All Posts By

Joanna Kimball


The first sweet hot day.



It’s been so long in shoes that our feet are soft and pale, begging for the first barefoot day.


Mosquito bites are itchy for the first time this year, and long walks feel even longer.


But we are finally – FINALLY – warm. And the sun is pouring down and soaking our cells and stretching our knees and making us dance.

The dogs are dropping coat so fast that when they shake it looks like a sparkler.







Vala, here for a visit.



My dear good sweet Juno, who thinks the show ring is ridiculous but consented to stack for me just out of love. And maybe roast beef. But also love.


In which I am glad to be back, dear reader


It’s been three years since I posted regularly – the job that I was doing was with a company that discouraged personal public social media use. I was, and continue to be, grateful for the opportunities that the job gave me. And I am now very VERY grateful that the door on that job has been shut hard and locked. I am discovering what my kids look like again, I am reading again, I am spending my days covered with dogs again, and I am writing again.

You, dear reader, have stuck with me for a long time. Thank you for your patience. And now I can promise that I will contribute here again at least once a week.

It’s been so long away from this world that I feel that I’ve lost touch with peoples’ needs and what they’re looking for in a “dogs all day, every day” blog. So – please tell me. What would you like to hear about? What questions can I start to delve deeply in?


Dog Health, Responsible Breeding

Does linebreeding (and inbreeding) really flush out faults and concentrate virtues?

If you don’t know the basic principles of linebreeding, or what it implies, start up here in this section. If you know all that stuff and want to get to the good part, start here.

One of the most common pieces of advice given to new and experienced dog breeders is to linebreed their dogs. The reason this advice – which is about 150 years old and is a holdover from the livestock breeding strategies of the Industrial Revolution – has survived is that linebreeding, over time, creates a situation where your breedings will be more predictable.

Imagine that you are pulling from a giant jar of M&Ms. The jar is opaque; what you have grabbed will not be seen until you’ve pulled your hand out. You HATE the green ones and you’re not too fond of light brown. You really want the red ones and you’re neutral about yellow. Your first handful brings up a whole bunch of reds, some yellows, a few light browns, and one green.

From here you have a choice – you can either go back in for your next handful, or you can put the handful you already pulled out into a second jar. That second one is a magic jar, and it’ll instantly fill up with thousands of M&Ms, but they’ll be in the exact proportion of colors that you put in.

This is not a trick question – OBVIOUSLY, to get closer to what you want, you choose the second jar. Once the second jar fills, almost every handful you pull out will be pleasing to you. Sometimes, by accident of chance, you’ll get a lot of greens and light browns, but on the whole you’ve created a great way to get the M&Ms you want.

This is exactly the way it works in dogs. By starting with something you like, and then creating many more dogs closely related to the thing you like, you are stacking the odds in your favor.

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Responsible Breeding

How we must change as breeders – and why.

A football field of dogs.

OK, sports fans, imagine standing on the 50-yard line and looking at an entire football field full of Cardigan Corgis.  Thousands of dogs, representing the entire worldwide population of the breed.

It is your job to get the breed from this football field to the next field, the field twenty years from now. You can use any of the thousands of dogs in this field, and success will be measured by whether you have a result pool (the twenty-years-from-now field) that is at least as long-lived, healthy, athletic, sound, happy, and sane as your current pool. Bonus points will be awarded if you can improve on at least one of those categories without hurting any of the others.

So how do you do it?  Stop for a minute and really plan it out before you read on.


I would guess that most people thought to themselves “I should be as picky as possible, first health-test everybody, prove that each dog is healthy, make sure that only the ones who are incredibly high-quality in terms of conformation and show success are allowed to breed. I should build the next ten thousand dogs from the most elite pool of this one.” That’s the conventional wisdom, the way “good breeders” do everything, right?

I want to suggest to you that a strategy like that will bring most breeds swiftly and inevitably to the grave.

Because here’s what is NOT being taught as conventional wisdom, and the entire breeding community needs to be smacked upside the head with it.


