Using a Breeder's Circle to Improve Your Dog Breeding Program Goals

A puppy in a basket

Planning a dog breeding is not to be taken lightly.  

Savvy breeders approach each breeding with goals. This helps them to have a clear vision of the traits needed in the sire and dam to produce the desired outcome. Staying objective can be tricky because it is easy to follow your heart rather than using good judgment in breeding decisions. 

“It is important to maintain your breed’s integrity and not take shortcuts,” says Kathy Rust, who bred Vizslas under the Kizmar kennel name for more than 40 years producing 174 champions that earned more than 1,000 conformation and sporting titles. 

“There should be goals for every breeding, and you should be thinking two to three generations into the future,” Rust told attendees at the AKC Breeder Symposium last fall in Columbus, Ohio, in her Breeding 101 presentation. “You want to maintain or improve the quality of the parents. You also want to think about how the resulting progeny will fit into your breeding program.” 

Setting goals can help you determine the top three things to maintain in a bloodline and the top three things to improve. Breeders should develop a plan to help them produce dogs that adhere to the breed standard. Besides structure and temperament, which are described in the breed standard, a dog’s health traits and work ethic, such as hunting and herding abilities, also are important areas to consider. 

“If you improve just one thing in a breeding, that is great,” Rust says. “It could take three to four generations to make a change. You have to take small steps. Not everything can be established in the first-generation offspring.” 

A goals statement becomes an important part of what Rust calls the “match game.” Considerable research goes into understanding the pedigrees of potential breeding mates and their relatives and what they have produced in offspring. You can often reach your goals faster if you can expand your pool of candidates to breed to. One way to do that is to create a breeder’s circle.  

A breeder’s circle, or a close-knit group of advisors who are breeders themselves, can help you make sound breeding decisions, says Rust, who credits much of her success to her own breeder’s circle. These breeders collaborate as a working team to plan and maintain their own breeding program and also that of the entire circle. 

“A breeder’s circle is a like-minded group that keeps each other honest,” she says. “They can validate your dog’s strengths and weaknesses and help you objectively critique them. Although an honest evaluation about your dog’s faults is not easy, a breeder needs to set aside emotion and see the dog in an analytical way. 

“When putting together your circle, choose people you trust. It can be anyone from newbies to master breeders. If possible, you should include a master breeder in your own breed. Besides breeding decisions, these experienced breeders can help you through whelping and raising a litter.” 

Members of a breeder’s circle can exchange ideas and discuss the merit of potential crosses. In-person video meetings and Facebook groups can be used to share photos, pedigrees and evaluate breeding stock and their progeny.  

For starters, breeders should review what they would change in the first three to four generations of a dog’s pedigree, Rust advises. “Put together breeding analytics of the stud dog and female that include early breeding dogs in the pedigree. Importantly, look at photos of these dogs to evaluate correct structure, their head, ears, neck, front, back, according to the breed standard. Learn about the health and temperament of the dogs, their parents and their littermates.” 

 Reproduction problems in a female line can be red flags not to breed her. “You have to pay attention to issues conceiving, whelping, singleton or very large litters and cesarean sections,” Rust says.  

The owner of the stud dog is an important part of the decision-making process and has a responsibility to be truthful with a female’s owner about the good and bad of a potential match. “The owner of a sire should know his strengths and weaknesses and of the entire pedigree behind him,” Rust says. “The owner should have notes on his progeny to be able to discuss what he can bring to a match.  

“My goal when choosing a sire is that he will help maintain the strong points of the dam and help improve any shortcomings. Thus, you need to know as much about the male as the female. I often tell people that the sires that are easy to find in the show ring, at events or in advertisements may not be the dog they are looking for. I ask them to also research his sire and his littermates. It could be that a relative may be a better choice.” 

The purpose in creating a goal list is to assist in determining how the resulting progeny will fit into your breeding program, Rust says. “Once the puppies arrive, it’s very easy to fall for the puppy that worms its way into your heart, but you have to look at your goals first and stay honest to them when you are doing your evaluations. Some breeders will choose a puppy even though it does not have any of the traits or goals for that breeding. Breeders cannot allow themselves to fall into that trap when trying to achieve a goal.” 

The bottom line is that it is important to stay objective when choosing breeding partners and the puppy you will keep. Although it’s easy for your heart to take over, staying true to your goals will help you achieve the best outcomes for your breeding program. 

Match Game Objectives

When choosing breeding partners, you want to add genetic diversity and maintain or improve the quality of the parents while staying focused on your goals and the areas you are trying to improve.  

  • Don’t fall for “eye candy,” or in other words, a photo or video of a beautiful dog that you know nothing about 

  • Don’t worry about titles, rather focus on the dog you are considering for breeding 

  • Don’t forget that a dog in a companion home that has passed its health clearances may be an overlooked gem as a producer and a great option for your breeding program