The Power of Grandparents
Top dogs who produce better as grandparents than parents
Continuing on with the topic of dogs not reliably producing themselves in the next generation, that I broached in the “Wallflower” article a couple of weeks ago, I’d like to drill down specifically on the role of top-quality grandparents in pedigrees.
Over about 40 years of breeding various lines of Samoyeds including using quite a few “top dogs”, some surprising patterns have surfaced. We’ve all heard that top dogs don’t necessarily produce the best offspring; that a littermate to the top dog might be a better producer than its famous sibling, etc. However, I have seen the producing power of a top dog to quite often be more evident in his/her grandchildren than children with shockingly high predictability.
In these times of most breeders not keeping a lot of in-house stud dogs, often they are on the hunt for outside dogs to use to their bitches – and by virtue of show records often the top winners become the “stud du jour” simply because of their visibility. Breeding to outstanding dogs has got to be the way to go, yes? Yes, but …
I vividly recall over the years how disappointing many important mating’s turned out to be. A beautiful well-bred bitch was sent to a top winning dog, and we excitedly watched the puppies develop over the weeks, only to see more often than not the resulting puppies while nice – were overall not the world beaters that their famous sire was.
It’s deflating to say the least after all of the planning, travel, research, expenses etc. to end up with an “average” quality litter.
People lined up to get a puppy out of “Boy Wonder” dreaming of similar show careers in the progeny – only to often end up with a nice, finish able dog. Not that there wasn’t the occasional world beater born in these first-generation puppies of the top winner, there was – but it was rare. The offspring go on to finish and some even are “specialed” lightly, and do reasonably well. But, usually not with the “X Factor” of the famous parent.
This well-known dog then loses some credibility amongst breeders as a stud dog. In most cases however the breeders simply lacked the awareness of the power of the dog in next generation, and tended to treat the sire and dam of their litters as their vision of what was likely to be produced, and as this was happening in my litters I was simultaneously observing the same phenomena in other breeder’s litters – both in Samoyeds and other breeds.
Of course, having put so much into doing one of these outside mating’s to a “superstar” you pretty much have to keep one of the puppies to move forward with. The shocker lies ahead when this ‘nice’ dog is wisely bred from – and suddenly in their puppies you see the famous grandparent – almost as if reincarnated.
There was one top dog in particular that we had leased from a well-known kennel many years ago, who we bred to several bitches and kept back several ‘nice’ as well as two outstanding offspring. The two outstanding ones were a very small percentage of the total number of puppies this dog produced. The ‘nice’ offspring almost without exception produced one or more copies of their famous father in their litters, producing many more outstanding puppies per litter than their famous father had.
Of course, it goes without saying that the offspring of top winning dogs must be also be folded back into a solid line and cleverly mated to good dogs, perhaps even to dogs who are also the offspring of a top winning parent, doubling the odds of grandparent impact quality in the litter.
So why does this happen anyway? In the case of an outcross breeding to a top dog, I believe the hybrid alleles of combining two unrelated dogs cause a hit and miss situation of traits produced. Puppy A got the great head but a so-so rear. Puppy B has the sires fantastic side gait but not a charming head, and so on, where usually there is not that one puppy who “has it all”.
“Genes will behave as they will, despite our dreams!”
Not finding many similar alleles to pair with the result is often a mixed bag of traits from both parents, but not usually being clearly ‘stamped’ by one parent. But, when these dogs are line bred back into one or the other of the quality lines that produced them the homozygosity is much more easily achieved and therefore produces more consistently reliable results.
Conclusions such as this can take many years of breeding experience to realize, but are also discussed in many of the best books on breeding theory, penned by the master breeders that have come before us. Suffice to say, that inexperienced breeders trying to access the best dogs that they can for their breeding programs should expect the process to involve multiple generations of work and not expect to reinvent the wheel.
Genes will behave as they will, despite our dreams!
Of course, in breeding no one formula can be expected to work every single time in every single case, however the power of a top winning dog in the grandparent position in a pedigree is definitely something that the astute breeder should be looking at to give strong, consideration to.
Care must be taken to not discard from the breeding program a moderate quality dog with a stellar parent, simply because he or she themselves lack the quality to be top winners. It should go without saying that while keeping ‘nice’ dogs for breeding is certainly worth rolling the dice on – that extremely faulty dogs must be used with care, if at all, and with an eye to not forgiving their faults, for more than one generation to avoid fixing these problems in ones breeding stock.
Even the nice/average dogs kept for breeding must be expected to also eventually pass forward their own mediocrity and this too must be anticipated. We always should endeavor to breed the best dogs that we have available to us, and these gene pools must be tested for the prepotency of both faults and virtues by breeding them in multiple directions for the best and most reliable outcomes. Or better still, use the shortcut of working with an accomplished mentor to save yourself literally decades of learning by availing of their experience.
I have seen this system of quality skipping a generation so many times throughout my years of breeding that I now rely on it regularly in planning mating’s. People will see a very promising young puppy and ask is this puppy out of “Boy Wonder?” To which I often reply – no but it’s a grandchild of “Boy Wonder”!!!