That is FACT. It’s population ecology 101. A huge preponderance of all animal behavior is designed to create a population that is the most unrelated it can be–where the genes are as much UNlike each other as possible. That’s why bachelor males are kicked out of packs and herds; it’s a main reason that animals try to get away from each other and form territories; it’s why we evolved different genders and all the millions of behaviors that govern breeding.

Maximum genetic variation is essential to a population that can withstand stress. If you lose genetic variation, you end up with substantially lower resistance to disease and you stand a good chance of concentrating deleterious genes. Loss of genetic variation is why we have such huge problems with cancers in Flatcoats, or epilepsy in Poodles, or Fanconi in Basenjis.

One of the ways that breeders continually shoot themselves in the foot is by eliminating founding lines–if there were ten founding stud dogs of the breed, back in 1930, and they together produced ten thousand dogs that are living in 2008, are they evenly represented? Or are eight thousand of the puppies the descendants of just two of the founding dogs, two other dogs have disappeared entirely and their genetic material is now gone forever, and the other six have just a few hundred puppies in the entire world that are now living?

Because of what is winning and what is in fashion in terms of hot kennels and top stud dogs, the entire world will rush to just a few dogs, like people running to the side of a sailing ship. This overweights the gene pool and it decreases the ability of the population to respond to threats and diseases.

If, for example, Cardigans start turning up with a ton of heart disease, and Cadno and his descendants represent a pool of dogs with no heart disease, even if Cadno Cardigans have longer legs than we’d like we’ll find them extremely valuable. If that line was abandoned in 1970 because the Golden Arrow (or whatever) descendants were tearing up the green carpet and had such glorious short legs, we’re going to be stuck.

So – if this is such an accepted truth in science, why is the conventional wisdom so different from this? Well, one HUGE problem is that we have a collective guilty conscience, and we’ve bought a certain amount of conventional wisdom that comes from other breeds, and we’re under the thumb of a lot of groupthink that is actually coming from animal rights, so we have made it a virtue to remove every single dog from the gene pool that we possibly can.

That’s where you get the “I know it isn’t perfect, but it’s SOMETHING” line that is used to justify neutering dogs based on everything from the DM test to the fluff test. In the back of that is a thought, however subconscious, that it’s good to neuter and iffy to breed, so the more stringent, even nonsensical, we make the requirements the more moral we are as a group of breeders.

We in Cardigans have a wonderful, healthy breed with very few issues. One of the best ways to KEEP it that way is to breed toward maximum genetic variation–in real-world terms, that means breeding as many individuals as possible to as many individuals as possible, spreading the genetic material as far as we can. Sharing the wealth. It’s not good to neuter but iffy to breed; it’s BAD to neuter and GOOD to breed.

I know this is already making people itchy, but I challenge you to prove me wrong. It’s supported in every population study I have ever read–loss of breeding animals is a bad thing.

So the question is NOT how to choose the best from this football field. The question is how to REMOVE the weakest.


After all, that’s what happens in nature; it’s how all living things evolved. The term “survival of the fittest” is a little misleading; evolutionary pressure doesn’t choose which animals survive. It’s “death of the weakest.” Nature kills those that are not strong, leaving behind every single individual that WAS strong enough to make it. Those are primed to breed as widely as is practical for the population, keeping the population at its maximum level of genetic richness.

So how does this apply to our field of dogs? It’s our job to wisely remove the weakest. It’s not plucking the very “best” out and elevating them–if you do, in just a few generations your population will lose the great majority of its genetic material. It’s deciding who “dies” in the population, who does not get to reproduce. Thankfully we can do it by sterilizing or separating, and we don’t have to actually kill them, but the effect on the population is the same.

Remember, every loss to the population is a negative. It is NOT a neutral decision, ever. That means that the benefit to the population of removing that dog must outweigh the negative effects of removing him or her. If it does not, you are hurting the population and sending your breed to the pit.

So, for a moment, forget anything to do with health testing and let’s just try to choose which dogs to “kill.” It’s honestly better to think of it as killing than neutering, because it correctly communicates the gravity of the decision. It is a great and terrible responsibility to remove dogs from a breeding population and you SHOULD do it with no little fear and trembling.

