Years ago my daughter, Laurie Laventhall, rescued an old Pharaoh Hound bitch from a shelter some distance away from us. The hound had been turned in by an elderly couple who gave no information about her. With help from PHCA Rescue, we were able restore Goldie’s health, but placing an elderly dog is not easy, and we ended up keeping her as one of our own. Goldie lived out her life with us. What bothers me is, why didn’t her owners call her breeder?
The big underlying reason for this — and here’s where we segue into the larger discussion! — is because doodle buyers are pet owners looking for good pets, and doodle breeders are primarily aiming for the pet market in their breeding programs. The Labradoodle might have been invented as a service dog, but very, very few of the people producing those dogs today none, actually, among the ones that I have personally encountered are attempting to breed for that purpose themselves. Their buyers aren’t looking for service or performance dogs, either. Everyone who has ever asked me about a doodle has been looking for a pet.
This is a conversation I had with Facebook friend Jen (who is disabled and has a pedigreed Doberman as her service dog, and a second dog who was taken from a feral pack on Canadian reservation lands). She begins by quoting something told to her by another dog owner:
purebreds have latent anxiety and bad temperaments due to inbreeding
hubby is a vet and he knows!
yep. Cause science.
I pointed out that, if we were to be fair, that it’s true that all pedigreed dogs are to some point inbred (some more than others) because of the existence of closed stud books, and that any pedigreed dog who was the product of anxious parents with poor temperament was likely to be anxious and have a poor temperament, given that we know predisposition for temperament is heritable.
my ‘anxious and poor temperamented purebred’ last night was jogging with me, when a car hit a pothole, blew off its entire axle and wheel went flying
slammed into a car 5m away
that one skidded, hit the pothole, blew its tire
Evan flicked an ear
fireworks were going off over his head so he assumed the kabang was just a loud one
My anxious purebreds are sleeping through fireworks every night
Sarge would have gone Chicken Little on me
We must be doing it wrong
horribly horribly wrong
Evan is more concerned with the parades
he’s wondering if the drunks will invade his yard
Purebreds are so hard
ours must be statistical freaks
Here’s the upside of keeping actual records: human perception is notoriously flawed. In a group of people that is mixed with men and women, when the number of women approaches around 20% of the group, men report that their perception was the numbers are equal for men and women. It’s a failure of perception.
If a client brings in their Flat Coated Retriever and the dog has cancer, the vet will shrug and say, well, you know Flat Coats. But if a client presents a mixed breed dog with cancer, then it’s “just something that happens.” There’s no governing body that tracks adverse health outcomes in mixed breed dogs. We know about the health problems in pedigreed dogs, because they’re counted and tracked.
Jen quotes the conversation with the other dog owner again:
My vet husband sees it every day. The inbreeding inevitably down the line causes problems that actually dont tend to occur in well mixed dogs. Mixes represents the survival of the fittest
I suppose it would be in bad form to point out to this other dog owner that “survival of the fittest” is not used in modern biology because it does not accurately represent the mechanism of natural selection. If a dog is genetically predisposed to a late-age cancer but reproduces before the onset of the cancer, then guess what? His offspring may also have the same genetic predisposition. Whoops.
I guess Sarge is a purebred.
Crap. That means Jackson and Loki are mixes?
Ridgeback x Awesome
Evan is Doberman x Ridiculously Awesome
cause I’m biased
Given the length of the pedigrees for Jackson, Loki, and Evan, really we should say that they’re crossed with Concentrated Awesome, because it just pops up again, and again, and again!
Breeding dogs should not be about using the dogs that belong to your friends, or being involved in a clique that uses a particular circle of dogs, or breeding to the current top-producing sire or breeding to last year’s top winner. If that is how you breed, you are just breeding dogs. Instead, breeding should be based on years spent learning about your chosen breed from knowledgeable mentors who are willing to share; understanding your standard and applying that standard to produce a family of dogs that breed true in type while having a style distinctly their own; and, most importantly, fit the breed standard as closely as possible generation after generation. If this is how you are breeding dogs, then you are a dog breeder.
Eventually the interviewers were allowed to peek into the largest outbuilding, where most of the Century Farm dogs are housed. The “only difference” between the whelping building and this larger outbuilding was, according to the interviewers, the number of dogs housed in the structure. This so-called “Honeymoon Suite” where the dogs were “bein’ bred” smelled strongly of urine, and the level of barking was so severe that the radio producers had to edit out most of it. So it stands to reason – if the only difference between the two buildings was the number of dogs housed, did the whelping building also reek of urine? Do pregnant bitches and newborn litters have to endure the cacophony of barking dogs as well?
At 15:51, the doors to the “Honeymoon Suite” are opened. Now, I’m a pretty tough cookie. I don’t get misty-eyed easily, but at 15:51 I felt a lump forming in my throat. Despite the radio station editing out most of the barking, and despite Mr. Meyers yelling over the din of barking dogs, it’s still nearly impossible to decipher what he’s saying. To imagine the true volume of that barking is heart-wrenching. Those poor, poor dogs. How on earth could anyone hear that and think that is how a good breeder operates?
I don’t agree with a lot that Suzanne Clothier has to offer, but I like this. It’s another musing on the age-old nature vs nurture relationship.
