Responsible Breeding

The myth of kennel blindness

Hang out with show breeders for any length of time, and you’ll hear it. “She’s so kennel-blind,” or “Classic kennel blindness.”

What this is supposed to mean is that people fall in love with their own dogs so much that they can’t see what’s wrong with them in terms of conformation. They therefore continue down a path of mediocrity and will never produce the quality that they should.

It’s usually said with great superiority and a little feigned sadness; poor Phyllis, who is so kennel-blind. I’ve never seen a good front come out of her kennel in all the fifteen years I’ve known her.

What kennel-blind has come to be is a nice neat epithet of total dismissal.  “Not only are her dogs crappy, she can’t even SEE that they’re crappy. That is how DUMB she is.” It’s the perfect put-down, a combination of slashing criticism of an entire breeding program AND the person who orchestrated it.

BUT…I have never ONCE, in all the thousands of times I’ve heard this phrase, listened to somebody say “I am kennel-blind.” In fact, I have only ever heard “I am harder on my own dogs than anyone else.” And I think that’s true. We all nit-pick our dogs to death. We are all acutely aware of every hair on the dog that’s not perfect.

So – if a whole ton of people who are not ME are kennel-blind and I am never kennel blind, and that sentence is being repeated across thousands of breeders, what’s the truth?

The truth is that “kennel-blind” really means “She has different priorities than I do.” You can tell this instantly based on the breeders you personally would say are the LEAST kennel-blind. Their dogs tend to look a lot like your dogs, huh? (Or, if you’re a younger breeder, the way you wish your dogs would look.) Their dogs’ strengths just happen to mirror your dogs’ strengths, don’t they?

Here’s why we need to shut the heck up: YOU do not make decisions for people’s breeding programs, and YOU do not have any right to tell them their priorities. The standard lists scores, even – depending on the breed – hundreds, of qualities a dog should have. You as a breeder have the task of putting all of those in a list and prioritizing them. Some do so starting with the head; I may not agree with them, but they’re no less dedicated to the breed than I am. If they put a dog out there who has a gorgeous head and a bad rear, they are no less kennel-blind than I am with the perfect rears and the common heads. I have the right to not breed to their dogs, but I do not have the right to say that they’re stupid and can’t even see what’s in front of them.

Finally, where the heck do we get off implying that it’s wrong to love the FRACK out of our dogs? Of course we should be hopelessly and totally in love with our dogs! If that’s not the kind of breeder you are – if you are completely unsentimental – then fine. But it doesn’t make you a better breeder than someone who is head over heels and sloppy for every single one of their breeding prospects. More power to them, honestly.


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  • Reply mandy February 12, 2013 at 8:27 pm

    Very well put.

  • Reply JoAnne February 13, 2013 at 3:32 am

    Thank you.

  • Reply Tegan February 13, 2013 at 7:34 am

    “Not only are her dogs crappy, she can’t even SEE that they’re crappy. That is how DUMB she is.” – This made me laugh out loud!

    I agree with you, but I also think there is a degree of disagreement… I think kennel A has unappealing heads on their dogs, but the breeder seems to think that’s the correct head. There is a degree of different interpretations of standards as well as different prioritising of aspects of the standard.
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    • Reply KellyK February 13, 2013 at 1:24 pm

      That makes sense. I think it would be accurate to talk about kennel blindness only when someone *says* their priority is something they’re not actually producing.

      Then again, there’s also a difference between preference/interpretation and just the range of the standard. Like, for example, the weight range for cardis in the standard is 30 to 38 for dogs. One breeder might try to keep dogs at the low end of that range to keep their hips in good shape, while another shoots for the high end because bigger dogs tend to finish faster. Not only might they both be critical of the other, but someone who tries to breed right to the middle of the standard (to keep their future generations from drifting out of it) might call them *both* kennel blind if they say “correct size” is one of their breeding priorities.
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  • Reply Beth February 20, 2013 at 1:56 am

    I don’t know enough to comment on kennel blindness, but there is definitely breed blindness. I was appalled when I saw this shot, which is apparently the dog who won the herding group at Westminster 2012. That backend is horribly sad. Of all the herding dogs that night, he best exemplifies his breed. They WANT those hocks.×471.jpg

    • Reply Beth February 20, 2013 at 2:16 am

      I did some poking around on GSD forums and apparently cow hocks are now very common in many show lines. Of course if cow-hocked dogs keep winning, then they will keep breeding them. And if top kennels keep breeding them, they’ll keep winning.

  • Reply Liz B June 20, 2013 at 1:54 am

    I know I’m a bit late to this discussion but I can say that I have seen kennel blindness. When someone sits around slamming every other breeder you mention, and claims that if a judge picks any dog other than one they bred, that the judge OBVIOUSLY knows nothing about the breed. I would call that kennel blindness. Well actually calling that person “kennel blind” is polite compared to what I would really want to say about them.

  • Reply Rebecca June 22, 2013 at 2:34 pm

    Has this blog gone down? Please say no, as I just found it and LOVE IT! Please keep writing about dogs!

  • Reply Charlene Dwyer June 28, 2013 at 1:32 am

    I agree with your premise that no one has a right to dictate to another how to go about breeding their dogs. There are plenty of people who wouldn’t listen anyway. The problem isnt with the term “kennel blind” it’s with how it’s applied.

    There are fanciers who believe if they bred it it’s a great one. Regardless of how well their exhibits fit the written standard. Many of us depend heavily on these breeders for the numbers needed to make points for our dogs.

    Breeding is everyone’s chance to play God. God makes no mistakes. Therefore, how can we all NOT be kennel blind.

  • Reply Kathy July 8, 2013 at 3:17 pm

    Of course there is kennel blindness. Come on – don’t be so naive. You have a standard and you breed to it. The standard prioritizes the points the breeder should be focusing on. I have talked to people that think every single one of their dogs is perfect and the best in the ring and if they don’t win, it is political. I think that is different from loving every single one of our dogs (which I do – even the ugly ones) but that should not have any bearing on your breeding program. If you think they are all perfect, then you won’t know how to breed the next generation.

  • Reply kelly July 28, 2013 at 11:12 pm

    Thanks for speaking up. Good article.

  • Reply Sandy Proudfoot August 9, 2013 at 1:21 pm

    I’m an Aussie person and your posting re the show ring versus genetics and longevity of the breed was passed on to me several days ago. Doing some research, I realize you’re a Corgi breeder of some years. All that said, I could not agree with you more and I’m delighted to have bookmarked your site to read your comments. While I am not a breeder; I’m old as dirt but primarily I don’t have the stomach for the nonsense that goes on around the show-ring, the back-biting of some breeders although I do have my girls handled in the show ring and thankfully have another Aussie breeder willing to show them. And she’s tough, doesn’t put up with the negativity that comes with showing dogs. I agree, I know what I like to see in a breed that I love and know and I guess that’s why people get into breeding for both those reasons. Thanks for a refreshing site.
    SandyP in Canada

  • Reply TB Bikeman August 28, 2013 at 2:06 am

    I think you’ve pointed out a classic example of self deceit. Very well done.

  • Reply Keren December 29, 2013 at 12:08 pm

    I really know nothing about showing dogs so I won’t speak to whether kennel blindness does or doesn’t exist. What I will say is that I think the point of this article is that the word is being used to be condescending or mean, and it’s rather pointless since everyone is out enjoying this sport for similar reasons, even if they’re not identical.

    Love the blog – sorry to see so few posts this year but wishing you and your family the best!

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