The Value of Titles in Breeding Stock
As we find ourselves in the midst of the Covid-19 global pandemic, many breeders plan’s for finishing titles on dogs before breeding them, have been derailed in the absence of shows to take their dogs to.
This is a good time to bring up the often controversial, topic of the value of titles in breeding stock. How important are they anyway? Some breeders I know would never consider breeding from a dog that wasn’t titled or “proven” in some way. They require this validation as much as they do their other pre-breeding requirements such as genetic health tests.
The box next to CHAMPION (or insert your required title here) MUST be checked before a dog gets a green light to go forward in the bloodline. I’ve heard many breeders expound this necessity for most of my years in dogs, but I’ve always doubted the logic.
Many years ago, when I was a newbie breeder I was fortunate to be good friends with a couple who were Golden Retriever breeders. We learned a lot from hanging with each other – most notably I got to understand the Golden “culture” somewhat and picked up on the names of many of the important dogs in the breed.
One such important Golden bitch was named “Tripod”, and I heard she was a phenomenal producer but she never had a CH title. Well as you probably have already guessed from her name, she was missing a leg. Some sort of puppy injury apparently, but such was her quality that the breeder decided to keep this otherwise healthy bitch and make her part of the breeding program. Of course, with only 3 legs Tripod could not be shown and therefore never received her Championship. Had she been born at a breeder’s kennel who required CH titled dogs in their breeding program, then she would have been sold as a pet and her entire descendent line choked off entirely. How fortunate was it to the Golden breed then that she was not? I’ve always remembered this valuable Tripod lesson, and ‘drank the Kool-Aid’ that “the dog is what the dog is genetically”.
Conformation Championship titles on a pedigree therefore can’t possibly be the be-all assurance that the dog whose name it precedes is a dog of high merit, can it? There is an adage we’ve all heard that “anything can finish”, and likely we’ve all seen dogs with phenotype titles who probably shouldn’t have them. But by virtue of their owner’s money, handlers, and sheer persistence – eventually these dogs title. Heck I’ve seen many a GRAND Champion who was less than an average specimen.
This lends therefore to the reading of pedigrees with somewhat of a quizzical eye. Why was “Smitten’s Freddie” never titled? Turns out he was the second pick male sold to a pet home by the breeder, who kept the pick of the litter brother. The brother titled to the wazoo but was sterile so the breeder turned to the owners of Freddie to see if he could be used at stud.
Freddie’s owners agreed to the venture, including having the genetic testing done etc. But, they lived way off the beaten path when it came to dog shows and weren’t willing to send him out on the road. The breeder visited and videotaped Freddie as a mature dog and was confident in his quality, and so used him in his breeding program with outstanding results. In fact, we all know of cases where a lesser dog out-produces their more famous sibling. But, the “assumption” by many a casual observer looking at a pedigree with Freddie in them was that he “couldn’t” finish. Boo. So, we can see from these 2 examples of superior quality untitled dogs being used in clever breeding programs.
Now let’s look at another reason why good dogs might not finish – or at least not finish before they are scheduled to be bred.
Covid-19. So here you are with “Super Sally” – the pick bitch from your special litter born 2 years ago. She’s got her hips/eyes/heart clearance – but because she’s of a breed that typically does not do well in the show ring as puppies, you had planned to finish her in the Spring/Summer of 2020 with some maturity under her belt – and then to breed her at her season in the Fall of 2020.
Indeed, you have long ago filled reservations for this much anticipated litter. You are counting on keeping a puppy from the resulting puppies to show yourself in 2121. The plan had been devised long-long ago. But, suddenly your plan is derailed by a pandemic that changes the course of everyone’s lives and plans. There are NO dogs going to finish titles in America in the Spring/Summer of 2020 in all likelihood. You know Sally is a good one and would finish handily, but it’s your unwavering policy to not breed untitled dogs. What do you do?
Most of us who breed dogs understand our dog’s faults and virtues regardless of the titles they bear before or after their names.
Do you breed Sally anyway in spite of having used that “never” word in the past? Is a quality dog without a Championship title ‘really’ the same as a dog who can’t obtain an OFA hip clearance because of Covid-19? No, you can’t see or clear your dog’s hips yourself. But are you really not capable of evaluating your dog’s phenotypic quality yourself? I sincerely doubt it.
Most of us who breed dogs understand our dog’s faults and virtues regardless of the titles they bear before or after their names. Indeed, many a “Top Winner” is a disappointment in the whelping box (that’s a future article). Without a doubt we definitely show our dogs to obtain unbiased judgements from professional and learned arbiters. And yes, these titles ARE important validations of our breeding program “if” you know how to read a pedigree. How often do you read “finished with all majors in 3 shows”? Or “BIS from the classes to finish”? These sorts of Champion titles are definitely impressive. But what of those whose dogs struggle to title in 25 shows? They don’t usually advertise this fact, but a little research will easily reveal the effort involved.
When we are reading a pedigree in many cases we don’t know if the dog bearing a title was a great “X factor” dog, or one who barely pulled it off with 3 different pro handlers in dozens of shows over 4 years and a 10 Grand+ investment. Well many of us do know this about the dogs close up in a pedigree that we know personally. But how many of us know the dogs that have long rolled off the page in the background of our dogs today? Sure, they were Champions, but what kind?
I suspect that the Covid-19 pandemic is going to make some of us question the necessity of a pre-breeding title in these unprecedented times. I would hope that no master breeder would put the brakes on their outstanding breeding program because of it, but maybe there’s another side to this question which I have not to date considered. And, maybe I’ll hear about it after this article is published. Always learning – I welcome the input.
Today as I write this I can only speak for myself in admitting there have been many times throughout the course of my tenure in breeding dogs that I have bred unfinished, heck UNSHOWN dogs. The reasons have been many, but in all cases I felt that these dogs could make a valuable contribution to the future of the breed. I talked about one example, BELLE, in my Wallflower article last week – so my position on this point should already be clear. Something to think about!