I haven't done an 'information' blog in a while, mostly of late it's been pretty pictures and innocuous chat which is fine when I don't want to think too hard. However lately I've been reading some fabulous articles about breeding, discussing some of the finer points with other breeders and making some decisions about what my own program will be doing in the coming months and years. Dog breeding is largely a lot of guess work because the results of a breeding take months and years to become clear. However, you can take a lot of the guessing out of the equation by line breeding.
A lot of people do not understand line breeding. The average person thinks it's in-breeding which in a sense it is because the two dogs being bred are related, closely or otherwise, but line breeding means you are deliberately using the pedigree to your advantage. It is an attempt to set certain traits that should consistently appear in later generations. The idea is to minimize the bad things and accentuate the good. There is a program called the co-efficient of inbreeding which tells us how close, exactly, the dogs are related but that is for another day.
Line breeding sets type. If you look at certain kennels you can see that their dogs, across generations, have a similar look, or type. For another it sets virtues which the breeder wants to keep or faults they can accept as something to be corrected at a later time, probably with an outcross. It also offers consistency - you can quite easily predict how a dog will develop, how big it will be, where in its growth pattern it will hit certain milestones, and what its health and temperament will most likely become. This means linebreeding can make or break your kennel because if you breed the wrong dogs you could end up with faults that are hard to correct.
You can't line breed without knowing your pedigrees so you need to be able to dicuss the dogs behind your breeding stock with the people who bred them. For a person just starting out in the breed, having the support and information of the people you got your dogs from, the studs you've used, and even the dogs behind their dogs, is very important. Without this knowledge you are breeding blind.
And what of the outcross? This is also important because you must introduce new genes. Granted, all purebred dogs in a breed are descendents of the same foundation stock which created the breed but it is assumed that if there are no, or very few, common ancestors within 5 generations on both sides of the pedigree, the breeding is considered an outcross. Usually this is done to correct a fault you know exists in your line, to get something that you need, or to improve health or temperament.
To be able to successfully outcross you must have an understanding of structure and movement, be honest about your line, know where your problems lie, and have a good idea what your line consistently reproduces so that you don't lose the virtues when breeding to an outside source. The safest outcross is a dog that has produced puppies already so you have some idea what you might get. Sometimes outcrosses are a success and sometimes they are not, genetics are always a gamble no matter what geneticists might think!
As I say, linebreeding is important to establish type and offers predictability. The opposite of this is too many outcrosses. If you don't breed back into the line your dog or bitch came from you are taking a big gamble. Let's face it, anyone can throw two dogs together to get puppies! It results in an absolute quagmire of genetics and the resulting puppies will likely be not only unpredictable but also widely variant within the litter. The pedigree will show no clear plan and the DNA will just pick and choose where to go instead of already having an established pattern determined by the line.
What we are aiming for is predicatability but just how long does it take to establish that? Probably about a decade ... at least. People who might have an outcross to an outcross must go back to their line in order to set some sort of consistency in the puppies. You may get some very nice puppies from an outcross but there is little hope they can reliably reproduce their virtues without common genetics that make the resulting puppies predictable. Can you tell I love line-breeding?
After all is said and done though, you can be sure that your dog's genes will sometimes throw you a curve ball and produce a puppy, or puppies, that do not follow the established genetics in your program. In my opinion that's just Mother Nature making things interesting and keeping egos in check!