If you’re going to kill a dog, you need to make sure that you’re doing so based on two criteria: The “fault” needs to hurt that individual dog AND that fault needs to be reliably communicated to the next generation. If the faulty dog won’t pass on that fault, he or she should not automatically be removed.

I would say that the first dogs we remove are those that have broad issues of unsoundness. We are absolutely sure that major issues with body shape a) hurt that individual dog, and b) are reliably communicated to the next generation and therefore hurt that generation.

So if a dog cannot run freely, walk without pain, eat its food, and live to a normal old age, its genes should be killed off. Very unsound bites, fronts that end up painful and arthritic, swaybacks, terribly unsound movement, etc. I would also add congenital shyness to this list; a dog who is born so shy that it cannot be happy in normal society would never survive if it had to live in a community of dogs or run down game. Watch out closely for issues with ingrained reactivity and willingness to ignore the bite-humans taboo. Environment is ALWAYS king of behavior, so there are many dogs that I will excuse for biting, but you know what I’m talking about here. That bitch who had to be carefully restrained during her entire career because she bit judges, and you know that three of her puppies also bite people? Don’t be blaming the owners; look in the mirror for that one. Perpetuating what is in effect a mental illness is bad for the population.

If we’ve killed off the unsound dogs–please note that I did NOT say the “untypey” dogs–we should be left with a group of dogs that is basically able to make a next generation that will succeed. They all have strong, sound bodies and would be considered at least average to good in conformation and movement. We now start applying the kill criteria that are much, much more slippery. These are health testing and selecting for “type.”

I want to talk about type first because I am terribly worried about the fact that so many dogs are “killed” for totally superficial reasons. Jon Kimes got here first, but maybe he’ll allow me to expand on this.

The proper Cardigan head is called proper because it is a SOUND head, a healthy, long-living head that allows the dog to do its job. So if a dog has a tremendously clunky head, a Lab head on a Cardi body, that’s not a superficial fault. It goes to soundness and, while it is nowhere near as unsound as a very forward front or a straight shoulder or cowhocks, there are good valid reasons to try to remove it from our healthy population.

Similarly, the extremely foreshortened radius and ulna in the front legs are sound. Thick, short dwarfed bones are actually healthier than longer, thinner dwarfed bones. So, as with heads, a dog up on light, thin bone is quite possibly still sound enough to  breed, but it’s a genuine fault.

Markings, on the other hand, or coatedness, are NOT worth killing a dog over. Let’s examine them according to our two criteria. Does having white around one eye hurt the individual dog? It MAY, to a very marginal extent, if the dog does not have good pigment otherwise. But clearly white in and of itself doesn’t hurt working dogs; every livestock guard dog, the big hounds, the big sporting dogs–they all have a ton of white around the eyes. So it certainly isn’t a slam dunk. Now #2: Does having white around one eye hurt the next generation? Since white-headed dogs can clearly produce lots of color when bred wisely, the answer to that is no, unless you breed stupidly.

The “off” colors are even more superficial. They have no detriment to the individual dog and are not passed along unless, again, you don’t understand color genetics or how to breed the standard colors.

Coat is similar. A long coat is NOT disadvantageous automatically–the long coat we call “poor” is no longer, softer, or more open than many breeds with distinguished working records have. And coated dogs can clearly produce dogs with standard coats.

Both of those–markings and coats–are part of the “game” of showing dogs. If you want to show dogs, you follow some rules just because they’re part of the game. So Labs can’t have any white, but Tollers need it. Rotties can’t, but Berners must. All of them are just part of the stuff we accept when we decide to show. They are NOT reasons, and I’d challenge you to prove me wrong, to kill off dogs from the population. If a dog is sound, healthy, built to live a long and good life, has working conformation and a sane temperament, it’s really not very defensible to kill it when it can clearly produce worthy contributors to the next generations.

So back we go to our football field. We’ve taken out some ugly heads and the hocky rears. We’ve taken out long, weak legs, and a few other un-typey dogs.

