The Real Time Canine II

After spending 2 years writing the Real Time Canine, the adventure continues with The Real Time Canine II. Read along as I look for just the right puppy to continue the experience. After false starts with Tim and Jed, I am currently training young Tam, and Spot, which are both off to a strong start. Please visit the RTC II to read about training sessions as they occur.

Thursday, June 25, 2009

The Basic Principle

I read an article recently in the Working Border Collie Magazine, written by a man named Michael Dathe, and I think that the subject is vital to anyone who has a planned breeding, or is even considering breeding a litter of pups. I don't know Mr. Dathe at all, but I'm grateful that he shared his thoughts in this popular sheepdog venue. I believe that many, many people breed for the wrong and the very worst reasons, and Dathe makes it perfectly clear why the common thinking could not be more wrong.

Very often I hear people state that they want to breed their dog or bitch to another with traits that will counteract those in their own dog that need improvement or elimination. "I'm going to breed my strong-eyed dog to a loose-eye one and get one that's just right. Mr. Dathe tells us that breeding genetics is an all or none proposition. When you cross a tall dog with a short one, you either get a tall puppy or a short one, but you don't get a blending of the 2 sizes. And he quotes the work of Gregor Mendel who was the first to more or less get it right in the mid 1800s.

Mendel's research was with pea plants, but science has since confirmed that the same basic underlying principles of heredity also apply to people and other animals because the mechanisms of heredity are essentially the same for all complex life forms. Certain traits show up in offspring without any blending of parent characteristics. Unfortunately for millions of unwanted dogs that are killed in this country every single year, we seem not to have grasped the facts of modern genetics. I'm not suggesting that all these unwanted dogs came about from an ill-fated plan to create a perfect blend of dog, but I know first-hand that in the border collie world, and among many AKC, show-ring types, that many are.

I have listened for years to handlers who are going to breed this dog with that one to get the perfect mix of traits, and according to Mr. Dathe and Gregor Mendel, it didn't work. Personally, I have always wondered why anyone would breed an inferior dog at all, even if you could "blend" your way out of it. Why not find the best dog you can find and breed it to the best dog you can find and get an even better dog? Or, as the saying goes; "breed the best to the best and hope for the best."

I had a lady bring an AKC registered German Shepherd to me for an instinct test. According to her, this dog had everything he needed to be a champion, except temperament. He was shy, timid and anxious. In the show ring, he was only able to fake it and exhibit "the look of eagles" for about half as long as needed to win. When panic set in and his true nature reappeared, his head drooped, his ears flattened and his stride shortened. I only half expected her to tell me no when I asked whether she would breed this dog, but was utterly dissappointed to hear her tell me adamantly, "absolutely." Her reasoning was that she had bitches in her kennel that would easily cover up his withering temperament with their boldness, and his tremendous coloring, conformation and movement were just too good to pass up. What she didn't know is that Mr. Mendel's work had proved her wrong 150 years ago.

Mr. Dathe closes in his article by suggesting that we should not breed to mask our dog's faults, not try to "blend" them away, but breed dogs to enhance their strong points. Then he gives some very good advice when he says; "consider it."


  1. this is true. I think too often people don't understand how important genetics are, they think a flaw will be (as you put it) covered up, and why would you want that?

    On the other hand, if you have a dog with one flaw, and you are fairly sure it's a recessive trait or the inheritance mode is not understood completely, I think you have to take that into consideration also.

    Hip Dysplasia is one trait I'm specifically thinking of. The inheritance mode is *thought* to be partial with a helper gene. So if you have a dog with fair hips, excellent eye, sound structure, (fair or good is not lame usually) outstanding temperament and biddable, do you throw all those other traits out because of hips that are not excellent when you don't know if the puppies will have them or not?

    However, things that ARE known to be highly highly heritable (eye function or temperament) are a bit different. Those I would not breed to cover up. Especially temperament, nature by herself would probably select a shy/sharp temperament because those are the animals that would fight when cornered and would probably avoid trouble to begin with. Thus they would survive. The bold ones go into unknown situations ...well boldy. And that can be fatal. It is, however, a very excellent trait for people to live with. A second reason not to breed a shy/sharp temperament is because you usually end up with more than one puppy. Someone else has to live with the puppies you don't keep and 90% of those are going to be clueless pet people. As a breeder, do you *really* want Joe Q Public to have a shy GSD on the other end of the lead, walking past you and your baby in a stroller?! I don't.

    Good thinking, and thanks for the PSA.

  2. You're right, Holly, there's more to breeding genetics than my simple post suggests. Environmental effects for instance. In my experience, many folks are clueless and if something got them thinking, maybe they would make better decisions. That's my hope anyway.