Question of the Week
I listen to all opinions, then trust myself. My mother, who had absolutely no knowledge of dogs in general, would say something like, "Its hips are too wide." That meant nothing in terms of dog language, but I looked to see what she was talking about, because it meant there was something different. She might say, "It looks sad" or "It looks angry." Again, that didn't mean anything from the standard, but if she was seeing something displeasing, so would the judges. All opinions mean something, then your own experience should make the decisions.
I trust my own opinion. I’ve been breeding Labradors for 50 years with my three partners. Certainly in the beginning we would have other breeders over to grade the litters with us. But if after 30-plus years you don’t know your breed and your lines better than anyone else – and also how to look for the improvement you were aiming for in that breeding as well as the virtues you wanted to maintain – then you might need to find a new hobby. Just sayin’.
Arlington, Virginia; Denver, Colorado, and Tampa, Florida
I love to have Molly O’Connell and Shari Boyd evaluate my litters as Wheatens. I very much appreciate the input of Angela Lloyd and Jean Pero on just ... dog conformation. You need both. In the best of times the breed specialists and all-breed specialists agree. At the end of the day, I’ve watched them for eight weeks. You have to trust yourself.
I have Bloodhounds, and there are not many in my area (and really no other breeders), so you gotta be creative with litter evals …
I have many nearby dog-show people come while I have puppies, and good dog-show people know good structure, movement, presence, etc … When everyone who comes is talking up a couple of puppies, I pay attention. This is not formal grading, but it is invaluable!
I try to have someone in my breed come out at some point with the pups … Had one of my breeders on my last litter at about 7.5 weeks. The breeder of my bitch is honest about the attributes of my line and generally in what my goals are. This is valuable because some will not understand what I am striving for in the next generation.
I take tons of photos and videos and send them to people I want input from. Not exactly the same as in person, but it is very helpful. These valuable people include Susan Hamil, and I respect her opinion in my Bloodhound breed.
My Bloodhounds must be able to trail … Sooo, we bring over real experienced Bloodhound handlers. They offer insight on personality (confidence, curiosity, etc.), and they are not as swayed by the longest ears or most wrinkles, but by who they think is using their noses best and doing little trails. This information is valuable in deciding which pups go to a working home.
Then I try to pick a superb dog person in my area to help grade … Generally a judge, but often not of my breed. The value here is there is no bias to style in the breed, and it’s all about soundness, movement and a bit of showy attitude.
Barbara J. Morris
I trusted my breeder. He knew all the lineages in the pedigrees better than I did. He could tell me which ones threw bad bites, top lines and even movement. I trusted his advice and knowledge. My breeder was Mark Schwartz, and I really miss him.
I have always had confidence and success grading my own litters, but have appreciated some input from my daughter/co-breeder Kelly, my late husband Jack, and our good friend and fellow breeder, the late Larry Hyer. Each of them offered a slightly different emphasis and well-conceived perspective when ranking puppies.
None other than myself! That way I don’t blame anyone else for any missed calculations but myself.
We value other opinions, especially our friend Elizabeth Milam. But ultimately, Barb and I make the final decision. Barb has an amazing eye!
I grade my litters myself. I pick my “keepers” when they are born and still wet. As a long-time breeder I know pretty much what I can expect from my breedings. I never ask others to grade my litters
Katey and Dennis Brown
If Dennis or I aren't able to grade a co-bred or puppy-back litter ourselves, I would only trust my two little sisters, Claire or Hayley, to do so. Growing up in this breed as well, they get the things that we find particularly important in Pointers (and our breeding program), such as head planes, front assemblies, side gait and thin, short ears.
I trust my family, a trusted breeder friend who has similar tastes but prioritizes a little differently. Generally, I may seek the advice of a successful breeder not in my breed but in the same group. It’s always useful to hear the perspective of someone without a vested interest but very knowledgeable about dogs and breeding.
No one but myself and Dominique … and Dominique has a quicker and a better eye than I do. She is quite extraordinary in the evaluation of puppies and adults both.
Port St. Lucie, Florida
I relied only on myself, as I felt that nobody else knew the developmental process of my bloodlines. If there were someone else familiar with the lines, I would consult that person as well, but I always made all final decisions.
