Dog breeders get a bad reputation, mainly due to a minority using low standards and bad practices in their kennels. The first mission of a responsible dog breeding is to breed few individual dogs in order to improve the breed as a whole. In other words, a breeder’s litter should always be a well thought out improvement on its previous generation.
Now, the problem with statements, such as “breeding to improve”, is that they really are up to one’s interpretation.
Take the case of the notorious English Bulldog breeding evolution — the breed has been heavily damaged over the last decades by people who, I am sure, deep down, though they were doing good. It goes for most brachycephalic breeds where the whole population knows it is deteriorating only when it is too late.
Standards — What Breeds are Meant to Be
In the middle of the 19th century, ownership of purebred dogs was common among the affluent throughout Europe, but it also was chaotic. It was then important to have an organism, like the British Kennel Club who is at the genesis of all, to regulate what each breed is, how it should look, and how it should behave.
Because trends happen to be very common, official authorities had to come up with a simple solution. And they did with official breed standards. Kennel Clubs started writing down a clear set of guidelines that each dog wanting to belong to a particular breed should respect. Breed standards also list the undesired characteristics and the flaws causing a dismissal.
All recognized dog breeds have a very descriptive standard, publicly available online. This set of guidelines represents the ideal specimen for the breed and every dog breeder should have to ambition to match it. And let me be clear: match it, not surpass or exaggerate it.
Breeders — Here to Improve the Breeds
A breeder who owns dogs and is looking to breed them should obviously start by seeing how well do they compare to their breed standard. And no, I don’t mean sitting down one evening and looking at them with a pen and paper. Dog breeders, and owners more generally, often are too biased.
Conformation shows are here just for that — bring your breeding stock to local or regional dog shows just to get the opinion of fellow breeders, experts, mentors, and judges. It’s a lot less biased, and hopefully, it will be eye-opening.
Indeed, generally, no dog is perfectly matching the standard. However, you need to be told what must be corrected in order to improve your bloodline, and consequently, the breed. If a judge tells you your sire is not going to win larger dog shows because of a too large size, find a suitable brood bitch with a smaller body.
Genetics — Dog Breeding Is Not About Luck
Once you have a concise idea of what your stud is lacking, or what it needs to have corrected, you need to understand how to get there. The answer, generally, is by mastering canine genetics — the study and research in the fields of heredity and the variation of inherited characteristics.
Most traits are dictated by one or multiple genes. Once you analyze and know what your dog’s genes are — through observation, pedigree analysis, DNA testing — you can start searching for a suitable mate.
A warning though, by breeding two dogs intentionally and after studying the traits you desire, you will inevitably pass on genes you were not aware of, and these might be undesired, too. This is why studying several generations of a given dog matters; it allows you to see what could be present in your sire or dam (including genetic conditions.)
Where Can I Learn More About Dog Breeding?
The best sources of information on how to breed dogs are multiple. They online as well as offline. First, you can liaise with your local and national breed clubs — they often have a list of mentors at hand that you can exchange with. Attend dog shows and connect with judges, they always have the breed’s future at heart but be careful, they do are very opinionated.
On the Internet, Breeding Business is a great educational platform for ethical dog breeding, and so is the American Kennel Club. Do not hesitate to join a Facebook Group about your breed, these are usually full of passionate owners and breed fanciers.
We’ve got plenty of articles for beginners who are just getting started with breeding dogs:
- How To Breed Dogs — the cycle of ethical dog breeding
- FAQ for First-Time Breeders — read some common questions we frequently receive by email
- Female Dog’s Heat Cycle — signs and stages of the female dog’s normal reproductive cycle
- Abnormal Heat Cycles — female dogs can go through plenty of irregularities
- How To Start a Kennel — the major steps to take before starting your kennel
- Nature vs Nurture — introduction to genetics, parents, and environment in dog breeding
Obviously, for determined dog breeders, you can grab a copy of our bestseller, The Dog Breeder’s Handbook.