Breeding for Titles

When I first started my breeding project, I aimed for using exclusively titled stud dogs – with both working and show titles, when possible – as this is what I had been led to believe was evidence of worthy breeding stock. Spend X amount of money on showing or training your dog, get X amount of titles and you are officially a reputable breeder and people will recommend you and your dogs. In fact, this sort of practice is a common fallacy held in the Dobermann world today and a huge problem which has led to popular sire syndrome – a phenomenon where the same stud dogs are used over and over again by many breeders. Why is that a problem? Because when less than 1% of the available gene pool is used in breeding, at some point all the dogs become closely related and it will then be impossible to find an outcross option.

This practice or restricting the gene pool through titles has always been exacerbated by the German Dobermann club, wherein both parents must have passed the breed survey (Zuchttauglichkeitsprüfung/ZTP) and one of the parents must hold a working title, in order to register the litter. These days, it is even more extreme as both sets of grandparents must have passed the breed survey on top of that. However, from 2020 almost no foreign dogs will be able to breed in Germany, for the simple reason that the German ZTP is not available in the majority of countries and so unless the grandparents of the planned litter were exported from a country where the ZTP is available, it’s impossible for them to have participated in it. Germany is a unique example, as most breed clubs around the world don’t have such restrictive rules, and so breeders are quite free to import and use foreign dogs as long as they pass the required health and/or temperament tests. Sadly, they don’t do this as much as they could, because it is easier to stick to what one knows.

There are good things and bad about mandatory titles being necessary to breed, using the German example we can say that on the one hand, there is a bare minimum that is guaranteed in terms of preserving working ability. On the other hand, titles can be gained through corruption, and there is the depletion of the gene pool as the individuals become more inbred with time. The downfalls of high levels and continued inbreeding are clear: a decrease in fertility, an increase in allergies, autoimmune and systemic disorders, as well as high occurrences of specific diseases. Such is the case with Dobermanns, where the breed has been shown to be very inbred and have very little genetic diversity. It is therefore no wonder that an estimated 40-60% of all Dobermanns will go on to develop dilated cardiomyopathy (DCM) at some point in their lives. You can read more about the level of inbreeding and lack of genetic diversity in the breed from the UC Davis findings by clicking here.

Since my A-litter, I’ve changed my philosophy about only breeding to titled dogs. I now aim to breed for the qualities I like along with preserving less common lines, in order to secure a wider range of genetic material for future generations. The problem breeders had before was that everyone was just planning matings based on pedigrees. However, dogs that look relatively unrelated on paper could in fact be quite closely related when it comes to their DNA. This is possible because within the four extant Dobermann sub-populations (American, Australian/New Zealander, European showlines and European working lines), on average one individual is about as related as a half-cousin to other members of the group. With the development of new DNA tests to gauge exactly how inbred an individual dog is and its level of relatedness to other individuals in the breed, it has become possible to accurately manage the population’s genetic diversity.

What about Backyard Breeders and breeding on the cheap without titles, you say? Well, it’s a very fine line to walk between going all the way and doing nothing at all. Older breeders who have been at it for decades have already established a name for themselves and will likely have no problem making more adventurous combinations. But there is very real pressure on young and new breeders to get things right, and recognizably so. Meaning: full health testing, titles, the “right” lines, and so on. However, while I titled my first brood bitch Ashra quite a bit in show, I will not necessarily aim to do the same with my subsequent dogs. Why? First of all, shows are biased – a European line dog would almost never have a chance in the Americas, and the same is true vice versa. In terms of working, I don’t live in an area which offers Mondioring and I’m not super keen on IPO/IGP. Maybe I’ll change my mind to get serious enough about it to title, or try something completely different like SAR. We’ll see how it all goes, once I’ve gotten over my back injury.

TLDR: It is important that one has an objective insight into one’s program, and so when it comes to structure, I believe that all dogs should at least get one show grading. As for working, not everyone has the opportunity to train in their chosen sport, be it due to financial reasons, a lack of training facilities/clubs, or simply temporary or longterm health problems. That’s not to say that one should neglect training altogether, but one should not get hung up about titles. The point of it all is not to collect pieces of paper, but to have third-party input in order to minimize kennel blindness (or breeder bias). But nothing is a guarantee, after all, there are always “trials by night” for those who insist on titling unworthy stock.

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