From the monthly column "Becoming" by Jacquelyn Fogel. This article originally appeared in ShowSight Magazine – July 2017 Issue. Click To Subscribe.
When I got my first basset I relied upon the knowledge and guidance offered by the people from whom my dog was purchased. It was not a sufficient plan. My first basset was from show stock, but she was sold to me as a pet because her breeders thought she was too refined to be a show dog. They also did not encourage me to spay her. I didn’t question their assessment, nor did I try to verify its accuracy. When she was 2 years old I began looking around for somebody who would breed to my show-stock bitch, and I found a breeder who lived close to me who looked at her pedigree and decided she was good enough to breed to one of their show dogs. I asked if they wanted a puppy back, but they said no, just a stud fee. My bitch got pregnant – and I lost all seven puppies because nobody told me I shouldn’t let her whelp them outside in 50 degree weather. I was only 21 and didn’t realize that breeding dogs was not something that just came naturally – like my Mom said it would. Mom had never bred a dog, but she was convinced they could do it on their own because dogs had survived in the wild for thousands of years without human intervention. It was a tragedy of errors.
After that first loss I bred my bitch again because she had been good enough to breed to a champion, and I had done some research about whelping puppies. This time I went to a long-time breeder 125 miles away. She brought out her stud dog, got the two tied, then left me to watch them until they untied. There was no conversation, and she sent me on my way after taking my check for the stud fee and providing a pedigree for her dog. When I read the pedigree I realized that she had been the breeder of my bitch’s dam, and I had just met the famous Nancy Evans. ‘Had’ was the key word. I didn’t read the pedigree until I got home. I didn’t even know what I should have asked her, and she made it clear she didn’t want to spend any time talking to a newbie. I hadn’t asked her to evaluate my bitch or help me with puppy evaluation, or help me learn how to show, because I didn’t even know enough to ask those questions. I took my pregnant bitch home and had 5 beautiful puppies, one of which I kept because she had a lot of bone, something her dam lacked. Nevermind that she also had a terrible topline, wide, flat backskull and short flat ears. I “knew” she was beautiful because she came from my show-stock dam, she was bred to a champion, and she had more bone than her mother.
I bred the daughter to a local non-showable, poorly bred dog with a lot of bone and produced 6 large, unattractive dogs. Fortunately I did not keep any of those puppies. I moved to Wisconsin with my two show-stock bitches, and promptly looked up a local basset breeder. For the first time, I got some real help. She informed me that my bitch was not particularly beautiful, but she did have a pedigree that might be able to produce an acceptable level of quality when bred to one of her pre-potent stud dogs. I, of course, was greatly offended by her assessment of my bitch –after all, what did SHE know. She then asked me the best question anyone ever asked – How did I know my dog was nice if I had never compared her to the standard, or even any other basset? What equipped me with the knowledge to decide she was beautiful? What research had I done? And the education of Jackie began – 8 years and 3 litters after my first basset purchase. I swallowed my false pride and decided to replace it with an education instead.
Now I worry that newcomers to our sport are not willing to put in the time to learn what it has taken senior breeders a lifetime to learn. I worry that, like me, they will get a reasonably good dog from a reasonably good breeder, hear a reasonably good but likely incomplete assessment of their dog, then think they know enough to become top-level breeders themselves. It wasn’t until I had bred bassets for 15 years that I realized my foundation bitch was a much better dog than I thought, and the daughter I kept was a much worse dog than I thought. The only thing I heard about was bone, and that was the only variable I used to select the puppy to keep. Obviously there was a lot more to a basset than bone, and all that other stuff didn’t magically show up again every time I bred. Not only did I need to understand what made a good basset (phenotype), I also had to understand what caused those characteristics to become evident (genotype), and I had to figure out which pedigrees had what I was looking for. Once I got to that point, my mind had been opened enough to accept the second best advice I ever got which was to go to as many basset specialties as possible, watch everything, identify the “look” I liked best, then identify the kennels that produced that “look” and buy the best dog I could get from one of those kennels/breeders. That advice came 17 years after my first purchase of a purebred, and 5 years after I had finished my first champion. I still had one huge lesson to learn, and it took getting into a second breed to figure it out. Â
I bought a beautiful basset male form a top-producing kennel, and assumed I was on my way. I bred that dog to my improved bitches, and continued to hone my puppy evaluation skills. I had learned through a lot of research about correct fronts, and what I needed genetically to produce them. I learned about form following function, and I got really good at the basics of breeding, whelping and puppy selection. I was proud that everything I had kept went back to my foundation bitch. Again, false pride was keeping me from really moving forward. After 25 years of breeding bassets, I had not produced a consistent, typey “look”. While I was doing some significant winning, and I had some very sound, healthy dogs, I was not at the top of the game. Most of this was because I had falsely assumed that staying with my original foundation was a good thing, and I would be able to “breed up.” Breeding up is the longest, hardest way to produce a solid line of dogs. It can be done I think, in theory, but it can take decades to see a consistent, positive result.
