The Challenge of
Dual-Purpose Breeding

Why Breed for Ability?

The Unexamined Breeding Program

On Dual Purpose Breeding

Why Breed for Ability?

I have often heard argument to the affect of "Just because our Spaniels haven't done field work or obedience doesn't mean that the
breed is not able to DO the work it was originally bred for. We just choose not to work them"

Would be nice if that were true. But if it were true, then show breds would not have ever earned the reputation for weak ability. That is what happened when show breeders claimed "the greatgrandsire was a hunter and the dam chases yard birds so these pups will hunt" and they pass off their non-show quality progeny to unknowing buyers seeking hunting companions. Buying a hunting companion from show lines this way is,frankly, a crapshoot (more so in some breeds than others). Breeders who prove their stock afield, choose to improve on the necessary traits for hunting, and know how to select hunting prospects from a litter are a better risk.

There is an old saying...."If you don't breed for it, you are breeding against it".

Put another way, if you do not select to maintain/prove particular traits, they will weaken/dilute.

If it helps to use the example of show breeding to see the point, what would happen if you *didn't* breed for body type and structure? What if you bred only to/for dogs that had nice heads and ignored the rest of the dog? What if you never tested for health problems and just bred to whatever looked good?

What if you bred ONLY for ability and not for structure/type at all? ("just because I don't breed for pretty heads and bodies doesn't mean my dogs can't win in a dog show, just that I CHOOSE not to show them".....see how ridiculous this sounds?)

Yes, it is true that there are a lot of show bred dogs that have retained good hunting ability - indeed that we linebreed insures that some entire lines will retain a bulk of ability assuming the stuff being repeated in the pedigree is strong. But correspondingly, if the core of a linebreeding lacks ability, so will the bulk of what the line produces.

I'll also add that inherent hunting ability amounts to much more than just birdiness. It breaks down to many different inherited components, some of which include:
Also, proper structure for the job (balanced fore and aft and properly proportioned for the required task, good chest and ribs, bone and muscling, strong, level topline, tight, thick feet, tight facial skin, correct earset (not too low), adequate muzzle, moderate coat)

Yes, quite a few of these abilities can be trained in. But if a dog inherits only a few of these traits, is that a dog I really want to train, hunt with, and breed under the description of "hunting dog"? I have a friend who hunts with Border Collies - they are naturally "birdy", biddable, outgoing, and intelligent. The rest she had to train for. She trained them to do a flusher's job and they do a servicable job (albeit not at all comparable to what my Spaniels can do). Does that mean they are "hunting dogs" and should be bred and promoted as such?

The inherent hunting abilities is what gives us the Spaniel personality that makes them such wonderful pets and is what buyers of Spaniels for hunting *expect*. Otherwise, why not just pick up a mutt at the pound and train the begeebers out of it?

If we take out either on purpose or by accident/neglect too many of these traits, we could well lose the very character of our dogs.
We all know Spaniels that are indifferent to game, hardheaded, dominant, give up a quest easily, skiddish to noise, hate water, scatterbrained, clingy, or conversely, "take off for the next county", dumb, or lacking in self-confidence. This the result of not selecting for the correct traits.
--and how can you select for these traits when you don't give your breeding stock the chance to prove they have them?

Back to top

The Unexamined Breeding Program

The following was taken, with permission from the author, from a thread on the Spanie-L List regarding breeding for competitive events vs. breeding for a well-rounded representative of the breed:

Date: Sat, 11 Jan 1997 14:54:39 -0500

From: Bob Sergeant

Subject: The unexamined breeding program

The variety of people on the list is extensive. Many are strictly owners or trainers of Spaniels. And for these owners there is truly only one responsibility and that is to love and care for their dogs no matter what they may choose to do.

I have always felt breeders, including - and especially - myself, should be held to a higher level of responsibility to their breed and those who buy their puppies. My responsibility is to breed the best English Springer Spaniel I can, and if in doing so they are considered worthy to win events in the field or in the show ring, great. If they do not, but live up to as many expectations that one might make of an English Springer Spaniel as a physically and mentally sound companion, hunting dog and breed representative, then I am succeeding as a breeder.

