Bo Bengtson At Large: Good Breeders and Others

It’s an endlessly fascinating subject: who’s a good breeder and who is not. Who decides? What are the criteria? Let me give you a couple of examples of how opinions can diverge.

True story: A profile of top breeders published in a breed publication (no relation to Dogs in Review) caused Breeder X upset, hurt and anger beyond words because she was not included. Careful checking of records divulged the fact that Breeder X was responsible for a grand total of three champions, none of them with a distinguished record beyond their AKC title. All the other kennels featured had bred at least a couple of dozen champions, many with big wins in top competition. Confronted — as politely as possible — with these figures, Breeder X snorts and says with earth-shattering conviction, “But those aren’t good champions. Mine are GOOD champions!”

True story: A writer in a dog publication (not Dogs in Review) reviews a dog book that happens to be close to my heart. While largely positive, the writer laments the fact that the “great” Breeder Y is given such short thrift that her breeding barely rates a mention. Aghast at this apparent omission, the book’s author analyzes available records and finds that Breeder Y, while the proud owner of several famous dogs bred by others, has produced a known total of five or six litters, resulting in some nice champions, none of which, however, made a dent in any major specialty or all-breed competition, far less in any ranking system. 

True story: Low-key handler takes big win at a major specialty. All-rounder judge at ringside remarks how nice it is to see an “unknown” person win for a change. The handler in question had, in fact, bred well over a hundred champions over two decades, including four of the all-time top sires in this breed.

Summary: breeders are not necessarily good at assessing the relative importance of their own and others’ achievements. And even so-called experts in our sport don’t necessarily know enough to separate the image from the facts.

Can we at least agree that facts matter? Not just the obvious facts — like the number of champions, how easily these dogs finished, at what shows they won, and if they went on to establish impressive records beyond the basic AKC title. Other facts are equally important, such as the scope of the breeding program. A few handsome new champions on a regular basis from a breeding program that consists of just a couple of litters each year is impressive; the same result from someone who breeds many more litters, less so. Sure, you can produce only pet-quality puppies and still be a responsible breeder, but that probably shouldn’t earn you any “Top Breeder” awards.

There are other considerations which are  even more important for most people, but more difficult to check. What are the health records of the breeder’s stud dogs and brood bitches? How about mental soundness? How are the dogs kept and what kind of life do they live? If there are working opportunities for this breed, do they succeed there also? And how do you know how the breeder deals with puppy buyers, if he or she provides a meaningful follow-up service for puppies sold, etc.?

OK, that’s a long laundry list... and I don’t think many of us are able to honestly put a “check mark” next to all of them.

The problem, of course, is that even the measurable achievements are not easy to compile. With over 20,000 new AKC champions every year, and with (at last count) 1,426 annual all-breed Best in Shows to consider, how can even the most earnest of us figure out who the “best” breeders are? Success in all-breed competition may not even be the best yardstick of success for a breeder, but what else is there, realistically, to go by?

I don’t envy the people who compose the list of finalists for AKC’s “Breeder of the Year” awards, nor the nominating committee who does the same thing for Dogs in Review’s “Outstanding Breeder” award. There’s no question that they come up with winners whose achievements are impressive, but I wonder how many worthy breeders are buried in the avalanche of figures and records that threaten to drown us all.

Not that this is any reason for disregarding the facts and deciding that so-and-so is a great breeder simply because “I say so.” It’s everyone’s responsibility to know the facts before passing judgment, and it’s the job of those of us in the dog magazine publishing world to present as much comprehensive data as possible.

DOG SHOWS FOR HEALTH

Much has been said recently about the necessity of dog shows to focus on canine health. It makes sense, and it’s necessary. The Kennel Club in the U.K. has done a lot to encourage conformation judges to make health features a primary consideration in their awards, and the Swedish Kennel Club just published official guidelines for how judges should deal with exaggerated conformation features. Quote (in translation): “A conformation judge shall act to preserve the typical features of each breed within the limits of the breed standards. This, however, may never take place at the expense of the dogs’ health through exaggerated conformation features. It is the judge’s responsibility to be familiar with the breed standard as well as with the health risks which may accompany exaggerations.”

This is, of course, giving dog show judges much greater responsibilities than in the past. Should judges have the authority to, in effect, act as guardians over our show dogs’ apparent health, in however limited a manner? What does AKC say?

We will have reason to return to this subject, I am quite sure.


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