Breeding to Better the Breed
by Judy Voran, Strawberry Boxers
There has been a lot of good discussion lately [on
the Boxer Mailing List] about responsible breeding. A number of posts have talked
about not breeding unless you intend to better the breed. That's a pretty nebulous
concept. If you are a novice who wants to consider breeding and people tell you that
breedings should only take place when the breeder intends to better the breed--exactly
what do they mean?
I'm going to try to take a stab at defining this. It will probably be long
and I'll divide my definition into several messages. This is my definition, and I offer it
only for what it is worth.
First I think that we have to consider that making a decision to breed two
dogs is a private decision with public consequences. There is no licensing agency which
awards a license to breed to an individual based on demonstrated knowledge or
competencies. No governmental agencies, no recognized kennel associations. However, the
results certainly impact the public. Unwanted dogs and cats are killed by the thousands
each year by the animal control agencies. The attempt to rescue and place in quality homes
even a small percentage of unwanted dogs and cats overwhelms the people who have committed
themselves to this cause.
So, the decision to breed is an individual one. It's also one with a
certain amount of emotional overtones as is evidenced by the intensity of discussion about
breeding on the BML and other lists. I think it's also important to realize that of the
number of people who breed their dogs each year, only a small percentage even take into
account that breeding dogs might have ethical considerations. Our discussions are
meaningless or beside the point to a very large proportion of people who deliberately
breed or carelessly allow breedings to take place.
The emotional issues revolve around the love people have for their dogs
and the fact that, for many people, their dogs are an extension of themselves. So if
someone is told that their dog may not be a good candidate for breeding, that's not just
an insult to the dog, it's an insult to them. Beauty is in the eye of the beholder, and
what might be beautiful to the fond eye of the owner, may be, to my supposedly trained
eye, not at all beautiful -- downright ugly, in fact. I've been told many more times than
I care to count that Amber is such a beautiful dog she deserves to be bred. I am looking
at Amber and trying to find something complimentary to say about her. And trying to think
how to gently explain that that roached topline and downfaced muzzle aren't something that
really ought to be perpetuated.
Another argument that I find interesting is the one which says -- well, I
know my dog is not the most beautiful specimen around, but lots of people out there just
want a good dog and they don't want to pay an arm and a leg for it. You breeders just want
to keep the supply low and jack the price up.
Which brings up the subject of money. I've talked to a lot of breeders and
have our own experience to go by, and I don't see that there is any money to be made in
breeding dogs if you are breeding to better the breed. You have health test and health
care costs, feeding quality food costs, providing quality housing costs. You are willing
to keep the puppies however long it takes to find the right homes, and you are willing to
take puppies or older dogs back in the sad event that despite your best efforts, the
family and the dog don't fit. And none of this lends itself to profit.
On to the next message and my thoughts on what knowledge and information
goes into breeding to better the breed.
When a person is breeding to better the breed I think that person needs to
have a goal in mind. What's important to you in the Boxer breed? Health, temperament,
trueness to Boxer type might be starters. So an individual needs to do some study, reading
and talking to people on these subjects.
Where do Boxers come from? How did the breed come to be what it is today?
Is the breed going to hell in a handbasket? You can get some pretty intense discussions
going in answer to the last two questions among people who feel that US breeding, in
particular, is destroying the Boxer as a working dog. One feeling is that US emphasis on
show dogs vs obedience or schutzhund dogs as breeding stock is producing an effete Boxer
which isn't fit to perform the original functions of the breed.
The Boxer standard as illustrated by Eleanor Linderholm, published by the
American Boxer Club and sanctioned by the American Kennel Club does have a clear
definition of Boxer appearance and does briefly mention temperament and no discussion of
health issues. It provides the clearest visual model to which breeders may turn in
deciding the goal towards which they are aiming in a breeding program. The illustrated
Boxer standard appears on the ABC home page. There is every opportunity to" read,
mark, and inwardly digest" it. The Boxer Blueprint by Danny and Jean Buchwald
is another source of excellent information as is Rick Tomita's new book. Enno Meyer did an
excellent interpretation of the early US standard complete with drawings. Don't like to
read? Don't have time? Then perhaps youd better put off breeding until you do.
How can an individual formulate goals for a breeding program without
historical knowledge of the breed? John Wagner's book, The Boxer, gives an excellent
account of the historical development of the breed. Frau Stockmann as the person who,
almost single-handedly, kept the Boxer breed alive and developing in Germany through two
World Wars gives a unique perspective in the English translation of her book, My Life
With Boxers. [Editors note: Cal Gruver has just retranslated and reprinted a
new, enlarged edition of My Life with Boxers. It is available at http://www.akc.org/clubs/abc/abc-home.htm,
and most important, the proceeds from the sale will go to benefit the American Boxer
Charitable Foundation!] John and Maizie Wagner brought some of the best of Friederun
Stockmann's breeding to the US and were fundamental to the development of the breed here.
