By J. Richard McDuffie
1179 Shaws Fork Road
Aiken, SC 29805
The following letter comes from a reader:
"I always read your articles in Full Cry and try to learn from them. I wish you would write some books. It would be a shame for your knowledge about dogs to be lost. If you ever write a book, I want to buy one.
"You answered a question in the November '99 Full Cry. This man had an outstanding male dog. He bred this male to his sister and they had outstanding pups. For ten generations he bred this male back to one of his daughters from each litter. After ten litters of pups he was still getting outstanding dogs. If he raised a litter each year, the male dog he was using to breed back to a daughter from each litter would be ten or more years old.
"Richard, where would you go with your breeding program when this old male died? You said by breeding this way, in time defects would show up. You also said the defective pups would need to be destroyed and also the ones who produced them. Would this mean destroying the outstanding male you started with and the daughter he was bred to that produced defective pups? I am completely lost here. Where would a man go from here to keep his line of good dogs? Could you have a breeding program that would not have defects in the pups? It would help if I had a diagram showing how to breed and keep this family of dogs as they are. I have the Smith Streak line of dogs. They have to 7/8 of the Streak bloodline. I don't hunt for anything but squirrels. These are the best natural track and tree dogs that I have found. They are also smart and easy to handle.
"Richard, I don't know anything about genetics but I did raise a family of game fowl for 25 years without going outside of the family. They were even better in the later generations than the ones I began with. I started with a rooster and hen of the same breeding, hatching off a bunch of chicks. I tested the roosters from this mating and they held true to gameness and fighting ability. I then started a line down from the rooster's side and a line down from the hen's side, breeding the rooster back to his daughters and the hen back to her sons. I would then cross back and forth into these lines. An old game fowl breeder told me to breed this way. He called it line breeding. I have no idea what the outcome would be if dogs were bred this way. "I sure would appreciate all the help you could give me in trying to preserve this line of dogs."
Answer: I did not say I bought the man's story referred to in Full Cry. He did not identify his breed. If he was breeding Fiests or some of the smaller Mountain Curs, he might breed ten generations in ten years. If he was breeding hounds or the larger cur breeds, it is most unlikely. To do so, his females would have to come in season at eight or nine months. While smaller breeds may do that, a large percentage of larger breeds will not come in season until 12-18 months.
If he did as he claimed, he had no time to hunt out his breeding stock to know what they would become. It takes three to four years to know how a dog is going to finish out. Often those miracle pups do not go on to finish out to be anything special. Many top out at less than twelve months.
I read about Ole Troop being 3/4 or 7/8 this or that. Hokey! No dog can pass on more than one-half his genes to his offspring, for every offspring gets half its genes from each parent. To breed offspring to sire or dam is the same as half brother to half sister. The closest breeding possible is full brother to full sister. Even then there is the possibility of 50-percentage difference.
Every dog of every breed carries recessive genes of some sort. These may be for good and desirable traits just as easily as for bad. By inbreeding, they are more likely to come out than in complete outcrossing. There is no breed or strain of dogs that do not have defects. Families or strains that have been family bred are likely to have less than those that have been bred indiscriminately are.
Successful dog breeding is both an art and a science. There is no secret formula for developing a strain. There are some basic principles involved but none are "fool proof." I think there are two things that separate successful breeders from the rest: (1) a basic understanding of genetics and (2) a feel for what they are doing. You either have it or you don't. Those who do not have that feel will accidentally produce a litter now and then but not consistently. Also, to be called a breeder, the person must have been involved in his particular breed several years, producing several litters each year. To improve any breed or change it in any way, the breeder must know the norm for his breed and what to expect of that breed at every age.
I have been breeding the same family of Leopard Curs since 1953. I have had enough experience with them to know what is normal for them at every age. I can observe a pup at any age and know immediately if it is sub-normal, normal or above normal. I can make a decision concerning that dog much quicker than the average person can. I have had many people tell me I was the luckiest man alive at picking pups that succeed. My answer to them is, "No, it's not luck. I just know what to look for."
I have no first-hand experience with your breed. For that reason, I can't be very specific in information about how to accomplish what you are hoping for.
In general, my criticism of many of today's breeders and fanciers is the obsession to breed or buy pups that will tree squirrel tails at three months and squirrels at 5-6 months. It is highly unlikely that those pups will continue to improve with age or develop into top dogs. They tend to top out at 12 months or earlier, then when they should be top, mature tree dogs, they still act and perform like pups. In general, pups that start slower but gradually improve will continue to improve until they are 5-7 years of age. No dog of any breed will develop maximum smarts until they are five years old unless they are "rattle heads" that go nuts over what they see, then go backwards. Nothing can beat learning at a rate that is normal for the species.
I'll see you here next month!