It is only NOW that we’re at the place where many breeders begin–at health testing. You do not start health testing before this point. That is VERY deliberate. The dogs who were going to hurt the population because they were so unsound were “killed” long before we’d even consider winnowing them via health testing.

And here’s where I make my big pot-stirring statement:

I think that many people get the whole motivation behind health testing completely backwards. They feel that they’re doing it to “prove” that their  bitch or their dog “is healthy.”

If you go that route, then there is no end of testing that you can and should do. In fact, there is no end to the testing you MUST do. After all, just because I know that his hips are healthy doesn’t mean his heart is healthy, and doesn’t mean that he doesn’t have one or more factors for von Willebrands, and doesn’t mean that she doesn’t have autoimmune thyroiditis, doesn’t mean she doesn’t have a rare storage disease, doesn’t mean he has healthy patellas, doesn’t mean that she doesn’t have elbow dysplasia, and on and on and on it goes. If proving that a dog is healthy is what breeders are supposed to do, then you need to line up a hundred or more tests and you can’t be making any excuses.

Others will say that they are doing it to prove that their dog or bitch is healthy, but only until and up to a certain dollar amount. Again, bad idea. That encourages you to do a lot of cheap tests rather than better, more expensive tests; it also sets up a false expectation of, among other things, puppy prices (at least to a certain extent, health testing is passed along to the puppy buyer; that’s just reality, so if we have to get expensive testing done we should just do it and charge more for puppies rather than whining that we can’t do it because we don’t make it back in the puppy sales).

The only reason that makes ANY sense is that health testing is to remove the right individuals from the breeding population. It MUST be a removal process is because that keeps the focus on what actually WORKS. If a health test protects the integrity of the population by reliably removing dogs who will hurt that population, it is worth it and not only worth it but mandatory. No matter how much it costs or what kind of trouble it is or what we have to pass on to puppy buyers.

Now here’s the part that people get mad about: the opposite also applies. If a test does not improve the population more than it hurts it, then we shouldn’t be doing it, or if we do it we shouldn’t be removing dogs based on its results, because we’re skewing the population–running to the side of the sailboat–for no reason; we are hurting our future generations.

Because Cardigans are so healthy and don’t have the huge issues that other breeds have, we’re in that situation with the majority of our health tests. The stuff we see as health problems are only somewhat genetic and the tests are very unreliable, but the tests exist and they will multiply. I’d put money on the fact that in 15 years we’ll be able to test for twenty or thirty disorders that are only weakly connected to the gene test.

I believe in testing, believe strongly in it, but for those disorders where there is no clear link between the result and the life of the dog (DM is a great example of this) we need to be ignoring the results of the test for a long time, breeding as usual, until we can say “Yes, we now know that dogs with at risk DM tests live, on average, four years less than dogs with a negative DM test.” That’s a real reason to start killing those dogs off. If, as I suspect, the line is more like “Dogs with at risk DM tests live, on average, three months less than dogs with a negative test,” then we are REALLY foolish to be chucking thousands of dogs from the gene pool–if we “kill” carriers and at-risk dogs, probably more than half the population of the breed–for that.

So now we come to where the rubber meets the road:

1) If you’re looking at your potential breeding stock, and your potential breeding decisions, you should add a very important criterion: Genetic “otherness.” We all know the mantra – breed for temperament, health, conformation. But we must – MUST – add non-relatedness to our list. This takes two forms: First, if a dog is substantially non-related to a bitch, their puppies will be more valuable to the breed than the puppies of a closely related dog and bitch. Second, families are best used widely, not narrowly. If there are four breedings to be done, using four sisters once is better for the breed than using one sister four times.

2) We need more people breeding their dogs. If we’re going to make wider breeding happen, we need buy-in and breeding on a much wider scale. Please note that I don’t mean we necessarily need more puppies – we need more mothers and fathers being used, more dogs left intact, more bitches making the babies. WE NEED MORE BREEDERS. We must critically examine how we sell our puppies, how we restrict our buyers’ breeding choices, and how we determine which dogs are breedable. The current model is NOT SUSTAINABLE. Going on as we are doing now is 100% doomed to fail, as our human numbers dwindle and the dogs being shown and bred become more and more closely related. They are two converging lines, and where they meet (where our breed reaches a point at which it is no longer capable of being sustained in a healthy way) is visible. So this is not a choice we have. We MUST change enough to carry our breed forward.