When a breeder of show dogs is not breeding actively to instill instincts as a requisite part of their selection process, or when a breeder of field trial dogs is breeding without consideration of soundness, conformation and breed type as a requisite part of their selection process, they are not breeding the best Spaniel, they are breeding "event dogs" that compromise the true character of the breed.

By simply saying we should all be satisfied to end this debate by saying "you do your thing and I do mine" is simply a way to avoid the issues and not take responsibility -----sweeping the issue under the rug to avoid controversy.

Simply put, if you take a position of "I am breeding the BEST as a show dog" or "I am breeding the BEST as a field dog", the end reward is personal satisfaction of winning the event. It has little to do with putting forth the best effort to breed the best Spaniel.

(editor's note: There was comment that in some cases proving ability would be impossible or impractical, example being the Rhodesian Ridgeback which was developed and used for Lion Hunting)

With regards to Rhodesian Ridgebacks, that breed is their responsibility. The fact that they have a breed that can not be easily trained for the task originally intended does not alleviate me from my responsibilities to maintain my breed.

With regards to not being a hunter or being turned off by killing birds, again, that does not remove the responsibility that one has as a breeder to maintain the breed. While you may not test your own dogs, that does not mean that you cannot breed to dogs that have been tested and proven. The (AKC) Hunting Test program can make a difference even if it is used passively. And indeed a WD (Working Dog) or a WDX (Working Dog Excellent) on a dog 3 or 4 generations back does not mean much relative to instinct.

Nature and the market place abhors a vaccuum. If show bred Spaniels were consistantly good hunters and overdone coats were not a problem the field bred Spaniel would not exist today. I spoke to a group of English Cocker Spaniel show enthusiasts over 10 years ago and suggested that if they did not soon get out and prove and promote their dogs that soon they too would have a distinctively split breed with an emerging field bred bloodline. (Editor's note: This has already been the case with English Cockers in the UK for decades.)

To the credit of the Welsh Springer Spaniel, Clumber Spaniel and others, they are preserving the integrity of their breed. I hope that more breeders of English Springer Spaniels, English Cocker Spaniels,and American Cocker Spaniels decide that they, too, want to preserve the identity of their breed rather than evolve it to suit their personal competitive desires.

If these debates cause one to reflect on their responsibilities as a breeder to their breed, than they are worth it each and every time they occur.

If I may quote an ancient Greek Beagle breeder, "the unexamined breeding program is not worth feeding"


Back to top

On Dual Purpose Breeding

The following was taken, with permission from the author, from the Gundog-L email List/Newgroup in 1996.

It regards the importance of breeding for dual purpose dogs.

Actually, breed splits occur from both show and field sides. When both are not policed you will get a divergence of the breed. If show judges are not properly educated about a breed, and the breed standard allows a lot of lattitude, then the judge will pick what they feel best represents the breed. If enough judges do this then the show breeder will breed for what will win as that obviously is the "best" conformation. If a field person finds a dog that is a super performer they will breed or breed to it. If that animal is out of standard then the likelihood of out-of-standard pups is high.

Whenever winning a competition, be it field or show, is paramont in a breeder's mind, they will breed to win. Unless conformation and performance are considered equally this is what you will get.

Some people will say that a dual champion is a mediocre dog. Not good enough to win big in either the ring or the field. If my dogs never win a Group 1 or best in show or never win the national gun dog championship, but they have won best of breed and several open gun dog stakes and have completed their Dual Championships with a SH (Senior Hunter) and possibly MH (Master Hunter) to boot, would I consider them mediocre? I don't think so! Especially when big winning show champions seldom have more than a JH (Junior Hunter) and big winning field champions seldom have a SH or MH much less any wins in the ring.

I believe in putting the purity of the breed ahead of big time winning. Right or wrong, that is what I want to maintain. Of course, to have a dog that wins both the National Specialty Show and the National Championship would be nice however, I believe that only one Brittany has ever done that.

Jerry Hogan

Rainbow Ridge Brittanys

Boulder, Colorado

Back to top