Rick Tomita's book gives historical background and current international perspective on
the development of the Boxer breed.
Health questions -- not so much discussed in earlier years of
breeding--are taking on much more importance as we now have years of breeding behind us in
the breed and we can identify problems that appear to be problems which particularly
affect the Boxer breed. Boxer cardiomyopathy, aortic stenosis, cancer, hip displaysia are
among those most prominently discussed. If a person conscientiously follows the discussion
of Boxer health issues on the various Boxer lists and forums on the Internet, attends
health symposiums at ABC National and Regional shows, and discusses these and other health
issues with other breeders and competent veterinarians -- that person should have a good
grounding in understanding his/her responsibilities as a breeder breeding to better the
Next, attention has to focus on the individual candidates for the
breeding. Have health tests such as Holter monitoring, echo cardiograms, clearance of hip
dysplasia been done on the individual dogs? "I don't care about that--my dog hasn't
had a cough in years and besides it's too expensive and I don't have the time." Then
perhaps you really don't have time or financial resources to breed.
The medical issues of birth, delivery and aftercare might be mentioned
here. Are you financially able and willing to pay for a c-section if that should be
necessary? Are you ready to pay for leaving the puppies in a neo-natal incubator if that
should be necessary? Are you ready to tube feed and/or bottle feed a multitude of puppies
should the mother not be able to nurse her puppies? Are you ready for weeks of cleaning up
after poopy puppies? Can you take time off from work to whelp and stay with these puppies
for the first critical time after whelping?
Temperament depends largely on two issues -- genetic predisposition and
early development. A dog that is seriously dog or people aggressive, in my opinion, is not
a good candidate for breeding, particularly if it is known that the parents and/or
grandparents had the same problem. Also, a good understanding of the stages of puppy
socialization and the time and facilities to provide that socialization is very important
to the puppy that is to be the companion and best buddy to a person or family for all of
that puppy's life.
There are many books on Boxers and dog rearing in general that can be had
from local bookstores and libraries.
Networking with other people who are recognized to be knowledgeable,
ethical breeders is very important, I think. They can be found on the various Boxer
listserves and forums, at local dog shows, and in many local rescue, animal welfare and
breed clubs. Want to breed? You may find it very illuminating to participate in the local
rescue operations. Virginia Zurflieh and Pat Mullen are publishing a web-based newsletter
on Boxers which in the earliest issues is providing solid information and reporting and is
providing an additional forum for breeding issues.
Knowing the animals behind your breeding candidates on the pedigree
provides a vital perspective on the health, temperament and type questions that a breeder
should be asking about their dogs. As I said in a post much earlier this year, there is,
in my view, an interesting element of anti-elitism that seems to be threading discussions
of breeding. Recognized kennel names are sometimes pooh-poohed, sometimes viewed with
suspicion just because they are well-known: "I don't need to know the ancestors in my
dog's pedigree, I just need to know what my dog is now." My response to that is to
repeat that the pedigree with recognizable kennel names provides a valuable perspective.
There may be some dogs that are known to be cleared of inheritable health conditions or
dogs which should possibly be avoided. If all I can see on a four generation pedigree is
Boffo bred to Buffy or Bruno bred to Amber, I will probably have no idea of the history of
the health of the ancestors or other important things that I should know if I am breeding
to better the breed.
Some final thoughts if you've stayed with me this far. :-) Some reasons
not to breed:
Deciding to breed is, in the final analysis, a private, individual
decision. Time, thought, effort, social conscience, ethical standards, and financial
considerations ought to be a part of coming to that private, individual decision. There
are no licenses granted except by the wider breed community given as recognition of
breeders who produce quality, healthy boxers who stay true to, and improve upon Boxer
When do you know that you're ready to say that you are ready to breed to
better the breed? Probably if you approach the prospect with knowledge, respect and a
little bit of holy awe and a determination that you will stand behind this life you have
made the decision to create, rather than with self-satisfaction and a sense that you know
all the answers, you are getting close to that moment, It is a decision that must be made
between the individual and their God. While you're in the process of making this decision
talk to Her, because if breeders are honest there is a little bit of God playing in the
process of breeding.
The great side of this is that if breeding is done conscientiously to
better the breed there are healthy, happy, beautiful Boxer puppies that look like Boxers,
available to take their place as family friend and protector of hearth and home.
These are my thoughts about trying to define what it means to breed to
better the breed. They should be taken as just exactly that. They are not by any stretch
of the imagination to be taken as complete or definitive.