3)  If you are looking at the available battery of tests for your dog, please first be serious about whether the dog is sound and can live a normal life, is safe and sane and happy. Please, for heaven’s sake, do not forget HAPPY. If the answer is yes, then by all means do the testing, gather information. But don’t be a slave to the tests if they do not clearly pass the two criteria: They must affect your individual dog and they must reliably change the next generation for the better. Do whatever research you have to do to make sure you really know, genuinely UNDERSTAND, the answers to those criteria. Because we really do, as a community of breeders, have to fill that twenty-years-from-now field. And every single breeding decision changes that result. We should be doing so very, very thoughtfully.

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Responsible Breeding

We’re breeders – why are we anti-breeding?

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.

Responsible Breeding

How to develop a new dog breed

Whenever we start talking about the fact that there’s a right way and a wrong way to breed dogs, there’s an immediate rebuttal: All breeds were originally developed by crossing existing dogs, so why is the option suddenly a bad one now?

The answer, though some dog fanciers will argue with me, is that it’s NOT a bad option. Dogs are happiest when they are working and doing a job. If there are new jobs for dogs, it’s entirely probable that there should be new breeds to fill those jobs. And it is already happening – I think that the “agility Border Collie” is now so separated from the rest of the gene pool that it could be called something different. And there are really good breeders creating sport specialist dogs for agility and flyball by crossing various breeds, and they’re doing a fantastic job at it.

However, before you just go proclaim the new revolution in dog breeds, get your story right and realize that there is only one way to develop a new breed – and what you’re picturing probably isn’t it.

First, everybody needs to STOP saying that all breeds were developed around the turn of the nineteenth century, which is when the Kennel Club and the AKC were really gathering steam. That’s when the breeds were REGISTERED, yes, but you’re ignoring something very important: No kennel club exists to let people create new breeds. All kennel clubs exist for the purpose of registering (and, arguably, protecting) breeds that ALREADY EXIST.

In other words, in 1890 nobody was sitting around saying “You know what we need? A long-haired red dog that points pheasant. I’m going to call it the LARRY HOUND! No? No support on that one? OK, the LARRY SETTER!! Still no? OK, FINE THEN, we’ll call it the Irish setter.” What they were doing was saying “We’ve been breeding Irish setters for generations, and now we’re going to start giving them numbers,” or “There’s a breed that’s disappearing up in the hills, only a few left. We’re going to go collect as many as we can find and try to re-start the breed. They’re called Cardiganshire Corgis.”

That is still the case in the modern AKC. You are not allowed to present a breed for recognition before the breed actually exists, in numbers, and with established pedigrees and a written standard. Most of the dog types that become “new” AKC breeds are actually hundreds if not thousands of years old.

Second, starting a “new breed” the right way is actually a heck of a lot harder than ANY tinkering with an existing breed. It’s like deciding to bake bread from scratch without a recipe instead of buying brown-n-serve rolls. Most people are going to fail, and fail, and fail, and fail before they come up with a loaf that looks even close to decent. And it will take them hundreds of repetitions before they perfect it. In dogs, that means you’ll spend your entire life – and I am serious about that, from age 20 to the day you die – getting your breed to the point that it even exists as a breed, and then you’ll hand it over to another generation.

Why is it so hard? Because developing a new dog breed can be done correctly only by following certain steps. And none of them is “I like your cute dog; can I breed to him?”

The Recipe for a New Breed

1) Find a vacuum

2) Design something that will fill that vacuum happily and without hurting itself

3) Learn about a huge number of breeds so you can understand what it’ll take to create your new breed without destroying the world in a hail of brimstone

4) Breed your first set of litters. Discard 19 out of 20 dogs, keeping only the ones that are the best at doing their job and are built so they have the least chance of hurting themselves.

5) Repeat, but don’t let your COI go above ten percent or so.