When I got my first bedlington I realized the weaknesses in my basset breeding program. I started at a very different place in bedlingtons. My 25 years of stumbling and learning in bassets taught me that the quickest route to a successful breeding program is to start with an exceptional bitch from an exceptional line of dogs, and breed her exceptionally well. In 25 years I had learned basic movement and structure, basic genetics, basic breeding and whelping skills, basic puppy selection procedures, basic pedigree analysis, the basics of competition, and enough about the dog show world to trust my instincts about where the good dogs were coming from. There were no shortcuts. It’s been a lifetime of learning and applying the knowledge. I identified the line from which I wanted a bitch, and I waited three years to get her. Then I relied upon the wisdom of the person who developed that line to guide me in the right direction, and I followed his advice. In 28 years I had learned that I knew nothing. I had finally gotten to the place I needed to be – I knew nothing, and I was OK with that. Now the real learning could begin. My mind was open.
I don’t think it has to take 28 years to really begin. I started at the most innocent place possible, and assumed that I knew way more than I did because I had heard a few phrases from two presumably knowledgeable sources. I was also only 21 years old when I started, and had not developed any critical analysis skills. I just assumed purebred dog breeding was something anybody could do and did not require a skill set. I’d like to say this is an uncommon assumption, but the longer I remain in this business, the less confident I am that people, including dog show enthusiasts, really understand the complexity of what we do The general public is absolutely oblivious to our work, and that can sometimes hurt us. Just recently, I had to make an analogy for a dear friend who is a car fanatic. He could not understand why someone would fly all the way from Korea to buy just a dog from me. I had to point out to him that his calling my bedlingtons “just dogs”, is like saying a Tesla or a Formula 1 Ferrari is just a car.
Being reasonably successful in dogs is not the same as developing a line of dogs that are consistent in their look, soundness and ability. Developing a line is hard work at the beginning, but gets easier as your mind opens to new thoughts and ideas. As long as those ideas have a basis in thoughtful research and objectivity without kennel blindness, they can take a breeder to a good place. I find very few breeders aspire to build a line these days – most being content with being reasonably successful. It’s unfortunate, but not unexpected in these days of instant gratification. As a result, I think the overall quality of our dogs is suffering because few breeds have developed lines that are consistent in quality, temperament and health. A well-developed line can be a godsend if a casual breeder is trying to add a characteristic or improve on a fault. A solid line will be a good place to go to pick up something in even an occasional breeding program.
I also worry that few people read pedigrees anymore. I arrived at this thought after being approached by several foreign breeders interested in finding a Willow Wind bedlington now that David Ramsey has died. The last litter whelped at David’s house will carry his Willow Wind kennel name, but they are mostly dogs from my own line – originally foundationed on the Willow Wind bloodline from 20 years ago. Most of the dogs in the pedigree carry my own kennel name, or other kennel names that had incorporated Willow Wind into their pedigrees at some previous time. But without the Willow Wind prefix, it seems nobody knows what to look for. Even basic pedigree research can reveal whether a dog is predominantly linebred or outcrossed, and that will determine the usefulness of that dog in another’s pedigree. When I started breeding better bassets, I knew exactly what bloodlines used predominantly Lyn Mar Acres dogs, and which were foundationed on Santana-Mandeville. Those two dominant lines produced very distinct characteristics and it was (and still is) important to know what came along with those lines.
I think interest in purebred dogs is returning. Now we just need to encourage interest in breeding them. We need to kindle the same kind of spark that was kindled in me when I whelped my first litter of bassets. Then we need to encourage the development of recognizable, solid lines of purebred dogs. That will be good for all breeders, casual and serious, and the dog-adoring public as well.
Jackie Fogel got her first purebred basset in 1969, but her real education in the world of AKC dogs and shows started in 1979 when she moved to Wisconsin and whelped her first home-bred champion.