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Responsible Breeding

Selling puppies

As a show breeder, can I refuse to sell puppies to homes that I don’t feel comfortable with because they have behavior or belief differences? Can I legally avoid selling to LGBTQ, Muslim, recent immigrants, etc.?


Many of you know that we are strong and committed evangelical Christians in this house. We’re very definitely not afraid of speaking out about issues that might be controversial or “not politically correct.” And we believe that the top priority for all breeders must be to ensure that each puppy goes to a home that is, above all, safe, predictable and consistent, supportive, and loving. We also think that it’s very important for owners to be compatible with us as breeders, so they will seek out our advice as the puppy grows and they need us to support them. So, having said that,


No, you colossally bigoted piece of caliginous junk. 



And if you try, I hope you get sued so hard you NEVER BREED AGAIN, you enormous used kleenex.

Peace out.

harlequin merle cardigan corgi puppy
Dog Health, genetics, Responsible Breeding

Merle genetics for Cardigan Welsh Corgi breeders, 2015

It’s obvious that there is a lot of bad information out there – and a real lack of GOOD information – about breeding merles. What I am going to write is applicable to almost all merle breeds, but I am going to write here as a Cardigan breeder, knowing what I know about Cardigan pedigrees.

I want to get one thing out of the way immediately: I am, personally, very much pro-merle (as a color throughout dogdom) and I am not automatically against double-merle breedings. I think the best breeding rules are the ones that tell clubs to get the heck out of the way and let breeders do the best breedings they can.

Having said that, I believe that every breeder deserves to understand what’s going on so she can make her own decisions, not follow mine. And if genetic information is going to be shared, it has to be accurate. 

I am marking this with the year in its title so that, if it is dug up in the years to come, somebody reminds me to come refresh it with the newest information. It is, however, current as of this day, this month, and this year.

What the heck IS merle?

Merle is a mutation in the SILV gene, called PMEL more accurately. PMEL is an important gene area for all kinds of colors in many animals; different mutations in PMEL create white chickens, silver horses, and silver dun cattle, among others.

Merle works by disrupting a certain stage in the formation of melanin. That’s how it changes pigment from its solid state to either white (if the mutation is present in its homozygous state, also called “double merle”), or to an intermediate color somewhere between white and the solid color on the dog. This intermediate state creates the “blue” of a blue merle or the creamy tan of a red/chocolate merle, and also lightens brindle and red/sable. 

Every merle mutation carries with it a “tail,” a stretch of about 100 base pairs (a base pair is the linkage between T and A, or between C and G, that you learned about in junior high). That tail is fragile and often breaks. If it breaks shorter than about 65 base pairs, the cell it’s in doesn’t become merle; it stays fully colored.

Because this tail is so long, and it’s quite fragile, it breaks a LOT, and everywhere it breaks becomes a black patch. So when you see those black patches on your merle dog, they’re where, when the cell was first developing, way back when the puppy was an embryo, that tail broke off and the cell looks and acts non-merle.

What about double merle?

In a double merle dog, the action of the mutation is not affected by the non-merle gene, so you don’t see the intermediate state (the silver/grey in a black-based merle). You see a much more complete interruption of melanin formation = a mostly white dog. But the causative factor is the same; it’s an interruption of the way melanin is formed. It’s not, and never would be, a “bleaching” of existing melanin, a white “spot,” a destruction of cells, etc. 

What’s the deal with deafness? Do white ears or white skin inside the ears on a merle or double merle mean the dog is deaf?

What creates deafness in merle and double merle dogs is NOT white skin! That’s like saying that spaghetti causes sauce. You have to go back into the “recipe” to understand where BOTH are coming from. 

Melanin-producing cells don’t just create skin color. They also create certain aspects of the ear and the eye. In the ear in particular, they keep the cochlear hairs healthy. When they are malfunctioning, these hairs die and the dog is deaf.

