Whether just starting out on your path of breeding or looking to pass on your bloodline to the next generation, none of it can happen without a good plan for the future.
By Jonathan Jeffrey Kimes | March 20, 2013
Bull Terrier authority Raymond Oppenheimer mentored a worldwide network of students through his letters. Just like Oppenheimer, breeders of today should pass along their knowledge and bloodlines to the next generation.
For the true dog breeder, one who has devoted decades to developing a bloodline, the greatest concern must be the assurance that all the effort, all the learning, all the eventual mastery of the art does not dissolve into thin air upon your retirement. Nothing can be more satisfying and enriching than to believe you have made a lasting positive impact on your dog breed of choice, one that will continue onward long after you have stopped making the breeding decisions yourself.
The term “bloodline” is often subject to misuse by those in the dog fancy. Only a very small percentage of breeders have the right to call their efforts “a bloodline,” and yet we hear the term bandied about by almost everyone. I must assume that many, when speaking of “my bloodline,” are not referring to the decades of careful breeding and development of a family of dogs. Instead they are referring to the dogs they currently own. However, to rightly refer to your breeding efforts as a “bloodline,” you must have developed a unique, identifiable and consistent family of dogs that are interrelated through many generations. A bloodline must be physically identifiable, which is to say it must have distinguishable family characteristics. In essence, a bloodline is the manifestation of a breeder’s vision of their concept of ideal breed type. Although there are useful and useless bloodlines, with regard to the perpetuity of such we need only consider those that have proven themselves to be valued as a virtuous family.
Although I do not subscribe to any actual rule regarding what constitutes a bloodline, I will put forward that it must be a genetically related, phenotypically consistent family of dogs that are of a viable population to maintain basic consistency even as relatively unrelated dogs are added into the gene pool. It has become the current fashion by many in the dog fancy to refer to the “danger” of inbreeding coefficients as an argument against close breeding. Although we cannot make generalizations about all dog breeds, as each breed is unique with regard to phenotypic variation and genetic health, there are many bloodlines with generations of closely bred ancestors that have excellent health. Indeed, while sloppy inbreeding is guaranteed to produce defective dogs, an intelligently managed bloodline can boast exceptional health not in spite of but due to close breeding. By carefully weeding out unwanted characteristics, including diseases, a skilled breeder can absolutely create a healthy family of dogs. The attempt at wholesale regulation of the inbreeding coefficient should be critically questioned upon the veracity of applicable scientific data. In other words, there are breeds in which close breeding is inadvisable and breeds in which it can be very beneficial. I know of no controlled scientific study using experienced breeders that can prove otherwise, and I have extensive personal experience to support the concept of a bloodline. The canine genome is the most expansive of any living species, and most broad generalizations are invariably refutable.
So let us describe what a bloodline worth perpetuating would be. Through decades of dedication, it must be one in which breed type virtues are exploited to a very high degree. In essence we want breed examples that are verging on perfection in many ways; they will not be perfected in all ways, but they will be considered “the source” for many breed type features. The breeder creed is to produce ever stronger and ever more breed virtues in one’s stock. Do not misinterpret “stronger” to mean “exaggerated,” as unwanted exaggerations are just as unwelcome as deficiencies. Yes, many breeds are the subject of exaggeration of the original desired characteristics, and they must be brought back to balance through the skills of true breed connoisseurs. A good example is the Pekingese coat. Traditionally, the coat has been an enhancement to the breed, but over the last few decades, the breed began to look for all the world like a moving tumbleweed, attractive to no one but restless hairdressers. Today we see a strong swing back to a manageable and proper-fitting coat that enhances this proud lionesque dog. Likewise, the athletic and square Afghan Hound went through a phase where the appeal to exhibitors and judges was more focused on yards of hair than the amazing hunter under the coat. Today I wonder just how much taller Poodle and Shih Tzu topknots must be before their breed intelligentsia tire of the infantile silliness. It is never the followers who force these corrections; it is always just a handful of knowing breeders who lead breeds out of their dark corners.
