written by Fred Heal
When people purchase a purebred dog they may be on the road to becoming a “breeder” in their chosen breed. Sometime down that road, if they persist, they will pass through several stages some very rewarding and others filled with set backs, heartbreak, financial drain, enormous pride, and hopefully satisfaction. At the end of that same road there will be tons of memories and, if you have done things right, the good memories will out weigh the bad. One thing you will eventually learn is that having someone to guide you along the way (a mentor) will make the road much easier, but you have not learned that yet.
The six stages of becoming a successful breeder are:
The “Wannabee”: This is when you have acquired your first dog gone to a few shows and seen people with immaculately groomed examples of your breed winning big ribbons and you want to get involved and do the same. You may have even shown your first dog and maybe won a white or yellow ribbon. That alone is enough to send you on your way to a life long hobby. But just wait ….
The “Rookie” is the next stage in your travels. It begins when you have started to win a few classes and you have the taste of wining so strong in your mouth you just have to do more. Maybe you got lucky and garnered more than your share of wins with your first puppy and now you want to set the world on fire and win a Best of Breed or even get a Group placing. You look at the successful breeders in your area and think “just watch me go! I am going to learn this sport and beat you guys every time out!” Well you can think this all you like, but it ain´t going to happen…… yet!
You talk to everyone who thinks they are a breeder, even those with other breeds. You pick their brains and store all the information in the back of your mind. After a while all the contradicting things you have been told gives you a headache and you decide to just jump in and begin your career as a breeder. BUT, now is the time when you are going to make lots of mistakes. Even if you realize your dog is not really an animal that should be bred from, you go ahead anyway. If you happen to see the light and purchase a real “Show Prospect” as your foundation bitch, you can bet it won´t be the dog that you really hoped for. Now is when you rationalize everything you have been told and think “well I will breed her to a better dog and produce better pups”. Wrong! The genes from your bitch will offset the hopefully superior genes from the male and you will be haunted for the rest of your breeding life by this initial mistake!
Now you have bred your first litter, had pups die, paid the veterinarian tons of money for health tests, maybe a C-section, shots, etc., and now you hope to sell all your pups to “show homes”, keep the best puppy for yourself, and then take the wonder pups to their first show and prove to everyone how good a breeder you are. Again, it ain´t going to happen……yet.
Well now you are ready for the “Novice stage”. This is when you have gone through the trials of your first litter, paid your dues, and have decided to continue on your quest to become a breeder of great show dogs. Well you still don´t know enough to be set loose in a breeding kennel but no one can stop you now! In fact this is the time to really get into studying bloodlines, genotype, phenotype, genetics, health inheritance factors, and all those other words you heard people taking about at the shows. Considering you have made the commitment to become a breeder you should now be prepared to study the breed standard, learn the dog show rules of the game and most important…..find a mentor! A mentor is someone who has been around for years (lets say 20 or 30 years) preferably in your breed, and even more important ….someone who has been successful in the breed. I mean here that a mentor should have produced a national specialty winner, won multiple Groups and at least one BIS on their dogs, and be respected by breeders, handlers, and even those that are envious of them. There is no use in having a mentor that has not “been there, done that” in dogs. When you find this person plead with them for advice, suggestions, assistance, and for them to teach you what you don´t know. This is a big job so don´t be surprised if they beg off! But don´t give up, a good mentor can save you thousands of dollars and make the road to your becoming a successful breeder much shorter and enjoyable.
OK, now you are ready to enter the “Intermediate stage” as a breeder. This is the stage that may last for the longest period of time of any other stage. In fact if you don´t learn from your mistakes it could last for the rest of your life in dogs! This is the stage where you have bred several litters, been through most of the problems a breeder might encounter, and hopefully learned how NOT to have those problems again. You still don´t know what you don´t know, but you have faced the dragons in the whelping box and produced some acceptable dogs for the show ring. So this is the “practice” stage. It is where you try to improve your bloodline, establish consistency in breed type, produce healthy animals for your clients, and develop a “presence” at the dog shows. You win the breed and gracefully accept your wins, compete in the Group and maybe once in a while you win one. You are still not a national figure in your breed but your name does sound familiar to a couple of veteran breeders. They may even have noticed your dogs in the ring. Maybe even said “nice dog” to you when they pass you at the nationals. But you still have many things to learn!!!
Being recognized as a “Top Breeder” is a stage that is not based on age, sex, years in the whelping box, or by any attribute except success. This is when you may have won your national specialty several times, have produced top winners in your breed and other breeders are buying dogs from you to improve their bloodlines. When you enter a dog show people in your breed say “oh damn” s/he is here again, what chance do we have! You have learned the dog game and are playing it well. You have an eye for a dog and can look at your breed in the ring and pick the winners. You travel to shows to watch the competition and rate your chances of beating them. You look for dogs that you could use to compliment your bloodline or maybe buy if the special qualities have not been noticed in that animal yet. You show your dogs often and prove your ability to win over the best competition. Now other Novices and new breeders are coming to you for advice. You have arrived!
There is still another stage however that exists somewhat beyond the top breeder stage and that is when dog people and your peers consider you a “Breed Authority”. This is when you have been at the top breeder level for many years, made your place in the history books of your breed and now either don´t breed anymore or are involved only at the National Breed Club level. You have “been there & done that” many times over. When other top breeders want to confirm their breeding plans or get a knowledgeable opinion on their up & coming new show dog…..they come to you as a Breed Authority. If they are planning an out cross breeding they ask you, the breed authority, for an opinion. Where else can they go? A breed authority has reached the top of the pile in their breed. They have done it all, several times.
So what is the next stage for Breed Authorities? Who knows, but what ever it is they will have enough great memories to last them a life time!!