The importance of the bitch in the breeding program

It is a matter of record that over the past 35 years we have housed many influential sires. Having an active stud force has allowed us the opportunity to live with and evaluate literally thousands of bitches. Since there is not a lot for a person to do while holding two dogs that are tied, I usually spend the time studying the bitch and evaluating the combination of the two individuals, wondering whether it will be history in the making or just another litter of puppies.

My advice to others over the years has always been to LOOK TO THE DAMS OF THE STUD DOGS. Tail male charts are interesting but they leave out a very important element of the story and that is the bitch. It is the bitch who provides the complement to the sire and determines the distinction among his offspring, both in quality and producing ability.

Breeding dogs is a creative process that combines the eye of the artist with the laws of nature. Also included must be a large measure of common sense. Breeding dogs is a process of building generation after generation, of constantly gaining in one area and losing in another. The breeder is like a juggler trying to keep the pins for correct type, stable temperament, and good health in the air at the same time. The bitch is the building block utilized in the process of creative breeding.

When selecting a foundation bitch or planning a breeding there is one principal that I have witnessed as law: WHAT YE SOW YE SHALL REAP. If you don’t want something to show up, don’t start with it or add it to the gene pool. Recessive problems will slip by through lack of information, but to knowingly add a serious problem to your program shows no common sense. You may try to close your eyes to something but Mother Nature will provide a wake up call at some point up the road.

Quirks of temperament, tendencies toward physical weakness, and reproductive problems are inherited as well as physical characteristics. We have certain lineal descendants who get panicky during thunderstorms. Another family group gets violently car sick as puppies. These behavioral idiosyncrasies continue generation after generation. Thirty-five years ago I had a bitch shipped in for breeding who possessed the most beautiful eye and skull that I had ever seen. She was unshown due to a crooked front leg that she had fractured during puppy hood. No problem, I thought, as I was interested in the genes for skull and eye. I acquired a daughter from the breeding and at four months of age she broke her front leg but went on to be a very influential producer. She would have had more champions herself but one of her best daughters broke her leg as a puppy – a statement on the inheritance of physical weaknesses.

Not all great show bitches are great brood bitches. We had a multiple Best in Show bitch that looked like she would be a tremendous producer as well. She had exceptional quality, substance and great attitude. We bred (her) several times and each time she whelped perfectly formed puppies that were still born. This was particularly frustrating since we could feel the puppies moving a few days before whelping, indicating they were dying just before or during the birthing process. Trying to outsmart Mother Nature, we had our vet take the puppies by cesarean section several days prior to her due date. The puppies were tiny and weak but through constant vigilance and tube feeding we did save one bitch puppy. She was bred and produced one beautiful daughter who finished easily and in style. When this bitch was bred, she whelped litters of perfectly formed still born puppies. This was our wake up call and the bitch was culled. Again, what ye sow ye shall reap. Keep in mind that the tendencies toward skin problems, thyroid problems and other defects are also inheritable.

When evaluating a bitch from a breeding standpoint there are several key areas to consider: health, temperament, physical quality (phenotype) and pedigree (genotype).

The ideal bitch should be an easy keeper and a good doer. A hearty appetite that keeps her in good flesh with no coaxing is of great importance. A bitch who won’t eat, especially when she has a new litter of puppies depending on her, is not well suited to motherhood and can make your life miserable. Avoid bitches from families who require medication and supplementation to maintain their condition and fertility. The goal is to produce good sized healthy litters to provide selection within a creative breeding program and to keep the process as natural as possible. We are living in a time when veterinary medicine has become quite sophisticated in the area of reproduction. Thyroid medication and hormone therapy make it possible for bitches who would not ordinarily come in season to do so and produce litters. There are tests to monitor silent or irregular seasons so that ovulation can be pinpointed and problem bitches can conceive and produce offspring. Although it is impressive that we can overcome Mother Nature and produce litters out of such bitches I question the benefit in the long run.

Ideally, the bitch should be as free a possible from hereditary defects. To be entirely genetically free of hereditary defects is not a possibility but it is in the area that common sense must be employed. Don’t breed bad eye checks, entropion, testicle problems, bad hips or other such problems unless you are willing to deal with more of the same. I repeat: WHAT YE SOW YE SHALL REAP.

The ideal bitch possesses a stable, sensible temperament with intelligence and trainability. These qualities of correct Breed Character, not only make good show dogs, but are what have drawn the pet buying public to the Sheltie for years. The bitch is the role model for the puppies and in the area of temperament accounts for more than her genetic fifty percent. There is no excuse or place in the breeding program for a shy, flighty or nervous Sheltie bitch.

When selecting for physical quality in a bitch, it is important to keep in mind which qualities are most difficult to achieve and maintain. While not every bitch can be a CH Larkspur of Pocono or a CH Riverhill Rare Gold, the purchase of a foundation bitch requires extensive study followed by careful thought and selection. This, by the way, is not the time to become frugal. Go for the very best bitch you can find as she can save you years of disappointment, frustration, and wasted time.

Head qualities are of great importance in the brood bitch. All will have some deficiencies but the degree of fault is what must be considered. It is extremely difficult to correct severe lack of skull, snipey muzzle, depth of head, lippiness and certain bite problems. While on the subject of bites, be wary of a narrow underjaw, missing premolars and inverted molars. The virtue of flat frontal bone, clean sides to the skull, tight lip line and roundness of muzzle will definitely increase your chances of producing exceptional quality. The greater the degree of virtue your bitch possesses the better are your chances of producing a great one.

It is almost impossible to radically change body type and structure through breeding in only a few generations. Therefore, it is necessary to select and maintain bitches who approach your mental picture of the ideal as described by the Standard. Correct body type is a matter of the proportion and angles of the skeletal structure. While abundant coat is a real plus in a breeding program and can enhance a good outline it is still only the icing on the cake. It is what is under the coat that is important, i.e., arch of neck, a strong back, well laid back shoulders, long stifle, good definition of the hock joint and sloping croup. These are the qualities that your ideal bitch would possess and these are the qualities that create the picture of correct Sheltie type, standing and in motion. It is these same qualities that make certain individuals stand out in the huge classes at the National. Since soundness and elegance are priorities in our program we continually select for the curvaceous and sweepy body lines with deeper angulation and more neck. Just as the head naturally reverts to commonness so does the body and outline.

Unless you have had first hand experience with dogs in a pedigree the document is of little more value than a list of names. With study a pedigree becomes a valuable tool for creating and predicting quality. No where on the pedigree does it tell which dogs were strong producers or which were producers of problems which still haunt us. The title of champion means very little when evaluating producing ability. It is our responsibility to study and research individuals and family lines and to choose the ones who “look” appeals to you and who shortcomings you can abide. The qualities that a bitch possesses should reflect the qualities of her ancestors. She should be the physical demonstration of the strength of her pedigree. Bitches who are the exception for a family rather than the rule cannot be counted on for predictability.

It is impossible to place a value on a bitch of extreme virtue and strength of a pedigree without taking into account breeder judgment. However, when utilized in a creative manner by an astute breeder, it would be fair to say her value is nothing less then the future of the breed.”


Article by Tom Coen

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