Every legacy breeder must feature breed health as a top criterion. And by that I mean, the breeder must aggressively work to identify animals with unhealthy genes and remove them from the gene pool. This, of course, must be countered with maintaining appropriate genetic variability within the breed, a sometimes difficult and complex balancing act. The dog world today must realize the “purebredishness” of most of our dog breeds is a relatively recent invention. Some breeds that are plagued with disease may have gotten there through misfortune, but refusing to find solutions is tantamount to mismanagement. Falconi in the Basenji breed has been addressed through the importation of native African dogs to good effect. Development of genetic testing for Lens Luxation has pulled the Miniature Bull Terrier back from the brink of inevitable extinction. Aggressive programs to wait until full maturity is helping the Pomeranian combat Black Skin Disease. A broad spectrum of strategies must be used to right seriously compromised breeds that today face real risk of becoming extinct in the next human generation. The option to introduce healthy genes through cross-breeding to phenotypically and/or genetically related breeds if intra-breed options are not viable must be included in that arsenal.
The dog fancy has done itself no favors by setting up benchmarks that do more harm than good for a dog breed. I have always spurned top producer rankings as little more than devices to spread unhealthy genes throughout a breed. And so there are instances in a number of breeds in which once rare health conditions are now on the list of required disease testing because of popular and overly used stud dogs that transmitted disease to a large population of dogs. These situations didn’t occur without the cooperation of participating breeders. For a bloodline to carry on, for it to be worthy of continued propagation, it must be genetically healthy. And while you may have learned to “manage” existing health problems in your dogs, you are kidding yourself if you think there are others in the next generation who will do the same, regardless of what else you have achieved with your breeding program. Health is absolutely critical to the continuance of a bloodline.
In a similar vein, the over-importance of show ring success can also have deleterious effects on the continuation of a viable bloodline. For instance, surgically correcting tail carriage in many of the long-legged terriers is as common as having dewclaws removed. Yes, you may have produced generation after generation of top-winning show dogs, but if every one of them requires cosmetic surgery, coloring or some other falsification to allow them to win in the ring, the chances of finding someone else equally committed to doing the same with your bloodline in the future is going to have a very low probability at best. Your dogs must be honest. They must thrive on normal diets, their temperaments must be typical of the breed, and they must be sane and healthy animals.
Creating and Passing on the Legacy
As a teenager, I saw a series on television with a line that has ultimately directed my whole life. It was uttered by a woman who had worked her way up from the bottom to ultimately owning a fine London hotel. She opened the doors of her new establishment eager for customers. When an unpleasant gentleman entered, she decisively refused his business. To her astounded staff she said, “I am starting out as I mean to go on.” To do this you must examine your own morals, your values and firmly draw the line in the sand. You must decide what you will and will not tolerate in your bloodline right from the start because once you give yourself permission to include sires and dams with significant health problems or dogs needing fakery or some other inappropriate allowance, you will allow it a second time and a third — and before long you will have infected your bloodline so completely a legacy of your work will be out of the question. Start out as you mean to go on.
Equally important, and ultimately more critical to the survival of your bloodline, is instilling in others the “vision” that is manifested by your breeding efforts. Indeed, it could be argued that your legacy through mentorship could prove to have more impact than the survival of your bloodline. The development of the “look” of your bloodline is driven largely by your perception. Because of your “eye,” you will make breeding decisions and resulting puppy selections that are unique to your perspective. The transference of this “eye” is dependent upon your ability to mentor.
It is wise to realize that your accomplishment in developing your bloodline is based on your own unique talent. Let’s be quite clear on the meaning of “talent” versus “skill.” Talent is an aptitude, a natural ability to do something. Talent is therefore something innate; it cannot be instilled. Skill is a learned capacity to do something. Obviously, the more talent one has, the greater the skill that can be achieved. With a lack of talent, the skill cannot be perfected. When choosing one or more individuals to mentor, those who hopefully will continue your legacy, you must be very aware that they must have the talent to do so. I have seen many bloodlines over the years become a sad shadow of the original developer because the individual assuming the bloodline did not possess the talent to do so or was not properly schooled in the founder’s “eye.”
