Friday, October 10, 2008

Is Linebreeding Really a Good Idea

When our various breeds were first being developed, decades ago, it was necessary to "set" the desirable genes to establish the breed types. As the years went by, certain outstanding individuals were heavily bred to create a reproducible type that exhibited the needed hunting traits.

Now, in some cases, centuries later, the need for close breeding is not as crucial because the desirable traits are ingrained in our breeds. For the backyard breeder, an intense line breeding program is often just not practical. To create a family of dogs that are very homozygous for the desirable hunting traits requires maintaining a large number of breeding dogs and producing a large number of puppies to allow selection and the inevitable culling that goes with the program. Believe me, that culling ain't that much fun.

While line-breeding and in-breeding can help solidify the desirable traits in our breeding programs, the downsides (lowered vigor, increased genetic defects, etc.) outweigh the benefits in well established breeds.

In my view, small breeders should avoid real line-breeding. Sure, it is fine to have some common ancestors in the pedigree if they were noted producers of good hunting dogs but for the vast majority of us, a simple "best-to-best" approach is more workable.

In my own kennel, I look at what I need in a certain female...say it is trainability or biddability. I look for a male that was easily trained and very biddable. Sure, I look at his pedigree and maybe I will find a common ancestor or two. But, that is not my primary goal.

Breeders who have made a name for themselves as ardent line-breeders almost always had large kennels. I visited on kennel a few years ago that had 60 English Pointers on the grounds! They produced litter after litter. But, they culled ruthlessly. Again, for the back yard breeder, this is just not going to happen.

My philosophy is simple: Take the best female I own and breed her to the best male I can find regardless of distance or cost. Over time, that has worked about as well as any system. If you look closely at all the hunting breeds and research their pedigrees, you will find that the vast majority of the successful dogs are already related. Take the Beagle breed for example. When the first imports from England were done in the late 1800's, they could not have brought in more than say 100 hounds. So, logically, we can say that all the Beagles in American are essentially line-bred already. So, even a blatant out-cross still offers a degree of close breeding. I think this holds true for all the hunting breeds but especially the newer, smaller numbered ones.

Best-to-best. Hope for a common ancestor or two. But, don't try to establish a true line-breeding program unless you are young, have a lot of room, a lot of money, and a serious commitment to the whole project.

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