One Breeder's perspective
by Mark Dinsmore of L'Etoile du Nord Kennels
Well maybe not, since I am borrowing this from a breeder I have followed for the past decade, and odds are he has been inspired by other serious breeders and maybe a serious client… So, these aren’t my words, but we do share sentiment on how many prospective clients give too many breeders (fill in the breed of your choice, this isn’t a Drent or Spinone specific thing) an easy pass. I have permission to post this and have made a few light edits, mostly grammar and format for readability since this was originally a multi-part post. I will identify any additional thought(s) I have added with (Ed.). So without further ado:
One Breeder's Perspective
There has been an explosion of people starting to have litters (most certainly since the pandemic, Ed.). So how do you know if they are knowledgeable and have dogs that are worthy of breeding? Frankly, you don’t and many are not. I have decided to give my perspective on what someone looking at getting a puppy should be looking for, and some of the questions you should be asking.
I see a lot of people advertising puppies out of "Great" hunting parents. In fact, I don't think I have ever seen someone advertise anything less than that. Really? Every one of those dogs is a GREAT hunter. Says who? Sorry but reality is such that they all can't be great. Secondly, who is making that judgment?
Questions that should be asked:
First and foremost, can you go see the dog hunt? It is the old adage, seeing is believing. At a minimum, the breeder should be able to have a video for you to see of their dogs hunting.
What are they hunting? Wild Birds? Pen raised birds. It does make a difference. Wild birds are by definition wild. They will not tolerate a dog that is a sloppy hunter. A dog pressures the bird too much, the bird leaves. A pen raised bird will often just sit there. It doesn't matter that the dog is inches from it, frankly it has very little survival instinct or skills, it has never needed them. I have often seen where someone has had to pick up the bird and throw it, to get it to maybe fly. Also, a dog often doesn't need to hunt to find birds that have been put out for it. It is just an Easter Egg hunt. I understand that it can be hard for some people to hunt wild birds, and hence hunt planted birds. I will say at least the dog is getting to see some birds, but please don't say it is a great hunter, as you have no way of knowing if that is true.
How often do the dogs get to hunt? A couple of times a year for an hour or so? Doesn't really tell you much about the dog’s ability. To know just how good of a hunter a dog is, it needs to get out A LOT. It needs to hunt when the birds are plentiful, and more importantly when the birds are scarce. The truly great dogs will hunt all day to find that one bird, and not only will they be hunting, but they will also be hunting HARD.
I would caution you to take what you hear about their dogs being great, with a grain of salt. Remember, it is one person's opinion. Ask hard questions.
A bird dog is just that, a hunter of birds. But without training how can a dog rise to its true potential? Not all dogs are created equal. Training separates the wheat from the chaff. A Breeder needs to train their dog, before they can brag about how good they are. It is a question a prospective buyer should be asking.
Training shows a breeder a number of things. Does the dog have the brain and mindset to be able to handle training? Training is stressful for dogs, just as it is for humans. Not all dogs can handle that. It shows how quickly a dog can adapt to new situations, and trust me, they must be able to adapt in the field while hunting. It shows what level of intelligence a dog has. Dogs are not robots; they must be able to think in the field and make decisions while they are hunting. They must be able to learn where birds are likely to be. Training also shows biddability, the willingness to work with you.
So, your dog is a "Natural" and doesn't need to be trained. Sorry but NOPE. No one can tell me their dog wouldn't be better without training, not to mention without training you are not able evaluate to the afford mentioned comments on training. Case in point. Many of you have probably heard of a dog by the name of Vernon de L'Escarbot. Vern was a "Natural" at 4 months of age. He ran the field well, quartering, and always turning into the wind. He found and pointed birds and was staunch. He retrieved to hand starting with his first ever shot bird. Did he need to be trained. ABSOLUTELY. He would never have achieved the heights without the training, plus I would have not known just how good he truly was. ALL dogs will benefit from training. When asking a breeder how well their dogs are trained, don't accept them saying they are "Naturals", frankly in my opinion that is just a copout.
So, you are not as lucky as I am to live in the country with wide open tracts of land to run on, nor birds to train with. Send the dog out to a trainer. How can you say it is too expensive to do that, if you are making money selling the puppies out of those dogs? There are things I can't do training wise. Right now, I have a young dog with a trainer to be trained to be handled off a horse. I don't have a horse at this time, so I can't train him. I went online, posted what I was looking for, Found, met with and dropped off Styx for training with the trainer, all in less than 24 hours. (We too needed a trainer with a horse, we did our own search, made the appointment, and was part of the training event. We did what was needed to ensure our dog was set up for success. It was a super cool afternoon to boot, Ed.).
A reputable trainer will have trained the dogs they are breeding. That doesn't mean they have to fully broke, but they need to go through some level of formal training to learn their strengths and weaknesses, and suitability for breeding.
