What’s the best way to choose a mate for your dog?

Look for potential mates that complement your dog.  They shouldn’t share its faults and should have the traits you feel are most important.  A potential mate’s family should not be known for having faults you are trying to improve on.   Make sure you include health issues in your list of important traits.  Select the mates that are least related to your dog.  If you have a bitch, avoid over-used sires, you will have fewer options for where to go when it comes time to breed any puppies you keep.

 What if the dog hasn’t been bred before?

While you may have some ideas about a young dog’s potential based on what you know of its line and near kin, it remains a cypher until there are offspring you can evaluate.  Therefore, it is best to take unproven breeding stock to proven mates – mature animals who have adult offspring that meet your criteria of quality.  With a proven mate you have the opportunity to review the quality of its offspring as well as those of it’s near relatives.  Finally, an experienced mate is less likely give your maiden animal a negative experience that might have repercussions for future breedings.

 If something goes wrong in a dog’s first litter, should it be bred again? 

That would depend very much on what went wrong.  With a very few exceptions (horrible diseases like epilepsy being an example), if the dog or bitch is good quality, choose a different mate for the next litter from a family of dogs not known for whatever went wrong in the first litter.  That means the second one also can’t be kin to either your dog or the first one it was bred to since they might have those genes, too.   If the next litter has the same problems then it may be time to throw in the towel.

What is an outcross?

The breeding of largely unrelated individuals.  Howeve, people say they have an “outcross” if they don’t see the same names in a standard 3-5 generation printed pedigree.  COIs are a better way of determining whether a dog or planned litter is truly outcrossed.  An outcross will have a low COI. Generally under 10% (average COI for most pure breeds is around 12%.

What’s the difference between inbreeding and linebreeding?

Linebreeding is an animal breeder’s term that means the mating of animals that are related, often through one or more common ancestors, but not within one or two steps of relationship.  Inbreeding is the mating of very close relatives.  In this context, inbred matings are so close they would be considered incestuous among people (parent/offspring, siblings, etc.)  To a geneticist, however, both are “inbreeding” because in both cases you are breeding related individuals to each other.

The advantage of inbreeding and linebreeding is that they increase your odds of matching up genes that occur in the common ancestry, but that is also their downfall.  When you inbreed or linebreed you do so to produce dogs with the positive traits of their progenitors.  But every dog – even the very best – will also carry genes for things you do not want.  You are just as likely to double up on the genes you don’t want as those that you do, because nearly all of the unwanted ones are either recessive or contribute to a multi-gene trait and can be difficult to track through a pedigree.  The more inbred or “tightly linebred” the individual is the greater the chance of matching up genes both good and bad.  It is possible to calculate the degree if inbreeding in an individual by using a formula called Wright’s Coefficient of Inbreeding (COI).

Is inbreeding good or bad?

Inbreeding, which for this discussion also includes what we call “linebreeding,” certainly has its place.  None of our domestic animals or plants would exist without it.  Inbreeding must be used to develop a strain that breeds true for whatever traits are considered important for the breed.  But true-breeding strains of most purebred dog breeds were established decades to centuries ago.

Inbreeding concentrates the “good” traits that we want, but it also inadvertently concentrates things we do not want some of which are very bad.  Any dog, no matter how high in quality, will have some “bad” genes.

What are steps of relationship?

In the context of breeding dogs it refers to how closely related one dog is to another.  First step relatives are parents, offspring and full siblings.  Second step would be grandparents, grandpups, parents’ siblings and siblings’ offspring.  Half-siblings fall somewhere between one and two steps.  Each succeeding step would be made up of the first-step kin of the prior step.  Beyond the first couple steps things can get murky in an inbred or linebred pedigree.

Knowing something about the virtues and faults of first and second-step kin can be helpful in breeding.  If wanted traits are consistent across those individuals, odds are good that the dog will produce those desirable traits.  On the other hand, the more individuals within a couple steps of relationship who themselves have connections to specific health concerns within a couple steps of themselves, the greater the risk that the dog you are considering might pass that health issue along.

How close a breeding is “too close?”

There isn’t a simple answer to that.   There may be compelling reasons to do a close breeding.  However, if it’s done repeatedly over multiple generations there can be an accumulation of genes you don’t want along with those you’ve been intentionally collecting.  Another hazard of close breeding is the popular sire.  That dog, however good he is, will have some bad genes.  The more often he and his close kin show up on both sides of pedigree, the more likely you are to double up on some of those unwanted genes.

If you have a really good litter, isn’t it best to keep repeating the cross?

If you had exceptional results once you will probably do so in repeat breedings.  The down side is that you will then have that many more dogs of exactly the same breeding in the gene pool.  If the sire of this cross is popular, there will be even fewer less-related dogs available as mates.

Males have the potential to sire offspring with a variety of mates.  Even a fairly limited breeding career can produce many different genetic combinations with his genes.  A bitch’s potential is limited by the number of litters she can produce.  If you breed her only to one dog there will be only a limited number of genetic combinations from her. You maximize a good bitch’s contribution to the breed by breeding her to different quality dogs who share the traits you want to produce but don’t necessarily  have similar pedigrees.

Can you have a line that is “clean” for a fault and get it when you do an outcross?

You are less likely to double up on unwanted genes with an outbred pedigree than by inbreeding (which includes linebreeding).  However, it is possible to wind up with something you didn’t think you could get when you do an outcross, especially if the inheritance is complex.  This is sometimes called “outcrossing surprise.”

Outcrossing surprise occurs because the “clean” line no longer has all of the genetic puzzle pieces to make the whole picture.  If the outcross line happens to have the missing pieces – Bingo!  While this can happen in an outcrossed litter it is more likely when you are line- or inbreeding.

What is prepotency?

Prepotency is the tendency of a sire to consistently produce his qualities in his offspring.

Are the dogs in the male and female tail-lines more important than other dogs in the pedigree?

A “tail line” is direct decent through parents of the same gender – dam to grandma to great grandma.  The vast majority of genes do not come solely down either tail line.

On the sire’s side only his Y chromosome passes that way and it only goes to his sons.  The Y chromosome largely contains genes for male-specific traits.  On the female side, the dam’s mitochondria (the energy plants of the cells, which have their own DNA) will pass to all of her offspring with her eggs, which start out as single cells.  Occasionally some of the sire’s mitochondria may get passed along if two sperm happen to penetrate the egg at the same time, but this is rare and in any event does not involve the genes that dog breeders are trying to retain or discard.

If you have a dog that has a conformation fault – too much of something – and you breed him to a bitch that has too little, will it even out in the pups? 

Unfortunately, no.  Many aspects of conformation involve skeletal structure, which are not single-gene traits and inheritance is not simple or easy to predict.   Any time a dog is off the ideal for a conformation trait, but not so far off that it shouldn’t be bred at all, the best plan is to select mates that are near perfect in that respect and come from families where correctness of that trait is the norm.