“Do you know what kills shelter dogs? Irresponsible owners kill shelter dogs. They kill them when they don’t do their research and add the wrong dog to the wrong household, then ditch it to die at a shelter when they can’t or don’t care to properly care for it.”
I think by now, everyone has some idea that a reputable breeder is one that will perform health clearances on her dogs before breeding (among other criteria as well) but you might not exactly know what that means. Let’s take a look, since Amy just went through a full round of testing on Calibur (and I’ll be walking Clover through hers this year).
The Canine Health Information Center (CHIC) is a website jointly sponsored by the AKC and the Orthopedic Foundation for Animals (OFA) that serves as a sort of health clearances database for breeders. The CHIC maintains a list, for each breed, of tests that they recommend be done before breeding. If you do all those tests on your dog and agree to make the results public, you will be issues a CHIC number and then anyone you give that number to can look up your dog’s information and see his test results. The value of this should be obvious: now in addition to breeding based on breed type and working function, you can also use a dog’s health clearances when evaluating a potential breeding.
It’s important to point out here that CHIC only requires that you make your test results public in order for you to be issued a CHIC number for that dog — they don’t actually have to pass the tests! So, merely having a CHIC number isn’t enough to tell you about the relative health of the dog; you still have to apply your brain cells and check the results. Also, remember that just passing health clearances is not enough to determine whether any individual dog is a fit specimen to breed: they still need to be structurally sound and fit for the work their breed was developed for. All the health clearances in the world won’t save you if your long-distance trotting breed has front legs that toe out like a backyard bred Basset Hound. Similarly, in your search for a sport dog, you’ll want to avoid parents that are extremely straight shouldered, because their natural “shock absorbers” won’t function as well as a dog with more moderate layback, and they’ll be prone to injuries. You need the total package!
So, for Canaan Dogs, the CHIC recommends the following:
The costs for each exam will vary depending on which vet you have available for your dog, of course, but there’s also a fee to submit your results to the OFA. (Results from the OFA database are then shared with CHIC for no additional charge.) Amy forwarded Calibur’s fees to me so I’d have an idea of what kind of outlay we’d be paying for Clover.
Hips, Elbows, Patellas (x-rays): $370
OFA Fee: $55
Eye Exam: $50
OFA Fee: $12
Thyroid Panel (blood draw + laboratory analysis): $260
OFA Fee: $15
That’s just for one dog. Eyes ideally should be examined yearly, although eye problems are not an issue for Canaan Dogs as a breed and so it’s not a requirement, just a “good thing to do.”
Let’s take a look at the requirements for Rhodesian Ridgebacks:
Eye Exams — required annually to age 9
Thyroid — recommended each year between the ages of 2 and 8
Congenital Cardiac (optional)
Congenital Deafness (optional)
Different breed, different requirements. That’s the benefit that comes from breed club sponsored health surveys and an independent health database.
Now you should have a better idea of what it means when you’re interviewing your future breeder and you ask, “Have both dogs passed their health clearances?”
Conformation — literally, the structure of the dog — is important. It’s so important that the show ring takes it’s name from that: big-c Conformation. But conformation is not just important for show dogs, it’s important for all dogs, and especially performance dogs. Without proper conformation — without proper structure — your performance dog’s performance is impacted. Conformation is half of what determines your dog’s ability to do his job (the other half is temperament — drive).
A Rhodesian Ridgeback who is straight in the shoulder isn’t going to be able to trot as effortlessly as a dog with moderate shoulder angulation, which means they won’t be able to get out in the field and trot as long as a dog who is well put together. Poor conformation affects the straight-shouldered dog’s ability to do his job. A Borzoi who is too long in the loin isn’t going to be able to course as effectively as he should be able to. Balance, too, is important. A Dalmatian who is straight shouldered but well-angled in the rear isn’t going to be able to get his front end out of the way of his back end effectively; in order to coordinate the drive coming from his rear, he will have to adopt a high-kneed hackney gait to keep his front feet in the air long enough to not trip over himself. This uses more energy and is more tiring than it would be if he had balanced front and rear angulation, resulting in a dog that tires faster than he otherwise should.
Too often I see comments from my performance dog friends that indicate they’re ignoring conformation in favor of drive, but you need both. You need a dog who is built to do the thing you want him to do, and the desire to do it. All the predatory instinct in the world won’t help your dog course better, if he literally can’t get out of the way of his own feet.
The best breeders want to make dogs capable of being titled “on both ends.” In other words, they want titles that are placed in front of the name (typically this is a conformation title or a working title — not a PERFORMANCE title), and titles that go behind the name (these are usually performance or obedience titles). I’ve attended lure coursing events with Jackson’s breeder and watched his dam and litter sister tear up the field. (Unfortunately, Jackson was more like his sire than his dam, and couldn’t care less about “the bunnies.) Several of her dogs have attained coursing titles in addition to their conformation titles. Other breeders, show breeders even, who aren’t interested in competing in performance events themselves make a point of sending their dogs to performance homes, just to prove that they’re doing it right.
Don’t buy into the notion that, for performance dogs, all you need is drive. Conformation matters. It matters a lot.
It’s rare for a reputable, ethical breeder to make money on any given litter. Most litters produced the breeder ends up at a loss after puppies have gone to their new homes. If you’ve ever wondered “why the heck are those puppies so expensive” then here’s a breakdown of the breeder’s costs — and after you add that up, realize that your puppy’s price probably represents a loss for your breeder!