I am loving the fencing comments. So far I think it’s evenly divided between goats and dogs, with a few advocating horses. Let me say immediately that I would LOVE to get a horse back there again; I know the market is horrible right now and there are horses going to slaughter and auction that never should be. But I also have a commitment to never own an animal that won’t have an ideal life here, which means not having to skimp on vet care or other care. And when I look at vetting, feet, supplements, hay, grain, tack, training, etc., I just don’t see how we can do it.
You agility nuts, YES, we need an agility practice field. However, that’s not possible in the horse pen area, which is somewhat rolling-hilly and is lightly wooded. I know my dogs could do obstacles around the trees, but I am pretty sure I’d do a front cross right into a poplar. We do have some open flat space that will eventually be the agility area, but it’s very close to the road and could never be used for normal dog fencing.
NOW, here’s the big one, because this has been on my mind a great deal lately. Now that Clue has finished and Bronte is very close, a young breeder’s fancy turns to thoughts of love. Or, if not love, it turns to a somewhat awkward episode where one dog is held still over your knee and the other… well, let’s just call it “love” so I don’t have to tell that story.
I’m getting down to the wire on decisions, because Clue will be back in season in Feb/March and Bronte is due in any day now so she’ll be bred in about six months (assuming, of course, that she finishes her championship).
That’s why I thought it must be interesting to explore how you choose a stud dog and how you try to actually make that pairing happen.
First, a rather philosophical opening remark about failure.
As a breeder, success in breeding is when you produce a next generation that at least matches and hopefully exceeds the quality of the current generation. A touchdown for me is when I make a dog who finishes even faster, better meets the standard, is more stylish, better moving, at least as healthy if not more so, and as good or better in temperament than the dogs I currently have here.
That means that the vast majority of the puppies I produce will be “failures.” They will miss the mark on at least one, if not more, of those measures. And so I will not keep them. I will sell them, some as show dogs but most as pets.
That means, my friends who are not show breeders of Cardigans, that my failures are your dogs. If you own a show-bred pet dog, you own a failure.
So you MUST make sure, as a breeder, that some things are so firmly established in your criteria for breeding that you never fail at those. And, owners, you must seek out a breeder who fails at the things you are comfortable with not having.
My goal is to not fail at temperament and soundness. So the “ugly” you get, as a pet buyer, will not be an ugly that makes you worry about your kids or your other dogs, and won’t be an ugly that makes your dog break down early in life. I feel that if I can accomplish that, even if I only “succeed” with one puppy out of twenty (which, as I understand it, is pretty common in Cardigans because the type is so difficult to achieve – long body, short legs; long/short fight with each other and you have a hard time producing excellence) I will be able to hold my head up as a breeder.
So what am I doing now, keeping that in mind; what are the steps I’m taking to make the decision?
Step 1: Health Testing. This is ALWAYS first, because every other decision hinges on it. I am very fortunate in that there are not too many things that always and totally remove a Cardigan from consideration, unlike the Danes, but the results of the testing tell me a great deal about what group of stud dogs I can consider. For example, if Clue has looser hips than I’d like, I MUST find a stud dog that has admirably tight hips. On the other hand, if Clue has superfabulous hips, I can look at a wider population of stud dogs, including those that may have some minor hip issues. This is where the dramatic difference between Cardis and Danes starts to show; in Danes you’d never breed anybody with even minor hip problems, and many won’t even breed “Fair” hips. But since Cardigans bear so much less weight and because they have a body structure that is designed to compensate for a little wonkiness in the joints, I can ethically “risk” producing hips that aren’t picture-perfect.
Eyes are my second priority. PRA is, thankfully, becoming much less of a practical issue in Cardis now that the testing is so universal, but the eyes of just about any herding dog need a CERF evaluation. CERF looks at the structure and health of the eye and evaluates problems with eyelids, the retina, any cataract formation, coloboma, etc.
Selfishly, the ideal situation to get eyes tested is at a CERF clinic (often in conjunction with a show). The reason it’s ideal is that it’s CHEAP. The sponsoring kennel club gets an eye specialist to come and sit and do a whole bunch of eye exams in a day and, in return, the “exam fee” (that glorious $$ you pay for the vet to scratch your dog behind the ears and listen to her heart for three seconds) is waived. You only pay for the eye exam, and often that is discounted as well.
Now, before anyone goes nuts, the exam fee is totally justified. I am not suggesting that vets shouldn’t charge them. It just gets annoying when I know I have a healthy dog, probably had her checked the week before (we’re in the vet’s office a LOT), and then have to tack on an extra $50 to the vet bill for the eyes.
However, in order to be selfish, you have to actually be somewhat organized. And I have not been. I’ve missed several eye clinics in the driveable area, and there are none upcoming in the next couple of months. So I will be going somewhere more formal for that.