From LSU:

“The deafness, which usually develops in the first few weeks after birth while the ear canal is still closed, usually results from the degeneration of part of the blood supply to the cochlea (the stria vascularis). The nerve cells of the cochlea subsequently die and permanent deafness results. The cause of the vascular degeneration is not known, but appears to be associated with the absence of pigment producing cells (melanocytes) in the blood vessels. All of the function of these cells are not known, but one role is to maintain high potassium concentrations in the fluid (endolymph) surrounding the hair cells of the cochlea; these pigment cells are critical for survival of the stria. “

You can have COMPLETELY WHITE SKIN, including surrounding and inside the ear, and entirely normal hearing – because hearing does not come from skin cells. It comes from the cells that feed the cochlear hairs, and those are not skin cells. 

Conversely, you can have absolutely black ears, black hair and skin, and no hearing, because (again) hearing does not come from skin cells.

The fact that skin color is not the same as functional hearing is also why a small proportion of NORMAL merles (single merles, not double) have pigment-related hearing loss. If the merle gene affects enough of the cells that eventually become the ones that feed cochlear hairs, those hairs can be starved and die. Thankfully, it’s pretty rare. Single-merle-related deafness is pretty much invisible in a merle breed, because it’s almost always unilateral and so the dog functions normally. But we shouldn’t pretend that we never have deaf single merles; the evidence is entirely against us.

What creates heavily marked merles versus lightly marked ones?

This is not something that is known for sure, but the working hypothesis is that lightly marked merles have longer and/or more stable tails, and heavily marked merles have shorter and/or more unstable tails. The more often the tail breaks off below that magical 65 base pair length, the more spots the dog will have.

I would also hypothesize  – and this is my personal belief, not backed up by research – that the timing of the tail breakage has something to do with it. The cells that will create the skin and hair of the dog start off smaller in number and then multiply, of course, as do all embryonic cells. If the tail breaks when there are relatively few cells, meaning that the broken-tail cell goes on to make many billions of eventual adult cells, that might create the very large patches we see. Tails that break later in the process would create small patches. But, again, that’s my personal guess.

What about cryptic merles?

Well, that depends on what cryptic means to you.

If cryptic means that the dog IS merle but it’s very heavily patched with black, so heavily that the merle is visible only on, say, a cheek or on a bit of one leg – that’s just an extremely heavily marked merle. So you’d go back to the above explanation, where a lot of those tails broke off during the development of the puppy.

There are two other, less commonly used by breeders, definitions of cryptic merle, which deserve to be explained. But you should not take my explaining them as a reason to think that they’re common or they’re going to happen to you. They are phenomena that you are very unlikely to see in your lifetime with Cardigans.

The genuine, real cryptic merle is called Mc (for merle, cryptic) is a normal merle gene minus much of its tail. It occurs spontaneously in multiple breeds when the tail breaks off the merle gene very, very early, even in the sperm or egg cell that eventually goes on to make the puppy. These dogs will be entirely solid, without a hint of merle, but still have the mutated PMEL that means they are merle.

Is Mc the “bogeyman” we’ve all been so afraid of, where using one will result in unforseen double merles? No. An Mc dog will produce like a non-merle in every way, including when bred to a regular merle. A M/Mc puppy may have some additional white, or its color may be a little funky, but often it’s completely normal looking. And M/Mc is not associated with deafness or other issues.

Can Mc revert to a long tail and become merle again? I’ve seen it mentioned in the literature as a possibility, but I think it is a guess by researchers. I don’t believe a reversion has ever been recorded in the literature (if you know of a case study please show me so I can fix this).

Why are some merles so brown and others are light powder blue?

There are a few things going on that can explain this well-known phenomenon.

First, a dog who would have been quite red if it was a non-merle – the tris that have extremely red undercoat and red shafts to their black hairs, or the brindle-pointed blacks that have a lot of brindle visible in the hair – will have very red-tinged merle. The red/yellow pigment – the phaemelanin – is not affected by merle as much as the black pigment. So red will survive the merleing process and look very obvious on the resulting merle dog.

Second, the merle gene itself – and here I am not talking about the tail alone – is an odd kind of mutation called a transposable element, or retrotransposon. It’s not a stolid, predictable, old mutation like “dominant black,” which always does the same thing. It’s a young, rebellious, unpredictable mutation that changes, mutating within itself, creating new and different versions all the time. Those different versions create various shades and effects of merle, from very heavy and muddy all the way to so light that the color between the black patches is actually gone and the dog is white and black instead of silver and black. Some secondary mutations create dogs that are simply grey, no black at all. Others place a patchwork of colors and white that is so striking that it gets its own name, tweed. So when you see a particularly odd merle, especially if it is visibly passed along from parent to puppy, you can often blame one of those secondary mutations.

