Riding on Coattails

It is a common practice in the dog breeding community to ride on the coattails of past successful combinations and individuals in a pedigree, rather than just resting on one’s own laurels. This has both positive and negative consequences: the original breeder who achieved fame becomes even more well known via the offspring and grand/great-offspring of their dogs, but likewise they are also blamed should a particular combination prove unsavoury. As a new breeder, one does not have the luxury of showcasing past achievements, and so even if care is taken to choose worthy individuals for a combination, until one has built up a reputation (which takes years), there will always be judgment cast based on the ancestry of the dogs in question.

I firmly believe that each individual dog should be taken for what it is and judged based on individual merit. Although many will vehemently deny this, you can get a very good dog out of shitty lines and vice versa – it all depends on your luck with the genetic dice. Of course, one can always improve their chances by choosing specific lines for specific purposes, from health-tested combinations etc. but really what one must remember is that what you have in the end is simply the dog in front of you. That said, strategic (or a lack thereof) breeding over generations will influence the long-term outcome and so one cannot simply rely on a long history of say, working ability, if the most recent 3-4 generations have not been proven.

One other point that I would like to touch upon is the blame game and pedigree protectionism. As a new breeder who is checking all the boxes and striving to do right by my dogs, I have surprisingly, on multiple occasions, still encountered many breeders who refuse to let their lines be used by breeders outside their country or social circle. This practice occurs because the breeders want control not only over their own dogs, but over the offspring of their dogs far into the future, lest their dogs pop up in some backyard bred combination. Within their own countries (or at least it is the case with the UK KC, AKC, NZKC, CKC and ANKC) it is possible to achieve this bureaucratically with limited registration of puppies that have not gone to approved show/working/breeding homes. This means that unplanned litters will not appear in the stud books, should they happen.

Now, it is understandable that one would not want to support unethical breeding practices nor be associated with them, however when the gene pool is at stake like it is in Dobermanns, the community has to learn to think outside of the box. The Dobermann Verein has so far refused to officially open up the stud books to allow ethical cross breeding to restore much needed genetic diversity and health to the breed. And so the next best thing breeders can do is to use any and all lines available – casting as wide a net as possible across the Dobermann world. When breeders close off their lines to the outside world, this does nothing but worsen the genetic diversity and health of the dogs in their region, and within the population as a whole. There is another option, which is more frowned upon by most breeders and disallowed by kennel clubs: unsanctioned outcrossing. While this is a topic which deserves an in-depth discussion in its own post, I will say this: when practices are unsanctioned, there is a lack of consensus as to where the line is drawn between questionable breeding practices and authentic preservation efforts within this grey area. Ethical breeders, whether they support outcrossing practices (sanctioned or not), cannot prevent their dogs from being used in such programs, let alone in the “designer breed” industry. While animal cruelty is an obvious case where authorities can be involved, we tread a dangerous path when it comes to overregulation if we wish to keep our relative freedoms in terms of purebred dog ownership and breeding.

End Note: we as breeders need to be mindful of our influence, negative and positive, future and past. Coattails will only take one so far – at the end of the day, you have to live with your individual dog(s) and with yourself after the choices you make.

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