STARTING ON THE RIGHT FOOT
J. J. Kimes
There are few things in this world that can give humanity as much pleasure and pride as breeding purebred dogs. This vocation takes years of intense study to master - if indeed, it can ever be mastered at all! There is a great sense of accomplishment in producing a worthy animal, and a sense of wonder, too, in succeeding in creating a living creature, with the conformation and character that existed in one's mind. In this sense, dog breeding is an art. To manifest a dream is always art. But this can not be accomplished without a full understanding of genetics, conformation, type, soundness, character, and proper management. So it is also a science. We can never guarantee results. Sometimes we are painfully disappointed, but once in a while we are privy to something extraordinary! A dog who redefines our dreams, for he or she is more than we could have ever hoped1. It is this sense of the unknown fates which keeps us on our toes.
KNOW WHAT YOU WANT:
There is an old saying, "Shoot for the mountain top and you may one day hit it. Shoot for the stars and you will forever improve!" (Actually, I think I just made that up.) The point is clear, if you are going to invest the time, trouble and money in this vocation - as you must to succeed - then try to be the best. Don't leave your fate to Lady Luck. She is a coy and fickle creature. Arm yourself with all the available knowledge to increase your chances of success.
Learn conformation, for example, know why short hocks are better than long hocks. Educate yourself in anatomy - how to identify a correct shoulder (most breeders' weakest point), depth of brisket, and protrusion of forechest.
Learn about movement. Movement is an extension of conformation. What does reach and drive look like? What is a good front coming, and a good rear going? How do the angles and lengths of bones affect movement?
Learn about type. If you know a good deal about conformation you are two-thirds of the way home! Length of neck, depth of body, topline and angulation are all important features of type. A typey Cardigan is elegant. This comes from a stylish, well-fitted headpiece, reach of neck, length of body (long ribcage, not loin) level topline, depth and sweep. A typey Cardigan is also substantial, heavy bone, excellent ribspring and density throughout. A typey Cardigan is well made. He covers the ground easily with long reaching strides and sound action. A typey Cardigan, most of all, has good character. Intelligent, responsive to the handler, and neither shy nor aggressive around other dogs or people. His eyes should sparkle!
Learn about quality. I dearly wish that I could come up with a comprehensible definition of quality. It is tailor-made, rather than off the rack. It is balance, smoothness, finish. It looks expensive. Look at the dog's bone. Is it round, full, smooth and dense? Or is it coarse, flat and angular? Does every line flow or is the dog composed of jogs and jags? Do not underestimate your learning of quality. Without it your dogs will never reach the top. With it, they can possess untold faults with grace.
If you have really and truly studied all these factors you are already in a position to take a front seat. You will have learned good from bad, great from indifferent. You will have noticed that certain bloodlines possess more of the factors you will want in a good foundation. You should now, and only now, begin to look for a foundation bitch.
BUY THE BEST:
There are two trade-offs in buying stock: time, and money. If you are willing to wait for a top quality bitch you will probably get one for a fair price. If you want one next week, you may have to try and buy a breeder's "keeper", and it may cost you dearly. If you don't want to wait, and don't want to pay too much, turn to the next article, because you are hopeless. I suppose US$ 400-600 would be a fair price for a good quality bitch of 4-6 months. This would be a bitch possessing some strong virtues and with excellent breeding. (Good quality should follow good breeding.) A "topping" bitch, one with strong virtues and just minor faults, may run you a good deal more. If the bitch doesn't have some very strong virtues, regardless of faults, then look for another. You must look at her virtues and her faults together. I have heard so many people say, "There's nothing wrong with her." I would agree, but think that there was nothing really right about her either. If she is typey and full of quality, she will be far more advantageous, even if her topline isn't perfect, or her front isn't 100%.
This is key in a good breeder. You may know a fault when you see one, but do you know a strong virtue? Don't expect to find something with great virtues and little no-nothing faults. Often, they will go hand in hand, great virtues and great faults. So look at the bitch and think, "Do her virtues outweigh her faults?" Is her breeding solid? Does she have a lot of quality?
There are different levels of "quality". I've never seen a top-notch dog produced from a mediocre parent. The parents may have had devastating faults, but they also had outstanding virtues! This is what I mean when I say a dog is "of the right sort". Used properly, they have incredible potential. So never just fault-judge. I would rather have a bitch with the lousiest coat, a bad tail, and with white patches over both eyes, and with incredibly strong virtues, than the most pleasant non-entity! I would only have to worry about improving coat, tail and markings to achieve near perfection. With the non-entity I would have to worry about improving everything. This is precisely why fault-judging is useless and dangerous. Sadly, our show ring, supposedly the measure of breeding stock, fails us in this very objective.
My great criticism of the show ring is its reliance on fault-judging to separate the entries. The understanding of this is simple. Only a true expert can judge a virtue, but most can spot a fault when faced with one. There is a tremendously subtle difference between an acceptable trait and an outstanding one. It takes time, study, and talent to learn how to make those judgements. Many take the easier route... they judge faults. Our biggest pitfall, therefore, is to breed for ring success. Obviously we all want to produce dogs which will go into the ring and stand a good chance whatever the competition. The ring should always be considered the proving ground for our breeding stock. Too many breeders, however, have the "instant" mentality. They buy one bitch and want to breed the world's best Cardigan in their first litter.
Therefore they will choose a stud not for his virtues, but for his lack of faults. Far too often, I have seen an exceptional dog passed over because he possessed an outstanding fault, and a mediocre dog heavily used because he did not. This is the most worthless kind of thinking. If one sets one's sights on a constant, steady flow of improvement, and not on a hit-or-miss "breeding program", one will see positive results much sooner.
To summarize what I have said, if you intend to breed for ring success you will defer from breeding from the rare virtuous animal who has an outstanding fault, and by so doing, you will deny your breeding program any forward thrust, and condemn it to mediocrity. Remember, you're not trying to create a dog with no faults, only dogs with even stronger and even more virtues! Do not ever fool yourself into thinking you will breed the perfect dog. Humanity has never done anything perfect yet, and we never will. Our ideas of perfection change as time flows on - never static, never concrete. The best you can hope to do is to help in a positive way the forward movement of our breed.
Published in the CWCCA 1986 Handbook