By Barbara Andrews
“The strength of the sire is the power of the dam”.
I could use up 50,000 fancy words telling you how to become a top breeder but the whole truth is in that one simple sentence. If this were a textbook, it would lead you through step-by-step lessons designed to build layer upon layer of knowledge so that you would really understand the opening sentence. None of you are beginners so you need only to read that sentence and follow along here.
You could buy dozens of dogs and try all the fancy methods but unless you understand and apply that maxim, you would surely go back to knitting or whatever creative thing you enjoyed before you decided to compete as a breeder. You could study genetics until you were so conversant with terms like genotype, phenotype, and homozygous until you became convinced that you knew all there is to know about how to breed great dogs. Having done all of that, your mind would be filled with so many details you just might overlook the most important one. While the males bring a breeder glory, it is the bitch that sustains a breeding program. The strength of the sire is the power of the dam.
I said that on our Akita “demo tape” during the eighties and some people said that it helped them realize where those magnificent males came from. Once they had viewed legendary dogs like Sachmo, BigSon, and Widow-Maker, they replayed the tape and thought about the message. It was subsequently repeated in my books and has been widely quoted. The problem for some students was that the lesson was just too simple, for others it was a lack of scientific reference.
For those who rely on statistical data; Bill and I are owner-handlers who don’t “network”, have no dogs at public stud and keep fewer than four breeding bitches, yet we’ve had over half of the Akita Hall Of Fame Producers including the #1 and #2 Sires and Dams. All of our Top Ten Producers broke existing show records and set new ones, most of which still stand today. The basic formula has also enabled us to breed top winners and/or producers in three other breeds so it is not just a trite saying; we know where the power is and how to use it. You can do likewise.
Everyone wants a shortcut today. Here it is. In the sixties, we noticed that most “dominant sires” produced greater numbers of outstanding bitches than they did sons. My mentor, Dorothy Gooch of Skyraider Dobermans, had planted a seed that grew into a belief. The more I asked other breeders f these “genetic rules” applied in their breeds, the more convinced I became that it was indeed the dam of a great sire who passed through the most important breed characteristics. Taking it a step further, I observed that a stud was only as good as the bitches he served unless he was extremely dominant, in which case it was his daughters that would earn him a reputation as a great sire. Sachmo became the Top Sire of all Working Breeds having sired only 41 litters in his lifetime. All these many years later there are still those who correctly remember him for the long list of ROM bitches he sired rather than the 101 AKC Champions in the record books.
It is flattering to be quoted but it is immensely gratifying to be proven right by measurable means. Now, through scientific advances of the nineties, aspiring breeders can really understand what “the strength of the sire” means. Now we may be able to prove much of what top breeders previously only “knew”.
Most people agree that the bitch has the greatest influence on a litter. The rationale has always been that it is she that nourishes and teaches the pups but we now have the technology to prove why she contributes so much to a breeding program.
I’ve always been fascinated by differences between dog breeders and livestock producers. The latter have exhaustive data on hardiness, weight, and reproductive ability (qualities not to be overlooked!) because cattle, pigs, chickens, etc. are an economic crop. Dairy farmers pretty much know how many gallons a heifer will produce at maturity based more on the dam’s record than on the herd sire. We who breed companion animals have had to muddle about without the economic incentives that spur great scientific advances. Now from the Thoroughbred Industry comes news of a genetic revelation. It is believed, and soon to be proven, that the female passes on intelligence and physical attributes through something called the “X Factor”. I was surprised to learn that the X chromosome is actually much larger than the Y (male) chromosome. Perhaps that is why it carries such a heavy genetic load! The female, or X chromosome, is responsible for most of the highly desirable characteristics for which dog and horse people strive. If a mare gets the magic double X, she is even more empowered to reliably produce outstanding progeny, including great sires. What we dog breeders have learned from each other, geneticists are finally confirming.
So knowing that, how does one reach the pinnacle of success in dogs? There are two roads. The shortest route is buying and campaigning a great male. The other is buying a great bitch and using her wisely. It depends on whether one wants instant or long term gratification. Both goals are equally important, especially today when it takes a sizeable budget to mount a successful campaign. A person may have to choose which goal is most satisfying because rarely is a person able to do both nowadays. The sport is healthy because there are dedicated fanciers who present outstanding breed specimens created by the most talented of breeders. It is a wonderful partnership.
With all the gnashing of teeth about over-population, less is going to have to be more. If you have discovered that your forte’ is study, nurturing, and creativity, then put your money and time into a great bitch that comes from a line of great bitches. She may become a ring star herself, maybe not. You will have to think carefully if she is of a late maturing breed. The question of whether to breed her first or show her first is always a tough one. But one thing is as certain as anything ever is when it comes to genetic formula, if she is from a line of powerful bitches, she’ll surely give you males that not only win, but with a little luck and planning, they can pass her “x” gene on to your next generation of bitches. “The Strength Of The Sire Is The Power Of The Dam.”
Aw shucks, we always knew that, we just needed the geneticists to confirm it.