St. Charles, Missouri
I have friends evaluate my litters with me, and usually ones whose opinions I respect and we are looking for the same attributes. Some I have mentored, and others have been in the breed nearly as long as I have (40+ years).
Someone who knows proper structure and has studied the nuances specific to my breed standard. Not someone from my breed. Breeders come in with preconceived preferences from their own breeding programs.
Uxbridge, Ontario, Canada
For many years, I would take my puppies for a visit to my vet, who was also my friend. And I’d ask his wife, “Which one do you like best?” She knew nothing about Dandie Dinmonts; she had no interest in shows. But she was always dead on with her decisions … Obviously, she was attracted to the one that had charisma, balance and style. It was almost always the one I had already picked as the best in the litter. But her confirmation that what I was seeing as a conformationally correct puppy also had those other mysterious yet essential qualities was always reassuring.
I have a good and trusted friend come over and evaluate them with me. We pick the puppies apart, always looking for the outstanding “pieces,” but also always noting faults or “what we’d like to be better.” We want to see how to improve and what to build on. It’s honest and can be brutal!
Livingston Manor, New York
Having had my first litter in 1964, I have had through the years a number of associates and mentors who have helped me to form the basics of what I look for today in grading puppies. The vast majority of these “tutors” did not come from my chosen breed, so a little tweaking and adaptation were often necessary. Unfortunately, as you can well imagine, the majority of these trusted friends are no longer with us, but their teachings have stayed with me and are continually updated by conversations and readings from breeders whom I respect in a variety of breeds, giving new food for thought.
When I first started, the gradings done were essentially to separate the wheat from the chaff, i.e., determining which puppies would be run on as potential breeding and show stock and which puppies would go on to live companion lives. In today’s world, with many performance events starting to become a prime focus, there is now the additional challenge of determining which puppies have the ability, drive and intelligence to compete in these arenas successfully. And then there are those of us who want it all – beauty, compatibility, brains, stamina, health, temperament … YES, PLEASE!
Mt. Airy, Maryland
I have raised Ridgebacks for more than 60 years (and occasionally other breeds for 15-year periods). For the last 30 or so years, we take the litter at seven weeks to Damara Bolte and Jane Lodge to evaluate them. They put the males in one ex-pen and the females in another, and study them for some time. Then, starting with the one that at first blush seems the most promising, they put each on the table, stack them, take pictures, and look at them from every direction. Usually, we use string cheese as the bait. We then talk about each puppy, evaluating them and placing them from one through least favorable. This is done by sex, and finally we evaluate between the sexes.
Although I have more experience in Ridgebacks, I never tell, prior to their doing their Magic, what my opinions are. I do not want to affect their decisions. It is only after they look at each puppy that I add my opinion, and the final ranking is made. That does not mean that being the breeder I always agree, as sometimes my decision may be on other factors, most notably personality, heads or things that are perhaps more important to me.
Damara (and Jane) is the premier breeder of Basenjis, and formerly bred Mastiffs, and perhaps occasionally Border Terriers, and some toy breed. She trained in animal husbandry and ran the lab for NIH for her career, and is also a sculptor of animals, having studied at the Sorbonne. She is a "dog person" and probably knows movement better than I. If I lived near Peter Greene I would use him as well. I have asked Peter for his evaluation of a single grown dog at shows and he has been most accommodating, as has Frank Murphy, but this is on grown dogs for a different purpose.
It seems to work.
Brookville, New York
In the beginning, the early 1970s, I relied on my mentor, the late Jack Simm, to help evaluate my very first Norfolk litter. I decided early on that in order to become a breeder of note I had to take the plunge, deciding for myself which pup in a litter would be the one I would keep and exhibit. Each litter is a learning experience and each litter made me wiser in my selection. My best keepers have most often been those that are the results of line breeding. Even at my advanced age I look forward to the next litter and my next hopefully pup, selected by me.
Ann Moore Schultz
I have Biewer Terriers, a breed that is only 38 years old. I did my "homework" deciding whom to contact 12 years ago to purchase my first Biewer Terrier. My friend and mentor is Debra J. Sidle of Xtreme Pups. Deb was one of only two people from the parent club who visited with breed originator Gertrude Biewer herself in Germany. Deb has a wonderful eye and history with the breed to understand from that cute puppy to what you might get as an adult.
New York, New York
Me, myself and I!