1) Linebreeding is better than outcrossing.
I’m sorry, but that is the biggest piece of total crap on earth and if I could change ONE thing about dog breeding that would be it.
This is population ecology 101: A diverse population is healthier (and this means REALLY healthier, not whether your meerkat passed his hip tests) than an inbred one. You know what one of the very first and most important things scientists do when they’re trying to determine whether a population is going to become extinct? They look at inbreeding. If you have two otherwise identical populations – same numbers, same food source, same conditions and natural disasters, if the diverse population would be extinct after ten years, the inbred population will be dead after seven.
Linebreeding reduces genetic diversity. That’s why breeders like it. You get more consistent results when you linebreed. However, you are hamstringing the ability of your population to thrive over time. You’ll do great in the show ring during your lifetime, which is why linebreeding has been so lauded. But it’s making the typical mistake humans make, which is forgetting that anybody exists before or beyond them.
Think about it – if all but two of your dogs had been wiped out by a fire ten years ago, would you just breed the two of them and the daughters back to their father and now, ten years later, say you’re OK? Of course not. Now think, if you could somehow live for three hundred years, which means the period from WWII from now would be just a small part of your breeding effort, would you still be linbreeding the populations that came out of the 40s with seven or eight individuals?
But that’s what we do, and that’s what is said to be the “best” breeding. Make no mistake. It is the BEST breeding only for producing show winners during your lifetime. If that’s what you care about, if that’s what your legacy is, then go on doing it. Otherwise, forget what somebody told you the best breeding was and breed for the longevity and survival of your entire population. That means sound to sound, then preferring outcrosses, then preferring very loose breedings, then preferring tight breedings, and avoiding inbreeding unless there is absolutely no other choice.
2) If you health-test, you’re producing healthier dogs.
If you health-test, you’re looking at a certain aspect of your dogs. LOOKING at a CERTAIN aspect of YOUR dog. You are not changing anything. You have not yet improved anything. You may, in fact, go on to torpedo the longevity of over a thousand dogs throughout your lifetime; I have no idea and neither do you, and that’s the truth.
A health test is a data point. Hundreds and hundreds of health tests over ten or twenty years are just data points. They have nothing to do with you. Where you come into it is if you can understand those data points and use those data points to make decisions that change things.
I’ve seen hundreds, if not thousands, of breeders health-test their dogs. I know of probably ten thousand more. I’ve seen a bare handful who have genuinely made a positive difference in the health of their breed. The majority of them are not known for “health testing.” I know a slightly bigger handful who are famous for producing or buying a dog who radically injured the overall health and longevity of a breed or variety. In that bigger handful all of them “health tested.”
a) Understand the data points.
b) Use the data points to draw conclusions that are supported by evidence.
c) Make decisions that are based on that solid evidence to turn things in the right direction.
If you are not absolutely solid on all three steps, you are not making any good changes except by bare accident. You’re just flailing. And if you’re going to flail, it might be a good idea to not base your decisions on those factors. Base the decisions on data you CAN see, CAN understand, and that DO have a basis in solid evidence. Unsurprisingly, that’s pretty much the way all good breeders have been breeding since the beginning of time, and why so many do so much good completely without the existence of x-rays and DNA tests… and why you can do so much wrong when you forget what you’re looking at in real life and decide to breed based on those things.
3) Lots of show homes mean you’ve succeeded.
Lots of show homes means you convinced lots of people that you had show puppies. The word “convinced” should not be taken lightly. Sometimes it was your effort, sometimes their effort, sometimes their mentors’ effort. Sometimes it was the pedigree, your reputation, your lack therof, sometimes the dog or the bitch. Sometimes it was based on solid evidence; often it was not. Sometimes it was based on nothing more than the fact that you’re convinced that show homes are better and so you held on to a ton of puppies until you found people who were willing to tell you they would show the dogs.
There’s nothing wrong with lots of show homes. But there’s nothing particularly right either. It’s an adjective, not a medal.
4) Dogs who can’t make it in show homes are usually great performance prospects.
You have to be harder on performance prospects than show prospects. Show dogs, while beng shown, live a pretty soft life. If they get somewhat injured you’re likely to not even know it. Performance dogs, on the other hand, are athletes. Poor biomechanics leads to lifelong pain and compounded injuries.
I very much prefer the idea of separating puppies into performance and pet prospects, THEN subdividing into show picks. If it’s a show+pet (which certainly does happen), be honest about it. If it’s performance-minus-show, celebrate.
5) Breeding for the “pet market” is wrong.
Breeding for the “pet market” is the only market that matters. Every single one of us SHOULD be a pet owner 99% of the time and a show owner 1%, and every single one of us, even if we don’t act like pet owners, relies on a pet market. They’re where we put our failures, which end up presented to the world in a much, much more effective way than our successes.
If you realize that, if you really internalize the fact that we’re putting our rejects out there, effectively on TV, while our successes may be seen by a few of our friends but usually by nobody in the “real world,” you realize that there is no more important group of people than our pet buyers.
Pet buyers are also the ones who keep us sane and humble. They don’t care if you’ve finally succeeded in getting an entire litter of round feet. They will NEVER know, their entire lives, what round feet are. They care if the dog lives a happy normal life in the suburbs. They also, regardless of what you may think, very rarely care about health testing and they don’t know a lot about longevity. The meteoric rise of the Cavalier King Charles Spaniel and the enduring appeal of anything involving a Golden Retriever is incredible evidence of that. Those are not dogs who are going to live a particularly long life and they’re not dogs who are going to have no issues diagnosed by vets. They are dogs who are delightful and easy to live with and who adore their owners and everyone else. If you are selling pet puppies, THAT is where you will be seen to succeed or fail by 99.9% of all humans.
It places a huge burden on us to educate owners when we have a breed who has a hard time doing those things and should not be penalized for not being able to do them. But even with education we rely on a steady supply of NON-breeding, NON-experienced homes so our breeds can survive. The overwhelming majority of all the dogs you ever produce will be in those homes. Forgetting that and thinking your responsibility is to your show-breeding peers is to your great detriment.
When you breed, you must breed first for your breed AS A WHOLE. Then for yourself, with your conscience and your good mind, your understanding of evidence and solid decisions. Then for your pet buyers, knowing that you have responsibility to support them forever. Then for your peers – because at three in the morning, your peers are the only ones NOT in your bed, on your phone, or as a still small voice in your heart.