As one becomes seriously involved in hunting dogs it does not take long before the subject of breeding comes up. Breeding is one of those deep subjects with enough information and opinions to fill volumes and even libraries. One thing is for sure nobody has the market cornered on how to breed, there are many views and methods and many have their merits but some I think are just plain hogwash.
Whatever the methods that are used there is absolutely no doubt in my mind that no matter what the hunting dog breed one is involved with, breeding correctly is the key to successful performing hunting dogs in the field, the big question is finding and using the right key.
Big Game Pack On Bear
I am constantly asked to give advice about breeding and how I go about the breeding of my own hunting dogs and advice on how to go about obtaining a good prospect. As mentioned above I have come to believe that there is no one single method to success. When I first got involved in breeding my own dogs I read everything about genetics that I could get my hands on. I quickly found out that the volume of information about genetics is huge and for me to be perfectly honest, "overwhelming". In my early days of breeding dogs I tried to apply all of this new found genetic knowledge but had so so success producing dogs that were below average to average performers.
Lucky for me I grew up in a hunting dog culture of mostly houndsmen that hunted Rabbits and Hare, along with Coon and Fox. My Dad, many of my uncles along with their cronies were all hunting dog men and when they got together the talk was about dogs and invariably about breeding.
I learned a long time ago to take advantage of the knowledge "experienced successful" breeders have and would try and glean anything I could from them. As one old timer said, "don't take advice from want to be breeders who have been pretty much unsuccessful breeders themselves. If their methods were worth using they would have been proven by their successes.
Most if not all of the old time successful did not learn a whole lot about breeding from books, everything they learned was trial and error and time proven breeding methods that have been passed around and down by dog breeders for centuries. These methods for the most part are just some one line sayings but powerful in their content and when used in conjunction with each other have proven themselves time and time again by producing great lines of hunting dogs in all breeds. Seemingly little details are vital and as they add up they can make big things happen.
So below are all the little bits of information I saved and stored away from "successful breeders" and a few that I came up with myself that I believe will help anyone who is serious about breeding for performance and in this case performance as a "hunting dog." I try to heap as many of these thoughts into any mating I make and for the most part my hunting dogs turn out to be pretty decent and suit me and most other hunters that have used them. They are in no particular order.
1. Know your breeding goal and recognize what you are seeing, save to the hard drive (your Brain). When breeding for the hunt that is what must come before all else. When one has the right kind of hunt entrenched in their line they then have a much better situation in dealing with stuff in the looks department, coat, size and conformation. When getting started with breeding stock do your homework and start with the very best known examples of your chosen breed that you can obtain because the best breeder in the world can not make a silk purse out of a sow's ear!
2. Keen observation, all the great hunting dogs I have had the pleasure of watching in the field share common denominators.
Essential traits. temperament, healthy constitution and body that can hold up to the rigors for stamina, drive, gaminess, nose, toughness-grit, ability and brains to use it all. Fish Creek & Branko bred Beagles, Hardtime, Junior, Boyd's Little Joe bred English Coon Hounds and Grouse Ridge English Setters are lines I have had the pleasure of owning and hunting and have nothing but the greatest respect for the breeders that produced them. A hunting dog obtained from these lines is going to have a very high rate of success of turning out to be a good hunting dog.
3. An animal's genetic makeup will determine it's hunting potential. How much of that potential good or bad that is actually achieved depends on the environment to which the dog is exposed. The definition of environment pertaining to this subject is how the dog is taken care of and fed, it's training and handling, and exposure to the game that is to be hunted.
4. Do not let what you have no control over interfere with what you can do.
5. The most important equation when breeding dogs for hunting is producing dogs that actually put game in the bag consistently.
6. Selection of your breeding stock is an art that will come as experience is gained, you will find the good ones all possess common traits and with that experience you will know it when you see it.
7. Success is many times better when if possible breeding to the stud that produced the champ than breeding to the champ himself.
8. Do not mate together non complementary types, the ability to recognize type at a glance is a breeder's greatest gift. The definition of non complementary types as ones that have the same faults and lack the same virtues. Do not mate together two dogs with the same bad fault, you are asking for trouble if you do.
9. Do not forget it is the whole dog that counts, if you forget one virtue while searching for another you will pay for it. But remember no hunting dog is absolutely perfect so do not be afraid of breeding to a dog with obvious faults as long as they are not too bad and has compensating virtues. A lack of virtues is the greatest fault of all.
10. Over the long term I think of myself as a strong pedigree builder, I see a pedigree as a multi stranded steel cable. Each dog in a pedigree represents a strand and I want each strand to be strong. I try my best to make sure every dog in my pedigrees is a good one. The more good strong strands added to the cable the better your line will be with consistent percentage of good performers. Keep adding those good strands.
11. "Breed workers to Workers", this old time saying goes hand and hand with what is written above along with this one, "you will reap what you sow". Breeding to an unproven weak dog will just bring your line down.
12. Breed for balance, too much of any one good trait many times tends to upset the applecart.
13. Don't make indiscriminate outcrosses, a "judicious outcross" can be of great of great value and improve your line, an injudicious outcross can produce an aggregation of any imaginable fault in the breed!
14. Do not allow personal feeling influence your choice of a stud dog, The right dog for your bitch is the right dog whoever owns it.
15. Evaluate your dogs honestly, do not credit your own dogs with virtues that they do not possess, self deceit is a sure stepping stone to failure.
16. I have over the years become a believer in the so called line breeding method when it comes to performance. But! you do not line breed just for the sake of line breeding. Line breeding to complementary dogs can and do bring great rewards, breeding to unsuitable types will lead to immediate disaster.
17. Even when you think everything possible has been done to produce that litter of perfect pups as famed hound breeder John Wick puts it, "Every pup is like a lottery ticket, except that you have to feed it for a year before you can scratch it to see what you got. Sometimes the mating pays and sometimes it does not."
18. I once heard that it is what you learn when after thinking you know it all that counts, knowledge about breeding is never ending so do not get too full of yourself and keep your ears open.
So in the end it will be your dogs doing the talking as to what kind of performance breeder you are. As the old coon hunter's saying goes "When the tailgate drops the bullshit stops" Performance in the field will be the ultimate judge of a breeder, the word gets out about the good lines that produce game consistently and the same goes for those whom are producing sorry ones that do not.