Once the “who” to mentor has been identified, the challenge is “how” to mentor. Obviously, taking on an individual who is physically co-located, who can participate in every daily activity and is present for every decision-making opportunity is the ideal. Many happy situations have occurred when the original owner brings in a new partner who is as eager and as talented as the founder of the bloodline. The new partner can assist with the physical demands, often allowing the founder to remain active with his or her bloodline much longer than would ordinarily have been the case. If the individual has financial resources, such as employment, additional benefit can be achieved with appropriate sharing of expenses.
My mantra in working with another individual is “contract, contract, contract.” Regardless of whether you enter into a co-ownership agreement on a single dog or a sharing agreement on an establishment, ensure a proper contract is drawn up by a qualified lawyer and that both parties are appropriately covered. Although both parties will assure themselves there will never be a need for a contract, I can only say if people knew at the onset exactly if and how long-term relationships might change, there wouldn’t ever be a divorce! It is exceptionally bad judgment not to very clearly delineate how a partnership will be dissolved should the occasion ever occur.
If such a close relationship is not possible, the next choice may be to at least have someone who can travel to dog shows or who is at dog shows with you. Staying in contact with them through the week will keep them interested and fully invested in the ups and downs of managing the kennel.
Even if a close physical relationship is not possible, effective mentoring can occur across distant countries. Today with easy access to the Internet and with social media such as Facebook, an ever-present communication construct is easily devised. I recently tested this theory by setting up a private group on Facebook where topics can be discussed and pictures and videos shared. The participation can be limited to two individuals or can include multiple participants. Another “free” communication medium is Google Chat where you can have free video chats with one or more individuals. So for the cost of a computer and an Internet connection, you have a number of technologically advanced, basically cost-free solutions for communicating frequently.
One of the best examples of mentorship I have ever seen was demonstrated by Raymond Oppenheimer of the world-famous Ormandy Bull Terrier kennel in England. As revealed in W.E. Mackay-Smith’s book, Letters from Raymond, during the 1960s and ’70s, he maintained a worldwide network of students he mentored with endless passion. His letters not only shared his views on current circumstances of the Bull Terrier in England, he requested mercilessly of his students to share their observations of the outcome of every significant specialty. He wanted catalog markings, descriptions of the dogs and perceptions of the judging. Through his questioning he forced his students to really look at the dogs in the ring, to evaluate them and to compare their perspectives to what the judge did. He provided suggestions on breeding their bitches and wanted to know what choices they made, why and the eventual outcome of the resulting litters. Through this tireless interest in his students, he effectively shaped world opinion of Bull Terriers. Although his kennel was the leading producer of top-quality stock, his development of intellectual capital across the planet was in every way as important and lasting.
If you think about it, it is the whole mix of your husbandry that makes your bloodline successful. To mentor the next generation effectively thorough communication and understanding will be your never-ending task. In terms of breed type, your view of outline, head type, proportion, structure, movement and temperament is vital. What are your views on size variation? What are the key elements which must always be considered for exceptional type? What are the things you don’t like, can’t tolerate and why? How are your dogs kept, exercised, groomed, socialized, trained? Think about every task and decision you make through the day and relate this to your pupil. Share and share and share. As a teenager, I greatly treasured the two-hour conversations I had on a weekly basis with my mentor Norma Chandler. She brought the past alive in my mind, shared what she used to believe and what she believed now. I was allowed to share her past, her present and her thoughts on the future. I shared my thoughts, and she helped me to greater insight.
And finally, you must consider what will happen to your dogs when you pass into the great dog show on the other side. Make decisions about who should get your dogs, what you want done with them and ensure the intended recipients are fully aware of your wishes. An unexpected demise without your proper preparation may well ensure the end of your line.
Whether just starting out on your path of breeding or looking to pass on your bloodline to the next generation, none of it can happen without a good plan for the future. Every day affords us the opportunity to direct the rest of our lives; if your bloodline is the stepping stone to future breed improvement, do all that is necessary to ensure that is the legacy you leave behind.