Breeding Better Dogs
Buying A Car,
The Choice Is Yours…….
The critically acclaimed and highly awarded Kia car commercial with the rap song “The Choice Is Yours” by the Black Sheep rap band provides the music using hamsters dressed up in hooded gear. The furry creatures bop along to hip-hop and are rapping the words “You can go with this or you can go with that” and it all resonates in my mind every time someone requests a particular feature or “style’ of Labrador based on personal preferences!
Breeding for personal choice and breeding to the established blueprint of the breed becomes the polar opposite of the proverbial spectrum and fortunately/unfortunately one way is the correct way and the other brings about far reaching consequences for generations to come!
Sadly with a modest percentage of breeders, and more so with the breeding of Labradors, it has degenerated to the lowest common denominator of “breeding for choice” rather than breeding to the highest standard of breeding………….the time-honored and established breed standard authored by the parent breed club, the Labrador Retriever Club and authorized and perpetuated by the top governing body for dog affairs in this country, the *AKC.
* see The Labrador Breed Standard at www.akc.org
This “breeding for choice” oddity is occurring with much more frequency in today’s super fast moving world than it had done in year’s gone by, although it has probably always been part of the equation for as long as people have been into any type of choice-driven endeavor without rigid controls to enforce the codes setup by the standards for that species or closer to home, that breed of dog, the Labrador Retriever.
There may be many reasons as to why this occurs, but one in particular that I see with those that are new to the breed and have not had the time/years of experience on their resume is that people naturally ally themselves with whatever they have on hand or with the things that they possess.
In other words, they “fall in love” with what they have regardless of where it falls in the “correct/incorrect” spectrum and then they take that feeling to a very personal level, breeding the next generation! This “feeling” leading to breeding then perpetuates those poor qualities that they have on hand as compared to the breed standard. So, incorrect leads to more incorrect and the syndrome of poor breeding continues for several generations by those individuals.
Most folk began with a single member of a breed and then decide to add another at some point in time. Since what they know of that particular breed is what they have/own, that’s exactly what they prefer to obtain.
Case #1 in point: Recently an email comes in requesting information as to what type of Labrador Retriever I was breeding. See the following.
“We just lost our beloved pet Labrador of 12 years and are now looking to replace him. Do you breed the heavy English Labradors or the longer, taller, leaner American type? We prefer the American look and want one that looks as close to the photo that is attached. Can you help us find one just like our Max?”
Absolutely nothing wrong with their desires for wanting what they like. In our country, freedom of choice is a way of life and this couple searching for exactly what they wanted is as normal as apple pie! There is absolutely nothing wrong with their quest………….except that nobody should be breeding “Labrador Retrievers” that look like the photo that was supplied with the email!!!!!!!
To be totally honest here, the dog looked nothing like the breed! Even though they claimed that the dog had AKC papers, I would make a small wager that with DNA testing, my hunch would be totally validated as to the partial mongrel makeup of the dog.
NOTE: This is not like the differential comparisons* between Labradors seen at Specialties and those seen at All Breed Dog Shows, not even close because in this instance the dog had very little of the typical Labrador look!
* Another sticky subject to be addressed at another time!
Now, I had several choices with that email request, including hitting the DELETE button and sending the email into the virtual GARBAGE CAN! This knowing full well that no amount of explaining would suffice a deep personal choice as had been made by this couple after the loss of their beloved pooch.
The other option was following through with what I profess…………………….providing continuing education on anything Labrador-related to any and all that request such information and to all those that frequent the Chambray Labradors website searching to expand their knowledge of the breed from someone that has been into the breed for 40 plus years.
The goal was to enlightened and not to torch the emailing couple, so care had to be taken to craft out a response that would offend as little as possible yet share with them that no one in their right frame of mind, with the best in mind of the Labrador Retriever breed should be breeding on purpose dogs that had very little in common with the breed that it was purported to be.
