Pictured above: Every puppy deserves a friend or family of its own. Photo by Dan Sayers. From the June 2019 Issue of ShowSight. Click to subscribe.
If You Breed It, They Will Come: Preservation Breeders are matchmakers too.
Breeding purebred dogs in the digital age is like building a baseball diamond in a corn field. To your neighbors, it probably doesn’t make much sense. But to preservation-minded dog lovers, a whelping box is no different from the batter’s box featured in the 1989 film Field of Dreams: If you build (or breed) it, they will come. Or at least you hope they’ll come.
In Major League Baseball, the race for the pennant begins with the selection of teams. Only when the right players are in the right positions can a World Series win be considered. So it is with
breeding dogs. For a breeder to achieve his or her goals, the right “players” need to be in place. Phenotype and pedigrees must be considered, so the right dog must be taken to the right bitch. For the conformation ring, selection means putting together the right dog with the right handler, entering the right shows under the right judges and, if needed, putting together the right backing. But for the vast majority of puppies, the most important part of the selection process is matching the right person for each pup. Of course, this task is easier said than done. Though breeders do get to know each pup pretty well by eight weeks, puppy buyers are often complete strangers. Putting together a pennant-winning baseball team can be far easier.
So much has been written lately about the purebred dog breeder as preservationist, but the men and women who endeavor to prevent the extinction of our recognized breeds are also matchmakers. Through a leap of faith, they consciously make the decision to bring puppies into the world in the belief that each one will find its forever home. In this way, dog breeders are not unlike baseball coaches—or even marriage brokers. The breeder hopes to connect the right pup with the right person, bestowing blessings on the newly united with both a parent’s pride and a pastor’s faith. Despite all the attention placed these days on the coefficient of inbreeding (COI), the importance of health test results and adherence to the standards, breeding dogs is really about making connections with people. And just like Kevin Costner’s character in the blockbuster film, a breeder’s passion frequently connects him or her with like-minded people from the past, present and into the future.
The vast majority of conscientious purebred dog breeders depend on the dog-loving public to help preserve our breeds. (Most breeders simply can’t provide proper housing and socialization for every pup produced.) In some ways, the task of finding homes is easier today than ever before. Gone are the days when breeders placed an ad in the Sunday classifieds with the aim of finding local pet homes. Thanks to the miracle of the Internet, potential puppy buyers include dog lovers from around the world as well as from around town.
However, this global reach can be a double-edged sword. It’s certainly more of a challenge to screen someone long distance and it’s every bit as gut-wrenching—if not more so—to put a puppy on a plane. Only a dog breeder knows what it feels like to watch that flight to Australia take-off. Science and selection usually give way
Breeders with quite a few litters under their belt are able to pull from their experience when placing puppies. Years of involvement in the sport have conditioned them to recognize match-ups that are likely to succeed and those that could be riskier. Some potential puppy buyers may be breeders themselves, looking to add a dog or bitch to their family of dogs for a specific reason. Others will be reaching out to find a dog for the show ring or performance event. Here again, the experienced breeder will have a good idea which puppy is best qualified to compete in a particular arena. Less experienced breeders are at a distinct disadvantage and need to rely more heavily on their “gut.” Without an experienced breed mentor to guide them, novice breeders are at risk of making matches that might best be described as a mismatch. These placements are not categorically doomed from the start, but the individual relationships might be fraught with more than their fair share of challenges along the road to victory.
No matter where puppies are placed and with whom they live, the life of the breeder/matchmaker is always interesting. As puppies grow, messages are received from owners describing adventures shared and, hopefully, ribbons won. Social media has made it possible to share good news with the world. But bad news can arrive too. Behavioral and medical problems can arise. Young dogs are sometimes struck and killed by cars and “oops” litters still happen in the best of families. However, each report—both positive or negative—better prepares the breeder for the next litter and the challenges and victories that are sure to come.
Today’s purebred dog breeders may be in the puppy business, but they’re equally in the people business. Like it or not, every placement of a pup brings another person into the breeder’s life. This reality can be trying at times, but it can also be life-changing. Personally, some of the joy I’ve experienced as a breeder has come from getting to know the remarkable individuals who’ve come into my life by welcoming one of my puppies into theirs. Some of these folks have even become good friends who’ve introduced me to things I might never have otherwise experienced. If not for breeding dogs, I would never know how difficult it is to be a dairy farmer these days. I’d also never appreciate the value of taking a dog into a grammar school classroom filled with kids or onto the set of a television preacher’s syndicated TV show. Breeding purebred dogs has introduced me to artists and attorneys, federal employees and retirees, and people who live in high-rise apartment houses, converted firehouses and on sail boats. What a pleasure it’s been getting to know them. Breeding dogs has also allowed me to provide puppies for some people who’ve done the same for me in the past. This is especially gratifying since no one is able to save a breed alone. The decision to breed a litter is a shared experience that only preservation breeders, baseball managers and matchmakers can truly understand.