In the Dog House

By: Simon Parsons


In the Dog House

IN A BREED which has plenty of serious breeders, and where one can breed litters knowing that it will be easy to find good homes for puppies you don’t keep, it is likely that decent dogs will be used relatively extensively at stud, especially if they are seen to produce quality pups in their early litters.

  But what about the breeds with only a handful of breeders, where they don’t breed too frequently as there is only a limited number of suitable pet homes?

  Here, top class males may well sire just one or two litters in their lifetime, simply because there aren’t enough bitches around for them to be mated to!

  The result can be that excellent bloodlines, which serious breeders have been developing for decades, can die out, or become irreparably diluted, when those breeders retire.

  If a few dogs are used on most of the available bitches – this does happen when a particular dog or line becomes ‘fashionable’ – those animals and their lines can very quickly ‘swamp’ a numerically small breed and very soon there is nowhere else for breeders to go.

  This is brought home to me when I look at those pedigree databases which have a ‘reverse pedigree’ facility. This brings up a chart, not of a dog’s ancestors, but of its descendants. Look up some dogs and you will find that within a few generations almost the whole breed is descended from them. 

  Others may make an impact in the first generation or two, but it only takes a few breeders to meet with bad luck or to give up, and very soon that dog’s influence may hang by a thread or die out altogether.

  In some breeds you can look at books of champions, if they are lucky enough to have one, and be shocked at how many of them have left no long term impact on their breed. It always strikes me that this is such a waste, especially if entire  distinctive bloodlines are lost down the way.

  This can be even sadder if a health issue or some other problem arises through the over-use of certain lines, and there is nowhere else left to go.

  That’s when you might very much want to be able to use something different. But unless someone had the foresight to take semen from the ‘old dogs’, that’s not possible… So perhaps you can understand why I’d like to see some support for the idea of a ‘gene bank’ for the numerically small breeds.

  One has to wonder whether in some circles there is a view that if a breed were to die out, then so be it. I hope I’m not simply being sentimental in feeling that this would be a betrayal of the efforts of countless breed enthusiasts down the generations. As one friend of mine very aptly put it: “Breeds are as much our heritage as are National Trust properties.”