Of course no matter how much diplomacy and tact a person uses, when something as close to home as a “personal choice” is threatened, the task at hand of educating becomes a major mission impossible!
So too was the initial exchange between the emailing couple and myself. They were deadest in obtaining the exact version of what they had in the past regardless of whether it was a reasonable facsimile or not of the breed intended to be!
In all honesty this is as extreme and example as I have dealt with in 41 years, but having gone through something slightly similar myself in the beginning of my life-long odyssey with Labradors, I know how entrenched people get with what they own or have on hand!
Almost 40 years ago, in my “lesser-knowledge about Labrador years”, I ordered a female puppy from a super well-known kennel from the Midwest. I won’t use names because the intent of this article is to illustrate how inward we all get with something we possess and not to blast anyone in particular.
Of course I fell in love with the puppy and I did all the goofy stuff new owners do with each and every puppy they obtain. I took her to training classes and to matches and eventually when she was old enough; I even entered her in the real AKC dog shows and sure as the sun rises in the east…………..I even bred her! Yes, I had a litter of puppies with that dog that didn’t really adhere to the breed standard!
Hey she had a top-notch kennel name, AKC papers and a pedigree miles long, so why not breed her? Four decades later, this is exactly the mentality that I still encounter with those relatively new to owning, exhibiting and breeding dogs today.
In retrospect (40 year’s worth) I now stand and look back and clearly see the foibles of that first encounter folly all too well, that original “show” puppy was nowhere nears what a Labrador should have been, even to be at any conformation event and never mind the breeding part of the caper!
So, I speak from first hand knowledge of personal preferences even if it doesn’t conform to the actual accepted and higher authority dictated norm.
The 2 examples above are rather extreme in nature; however there isn’t a day that doesn’t go by that someone requests something or other that is outside the parameters set up by each breed standard. A dog show doesn’t not go by that I see someone new to the breed and even some that should know better, bring a dog to the dog shows to compete that has major flaws, faults and even disqualifications and yet there they are parading around the ring and eventually those same dogs will be breeding the next generation of dogs with the exact same flaws, faults and disqualifications!
The vast majority of those who practice personal preference breeding do so because of lack of knowledge which truly was my reason eons ago with that first show/non-show puppy some 40 years ago. I just didn’t know enough of the breed to know any better! I preferred what I had simply because I had it! I owned it, thus I “preferred it” and I was going to stand by it come heck or knee-high water!
I just didn’t know any better! Forty years ago I didn’t have enough time under my belt to know any better and I went ahead to the next part of owning a dog, good or not so good………………I bred her and produced a litter of puppies that looked very much like her…………not what the breed standard called for!
Of course, I could have been much luckier in life if instead that famous breeder had sent to me a better example of the breed and then I would have acted just the same way about that one as I did the one that didn’t conform to the breed standard. I won’t have known any better with either one of them; however I would have at least had on hand something that resembled the breed a bit more than what I did have!
Knowledge comes with time and experience and those qualities are not easy to gain overnight, the operative word is “time” and the catch is “getting it”! For some it takes much longer and there are some that will never phantom it in any time frame. That’s why there are those that are very successful in any endeavor and those that seem to plod, plug and stumble along and never make any headway, a hapless and sad sack journey with very little payoff for most.
I see this last statement every single time that I go to a dog show. People that have been breeding for varying lengths of time and yet, they don’t get it and that is proven by the product they bring to the dog shows to compete with. No matter how much time goes by, they don’t develop the ability to see what it is they should be producing and their product is not close to being good enough. Some have been into the sport for 5 years, others 10 years and even some that I have seen for over 25 years at the dogs shows and they have very little to show for that enormous time span spent as breeders! Actually all the time they have been into the breed has not served them well at all. They seem to always be starting over again and nothing that they have had has stood the test of time over several generations!
