Monday, February 24, 2014

"Why Should I Title My Dog Before Breeding?"

One of the really common refrains that pops up on dog forums, along with "I don't want a show dog, I just want a pet," is "I want to breed my dog because she's the best dog ever and I love her. She doesn't have titles or health tests or any of that fancy stuff, but she's a great dog. How should I get started?"

Usually this is met with some variation of "please don't breed your dog." And usually, honestly, this is the correct answer, because if you have to ask the Internet whether you should breed your dog, 99.9% of the time the right answer is, and should be, "no."

But it's also usually not the answer that the asker wants to hear -- and this frequently results in a fair amount of rage and frothery if they interpret it as an insult to their dog -- and sometimes the answer actually is, or should be, "yes."

There are good dogs out there, particularly in the working breeds, who don't have any conformation championships or performance titles or working certifications for several generations back, or at all. There are sound, strong, intelligent, even-tempered BYB dogs whose genes and talents should not be lost to the breed. Some of these dogs should be bred, and in my opinion it is a mistake to always end the inquiry as soon as the asker reveals that the dog in question doesn't have any titles or health tests.


That doesn't mean the dog shouldn't get titles and breed-appropriate health tests before producing any puppies. In fact, I believe it's even more important when we're talking about a dog who doesn't have any titles for a few generations back in the pedigree. So then the issue becomes, how do you persuade someone that this is necessary, or even important, when they don't want to breed to produce "show dogs" and don't consider themselves "breeders" in any formal sense, but just want to preserve something about this one dog that is special?

I think the answer goes back to why titles and health tests are important in the first place: not so that the owner can charge more for the puppies, and not to show that the dog is "better" than some other dog. You can, if you are sufficiently determined, get titles on dogs who most definitely are not better than average (see Exhibit A: Pongu the Insane, who has many more titles than most actual good dogs).

The point is to signal to other people in the breed world -- puppy buyers and owners of stud dogs, above all -- that this dog belongs to someone who is knowledgeable and passionate about dogs, has tested their own dog's mettle through an objective evaluation process (trialing, showing, or earning work certifications), is serious about their breed, and has decided based on that knowledge, testing, and seriousness that this dog is indeed breedworthy.

And that's important.

Because let's assume, for the sake of argument, that the dog we're talking about is a legitimately great dog that just happens not to have any tests or titles. Let's assume that she has strong genes, is a truly exceptional example of the breed, and should not be lost to the breed pool.

Okay. So the first concern is finding a good stud dog who complements this dog's genetic package. Most responsible owners of proven, tested, high-quality stud dogs will not breed their dog to somebody's untitled, untested family pet. That knocks out a huge percentage of your best matches. Your choices will be narrowed down to commercially motivated owners (who just want the stud fee and don't care if it's a good match or not) and clueless owners who either don't know or don't care enough to restrict their dog's breeding activities.

In either case, your chances of finding the right stud for this dog are decreased -- clueless owners generally aren't going to have access to good bloodlines, and commercial ones don't care whether their particular dog is a good match to yours, so even if they do have good bloodlines (and many don't), they may not match up well to your dog's side of the pedigree. So even if the dog is AWESOME, the odds that her awesomeness will go down to the puppies is substantially reduced, because you will probably be breeding her to a dog with inferior or incompatible genetics.

But let's say you get lucky and manage to score a great stud dog anyway. And you produce a litter of great puppies.

Where do those puppies go? Most owners who are serious about doing something with their dogs -- showing, competing, or working -- won't take puppies out of untitled and unproven parents, because they are typically looking for particular traits in their dogs. Most owners who are educated and concerned about responsible breeding practices won't take them for ethical reasons. So that leaves you with a significantly narrower range of homes that are less likely to be knowledgeable about or involved with the breed.

Let's assume, though, that by luck or hard work you are able to successfully place all of your puppies in loving, caring homes where they are cherished as family pets. None of them has to go to a shelter and none of them winds up in a less-than-stellar living situation. They all get good homes.

How many of those good homes are going to breed them? Probably few to none, because most responsible owners have internalized that you do not breed your untitled, untested family pet. And if they did breed those puppies, then you would have to go all the way back up to the beginning of this post and consider the odds that they'd find decent, compatible studs, suitable homes for their own puppies, etc.

In all likelihood, within one or two generations, you would lose whatever traits made your original dog so special. And that's assuming the line didn't just end with the first generation because all of the puppy owners -- being responsible pet homes -- prevented their dogs from breeding.

IF a dog is truly something special, and IF she is a worthy addition to the breed, then the best way to ensure those genes stay in circulation is to elevate her to the upper echelon of breeding dogs and get her considered by other serious breeders. That means titling and health testing the dog, making connections in the breed world, and expanding your own base of knowledge so that you, the owner, can tell whether your dog is genuinely breedworthy after all.

Without that, the dog's genes are likely to be lost to the breed just as though she'd never been bred at all. And that is its own small tragedy, apart from all the other damage that may come from ill-considered breeding of family pets.

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