Friday, April 06, 2007

Breeding as art and science

It's often been said that breeding is mostly art with some science thrown in. It's a pretty true statement. When breeding there are so many things to consider, such as soundness, temperament, intelligence, anatomy, and a host of other things. If you are breeding, on what do you base your decisions? Should we only breed dogs that have been through a total body scan to look for problems? Should we only breed dogs after extensive DNA testing for *ANY* hint of problems in the line? Or should we wait until each dog has reached old age, to be sure no genetic problems develop over time. As a potential progenitor, would you still consider having children if you knew that a great-grandfather had diabetes? Or put another way, if your parents hadn't given birth to you, where would you be? I think that you can see where I'm going with this. If we try for perfection, then we'd no longer have any dogs to breed, because there *are* no dogs who have no problems in the lines and if we wait for the problems to develop, they'd be too old to breed. I heard a well-known breeder state that "dogs aren't refrigerators" . They are animals who carry an entire complex genetic code. No one yet has been able to figure how which genes form a perfect hip, heart, or elbow.

Mary Roslyn Williams pointed out in her wonderful book, "Advanced Labrador Breeding" that "Top" breeders are a rare breed. They've weathered the storms, have had failures and successes just like the "middle" breeders. Beginning breeders need to pay attention to her words because the very things that have happened to the top and middle breeders will happen to you. It's just a question of when these things will crop up.

It's easy for people just getting started with breeding to forget that this breed was established with heart, soul, and the instincts of dedicated people, who had no benefit of x-rays, eye clearances, or heart tests. They built the breed by using common
sense. They tried combinations and when they didn't work, then they tried something else. Although we have benefit of these clearances today, you still have to step up and try combinations of lines based on heart, soul, instincts, and common sense.

Experienced breeders know that breeding is always an exercise in weighing the good with the bad. New breeders often panic and will eliminate anything they have that is related to a dog who has produced the latest and greatest problem in the breed. They will keep only dogs who have "no history" of problems in the line (which, of course is a line that doesn't exist). Either the person is not aware of the problems within or is thinking that the dogs that they keep could not possibly be carriers for a problem that occurred many years ago. Experienced breeders know there are no perfect gene pools. They are more aware of what lives in Pandora's Box, and they make decisions based on many things that include testing, experience, instinct, and a lot of prayer. One very well known breeder once told me to "keep breeding until you get a problem", otherwise it's pure guess work as to what will crop up in a litter (this excludes the occurrence of gPRA in Labradors for which there is a genetic test).

When asked by the beginning breeder how to make decisions, I tell them to ask themselves the hard questions about what their true goals are and what they are hoping to achieve, answer themselves in an honest manner, and don't take the road of trying to breed "away" from problems, because that road almost always leads to a dead-end or to some other problem cropping up. In the end, our decisions on how to properly breed are personal, and we don't need to qualify our decisions with anyone. Time will tell if we made the right or wrong decisions.

No comments: