Where Have All The Breeders Gone? March 14, 2012
Before we decide where these people have gone we must decide what constitutes a breeder. What sets them apart for all to recognize? Remember as I said earlier what you get is my opinion and you need not agree, but perhaps it will set you thinking. It's easy to say you're a breeder just as it's easy to say you're a Christian, or Muslim or Jew or anything but talking the talk doesn't mean you walk the walk.
A breeder must have as a goal trying to make the Collie breed better than it would have been without his/her efforts. This person will likely show dogs to measure their progress, but the shows are not the most important goal. I used to tell people that they might be able to buy the best show prospect from a litter, but not the one the breeding was made to produce. Of course, it helps to recognize a good one, to understand what the Collie standard really means, and to have enough time invested to know what the dogs in a pedigree represent in terms of their likely contributions not just how many champions are in four generations.
Years ago I wrote an article entitled "A Breeder or a Builder?" The point was that breeders accomplish their goals by knowing how to select and mate Collies to achieve the desired results. Builders on the other hand resort to some rather artificial aids in the attempt to accomplish what they consider success. The question to ask yourself is which one will help our breed in the quest for perfection. Surely you can tape and manipulate puppy ears, color dog's faces orange, and draw masks on them as needed. Instead of breeding proper coats we can use all kinds of products to make them seem correct.
When I started in Collies (dinosaurs were plentiful) everyone loved the breed and seemed to remember a Collie around when they were kids. Collies were always in the top ten in registrations and though they surely were helped by Terhune's books and Lassie, they had other endearing characteristics as family dogs. Today we find Collies have lost their top ten position and some might say that's OK, but people need to look at what is being bred for some answers. We must decide if a dog that can only be maintained by a professional handler rather than kept as a loved family pet is what Collies are about. Please pardon me if I digress, but some things are close to my heart and affect my writing.
In Minnesota one year, when scheduled to do the specialty, I attended a seminar the day before. One of the speakers was a vet who also bred Greyhounds. After listening to him speak about how to render a bitch most likely to conceive by a series of exams and injections I could stand it no longer. Waving my arms like a pelican taking flight I finally got his attention and asked how he, as a breeder, could recommend such claptrap. Your goal as a breeder is for stud dogs who breed normally and controllably, bitches with normal heats who conceive and bear healthy puppies. Your bitches need ample milk and the ability to care for a litter with reasonable care not abdication of all her responsibilities. As a real breeder you honor health, good temperament, and being able to perform normal functions as priorities.
Obviously we've covered a lot in this short time and more can be said. In no way to do I infer that there are no breeders left, but I certainly question some of the methods and motives seen today. As a breeder your skills and integrity are your most important offerings. They should never be compromised by the need to fuel your ego by filling up the trophy room. Records are made to be broken and it will always be so. The contributions of people like Steve Field will go on forever for "he was a breeder."
For those who weren't around when I was breeding and showing in the 1960's and '70's and are asking "who is this old has-been with so much to say?", I'll just say this - for those years I was competitive at all levels without artificial aids. Foo-Foo Powder and plain water, lots of elbow grease, and good Collies, well trained who won their share. It's much better to be a has-been than a never was and if I was young, I know it would work today. Do things for the Collie not the AKC, C.C. of A., and not for yourself.
Next time unless something else takes over my thinking we'll talk about the "Merle Craze" and associated problems. The other future topics will include but not be limited to some discussions of "The Standard as I see it," Grooming without "Cheating," and "How Breeders Attack Problems by Breeding Not Building." Until then dedicate the time and effort needed to deserve the title of "Breeder."
Think about it!