6) When your new breed is producing consistently and you no longer need to add any other breeds but can still keep your COI under ten percent, discard 9 out of 10 dogs.

Yeah, I can see how that is EXACTLY what the doodle breeders are doing. She said, so rich in sarcasm that it made her lips feel like she had just eaten raw pineapple.

It’s not a complicated recipe. But it’s a hard one, and people instinctively hate hard stuff. They want to pat themselves on the back for creating a new breed when all they’ve done is make some poorly bred mixes that have no job and are not built well.

So – do I have my nose in the air and a chip on my shoulder about “new breeds”? Actually, no – you should hear me squeal when I see a Podengo at the shows. I LOVE seeing something I’ve never seen before. But you’ve got to make it a BREED, not a crappy mix. Crappy mixes deserve all the nose-in-the-air and shoulder chips they can get.

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.


Responsible Breeding

Cardigan puppy socialization

If you look at the Cardigan breed across the entire world, let’s be honest with ourselves. They’re a spooky, shy mess. They can’t stand still on the table, they flinch when you reach for them, they hide in corners when you walk in the room. They get a panicked note in their barking when they see strangers.

I believe, ONE HUNDRED MILLION PERCENT, that this is NOT genetic. I believe it’s because most Cardigan breeders don’t socialize their puppies the way you have to socialize a super smart, sensitive, incredibly intuitive, vibey herding dog like a Cardigan.

Socialization has never been preached in the Cardigan world the way it has been in other breeds. Maybe it’s because they’re more rare, or because they’re small enough that a spooky one can be safely managed at home without hurting people. Whatever it is, I see far too many entire litters of puppies kept in ex pens in the corner of the kitchen until they’re five months old and the breeder finally decides to get one or two of them out. There might be a flurry of activity in the week around the puppy party/evals, but after that the puppies meet nobody except family for weeks and weeks on end.

OK – here’s how it should be done, based on every scrap of evidence and data on behavioral success:

Read this link. Now read this link (Chapter 3 is the one I am talking about – the whole thing is well worth reading, but the section that basically addresses “How your breeder should have raised your puppy” is the most important for this discussion).

From the first:

…socialization with an average of 100 different people, of all ages, sizes and shapes, before they go home… daily woods walks from six weeks on… beach walks… swimming…

From the second:

How to Select a Good Puppy
Your prospective puppy should feel thoroughly at ease being
handled by strangers—you and your family. The puppy should
be fully desensitized to sounds before he is four weeks old.
Likewise, his housetraining program should be well underway,
his favorite toy should be a chewtoy (stuffed with puppy chow),
and he should happily and eagerly come, follow, sit, lie down,
and roll over when requested. If these are not so, either your
puppy is a slow learner or he has had a poor teacher. In either
case, look elsewhere.
An essential ingredient of puppy husbandry is regular (several
times a day) handling, gentling, and calming by a wide variety of
people, especially children, men, and strangers. These exercises
are especially important during the early weeks and especially
with those breeds that are notoriously tricky when handled by
strangers—that is, several Asian breeds, plus many herding,
working, and terrier breeds: in other words, most breeds of dog!
The second most important quality in any dog is that he enjoys
interacting with people, and specifically that he enjoys being
handled by all people, especially children, men, and strangers.
Early socialization easily prevents serious adult problems.
Please remember, the single most important quality for a dog
is to develop bite inhibition and a soft mouth during puppyhood.

I have done the above programs for all of my Cardigan litters so far (I did it with the Danes before that). IT IS A FULL-TIME JOB. I am not exaggerating; I found it completely incompatible with working. In my last litter, a family situation kept me from having people come visit puppies. I had to bring every single puppy out with me and find 100 people before they were eight weeks old. I did it (thank God for the holidays), but it about killed me.

It’s also impossible to do solo, once the puppies hit eight weeks and should be experiencing all the things by themselves rather than with their litter. It is killer difficult to find a hundred people – there’s no way you can find four hundred. You’ve GOT to get the puppies out of your home and into new homes or socialization placements (Amanda, Brittany, Bri, and the others, you know how much I adore you).

