I love looking at the puppy pictures that zip across my Facebook feed and since I am a breeder I see a lot of them. Have you noticed that breeders tend to show puppies in a stack ( a term breeders use to show the structure of a puppy by making them stand in a certain way) or hold them up so as to demonstrate the structure of a puppy? I have done it myself, back in the day. But are we putting too much emphasis on structure and not enough on the other qualities of our chosen breed?
While our kennel started out not interested in confirmation and ended the same, in the middle I did get caught up in the race for the ribbons like most every other breeder. Of course, structure is very important. There is no question about that. It not only keeps the breed looking like the breed, it speaks directly to a number of health concerns. We try to produce babies that will grow into what the standard calls for; a desired weight and height, color, movement, a certain expression and head. These are needed or the breed declines into mediocrity and that is not the purpose of a breeder. The function of a breeder, as I am often quoted as saying, is to improve the breed. To my mind there is no other reason.
But why do we assume we need only care about structure and health? Some of the qualities we find most endearing in a breed are not physical, they are emotional and ethereal, yet these are often last on the list of qualifications when considering the 'success' of a litter..
I belonged to a puppy evaluation group at one point. The team I joined was a very talented group. They completely blew me away with their combined knowledge of structure and movement. They saw things in babies that I would not have seen in adult dogs, if I ever did. I was shocked to discover that, while I had raised several litters by that time, I quite possibly did not know a THING about structure. And maybe just one thing about movement. I just didn’t look at dogs that way.
So I watched and listened and learned and became quite disenchanted. (Which worked out fine since I was never invited back…apparently not many care if they know that when I pick up brown puppy, I hear violins. Very understandable. It’s not their thing.) I became disenchanted by the lack of interest in ALL the things that make up the dogs we love. Structure, movement, coat and color were the only things of which they spoke. There was little if any discussion on temperament or character. Now granted, the team was doing their job (and a very good job at that) and it was the expectation of the breeder, to have these particular items evaluated. It is what they wanted.
But shouldn’t breed characteristics at least be on the table for evaluation? Not physical markers but those subtle emotional markers. Is this a ‘love everybody’ breed? Then shouldn’t the breeder be paying attention to the temperament rather than the angles? Is puppy outgoing? If not, no matter how pretty she is, does the puppy belong in the gene pool? Is your breed known for their confidence? Then puppies should be evaluated with that in mind also. At some point in our evaluation of a litter, isn’t it our responsibility to look at the whole dog?
I have learned by watching the experts that I am not a wizard at movement and structure. I guess I do not, and probably never have, looked at a dog in that way. I see different things and I’m ok with that.
But if we could use all of the tools at our disposal, would that not be the best way to improve the breed we have chosen to love? Do they all have to show, even if they do not like the spotlight? Is it a must, because of physical beauty or health credentials, that they be mamas when in fact they do not want to be? Could we take our own egos out of the game, not worry about reputation in the ring and just get the puppies to the right people…their right people, not the kennel name’s right people.
It isn’t all that easy to do. I failed at it for a bit. But then I remembered I wasn’t selling toasters. I was helping to create a beautiful life that deserved my best efforts in placing her with who she is suppose to be with, so that she had the best advantage for a full and joyous life with the guardian she was meant to be with.
We get side tracked, we breeders. And every once in a while we have to remember that the puppies we produce are gifts and the present is the cherished spirit inside, not the wrapper.
OK. I’m off the soapbox now.