Astute readers will notice that I am not talking about breeding “for health.” That’s on purpose. And it’s NOT because I don’t breed for health. These are my dogs too; I get no pleasure out of having one of my beloved house dogs (and they’re all beloved house dogs, even that grand bastard Bramble) die young or in pain. It’s because over the years of having dogs I have become very disillusioned about exactly what I can do, health-wise. I CAN prevent bad hips. I CAN prevent bad hearts. I CAN prevent bad eyes. What I cannot do is keep your dog from being a living thing. And living things do things that are completely out of my genetic control. So what I will say, instead, is that I am very happy with and confident about the health of my dogs and their pedigrees. I think that their offspring have as good a chance as any living creature on this earth of living out a normal, happy lifespan. But rather than say “Your dog won’t get sick,” I prefer to say “I stand behind my dogs.” If something does happen, I will be there for you, and I know that I did everything I could as a breeder to lessen the chances. And under a whole bunch of circumstances, I’ll hand you a new puppy to replace the one you lost. But I can’t make false promises that don’t allow these dogs to be living animals.
Anyway, once I’ve got health testing done, I typically go through the following process.
WHAT MUST I KEEP: This describes what features of my bitch I cannot lose. No dog is perfect, so he will have weaknesses in some areas. This part of my decision defines where he MUST be at least acceptable because my bitch is so strong.
Clue: Must keep temperament. I absolutely adore her temperament and it’s something that’s really wonderful for the breed. So I will not breed her to anything squirrelly or reactive, no matter how gorgeous he is.
Must keep head type. She has the eyes, expression, ears, and (correct) shorter foreface that I love. This is a big priority.
Must keep topline. She has had a perfect topline, PERFECT, from the day she came home. This is a major part of soundness and long life. I won’t accept losing this.
My other HUGE restriction for Clue is that she has to be bred to a black dog (tri or tri-brindle). I think this is the STUPIDEST RULE EVER, but it’s what the parent club has decreed and so I will abide by it.
Bronte: Must keep bone. She has gorgeous big heavy bone.
Must keep tailset and tail carriage. “Gay” tails are a big problem and she doesn’t have one. I don’t want to lose this.
Must keep rear angulation and soundness.
If I add a fourth for Bronte, it’s neck. She has a beautiful blending from her neck to her shoulders and a lovely neck.
Now I move to the second phase, WHAT MUST I FIX. These are the weaknesses in each bitch. I could make a list of 50, but that’s useless. I try to keep it to a short list of what I personally find most important and what I want my breeding program to be distinguished by.
Clue: Needs more bone. She’s a little thing and she has lighter bone than ideal. So I need something with some heft to the skeletal structure.
Needs more fill in the forechest. She has appropriate structure there – the bone is where it’s supposed to be – but it makes a prettier picture to have some fill (muscle, tissue, etc.) around the bone, and some coat.
Could use a little length of body. This is one that I need to dance carefully around. She actually has very nice proportions, but she looks short because she’s little and because a lot of the dogs are closer to 2:1. So I don’t want to actually stretch her out to the point that her puppies lose the correct proportions; I want to add just a tiny bit more length and some rib length that makes them look longer.
Bronte: Must fix temperament. Bronte is a sweet, gentle dog, and “as Cardis go” she’s fine. However, I am not satisfied. I don’t want any hint of shyness. So an outgoing, confident dog is a must.
Must fix head. I’ve actually gotten compliments on Bronte’s head but I think her foreface is too long and the whole thing is too narrow. Her eyes also need more definition to the corners, a more distinctly angular shape. Cardis don’t have almond eyes like terriers do, but round eyes ruin expression and I think she looks just a little bit bland and dim. So I want to make sure the dog I breed her to has “lights on and someone’s home” when you look at him.
Would like a little more white. This is totally cosmetic so I have it as a last concern, but I think it’s nice to have white on a dog.
Third: WHAT DEFINES ME AS A BREEDER? This is not a specific reflection of the individual dogs; it’s what I choose to emphasize for every single breeding and what I want to come to people’s minds when they think of me as a breeder.
For me, that always comes down to SOUNDNESS (as I said above), TEMPERAMENT, and MOVEMENT. Many breeders would say that their first priority is “type,” which expresses how much like a Cardigan the dog looks. If you can see a dog disappearing around a corner and all you saw was his elbow and tail and you still knew it was a well-bred Cardi, that dog is typey. The reason I don’t personally put type first is that I have seen so many VERY beautiful show dogs who fall apart when they move out of a stacked position. They have all the parts but they can’t put them together. So the hocks move into an icky position, the front goes weird, the loin pops up, the dog scrabbles around the ring, the tail reaches up and tickles the nose. I see this in many breeds, not just Cardis. I won’t accept a dog who can’t move. I am a lot more willing to have a dog with an ugly head or legs that are a little too long than a dog who looks like it should be bronzed but doesn’t flow and can’t reach or drive.