(By the way, I have seen all of the above – the no-spot, white, and tweed merles – in Cardigans.)

What about “harlequins”?

There are two mechanisms that create harlequin, which is a merle with very little or no color between the black patches. Harlequins in Great Danes are created by the combination of a merle mutation and a completely separate mutation, called H for harlequin. When H is present in a non-merle, it’s invisible, but when it occurs in a merle it erases the color between the patches and creates a harlequin.

The second, and much more common (not in numbers of dogs, but in “how often it has happened in the history of merles”), mechanism is found in non-Dane breeds. In these breeds a mutation within the merle gene itself erases the intermediate form of the color and creates a white and black dog. There are multiple known mutations that do this, and there will likely be many more discovered.

In non-Danes, the mutated merle is passed along by the parent. So an oddly colored merle – whether harlequin or tweed or muddy or whatever – will generally create more of itself. These mutations can therefore be traced through pedigrees… at least until the merle gene mutates again!

Can merle be “carried”? Can it be hidden in a pedigree?

Most breeders use “carry” to mean that the dog is not a color, but has the ability to produce that color. We often say that our reds and brindles carry black, for example, or that our brindles carry red.

If that’s what you mean by carry, then no. Merle can never be carried. Every dog who has a merle gene IS merle. There is never any such thing as a dog who passes along merle to its children but is not merle itself.

The only way merle can hide in a pedigree is if the dog is both merle and ee red. Because merle affects black pigment but spares red/yellow pigment, and ee red dogs have no black hairs and only red/yellow hairs, they can BE merle without LOOKING merle. They are not carrying it; they are still very much merle. But they don’t have the big visible patches.

For this reason, if you have en ee red Cardigan who had one or more merle parents (including ee red merles), it would be smart to gene test it before breeding if you are considering breeding it to a merle. You want to know if your ee red is also a merle, in that case. If your ee red had non-merle, non-ee-red parents, then there is no way it can possibly be merle and you do not have to worry.

What does all that mean? The short story is that if you have bred two known non-merles, the likelihood that a puppy will be merle is INCREDIBLY SMALL. It approaches zero for most breeders.

My dog doesn’t look merle, but he’s got mottled ears. Are these spots on my Cardigan’s white ears, or these spots in his collar or on his face and feet, evidence of merle?

Most likely, no. If your puppy was born without those spots, ABSOLUTELY NO. Cardigans also have a type of marking called ticking, which is spotting that appears on white areas of the hair in the weeks and months after a puppy is born. Sometimes that ticking can be so heavy that it joins together and looks like a merle patch, but merle patches are there when the puppy is born. And, of course, if neither parent is merle, you don’t have to worry even if the spots look a little weird.

Was the Cardigan originally merle or did someone cross a sheltie or collie in?

The original color of the Cardigan was known to encompass “brindle, brown, gold, tri-color, merle,” according to Mrs. Bole, and “yellow,” “blue and grey merle,” and “most frequently a … golden brown merle” (a brindle or sable merle) according to Mr. Lloyd-Thomas. So merle is very definitely an original color of the breed, and was bred frequently in its sable and brindle forms as well as in its black-based “blue” forms.

As a note, isn’t it interesting to see “brown” and “grey” mentioned? From those narratives and from the existence of dogs like Farlsdale’s Silver Smoke, we know that chocolate and slate are also original colors and not evidence of crossbreeding either historic or modern.

Why do people say that merle disappeared and was rediscovered in Cardigans?

Merle never disappeared in the Cardigan, but the black-based blue merle did indeed go away, for about twenty years, from the 1930s to the 1950s.

Since by the 1930s the breed was only ten or twenty years out of the hills from whence it had come, it was very vulnerable to the preferences of the handful of people who had them. There were very few breeders at that time, and they were shouldering the task of keeping the breed going both in the UK and in the US. There was little or no market for show puppies, so generally if the breeders themselves did not keep the dogs for breeding they were never bred.

