Thursday, February 21, 2008

Guide to Breeding Old-Fashioned Working Dogs

I don't breed dogs and am not particularly enammored with those that do, as most have no idea of what they are doing, do not work their dogs at all, and essentially treat the whole thing as a lark -- or a way to move up in the "pecking order" of the show-ring community.

Breeding dogs is not a sport, and if you are not working your dogs a lot, please do not tell me you are breeding working dogs or have the slightest idea of what is needed in a working dog. In fact, when it comes to working terriers, you are probably the problem! You are the reason the dogs are getting too big, do not have good noses, and are (increasingly) mute.

Please, do NOT confuse go-to-ground with real work.
The fact that a dog can get down an enormous go-to-ground tunnel and bark at a caged rat for 90-seconds does not mean you have a dog worth breeding! I am happy that you are at least doing something with the dog, but this is the most minimum of beginnings.

If you were looking to breed a running horse, surely you would ask more if it than an ability to trot??

The idea that most show-ring terriers are a load on the gene pool of their breed is so alien to the average breeder that they do not understand the words, much less the phrase.

If a dog looks fine it is fine -- never mind that it does not use its nose, has no voice, will not work a rat, and has an 18" chest!

Never mind that the breeder is a man or woman with so little muscle tone he/she could not plant a dozen tulip bulbs, much less extract a dog from a stop-end four feet down!

In the world of terriers, the end result of such selection and breeding are the over-large, brain-befogged dogs we see in the show ring today. Their owners do not take them ratting or rabbiting (much less anything else!), but they will tell you they are great at barking at squirrels outside the picture window!

I do not breed dogs because doing it wrong (and lying to yourself) is simply too easy, while doing it right demands a ferocious level of sustained committment.

That, it seems is the subtext of a little 46-page booklet entitled "The New Guide to Breeding Old Fashioned Working Dogs" by Guy Gregory Ormiston. I do not own this tract, but a friend sent me some quotes from the publication, and I have found them sufficiently interesting to append them below. The complete work can be ordered for $15 USD (includes worldwide postage paid) from Guy G. Ormiston, Rt.1, Box 181-G, Wynnewood, Oklahoma, USA 73098. Mr. Ormiston raises blue-tick hounds, but the principles of raising all working dogs are largely the same, and the booklet comes to me highly recommended.

  • "To become wealthy you would have to sell dogs in volume and that is contradictory to one of the secrets of breeding outstanding working dogs. SECRET: Constant sorting of brood stock is necessary to prevent regression to average performers. You cannot mass-produce sound brood stock."

  • "You must be a USER of your own brood stock…You could not cull out the lesser dogs unless you used them under fire, identifying their weakness."

  • "Mental traits are inherited exactly like physical traits!"

  • "Line breeding and inbreeding will have to be used to maintain any excellence you wish to keep in your strain (but) Never, never, make a cross based solely on compatible pedigrees." [The author goes on to recount his method of developing your own separate strains for the eventually needed outcross.]

  • "Breed only based on the abilities of the present couple before you. Working ability is an absolute necessity but secondary to soundness and courage. Care must be taken to never double up on a weakness, but always double up on strength."

  • "If the progeny prove inferior, the animal is removed from the breeding program."


  • "To produce a credible strain of working dogs… you must breed dogs that will almost train themselves. They must be dogs that can rise above everything from limited exposure to work/training, to neglect, to abuse, and still make some fashion of a functional working dog. I would say only one potential user out of a hundred is a "real" dog trainer… a person who, first, will take the time to properly train a young dog and, secondly, knows how to go about it… a rare find indeed… Out of a litter of ten pups to a random sampling of users, only about two of those pups would have a fair chance of receiving a proper chance to perform their heritage."

  • "If you have something good in the way of a working dog strain, constant wariness is required to avoid losing it."

  • "Many a poor soul embarks on a breeding program, with no chance for success simply because this person cannot recognize a top working dog and, therefore, is unable to make intelligent breeding selections. One must study dogs, live with them in the working environment, succeed or fail based on their competence before one can recognize a top performer. Usually these sessions of learning must be lonely vigils."

Most folks will recognize this stuff as the kind of "sage advice" cobbled together from 19th Century texts. A lot of this sounds like "old text in a new binder."

But is it good advice?

Up to a point. Most of it is more than fine, but I would throw a caution about inbreeding and linebreeding.

Yes, that is done to create a breed, but it is not necessary to maintain a breed.

Why should it be the goal of someone who is genuinely seeking to breed working dogs to create his or her own "line"? It shouldn't! That, in fact, is the starting ground of the dog dealer, and yet the tract corretly states that dog dealing and breeding top working dogs are mutually exclusive. Ponder that a minute ....

Now for some more information. . . .

We now know that winning greyhounds, top sled dogs, working terriers and winning race horses are, in fact, not heavily inbred. Most have a Coefficient of Inbreeding of less than five percent.

Of course, if you are writing new material that is partially cobbled from ancient texts, you might miss that, as Sewall's Coefficient of Inbreeding was not invented until the 20th Century. A small warning there!

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Bob Wehle of English pointer fame knew something about this as well. He studied genetics as well which is essential.