Purpose of Breeding
Have you ever thought about what motivates a dog breeder to continue to breed? I’ve often asked breeders this question. Answers are: “I love puppies”, “to make money”, “I need a puppy”, “to improve the breed”. The most common answer I’ve received is “to improve the breed”.
In 2016, I attended the National Bird Dog Championship in Grand Junction, TN. The weekend activities preceding the running of the Championship attracts all the major bird dog trainers, handlers and breeders. One of those individuals I met was Hall of Fame Trainer Hoyle Eaton. I asked Hoyle if he felt the major reason for breeding is to improve the breed. Hoyle’s response surprised me. He said if the purpose of breeding is to improve the breed, we haven’t done a very good job. His explanation was that the bird dogs of today aren’t much better than one hundred years ago. When thinking about Hoyle’s answer, we must remember that Hoyle lived in the world of all-age field trial dogs. These dogs were, one hundred years ago and presently, the best of the best. Within that world, improvements might be slow to develop.
Breeding to improve the breed I feel is a valid reason amongst breeders of more common wild bird hunting dogs; dogs that sleep at the foot of our bed and anxiously look forward to hunting season. Perhaps they’re dogs that are also entered into a local hunt test or field trial. This applies to all the common pointing dog breeds: English pointer, English setter, German shorthaired pointer, Brittany, etc.
So, how does that common pointing dog breeder “improve the breed”? This is a depends question. If the breeder has quality sires and dams, line breeding is acceptable…but not to be overdone. Line breeding is breeding within your own bloodline. Remember, however, with close line breeding, all the good traits will continue; however, undesirable traits will continue to. My father, a veterinarian, felt that there should be at least two generations separating the sire and dam in line breeding. Line breeding has produced untold numbers of high quality pointing dogs. However, the breeder needs to be honest about undesirable traits. Why pass them along in the bloodline? These closed gene pools can later prove to be a threat as many undesirable traits are continued in the breeding process.
Today, most breeding experts will suggest outcrossing to introduce new characteristics or traits into an existing bloodline. Here’s a quote from an on-line article about breeding: When an outcross is practiced right, the gene pool of that bloodline becomes open. This, in turn, increases the chances of the survival and health of the line. The outcross allows in new blood to be explored and the previous errors are fixed by the introduction of new characteristics that were absent in the line previously. The article continues to say: Many breeders are sold on the idea of introducing a new blood line in their line for the sole purpose of removing an undesirable trait that has shown precedence in the current line of breeding.
Another issue with a closed bloodline is what is called inbreeding depression. It means that litters become smaller in number. Outcrossing with a quality sire will usually bring more vigor to a breeding and produce more normal litter numbers.
One characteristic that has been improved over the years is the beauty of our dogs. However, look at what has happened. Beauty has led to taking more of our field dogs to the show ring. That means the field genetics are slowly diminished. My hat is off to all the breeders who have continued to breed for field genetics. That’s why these bird dogs exist. To hunt and work for what they are bred to do.
Copyright 2022 Paul Fuller