Knowledge of the breed
A reputable breeder should possess a good amount of knowledge of the breed. It doesn’t mean they have to know everything, but they should have a good grasp on many subjects.
At a minimum:
A breeder should know the history of the breed.
What the conformation standard of the breed is and where their dogs fit in that. They should be able to articulate why their dogs are in standard and not just say they are in standard. Be able to list strengths and more importantly weaknesses, and EVERY DOG has weaknesses.
What the working standard of the breed is, meaning how they are supposed to hunt, and not simply say their dogs are good or great hunters. Every single one says they have good or great hunters. Do you really think every dog is great? They should be able to tell you exactly why they are great, based on the working standard, not based on what their opinion is. Sadly, most people don’t know how the dogs are supposed to hunt.
A breeder should know the lineage of their dogs, not just say they are great lines, but rather why they are great lines and what the titles mean. I am amazed when someone says they are “Champion lines” but then don’t even know what the titles mean and the requirements to achieve them. Always remember a pedigree is just a piece of paper. Too many people just breed dogs based that piece of paper, not based on the actual dog. Remember, you are buying a dog, not a piece of paper!
Do your due diligence and ask questions. A reputable breeder wants questions (Ed.). If they can’t answer your questions or give you vague answers, is that what you want? I suspect you aren’t looking for a vague dog.
Conformation, aka the breed standard.
What is conformation, and what does it have to do with the breed standard? Is it important?
The simple answer to the second question is a resounding YES!! A breed standard is how we define a dog breed. It lists out the attributes a dog is supposed to have to be considered a particular breed. Without breed standards, simply put, we don't have individual dog breeds. Surprisingly, and more so, sadly, a lot of people breeding dogs don't think it is that big of a deal. SERIOUSLY??!! All they care about is function in the field (or some other narrow band of traits, Ed.). That is a ridiculous assertion.
A breed standard dictates how a dog moves in the field and hunts (and quite possibly much more depending upon the breed and its standard, Ed.). If a dog is out of standard, it may not run properly, and that leads to decreased stamina, and wear on the dog's joints. Which can lead to increased (number of and severity of, Ed.) injuries and shorten the hunting career of a dog. In this regard a breed standard is vitally important.
Conformation is how well a dog adheres to the breed standard. No dog is perfect, let me repeat that, NO DOG IS PERFECT! All dogs have areas where they are weaker, as well as areas where they are stronger. In France, I don't know about the rest of Europe, to be registered a dog must go in front of a Conformateur, after the age of one. If they don't meet a minimum standard, they cannot be registered. (This is not common in Europe, I've shown dogs in the Netherlands, Spain and Portugal, but I see a tremendous amount of value in such a system. The Dutch have Breeder's Day where mated pairs of dogs are invited to be shown with their offspring as a unit and individually in an effort to gauge the success of creating the next generation of Drents. This is an ideal time to learn about the breed, Ed.). In the show ring dogs are rated, Excellent, Very Good, Good, Insufficient. At the CEB-US dogs are given a written evaluation so a breeder can know the strengths and weaknesses of their dogs (At Breeder's Day and other similarly formatted shows Drents are given a detailed written evaluation much in the same way, Ed.). Remember, the evaluation is only as good as the Judge (italics, Ed.), so things do have to be taken with a grain of salt (No truer words have been spoken or written! Ed.). They don't always get an expert for the breed to do it, and yes that can make a difference. (In North America there are no qualified judges for the Drent, and for the Spinone not all approved judges are well versed in the breed standard oftentimes selecting a few elements and hanging the whole enchilada on that versus a balanced approach...but I digress. In short don't rely on a judge to be the one to tell you about your dog - learn the breed, what's right and what's not, Ed.).
How does this all apply to breeding, you ask? Well, if you don't know the weaknesses of your dog, how can you improve it? Knowledge is power, the more knowledge you have of your breeding dog, the better decision(s) you can make when it comes to pairing dogs. One of the purposes of breeding is to better the breed, you need that knowledge to be able to attempt to do that.
Sadly, right now, as far as I can tell, the purpose of a lot of people breeding dogs is to make some money (Breeding dogs to make money in my experience is laughable, Ed.). It is not a bad thing to make money, but it is a bad thing if you don't really know anything about the breed or the dogs you are using, because then you are only doing it to (try to, Ed.) make money. Remember, you should also be trying to better the breed. Without a doubt some breeders have a lot of knowledge about the breed, but sadly most do not. Try asking the breeder you are talking to, "Where are your dogs lacking?" I would be willing to bet you will be greeted with a pause, if you even get an answer at all, and then a response that says their dogs have great conformation, or something like that. That is not an answer to what you asked. I can tell you the strengths of all my dogs, and more importantly the weaknesses, any breeder should be able to do that (we can as well and happily bore you to tears talking each dog's ups and downs, Ed.).
Remember, knowledge is power.
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