Today, having accumulated so much time on my side with Labradors, I see this syndrome occur with each and every new person that comes on board with Labradors at the dog show level. It takes painstaking time for each of the entry level types to get past their personal preference of what they possess and actually “see” for themselves as to what it should really “look” like! But it goes much deeper than with just the beginners and intermediates, there are even some longer time practitioners that fail miserably in competition because the “time & the learning process” has not been kind to them
Until that epiphany-like moment arrives if ever, the vast majority will hold steadfast to their personal preferences solely based on what they have on hand and if what they have on hand is not a good representation of the breed, they will still continue to blunder on spending an inordinate amount of time, eventually showing those dogs and worse, breeding those dogs and perpetuating the same inferior qualities possessed to the next generation.
Hopefully for a chosen few along the way, “Breeding for Choice” will give way to “Breeding for Improvement”.
When this occurs, it is a sure sign that finally “looking” at what is on hand and actually “seeing it” is one and the same. The realization that seeing what’s on hand may not be the ideal is a huge step in the right direction for the novice, intermediate and even the more advanced breeder-types!
There is a difference with “Improvement Breeding! A good 3-Step Process would involve the following:
· Seeing the deficiencies with what’s on hand.
· Looking for a way to improve on those shortcomings by breeding to dogs with strong genes in those weakness areas of the other dog.
· If indeed an improvement is made by breeding, knowing what to keep that displays the desired positives in the succeeding generations produce
Any an all intentions for improvement of conformation would be a step in the right direction. But it takes the eye and mind to see what it is that is either lacking or what is totally wrong for that particular breed and then following through and attempting to “fix” what’s wrong by breeding to superior dogs are great steps to take to have some modem of success.
Going back to the beginning of the article: There is always a light at the end of the tunnel for some, with case #1, my insistence in educating turned out really good as the folk that were searching for a pooch that looked just like the email they had sent me (which looked nothing like a Labrador should) ended up with my recommendations to see a breeder that works with Chambray’s Labrador Owners Community that had a 10 week old puppy. The puppy’s dam was a daughter of BIS Ch Chambrays Out Of The Ruff and the puppy was sired by Int Ch WinQuest Chambrays Chief Stroup. This now was a great representative of the breed. In other words, it looked like what the breed standard calls for in conformation.
In the 2nd example, my own, it took quite a while for the ‘know-how” to set in as there weren’t any mentors to be had during my formative years as a Labrador beginner, then to intermediate, and finally to advanced enthusiast leading to my now four decades plus with the breed today. The tale of the tape is Chambray’s overwhelming level of success at the ultimate stage of determination, the AKC dog shows!
Now, that I know better, I do my very best to educate and enlightened those that have just begun their quest, those that have been trekking for a while and those whose journey has been long and maybe not as fruitful as the time put in would indicate!
I along with Chambray Labradors have evolved from the beginning steps back in the1970’s, not knowing much to now the Leader In All That is Labrador Retrievers, mentoring hundreds through the Labrador Owners Community that has spread from the local South Florida area, to include every nook and cranny through the state, plus dozens of owners in dozens of states throughout the country.
The aforementioned series of events from the preceding paragraph I have referred to in other articles as my “pay it forward” to the breed.
Hoping that along the way, those new to the fancy, those in it for 5 years and even those with 10 years or more under their belt can “see” past what they have on hand, that they can “look” beyond that narrow scope and be able to see beyond what they have on hand and reach out to those few that are willing to work together for the betterment of the breed.
With the advent of the computer and the Internet, having information at the tip of our fingers and onto the screen in front of us as it happens anywhere is the country and borders beyond; with the ease of shipping semen anywhere in the world and having the conception rate as near as it is with natural breedings; plus having people willing to share their long accumulated knowledge……………………………what great luxuries those living in this age today have over those of us of only 25 years ago!!!!!
With all that I have “seen” in the long past, the near past and today, the future “looks” mighty bright indeed for those that seek out the few that are willing to share their acquired wisdom! So there is a choice after all as the hamsters bop along and sing “You can go with this or you can go with that” !