Mrs. Wylie, in the UK, had been committed to the merle color, and had many lovely dogs. But with her death, especially since she had not spread her dogs around, the black-based “blue” merle disappeared from view.

About twenty years later, the color “reappeared” from reds and brindles.

The key to understanding how this happened is to realize that lumped in with “red” were (and still are) what some breeders called “pale red” and Lloyd-Thomas had called “gold.” In other words, ee reds, which we colloquially call pink. As I said above, dogs who are ee red can also be merle, and still remain (visibly) red. And for those two decades they had indeed stayed red, and thus progressed through pedigrees for several generations.

But, interestingly, the breeders still knew what they were. Those interested in producing black-based merles again were told that these “reds with blue eyes” (ee red merles), when bred to other colors, would make blue merles. So even with the limited knowledge of color genetics of the time, there was no mystery about the fact that ee red and merle could coexist and be used to produce black-based blue merles. And, in fact, that’s exactly what happened.

I’ve heard that “pinks” are a terrible threat to the breed because they hide merle.

You may have a clue about what I am going to say based on the last paragraph – but to make it clear, NO. Pink (ee red) can make merle less visible, but knowledge is all that is needed. Whether you call it yellow, as Lloyd-Thomas did, gold as Mrs. Boles did, light red as is often recorded in pedigrees, or our current pink, ee red is a common and original color in the breed. And it was handled (and, I might add, valued), in concurrence with merle, by breeders without our current gift of easy color testing. Surely we can expect as much of ourselves, especially since we have gene testing at our fingertips.

If you have a pink you think might be merle, test it. If both parents are non-merle, you don’t have to worry.

I still have more questions. How do I get them answered?

Please put them in the comments. If I can answer them, I will. If I need to send you elsewhere, I’ll be happy to do that too.


Dog Behavior and Training, puppies, Responsible Breeding

How to socialize puppies – for three easy payments.


Sell toys. Sell whelping boxes. Sell your book. Sell your lectures. Do NOT claim that for a mere $69.99, a mysterious door will open and you are going to make us a better breeder than every other breeder – but you won’t tell us why or how… at least not until we give you our paypal. But once you HAVE the paypal, we can be SchmancyBreeders (TM) and SchmancyTrainers (R) that use InterestBoxes (TM) because InterestBoxes (TM) are so much better than a cardboard box and some empty water bottles.

Ian Dunbar has been giving this stuff away for years. Go read Dog Star Daily. Free yourself from (TM)s and (R)s. Introduce your puppies to at least fifty friendly strangers before they leave your house, and tell your buyers that they must meet fifty more before they’re twelve weeks old. STOP raising them in tiny bare x-pens. Make their world rich and interesting and include at least one new surface, challenge, smell, temperature, or other sense per day. Let them get away from their own feces, for pete’s sake. And get them the heck out of your house when they are puppies. Stop keeping half or the whole litter.

You do those things, and you are doing GREAT. If you want to pay a bunch of money to be in a club of people who discuss those things in greater depth, that is AWESOME. Go for it. But don’t think that a paywall makes you a better breeder, or $200 makes your puppies better puppies, than someone with an empty box, some water bottles, and a lap.

cropping, docking, and dewclaws, oh my, Responsible Breeding, Responsible Ownership

Cropping and docking are going away. Which side of history will your breed be on?

Some years ago a fellow came to my office and insisted that he needed to dock the tail of his dog. I asked, “How will your dog be better when it doesn’t have a tail?” He replied, “Well, that’s the standard of gundog owners associations around the world.” I said, “Who cares?”

(Alan Ashton, veterinarian, New South Wales, Hansard, April 06, 2004)

I have a sixteen-year-old daughter who is just about to breed her first litter. She is entering the dog fancy at the very end of two hundred years of show-breeding-based cosmetic surgery in the United States.

By the time she is the age I am now, most of the states in the US will have passed cropping and docking bans. The few states that remain without laws on the books will have no vets who perform the procedures, effectively ending the practice of cropping. A few breeders will still dock at home, but most pet owners will consider the sight of a cropped or docked dog to be unusual, and many will consider it repulsive.