I cannot do it well and be a great show breeder. I’m third-tier at best and I’ll never be above that. Cardigans cannot be well evaluated at 8 weeks because of the weird growth of a dwarfed dog and because fronts and turnout will fool you. There’s no reliable “puppy puzzle” type eval for Cardigans. You get some idea at 8 weeks, more at 12, and the final decision might be made at six to twelve months. If you get them out the door, you can’t keep them long enough to evaluate a bunch and keep only the one who is going to go great guns in the ring.

But, I would strongly argue, our ambition to be better show breeders MUST take a back seat to this need. There’s nothing wrong with our dogs; it’s our fault that they have this reputation. When are we going to have as much peer pressure to socialize and consistently produce friendly, confident dogs as we do to finish our dogs in the ring? Because until we do, we’re not going to shake this, and it’s bad for our dogs. They don’t live as happy life as they should if they’re meeting every activity with an immediate fear reaction. If it has to be an either-or choice, either socialize well or consistently succeed in the breed/group/BIS ring, which is our responsibility?

Responsible Breeding

How short for dog toenails?

I asked this on Facebook, but I am going to ask here as well because I would love to get opinions.

I usually tell puppy buyers to keep puppy nails “hidden in the hair,” meaning that no part of the nail shows when the dog is standing normally. Cardigans are so vulnerable to their feet getting flattened and turned out (and nails are a big part of that) that I am super careful about length.

But recently I began to wonder if I was saying the right thing, or putting it correctly. After all, there are some that have very fluffy feet and some whose owners think that as long as some part of the nail is hidden it’s OK. What’s the best way you’ve been able to impress on your owners that nails MUST stay short?

Responsible Breeding

Is the dog fancy at a tipping point?

Meriscan 1

This blog post is making the rounds, and is being passed along from person to person on Facebook and so on. It makes some good points, and has some decent advice, but I think the attitude is totally wrong. COMPLETELY. Because it’s one more post talking about how fantastic we all are and how we’re being victimized by the evil animal rights movement that doesn’t understand us and they’ve turned the public against us.

Dude, the public understands us a little better than anybody would like to admit. And when (or if) the dog fancy goes toes-up in twenty years, the fingerprints on the knife will be OURS. So is the dog fancy at a tipping point? Absolutely. The problem is, most dog breeders are standing on the heavy end screaming at the people trying to cling to the light end that they’re abandoning the cause.

Let’s look in the mirror, people.

1) We’re insufferable snobs.

The last time somebody showed you their new puppy, that little yellowish beagle mix, did you feel, with every bit of your heart, the squeee of happiness that you’d feel if somebody showed you the offspring of two BISS winners?

You know you didn’t. Now why?

Don’t say “Because I’m so concerned about health.” PLEASE. That beagle mix is going to live longer than virtually 100% of show-bred Goldens, going to have a lower chance of autoimmune disorders than any show-bred Portuguese Water Dog, going to have better back health than my Cardigans.

Don’t say “Because I’m worried about the breeder not being a good person.” You know perfectly well that you hate Sharon’s GUTS and think she should BURN on some VOLCANIC ACID and she pimps out her stud dogs like a NUTCASE and you wouldn’t ask her for water in a DESERT. At least that’s what you told your friend ringside last week.

Heck, we’re so terrible that the last time you paged down your Facebook feed, you saw a beautifully bred bitch puppy with a white face (or substitute any mismark or cosmetic “automatic pet” thing that works for your breed), and you said in your heart, “Oh well, too bad.”

You, my friend, are holding a bag you got in a special advance advance lookbook show at Hermes, after which you side-hugged Esteban and both of you made happy little mouth shapes at the new lining this year; isn’t it wonderful what L. is up to this season? … and, right now, while your fingers are sliding just a bit up and down the stitching, somebody just showed you a Walmart clutch and asked you to say nice things about it. Or you see somebody holding an “irregular.”