So, on a practical level, I won’t use a dog who has too much turnout in the front or who has a radical “crook” in the front legs. I want short, sound, minimally turned out legs with tight feet. I won’t use a dog who pops his loin up on the move. And I must have good movement, good reach and drive (which also means no cowhocking in the rear and decent shoulder assembly in the front).
And I want a dog who is outgoing and happy. It doesn’t have to be a houseful of Clues – I know she’s very special in the temperament realm – but I would like to have dogs who are happy and secure above all else.
Here’s my visual analysis of the two bitches, which I am trying to compare against this (link goes to a pdf of the Cardigan Illustrated Standard):
HEAD WIDTH AND EAR SET
FRONT AND REAR ANGLES AND BALANCE
Hmmm… now that I look at this I think I put Bronte’s point of shoulder (the front “B”) too far back. Anyway, it gives you an idea.
So, in the end, I am left with the following:
For Clue, I need a dog with lots of bone and more length than she’s got. He needs a good topline but he doesn’t need to correct hers (in other words, he doesn’t need a superb, prepotent topline). He needs a lot of fill in front, and he needs to be sound and a good mover. He needs a pretty head but he doesn’t have to fix hers. She’s got a lot of white already so I don’t need a ton of white on him.
For Bronte, I need a dog with a beautiful, correct head, alert expression, and a confident and outgoing temperament. He ideally will have a lot of white and he shouldn’t wreck what she’s got; I could go a little shorter-bodied and would still like the result. I don’t think I should breed her to a big boy, because she’s big already.
Any boy has to be sound, move well, and have a good temperament.
Oh, and one more thing: I like to, if possible, use old dogs. Veterans who are still alive and still producing. IF, of course, they’re correct. That’s because an old dog shows you not just the dog at his ideal prime, but how well that body structure has held up. He puts his money where his mouth is in terms of health and soundness.
The first thing that should be obvious is that I won’t be using the same dog for both, unless I find a magic dog. He’d have to be black and pretty darn perfect, because they’re so different. There’s a black boy or two that I just LOVE structure-wise and would theoretically use for both, but they fail on the cosmetic issues like white.
For Clue, of course, this is kind of a trick question, because I (thank God) don’t have to decide on a dog. I’m sending her out to Betty Ann and Betty Ann will breed her. But I WILL, at some point, almost certainly bring her to some other dog, so I am keeping an eye out for her.
For Bronte, this may be something that comes more quickly. Bronte is not like Clue; she would be terribly worried about being shipped. I could drive her up to 10 hours away but Arkansas is out of the question. So even if Betty Ann recommends that I use one of her dogs, I will be shipping in semen (which means I have to decide from whom this semen comes) and it’s quite possible I’d be using a different breeder’s dog closer to me.
Who that will be I am still quite clueless (no pun intended) about. When I was in Danes I felt that I had a little bit better handle on it because I had been in the breed long enough and asked enough questions to know some of the dirty secrets, and I knew whose (for example) website looked great but they were in fact unscrupulous or were faking health tests AND pedigrees (really! I wish I could tell the story publicly, because wow was it juicy and scandalous, but I am pretty sure the involved person would sue me. Hmm… must think of a way to disguise it and tell it as a cautionary tale). In Cardigans, not only is it a much nicer group of people (I think odd-looking little dogs attract nice breeders; at least that’s what it seems), I just don’t have the experience. So I will be relying heavily on others to help me navigate the waters.
Which is a sneaky way of saying that if any of you have some gorgeous chunk of canine manhood in mind or you’re really in love with right now, I am craving some nominations. Please do E-MAIL ME at blacksheepcardigans atsign gmail dot com (sorry for the spelling out, but I am trying to avoid the spambots); do not put it in comments lest we rile anyone up. I am really, really interested in what people are liking right now, and I would love it if you’d use my bitches as a fantasy football team and pair them up with boys you love. It will greatly help me as I learn about this breed, and hopefully expand my horizons and start to define a short list to submit to their breeder for approval.
One closing note: the question that this whole analysis brings up, if you’re being as critical as I am, is “Which bitch is better?”
The answer to that is really not clear. They are SO different. Bronte is visually stunning. She is just spectacular. Her bone and movement and substance and length are glorious, and when she matures I think she’ll be a rare beauty. But I think Clue is actually more correct in some ways. She just doesn’t catch your eye as much, until you look at her head and expression and attitude. I also love that Clue is very sound. She does two things that I associate with very, very sound dogs: She prefers to trot, has since she was a baby, and will not either break into a gallop or slow to a walk until you tell her (this is very unlike Bronte, who almost exclusively galloped until she was over a year old and still does it at least half the time), and she ALWAYS stops square and stacked. If you look up there, you can see that just in my casual photos I have a zillion of her correctly stacked, head up, mouth closed. Bronte rarely looks so automatically good (and she ALWAYS has her tongue out, which makes her look like the village idiot). But Bronte clearly takes the prize for visual appeal and outline and substance.
The big differences are, from my point of view, fun. Now I get to work toward bringing their great qualities together.