When Honour goes to dog shows with me in 2015, surrounding her are hundreds of cropped and docked dogs. In 2040, assuming she is still in the fancy, there will be few or none.

I can feel you gearing up for an argument about your breed, its history, what’s allowable and what freedom means.

Shut your mouths.

We are beyond arguing about whether cropping or docking are ethical for breeders to do. The argument has already been settled. The veterinary leadership took the position that cosmetic cropping and docking was wrong in the 1970s.1 Since then, its position has only strengthened.2 The rejection of cropping/docking is not confined to the veterinary profession, either – it has moved into the philosophical,3 legal,4 and public perception.5

The veterinary community had a general feeling in the 70s, but science had progressed enough by the 1990s to make researchers certain that dogs did feel pain from both procedures. Again, if you’re taking a breath to say that baby puppies don’t feel pain when they’re docked, you are completely and totally wrong. 6 It’s also false that it’s less painful to dock during puppyhood than amputate in adulthood.7 And if you insist on either one of these things, you are not only perpetuating a falsehood,8 you just make us look even more stupid.9

By 2008, not only was it certain that the procedures caused pain, it was certain that they did not provide anything close to a compensatory benefit. Undocked dogs have very few tail injuries. 10 Cropping does not prevent ear infections.11 The implementation of cropping/docking on “working breeds” is so inconsistent as to be laughable.12 The jig is up; nobody believes you when you say it’s for a working purpose.13

So in 2009, the AVMA released a new policy, one that did not just advise against cropping and docking but condemned it. This policy change was not initiated by any communication with the animal rights lobby;14 it was the result of a genuine groundswell of opinion among the veterinary community.

The show-breeding community is the only group that still wants dogs to be docked or cropped, and we’ve effectively moved (in veterinary perception) from an institution that is somewhat quaint and set in its ways to a source of active cruelty. 15

When I bought my first Great Dane, there were vets in almost every state who would do a decent show crop. An extensive network of home croppers was general knowledge in the community. Fifteen years later, breeders are traveling across half the country to find one of the few vets who will still do a show crop.

This is not a coincidence.

The vets who support breeders’ desire to crop are older; a huge number of them have retired in the last couple of decades. In the next twenty years, virtually all of the remaining show-cropping vets will retire or die. They will not be replaced. And home cropping is now so universally condemned in vet schools that the story of a show cropper who wants assistance to crop at home is used as a test case in veterinary ethics textbooks.16

No matter how much you may try to deny it, the facts are inescapable. No matter how you feel about docking and cropping, they are no longer going to be an option very soon.

So what are you going to do now – as breeders, as parent clubs, as ambassadors of your breed?

Here’s what is NOT going to work:

1) The “Then I’ll take my ball and go home” solution: If we’re not allowed to dock or crop, threaten to stop breeding.

All this would do is confirm to the entire world that the right to be able to cut off pieces of your dogs is more important to you than the dogs themselves. It would be a very public admission of an extremely unattractive attitude, and would turn the public against show breeders with great efficiency.

2) The “Throw lobbying money at it” solution: Insist that this is just “AR nonsense” and that if you give enough money to the NAIA or push the AKC hard enough this will all go away. 

First, the move toward banning docking and cropping is not “Animal rights nonsense.” Not only is it not the result of animal rights lobbying, it is not nonsense. What IS nonsense is saying that cropping and docking don’t hurt dogs. Throwing money at perpetuating nonsense is doomed to failure over the long term, and it should be.

Second, by trying to push this as a legislative agenda, you are positioning show breeders AGAINST the world’s veterinarians and AGAINST the world’s legal ethicists. Is that really a place we want to put ourselves? Or are we dooming ourselves to look abusive and blind when history looks back and considers this question?

Here’s what you SHOULD be doing:

1) Rewrite your standards now, not when you’re forced to. 

Parent clubs have a VERY limited window of time in which to represent a standard change as their own idea and not something rammed down their throats.

2) Publicize your club’s decision.

You have the opportunity to gain a huge amount of goodwill among the decision-makers of the veterinary community, the legislature, and pet owners if you are perceived as being ahead of the curve on this topic. This well of goodwill is getting shallower by the year. Do it now and do it very loudly.

