by Rick Beauchamp
Ive been wondering a
lot lately if the old practice of making a breeding to create "the next step" is
a relic of the past? It appears litters are now bred primarily to get "something to
show." Correctness does not seem to be as much an issue as is the current winning
"look.." There was a day when breeders were so dedicated to their breed that
they were fully prepared to take several temporary steps back in order to give their line
a permanent step forward. This may be another case of "that was then and this is
now," but I hope not.
A number of years back
"chocolate" Cocker Spaniels (actually they are liver colored) were enough to
send chills through the veteran Cocker breeder-narrow muzzles, flat skulls, high-set and
thick ears, yellow eyes. All those faults, along with short necks and buffalo style
shoulders made us wonder just why anyone would want to keep them. One could get correct
type blacks in a litter while the litter mate chocolates were of disastrously poor type.
Still their fanciers persevered and then occasionally a chocolate would come along that
looked somewhat like a Cocker should. Again those that fancied the color kept on.
Eventually there was a crossover-black type, brown color.
It did not happen overnight, and the
percentage of showable specimens resulting from the interim breedings was always small.
But it did happen after sacrificing many generations of "show dogs." Now the
good chocolates can stand along side good ones of any of the varieties. In fact, in my
somewhat experienced opinion, one of the best American Cockers being shown today is, in
fact, a chocolate.
The Long Road Back
There have also been cases in which a
breed, a color or a characteristic has slipped so far away from correct type there has
been nothing available domestically to take it back to the source. The last resort was to
turn to a foreign import to help the breed back to where it should be. "Of
course," you might say, "definitely the smart thing to do." But let us stop
and take a good look at the picture. When a whole breed has gone far afield from its
origins, bringing in something that harks back to where the breed should be takes more
courage than you might imagine. Dont forget, these imports, in some cases
representing what in fact is an entirely different look, will stand out like a sore thumb.
How many of todays exhibitors would be willing to say, "We are all wrong, you
are the only right one"? How many judges are going to take the one dog that is
different from all the rest and acknowledge its correctness? I am afraid anyone who thinks
this courageous step is going to be met by cheering thousands is rather naive. No, the
purist will have to spend several generations working the lost qualities into his line so
that the changes are not too abrupt. He must juggle the good with the bad, the negative
with the positive, what is right with what is wrong. Imagine taking the average good (Is
that an oxymoron? Oh well, you get what I mean!) Boxer from Germany and plunking it down
among the glamorized version of a good many of the Boxers holding forth in America today!
Getting what you want and what is really correct may take far more time, effort (and often
criticism) than that which the modern exhibitor is willing to contend with. Getting where
you want to go is seldom a matter of a single breeding. Let me give you an example.
Those who know the English Springer Spaniel
breed well, know the breed has a myriad of extremely serious genetic problems, some of
which provide a serious threat not only to the breed but to the people who own the breed.
A small group of those devoted to the Springer have turned to English imports to help them
out of the bind they are in. Now, the "English" English Springer Spaniel has a
significantly different "look" than its American cousin. A major difference is
the British concept of rear quarter angulation. Generally speaking, the British tend to
see ideal angulation both in the Springer and most other "well angulated" breeds
corresponding to the line from hock to foot falling just barely behind a line drawn down
from the buttocks. Americans are inclined to see this hock-to-foot line extending
significantly beyond that point. So? A big deal? Actually it is. This gives the British
English Springer an inclination toward a slightly rounded look to the croup and it at
least appears to the American viewer that the rear quarter is turned under the dog
somewhat. Who is right and who is wrong in this case is immaterial. It looks strange and
different and the American breeders who have gone to the English dogs for the many
qualities they can provide must deal with this problem. Out of dedication to their breed
they are doing so. They are willing to take those few steps back to eventually rid their
breed of problems they consider devastating. Not everyone agrees with what they are doing.
Only time itself will prove how successful they have been intheir ultimate goal.
Finding the Formula
The dogs we bred in one of the breeds I was
deeply involved in were very successful for what they were-good silhouette, great angles
fore and aft, beautiful ground-covering profile movement. We bred for that style and we
got it generation after generation. When breeders needed correct balance and proportions
and good movement, they came to us. We had it all, except for one thing-we didnt
have as much of the "pretty" we wanted to go along with it. Dont think for
a moment the dogs werent capable of winning. On the contrary, they won a lot. But
they didnt have quite enough of those "extras" that separate the well made
dog from the typey dog. We were bound and determined we would have both. We tried several
different experimental breedings: a bitch from our line (lets call it "Line A")
to a dog from another line that had the type characteristics we lacked but wasnt
anywhere near our line when it came to style and movement. Lets call that "Line
B." The formula was "Line A bitch X Line B dog" and for the sake of this
article we will call it "Combination 1." Results were less than good. A few of
the offspring that had the type we were after, lacked our movement. Those that maintained
our basic style and movement didnt measure up type wise. The real result read: no
forward progress in the first cross. Next (twice in fact) we tried breeding the other way
around. The two breedings were made with sister bitches we had purchased from Line B to
one of our own dogs (Line A). The formula here was "Line B bitch X Line A male.
" Lets call those two breedings Combination 2a and 2b." The resulting offspring,
while better representing the blend we were after, still did not succeed to any great
degree. We were not ready to give up. We were really convinced the cross-over could be
accomplished. Our next attempt was to breed a bitch from "Combination 1" to a
dog from "Combination 2." No significant results. We again reversed the
procedure and bred a bitch from "Combination 2" to a dog from "Combination
1." Results, while a shade better than the previous attempt, certainly didnt
take us where we wanted to go. Doubt began to set in. Perhaps what we were so positive we
could do just couldnt be done. When asked about our experimental breeding program at
a party one night I said jokingly, "Oh, its going full speed ahead-all down
hill!" While it was funny, the lack of success was beginning to weigh heavily. The
only thing we hadnt tried was mating individuals from Combination 2a and 2b
together. These would be our final attempt we decided. If this wasnt the answer,
there was no answer.
Success At Last
One bitch missed (she proved to be barren),
the other conceived-three puppies. Three of the best puppies we had ever bred! Magnificent
type, lovely balance and the movement which distinguished our line. Of course mother
nature did not give it all to us. The two males turned out to be the largest (a bit too
large) and the smallest (a bit too small) respectively we had ever bred. The perfect size
and exquisite type bitch which we kept for ourselves hated the show ring and never
completed her championship. The dogs did. The large male went to a country where the
bigger dogs are quite popular and he has done exceedingly well there even under judges who
were not particularly fond of his size. Further, he has produced himself over and over.
The small dog went to yet a different country and was not only successful in the ring, he
was an excellent sire as well. We havent bred the bitch from the litter yet but will
shortly. All told from the seven breedings there were twenty five puppies produced over
the several year period. Twenty- two lived to maturity. Of the twenty-two, only five
(including the final three) were shown and four finished. Certainly not a very high
percentage of show dogs but what we wound up with in the end far surpasses anything we had
ever bred previously. Most important, they are producing their own outstanding type and
Breeders who set out to correct a fault or
make improvements in their line, rather than simply accepting it as "part of the
territory," may spend generations doing so. In the end however, the persevering
breeder usually accomplishes his goal. Good breeders not only know which sires are
producing quality, they know which sires are producing quality in one sex or the other.
They are the breeders who make breedings to a get a good bitch or a good dog, depending
upon what they need to go on with. Getting an animal good enough to show is one thing.
Getting one good enough to carry your breeding program, or the breed, one step further
takes time, perseverance and often, brings great disappointment. However, those dogs who
have carried our breeds to greater heights are usually the result of someones being
willing to deal with all these setbacks.