Breeding from the Wallflower with the Rock Star Pedigree
In Breeding purebred dogs, I have come to learn a few interesting phenomena that seem to defy conventional wisdom, and one of the most interesting of these is breeding from a wallflower or mediocre individual who represents a truly great/rock star pedigree.
Understanding how to milk that pedigree for its bits of gold by coaxing the great genes out of a dog with an unremarkable phenotype is one of the most important strategies in the smart breeder’s toolbox.
Now I have listened and learned well about selection pressure being everything in breeding good dogs. That we should ALWAYS breed from only the best individuals. That we should not let the pedigree wag the dog. And I have obeyed, Usually.
However, on a number of occasions I’ve had the opportunity and indeed felt the impetus, to do otherwise.
In one case I was able to breed to an ok/average (and heretofore unused) Champion male who had a world beater litter sister (who I of course was not able to breed to). The quality from this dog was surprisingly high to onlookers but the take away here was that he produced more like the “family” than like himself.
In years to follow I was actually able to obtain a son of his great sister when she came to me for a stud service, and from that point I was able to line breed on this stellar pedigree and it remains a very important part of our genetics today. Would I have bred to that average male if I had not seen or known of his incredible sister? Absolutely not – as his own qualities were not such to attract the attention of anyone looking for a stud dog. And yet today he stands as a strong pillar in my pedigrees.
In another case, I was a bit forced to breed from an average quality bitch (I’ll call her BELLE) of my own breeding, if I wanted to carry her fantastic pedigree forward. Belle was the best bitch of only 2 girls in a litter from 2 outstanding parents – I’ll call them Johnny and Mary.
Mary was already a top producer, Champion in 3 countries, and World Winner with several top producing littermates. Mary and siblings were from a pedigree of pure gold – with their dam perhaps the best bitch I had ever seen. Their sire was the then the top producing male in US breed history. The kind of pedigree that launches breeding programs into stardom overnight. Belle’s sire Johnny, was a stunning young male who was making some phenomenal puppies in his first litters, and he was sired by one of my own dogs, but bringing in a new pedigree piece on his dam’s side that I much desired.
“Understanding how to milk that pedigree for its bits of gold by coaxing the great genes out of a dog with an unremarkable phenotype is one of the most important strategies in the smart breeder’s toolbox.”
Mary had to make the trip to the USA west coast for this mating to Johnny. A little side story here … while Mary was at the stud dog owners place, there was a slip up and someone put her in with the wrong boy. The mistake was quickly discovered and no mating was witnessed, but we still had to do DNA on the 8 resulting puppies. In the end all was well and the puppies were sired by the originally contracted Johnny. The litter had several nice boys, but I knew I desperately need a daughter from this pedigree combination as it was Mary’s last litter.
The problem was that neither of the 2 girls in the litter really rang my bells. One was cute and outgoing, but finer boned and just an average mover that I knew would finish easily. The other bitch (who became BELLE) had a very plain head with an atypical eye set, a tail curled too tight, and very much a wallflower temperament, but she moved like nobody’s business.
We never showed Belle as she didn’t have the temperament to be a show dog even if the judge could get past her unremarkable head and faulty tail. For the sire of her first litter, we picked one of our own young boys with a super confident temperament, a super head and tail from a background strong in all of these traits. Belle gave us 8 puppies in that litter – ALL better than her, and in that litter, I was fortunate to get a bitch and a dog with all of Belle’s great movement, with super personalities, heads and good tails.
Now I’ve always placed a high priority on soundness and movement in our breeding program and learned from my mentors that the “frills” were far easier to come by, than good legs. Still it’s hard for me to keep a dog for breeding that doesn’t scream the beautiful type that I’ve worked hard to get and keep. In Belle’s case however, it was easily overcome. AND I got to keep her incredible pedigree/ancestors in my lines by overlooking her flaws for one generation.
If I hadn’t been an experienced breeder willing to roll the dice, Belle likely would have been passed over as an appropriate brood bitch. As a novice breeder seeking advice from friends I likely would have been advised to look for a better bitch to breed from. But, because I knew what was behind her pedigree in her and KNEW THAT SHE’D LIKELY PRODUCE MORE LIKE HER ROYAL FAMILY THAN HERSELF, I took the chance and it paid off in spades.
Belle is now expecting her second litter (with a different but equally suitable stud), and we’re excited. While I will continue to breed the best to the best 99% of the time, it remains that there are cases where it’s ok to breed from dogs that aren’t the big show winners – and in fact with a little knowledge, you can unlock some of the best genes out there by breeding from them. Breeding from an average dog from an average pedigree is decidedly NOT the way to go. This is where having a knowledgeable breed mentor is EVERYTHING and your KEY to success!