We’re AWFUL. We need to stop loving our incestuous little group of perfect dogs and JUST FRELLING LOVE DOGS. We can still own dogs, still show them, still breed them. Go to Hermes and bring home the bag that your heart dreams of. But for pete’s sake, high-five somebody who has a different bag. Talk about how fantastic it is that dogs exist, their great souls, their beauty. Tell that person that you’re picking them up next week so they can visit Rally class. Tell them that  there’s a tracking club in the county. Help them feel their baby’s belly and write down the right worming medication. Give them your business card and tell them to call you anytime. And if you feel tempted to point out to them even one single thing that’s “wrong” with their puppy, SHUT IT.  If you can keep it shut for a full year, I guarantee you’ll see that owner in the vet’s office and her puppy will be neutered and she’ll be planning her next puppy (probably from you). But don’t just do it because it’s good for the fancy – shut the heck up because you have no right to disvalue her dog. You’d go in a cage match to defend your BISS winner’s honor – give her the same respect.

2) We hate science.

We HATE IT. We are the worst set of knowledge-phobic fundamentalist crackpots you’re ever like to meet.

The basic attitude of the entire dog fancy is that if it was current science in 1890, it’s still acceptable now. Anything else must be thrown out because it threatens our ability to breed dogs.

So Dogsteps? Fabulous. Still called “cutting edge,” 130 years after the technology of gait analysis was developed. Freaky German breeding legends like male-line grandfathers to granddaughters being great breedings? Eaten with a spoon. Color genetics? Don’t upset me with facts; I only believe what I was told. Hip dysplasia beyond the OFA view? Fingers in the ears. Population ecology? How dare you even mention the word.

I’ve never had people get as frothing-mouth furious at me as when I post a peer-reviewed study reference. I honestly think I could put up a picture of me naked and eating a live rabbit and I would not get the total and utter fury I get when I DARE to say that scientists have been looking at this over and over and over again for the last 40 years and every single study says we’re wrong.

WE MUST HAVE THE COURAGE TO BE RESPONSIBLE TO THE TRUTH. We are being absolutely ridiculously asinine about this. It is NOT going to hurt our ability to breed good dogs to say that we have stuff to learn from research. All it’s going to do is HELP US. We won’t waste so many breedings, we will create dogs that live longer and healthier, we will have happier and longer relationships with our owners.

3) We hate each other.

Oh my GOSH do we hate each other. The behavior I’ve seen this year in terms of personal attacks and even outright threats in public forums (not even mentioning private ones) is horrifying. I’m not going to take any more time explaining this one, because any dog breeder reading this should know what I am talking about. If the dog fancy spent even one percent of the time in public outreach that it spends trying to insinuate without ever mentioning her name that Judy’s dogs produce bad underjaws, we’d be the most beloved group in the US.

4) We’ve kept breeding dogs a rich man’s game.

Everybody in the dog world except show breeders understands how wrong this is. That’s why dog parks, dog playdates, dog coats and clothes, groomers, and a hundred other facets are thriving, while we’re dying and withering and growing old and fat. Everybody I know spends more on their dogs than I do, and everybody that I know spends less on their dogs than I do. I can’t buy the cute coats, the new beds, the nice crates every year… because a single show weekend costs so much that one more time, the bed goes in the wash instead of in the trash. Think about every breeder you know – most are close to penniless. Most show crates are rusty. They skimp on dog food and buy the crap stuff so they can enter next weekend. Meanwhile, their town just effortlessly raised two million dollars to make a dog park, and every vendor in town will be there with samples.

This is utterly upside-down and backwards. Dog shows began as a hobby for the idle rich or gentleman farmers who were selling pet puppies to an eager middle class. If you want to build an organization on that assumption (and we did, and we named it AKC), fine, but it needs to change when the breeders are now the middle class and the pet buyers are invariably better off. The AKC is convinced the solution is to make us pay MORE – make us Breeders of Merit if we promise to register every puppy. Give us new titles and new shows so we will enter more. Is that the right way? Or are we going to continue to shrivel?

Here’s the end of my story:

I am the person who sighs at the white-headed bitch.

I am the person who barely manages to smile at the beagle puppy. Of course I am.

But I am going to try like all-frelling HELL to stop being that person. I want my fingerprints off the knife.