Sunday, June 13, 2010

The Gene Generation

Yesterday I spent sometime on Skype with Adine at Charisma in Alberta going over the almost 6 week old puppies she has out of Karma. This was Karma's first litter and we had some pretty particular outcomes we were hoping for - there were things about Karma we knew we wanted to correct and things we knew we wanted to keep. Of course, being her first litter, it was a bit of a guess as to what traits she would retain and what she would lose to the sire. This being my first long distance evaluation I wasn't sure how it would go but in all it was a very good experience. Ridgebacks are a smooth coated breed so not being able to put my hands on them is not a tragedy, it's just inconvenient. You can get a very good idea of overall structure and balance simply by looking at them from the front, the rear and the side.

At 6 weeks old you cannot finalize any decisions because it's the 8 week evaluations you are most interested in since that is the time they are more representative of what they will look like at 2 1/2 years old. However,  if you don't look where you have been you can't compare future litters and how they will develop. The 6 week evaluation, to me anyway, is simply a way to be able to mark stages in the growth of the litter. Some breeders say not to look at them as they develop from birth, to only look at the 8 week old puppies, but my opinion is that in watching them develop you begin to get an 'eye' for how your dogs grow. Whatever they end up being at 8 weeks is important but that too is fallible.

It's so critical that the dogs be allowed to develop as they are meant; this means not allowing them to get over weight, not over exercising, not keeping them too thin, and making sure they have good mental stimulation. Any one of these out of balance and the dog you saw at 8 weeks may not develop to its full potential. You can also be wrong in your evaluation and end up with a dog that doesn't meet your expectations, it happens and it's not terrible, take that knowledge and apply it to the next litter.

That all said, I was very pleased with the whole of the litter in Alberta. Lovely balance throughout, the heads we wanted, the bone we wanted and extremely promising strides toward what they will be at 8 weeks. I believe in this litter we have accomplished exactly what we intended and that in itself is rare enough. Usually  there is a lot of hype surrounding the breeding of top winning dogs and bitches but they sometimes produce mediocre puppies. I wonder if this is because when you have something 'so good' there is no where left to go? 

Now - using a dog as well known and titled as Argos on a relatively unknown bitch can be a gamble but Karma had to start somewhere - might as well shoot for the stars right?  You are combining proven winning genes with a bitch who has no breeding history - what she produces is a total guess and it's a brave stud owner who takes a chance with his boy on an unknown girl. The sire's reputation is taken into consideration because in order to maintain his popularity as a sire he must produce well with whatever he is bred to. The stud owner must evaluate the bitch and then be honest about what his boy can offer and what his faults are and be willing to take a chance that the two dogs will balance each other and the majority of puppies will end up with the best of each parent.

Remember, the genetic component of every puppy is 50/50 ... DNA doesn't care how many awards have been won it simply mixes the ingredients and bakes a Ridgeback. Breeders often forget how much a bitch contributes to the puppies because top winning sires are capable of producing dozens of litters in their lifetime. Studs are also specialed/advertised more since once they have contributed the sperm their job is done. A bitch can be out a half a year to whelp and then raise a litter plus the time it takes to get back into shape - being a working mom is hard for a dog!  Since an average bitch produces 3 or 4 litters in her lifetime and the best age to whelp is between 2 and 5, the prime show circuit years are taken up raising puppies.

I almost prefer to start with a dog that needs to be tweaked here and there; it gives you a little breathing room, takes the pressure off perfection, and allows you to check and balance your breeding program. I will never say any of my dogs are perfect, but it looks like the old adage that a truly exceptional broodbitch produces better than herself has been proven once again. Halo proved it and her daughter is proving it ... bred to the right sire of course! I'd hate to be accused of puffing up my girls now wouldn't I ...?

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