Starting Over – When You Must Back Up to Get Ahead

Adult German Shepherd Dog laying on grass.


Starting Over – When You Must Back Up to Get Ahead

One of the hardest lessons to learn and to accept in our sport is that it will sometimes be necessary to rethink our decisions. However costly those decisions might have been, it usually proves even more costly to ignore the warning signs and forge ahead. When we are working with genes, Mother Nature often gets the last laugh. Also, because there is much subjectivity in the sport, we will regularly encounter negative individuals who do not play well with others. That may require us to reconsider our strategy if we want to continue on a positive path.

The need to start over affects us all, novices and experienced breeder-exhibitors alike. Let’s look at six scenarios, and see how we can benefit from a do over.


Your Show Puppy Doesn’t Turn Out

Unless you are purchasing your first show dog as an adult, all a good breeder can offer you is a promising puppy with show potential, well socialized, from a sire and dam that have proven themselves in the show ring to be good representatives of the breed. Despite all your loving attention as an eager beginner, the puppy’s bite can go off, it can grow too tall or stay too small for the Breed Standard, or other anatomical details can rear their ugly head to derail the show career you had in mind. Sometimes, you can work around a few cosmetic flaws; other times, a single fault is just too glaring to take into the show ring. It’s happened to all of us. A good breeder won’t want to lose a sincere novice and will typically offer you another, better dog to show.

Sometimes, you can work around a few cosmetic flaws; other times, a single fault is just too glaring to take into the show ring. It’s happened to all of us. A good breeder won’t want to lose a sincere novice and will typically offer you another, better dog to show.


The Over-Controlling Mentor

All of us encourage novices to join their local kennel club and find a successful breeder-exhibitor who will serve as a valuable mentor. Good mentors allow you to learn, grow, and absorb the knowledge of other successful breeders, exhibitors, and judges. Sadly, sometimes a mentor will feel threatened by your desire to leave the nest and seek information from other people. As you become more educated about your breed, you will see quality in other breeders’ dogs. No one should stand in the way of your growth. If a mentor resents your friendships with other people in the breed and the sport, it may be time to politely end the relationship.


Right Dog, Wrong Sport

As enjoyable as Conformation showing is, it can also get intensely competitive. Most of us get a little nervous before we enter the ring at a big, important show, but we quickly overcome the jitters. However, no one can get you to magically relax. If, after a few experiences of showing, you always find it an ordeal, more stressful than fun, you may want to explore other disciplines for you and your dog to enjoy in a more relaxed atmosphere. Obedience, Agility, Rally, Lure Coursing, Field Events—all are fast paced but definitely more casual than doing Conformation in a shirt and tie or a St. John power suit. Find the discipline that best suits your temperament.


Those All-Important Health Tests

For a breeder, few events are as discouraging as finding out that your winning bitch or potential stud dog does not pass important health tests. We’ve all experienced that heartbreak at one time or another. Once you accept the fact that he or she won’t be part of your breeding program, there are several options open to you. You might spay/neuter them and place them in a performance or pet home, or, if they are a particularly fine example of a rare breed, you might wish to still occasionally show them to keep an excellent example of the breed in front of the judges and other breeders. We breeders are pretty resilient about dealing with bad news, so the disappointment will lessen with time.


Reading the Signs

Back in the day, breeders expected a dependable brood bitch to conceive easily, whelp without problems, and nurse her litters happily. Modern science has achieved wondrous things in terms of getting bitches impregnated and saving puppies through C-sections, but those achievements have come at the expense of sluggish stud dogs and bitches with lazy uteruses. To move heaven and earth to get a bitch to conceive, then section her for a litter of one, and keep the puppy out of sentiment—or to recoup expenses—no matter its quality, is not the way to advance your breeding program.

Mother Nature is telling you this girl was not cut out to be a brood bitch. The old-timers would place such a bitch in a pet home without thinking twice. Today, many breeders would keep on keeping on, spending tens of thousands of dollars to get her bred. Leasing a proven brood bitch would save you years of time and pots of money, but the decision is, of course, a personal, emotional one.


Cutting Your Losses

No one sets out to breed a so-so litter. But even a litter that was years in the planning and looked like solid gold on paper can produce less-than-stellar results in the whelping box. Even with running a few puppies on for months, wanting and hoping for them to improve won’t likely make it happen. Cut your losses, and let those companion and performance homes on your waiting list know that you have some special puppies for them. Not all breedings pan out as we would like them to.

Disappointments are an inevitable part of the sport. Savor the highs, get through the lows, and always have a Plan B in your back pocket.

  • Although Allan Reznik has worn many hats in the dog show world over the past 50 years, he is probably best known as an award-winning journalist and broadcaster. He was the Editor-in-Chief ofDogs in Canada, Dog World, Dog FancyandDogs in Reviewmagazines. All four publications received national honors from the Dog Writers Association of America while under his stewardship.Reznik appears regularly on national TV and radio to discuss the dog show sport as well as all aspects of responsible animal ownership.He has bred and shown champion Afghan Hounds, Cavalier King Charles Spaniels and Tibetan Spaniels. He is currently an approved AKC judge of all three breeds, as well as a provisional/permit judge of 11 additional breeds.

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