3) Stop making excuses, pull your head out of the sand, wake up and smell the coffee, or whatever cliché makes you change your rhetoric.

There is no rational justification for cosmetic docking and cropping and there never has been. The only situation that made it so easy to perpetuate was a lack of absolute certainty about the causing of pain both immediate and long-term. That era is over.

4) Spend the goodwill and the publicity you gained in step 2 to educate vets and the public on something that’s both defensible AND pro-dog.

“We’re glad to get our breed in the news for this wonderful reason. We want to invite everyone to come out to the shows and see how dedicated our breeders are to the welfare of their breeds.”

“We hope this decision encourages more people to get involved in our wonderful breed; if you’re interested in becoming a responsible breeder, visit our website.”

“We hope this decision affirms our dedication to providing the very best care for all dogs. If you’d like to learn more about evidence-based breeding, including what veterinary interventions we support and which ones we don’t, check out our homepage.”

The bottom line: Now is the time to act. Being truthful, humane, and proactive will, in the public’s eyes, earn us the right to continue to have a voice in the national dialog about dogs. If we reject any of those three principles, we’re proclaiming ourselves to be unreliable, and we will be treated as such when it comes to vital dog arguments in the decades to come.

Notes on the footnotes: None of the sources are from animal rights publications or from the research arm of any animal-rights-oriented institution. They are from mainstream peer-reviewed journals and AVMA publications. The AVMA is not an animal-rights-friendly organization; it actively supports ownership rather than guardianship language, disbudding and dehorning, the use of animals in research, and so on. 

My statements on state cropping/docking bans are based on the rapidly accelerating pace of docking/cropping lawmaking and proposed bans. Test-case laws are being proposed virtually every year, and (as with most sea changes in public perceptions) are likely to succeed in one or more of the New England states, California, or Oregon within the next few years. Vermont already has a sort-of ban, as of 2006 (Vermont didn’t have any vets who would crop, so the ban did not have any teeth, but it was enacted). Once a true ban is enacted, a half-dozen other states will follow quickly, and then the court of public opinion will create a sweep. 

I am leaving the comments open but cautiously. Please do not comment that puppies do not feel pain or are not affected by docking/cropping; I’ve already posted the studies that establish that they do. Any statement of fact in a comment must be backed up by a cite, and the strength of the cites must be high.

