by Sandra Murray

Not many breeders aspire to being known as ruthless. That word carries really negative connotations for most of us. However, if we are to become the master breeders that our chosen breed so demands, then ruthless is exactly what we must become. In the context of a breeding program, ruthlessness becomes a worthy goal, one that every master breeder practices constantly. In fact, no real progress can be made within a breed unless a substantial core of ruthless master breeders practice their craft over a number of years.

Let me explain what I mean. Let’s say that Breeder A takes her good quality, champion bitch to Breeder B’s stud dog, a dog that is known for his excellence of structure and movement and the main reason why Breeder A chose him. In the resulting litter of four, two puppies inherit the sire’s good reach and drive but have heads only somewhat better in quality than the sire. The other two puppies inherit the classic, type-y head and body shape of the dam, but exhibit only average ability to cover ground. Breeder A absolutely loves the heads of the latter two puppies and their quality of type and just cannot bring herself to keep and breed from the great moving, but only acceptably-headed puppies in the litter. By choosing one of the better-headed puppies to keep and breed on, Breeder A has totally negated the very reason that she chose its sire. Breeder A has failed to be ruthless enough to retain one of the better moving puppies, refusing to accept that heads are easier to fix than structure and movement in subsequent offspring.

Here’s another example. In choosing a 14-week-old puppy to keep from a litter, Breeder C loves the quality of type shown in a bitch puppy’s head and body. If this breeder holds on to ruthless honesty, he will notice that the back dips markedly behind the withers, the length of the croup is too short and the slope is too extreme, which causes an overly long tail to arch unattractively over the back at the trot when excited. In a breed in which the tail is to be carried no higher than the level of the back, this fault is a serious one. In addition, the front legs are slightly bowed, and the feet toe-in. Breeder C has violated the ruthless evaluation law: three strikes and you’re out! Each strike must represent a serious fault in structure, movement, or breed type. In this particular bitch pup, the crooked legs lack the strength of straight bone to withstand the repetitive concussions of landing after jumping off or over something; the dip behind the withers signifies a weakness in the structure of the back – quite serious. The sharply sloping, shortened croup, again, points out a serious defect, this time in the slope and position of the pelvis that will adversely affect rear movement. The too-high tail carriage that sometimes accompanies a steeply sloping croup does not carry any structural or movement problems in and of itself, but it is a serious breed type fault in those breeds meant to gait with the tail carried no higher than the level of the back. Many judges, especially the British or F.C.I. judges, will not even look at a dog with such faulty tail carriage. If Breeder C knew which traits are extremely dominant in his breed, he would realize that sharply sloping, shortened croups as well as dips in the back behind the withers are the devil’s own work to breed out of a line. Ruthless he must be in order to cull this particular puppy by selling it as a pet with neutering required at six months of age.

Choosing to use what I call the “three strikes and you’re out” rule, Breeder D has called upon long-time breeders to help her evaluate a 6-month-old puppy from her last litter. The youngster has a lovely head and a good coat, but its scapula (shoulder blades) are set too far apart (strike one) and at too straight an angle (strike two). The stifles in the hind legs seem to have adequate angulation, but, perhaps because of shortened ligaments and tendons, the puppy significantly lacks reach and drive behind (strike three). Its hocks move too closely and it wings slightly in front (You’re out!). Very few of the long-time breeders tell Breeder D the whole truth about this puppy for fear of hurting her feelings. May I mention here that ruthlessness applies to mentors as well as to breeders? At least one long-time breeder does lay it all out for Breeder D, much to her dismay. She immediately whines that she will have nothing to show if she culls this puppy, and so she keeps the dog anyway. How many times do small breeders retain, show, and then breed a mediocre to inferior dog just so that they can have something to show and breed? Where in all of the learned tomes on dog breeding does such advice exist? Breeder D’s lack of ruthlessness has doomed her to only occasional wins at small shows. On the other hand, master breeders competing in the show ring sometimes give thanks for such “point packers” because they keep the majors intact for the rest of the exhibitors with truly good dogs!

