’s the truth: Breeding dogs requires on-the-job training. No matter how much you research, learn, ask, and listen, it won’t make sense until you’re looking at a litter of puppies and watching them grow. And you cannot understand keeping traits through generations unless you have generations to keep traits through.
Here’s another truth: We’re badly, badly hurting for well-bred purebreds in this country and around the world. Awful purebreds are everywhere, but most people go their entire lives without meeting a well-bred dog. They literally have no idea that a dog can look “like that.” Beautifully built, groomed, and trained dogs gather crowds bigger than the ones around the elephant cage. Vets can go years between seeing dogs that should be bred (which is why many of them hate us so much). That’s OUR FAULT. We breed our self-righteous trickle of dogs, which go right into the yards of other show breeders, and then we scream when our rights are taken away. Well, lady, how are they supposed to be on our side when they’ve never seen a dog except from a breeder that should be shut down?
Here’s one more truth: Most of your breeding efforts are going to fail – that’s the nature of breeding living things. So you may have to do it over and over and over, discarding entire pedigrees after you’ve watched them produce, beginning new ones, purchasing new dogs, neutering others. Things START to make sense after (I think) about your fifth litter if you’re very very smart and after your tenth if you’re a normal breeder. In the breeding programs I’ve watched, that’s when things start to move forward instead of just flailing around, because that’s when the breeder starts to understand how traits build a dog.
But you’re still not done, not in any sense of the word. The breeders you can think of in your breed that are truly dominant, the ones that have such strength that you can see the influence of their decisions years down the line, are likely on their thirtieth or fortieth or fiftieth litter. Ask one of those breeders someday what they got from their third litter, and see them laugh in rueful memory at how bad it was. That’s the same third litter that’s being produced by someone in the breed fifteen or twenty years and bragging about how rarely they breed. Early litters are terrible! But they’re something we all have to get through and do the best we can with, and look back on and laugh a little about. They’re not someplace we park our butts and sit for a decade.
Look. You cannot be a good breeder without breeding. You can’t be a great breeder without breeding a LOT. And we all know that we desperately need more good breeders, and we even more desperately need great breeders. So we should be encouraging each other to breed. We should not snark that somebody’s had more than the sacred “one or two litters a year,” or that someone bred a bitch more than twice. We should congratulate them on moving past the baby-breeder stage and into the maturing-breeder stage. We should celebrate the bitches who can healthily produce many litters without turning a hair. We should encourage our dedicated owners and co-owners, once they have finished a dog or two, to begin breeding themselves instead of waiting for the next show puppy from us.
When we do encourage breeding, let’s also be honest. The chance of you getting a litter of all champions is only slightly higher than being hit by lightning while being consumed by a crocodile. On Mars. You’re lucky, and this is not an exaggeration, if you get even a single dog to move forward with from your first breeding. You’re fortunate in ANY breeding, from your first to your hundredth, to get a single puppy that is truly better than both parents. Baby breeders need to know that. They should not be lining up show homes and expecting to put half the puppies in them. I had to learn this lesson, and it was no fun, but I am a lot happier now looking for the one puppy to move on with – and being thrilled when there is a second one – than I was when I was trying to come up with three show puppies in a litter of six. New breeders need to be told that. You will be happier and better as a breeder if you find ONE puppy in a litter than if you are trying to find three or four. If you have three or four legitimate show homes, then breed three or four litters (which means, yes, BREEDING MORE) instead of trying to tell yourself that your fourth pick is just as high-quality as your first.
Now go forth, and be a breeder who breeds.