  4. “Two recent cases have opened the door to successful animal cruelty prosecutions for ear cropping and tail docking. First, in Hammer v. American Kennel Club, a dog owner brought a discrimination suit against the AKC alleging that a docked tail standard effectively excluded his dog from participating in competitions, as the owner believed tail docking to be a form of animal cruelty. Although the court dismissed the action on the ground that the plaintiff had failed to state a claim for which relief could be granted, and this case had no effect on the previous decision in Rogers , the court did specifically state that the anti-cruelty law could be construed to prohibit tail docking for cosmetic purposes as unjustifiable mutilation. Additionally, in a pointed dissent, N.Y. Supreme Court (Appellate Division) Justice Ellerin states, “Assuming arguendo that the protection of hunting dogs against tail injuries justifies docking the tails of hunting dogs, it is not a justification for docking the tails of non-hunting dogs . . . for the purposes of AKC competitions.”
  5. From a very lay-oriented article in WSJ: “Some dogs growl before biting and some don’t; the canine body speaks louder than the voice. That is why dogs whose tails are docked or ears cropped lose some of their linguistic fluency.”
  6. Noonan G, Rand J, Blackshaw J, et al. Behavioural observations of puppies undergoing tail docking. Appl Anim Behav Sci 1996;4: 335-342. Also Fitzgerald M. (1994). – The neurobiology of fetal and neonatal pain. In A textbook of pain (P.D. Wall & R. Melzack, eds), 3rd Ed. Churchill Livingstone, Edinburgh, 153-163
  7. “It has also been suggested that accidental tail trauma to the adult dog causes more suffering than amputation early in life. However, puppies are rarely provided analgesia when their tails are docked and the short-and long-term effects of painful procedures in neonates of many species are well documented.” LaPrarie JL, Murphy AZ. Long Term Impact of Neonatal Injury in Male and Female Rats: Sex Differences, Mechanisms and Clinical Implications. Frontiers in Neuroendocrinology 2010;31:193-202.
  8. “A survey conducted in Australia in 1996 found that 76% of veterinarians surveyed believed that tail docking causes significant to severe pain, with none believing that no pain is experienced. In contrast, 82% of dog breeders believed that docked puppies experience no, or only mild pain.” Bennett and Perini, “Tail docking in dogs: a review of the issues,” Australian Veterinary Journal, April 2003, vol. 81, no. 4, p. 209.
  9. “Indeed, whereas most veterinarians state that tail docking causes significant or severe pain and should not be continued (despite its potential as a source of income), most breeders believe that docking is not painful or causes little pain, and want it to continue. It is reasonable to assume that veterinarians, being in closer contact with animals that are suffering through being ill or wounded, are better informed on tail damage than breeders. Moreover, veterinarians are trained to recognise typical pain behaviour, and this recognition significantly increases the ability to distinguish between painful and less painful treatments, for instance in rats (44). Such divided opinions raise questions about the vested interests of the breeders, the breed societies which set the breed standards and the information which they distribute to their members and elsewhere.”
  10. “These justifications for docking working dogs’ tails lack substantial scientific support. In the largest study to date on tail injuries in dogs the incidence was 0.23% and it was calculated that approximately 500 dogs need to be docked to prevent one tail injury.”   Diesel G, Pfeiffer D, Crispin S, et al. Risk factors for tail injuries in dogs in Great Britain. Vet Rec 2010;166:812-817.
  11. “Otitis externa incidence, however, is most closely associated with particular breeds within each group (whether ears are hanging or erect), and is especially prevalent in Cocker Spaniels, Poodles, and German Shepherd Dogs. … (But) no group deems a high incidence of otitis externa a valid reason for advocating routine cropping of the ears of Cocker Spaniels or Poodles. … Breeds such as Cocker Spaniels seem to be predisposed to otitis externa due to a greater density of apocrine glands and a predisposition to proliferative ceruminous gland hyperplasia (i.e., proliferation of cells) and ectasia (i.e., dilation or distension). This clustering of risk factors suggests the risk of otitis externa in pedigreed dogs must be considered on a breed-by-breed basis, and that grouping study samples by ear shape (e.g., pendulous or erect) may not be justified”
  12. “Differences between breeds that are docked and those that are not are often minor.  For example among the very similar Pointer, German Longhaired Pointer and German Shorthaired Pointer, only the German Shorthaired Pointer is traditionally docked.”
  13. “Based on current knowledge and ethical considerations, authors of many previous articles, as well as official veterinary associations, have concluded that tail docking cannot be considered as a prophylactic measure to prevent damage caused by practices such as hunting. From an ethical point of view, these articles and opinions examine which item carries most weight: the suffering of the whole newborn population of traditionally docked breeds or the pain felt by the few individuals possibly requiring an amputation in adulthood.”
  14. “How it came about: The AVMA position on Ear Cropping and Tail Docking of Dogs, most recently approved in 1999, was up for evaluation by the Animal Welfare Committee as part regular reviews of all AVMA policies by their oversight councils and committees. “The reason this came up is because of the review requirement. We were not approached by the HSUS; we were not approached by PETA; nor did anyone else call to ask us to change the policy,” Dr. Golab said.
  15. “I think we can all agree that snipping off puppies ears and tails serves no purpose other than to satisfy some archaic notion of how a dog should look by an out-of-touch institution.”
  16. “A local schnauzer breeder with whom you have worked for the last five years wants to buy a bottle of Innovar-vet…”
Responsible Breeding

On structure


If you can draw a straight line from the ears to the front feet, it doesn’t matter how good a layback you have or how nice a return of upper arm. The dog’s front is seriously faulty, and it’s both a functional fault and a breed type fault. We can’t create length or reach by pushing the front up under the neck. A line drawn up from the middle of the front leg should go through the body and into the air. The more it goes into the neck, the more forward and therefore faulty the set of the front is.


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.