Now Breeder E has a dog with a good head, correct coat, plus great proportions and balance for the breed. The dog makes a lovely picture standing. Breeder E campaigns the dog to its championship and specials it heavily, climbing in the national breed rankings. However some dark clouds emerge to mar this perfect picture. The dog is restricted in both his front as well as his hind movement. He is a “tummy tapper” behind, in that he pulls each hind leg far forward and up but no follow-through behind exists. The hind leg’s rear arch backward stops abruptly in line with the point of butt (the ischium), giving a goosestep appearance in the hind movement with no needed follow-through. Anyone who has taken lessons to improve a golf swing knows how essential a good follow-through is! Because the breeds within the Hound Group were designed to move efficiently – defined as a maximum amount of ground covered with a minimum of effort – then this dog’s gaiting seriously violates the historical purpose for which the breed was intended. His movement faults include structure and movement defects as well as defective breed type, because type is largely based upon the historical purpose of the breed. Now how many judges do you think accurately evaluated this dog’s movement and penalized him accordingly? Sadly, very few saw past the lovely picture the dog made standing still. If Breeder E possessed adequate ruthlessness, he might well have finished the dog’s championship but would have refrained from any extensive campaigning as a special. He would have been well aware of the dog’s faulty movement. Instead, he would have retired the dog from the show ring and bred him only to those bitches that exhibited the correct reach and drive for the breed and retained only those offspring that had inherited such correct movement. Such a ruthless plan would catapult Breeder E into the rarified heights of master breeder status.

The class dog campaigned by Breeder F moves fairly well, boasts a good head and coat, and should finish without too much trouble. Perhaps, Breeder F missed some of the subtle signals during the dog’s puppyhood and early showing, because this dog is quite unconfident. He does not move around the ring with much gusto nor does he enjoy the examining table very much. The judges, unknown strangers to the dog, who touch him without much introduction or asking permission first, unnerve him. Before too long, his lack of confidence and skepticism of strangers has degenerated into shrinking away from a judge’s hands on evaluation. By the time the dog has graduated into the specials competition, his overly shy reactions have morphed into snapping at judges and, finally, into biting a judge while on the examining table. His breeder-handler attempts to make excuses and smooth over this unacceptable behavior. Other breeders cannot help but notice the dog’s faulty temperament but are reluctant to confront Breeder F. The hard facts are these: temperament in dogs is about 85% to 90% inherited. Unacceptable behavior can certainly be moderated, but such a dog as the one described above can never be totally reliable, because he simply lacks the genetic capability for the necessary emotional strength and resiliency. As a hound, then, this dog exhibits a temperament diametrically opposed to that which a hunting partner or family companion should possess, and thus, it is an intolerable breed-type defect. If Breeder F chooses to become a master breeder, then he must be ruthless enough to neuter this dog and keep him until his dying breath – or euthanize him. He cannot in clear conscience place a dog with such a temperament in a family where he could bite again out of fear. Breeder F lacks such ruthlessness, however, and he subsequently breeds the dog in question to outside bitches as well as to his own bitches, thereby perpetuating the dog’s unstable temperament to yet another generation.

These fictional scenarios barely scratch the surface of all of the ways in which breeders fail to be ruthless enough to improve their own stock or the future of their breed. I have not even touched upon the genetic health anomalies that should eject an otherwise gorgeous dog from a breeding program. Breeders without ruthlessness will never become mater breeders. I would invite all of us to take a hard look at our own breeding practices to truly see where we have failed to be ruthless enough in evaluating our dogs. From evaluating correct breed type to structure to movement to temperament to health issues, where have we achieved ruthlessness in selecting only the very best – no matter the cost to us in heartache, correcting former misconceptions, having nothing to show, etc. – and where have we failed? Reality dictates that only a small percentage of the total number of breeders will care enough, be passionate enough, to aim for Master Breeder. However, that small percentage had better constitute a solid core that produces dogs of exceptional quality in every way. A gene pool of such dogs must exist for the next generation of ruthless master breeders to draw upon for their own breeding programs. So hats off to the ruthless breeders! Long may they breed, compete, and mentor so that others may learn to be ruthless, too!

About the author: The author has bred and shown dogs for over 40 years. She has written many articles that have been published in several different dog magazines and newsletters. Her first book has been published, with the goal of writing another soon. She was born with a passion for both dogs and horses that still enriches her life. Now retired from her position as a college instructor, Sandra lives in the Pikes Peak region of Colorado with her husband of nearly 44 years. They have two grown children and one grandchild.