You asked for comments in respect of limiting the use of stud dogs and here are some of my personal observations/comments. I feel that I should first state our breeding history – we have had 15 litters in the 25 years we have owned Bearded Collies, three times we have used popular sires (ie those who had had more than 12 litters and with many progeny who have gone on to be bred from), twice dogs who went on to become popular sires and ten times those who have been less well used. We have used one dog twice but on different bitches.
Of the litters we have bred, three are too young for top honours but from the remaining 12 we have bred five UK champions and several dogs with RCCs. Of these five, two were sired by popular sires, two by those who went onto become popular and one from a sire less well used. We have always tried to ‘do our own thing’ but have not hesitated to use a popular sire if we felt he was the right dog for our bitch and after careful consideration.
Most people who breed also show and, to some degree, are competitive. Popular stud dogs are generally popular for good reason – they produce offspring who do well in the show ring, hopefully because they are well constructed, but who also have other merits such as good temperaments and are healthy, passing on few undesirable traits. In this way, show folk are no different from those who breed for working, agility etc, or from other livestock breeders – they are selecting for desirable traits.
I think most breeders spend a long time deciding on the right stud dog for their bitch, discarding those they feel are too closely related, ones who share faults their bitch may have, ones whose temperaments they may suspect or ones who may have possible problems in their lines – perhaps higher than average hip scores – that may also be in the lines of the bitch.
With the decrease in numbers of Beardies over the past 20 years or so and the loss of certain lines as older breeders retire, the number of stud dogs has become a lot smaller. Once a breeder has decided on the right dog for their bitch, they would be very disappointed to find the dog had ‘reached its quota’ and I think this is the main reason people are instinctively against limiting the use of stud dogs.
I wonder, too, if owners of the best stud dogs may decide to ‘ration’ the use of their dog to only the very best bitches, meaning those with more average bitches, who would have most to gain perhaps, would have to use more ‘average’ dogs, leading to a wider split in quality between the top kennels and the rest.
In addition people may rush to use the latest top winning youngster before his ‘quota’ is used up, the danger being this dog may go on to develop health problems in his mid years – autoimmune conditions are most likely to present between four to eight years – by which time he may well have had had many litters, while the healthy 11-year-old cannot be used because he has had his ‘quota’.
Also it would be difficult to stop people using their own dogs on their own bitches – those who have large kennels or own their dogs in partnership with others could still use these, possibly very popular, stud dogs, which would seem very unfair to the small breeder.
Finally it has to be said that clubs can put restrictions in their code of ethics but there is very little they can actually do if people break them! To throw out a member, the club would have to call an SGM, something that is both time-consuming and expensive – and even then that person could still allow their dog to be used as the Kennel Club does not impose any limit on stud dog use.
It concerns me that some dogs figure far too frequently in the pedigrees of the Beardies in the show ring today but I would like to see guidelines or recommendations regarding the use of stud dogs rather than rules and would, perhaps, prefer to see some limit to the number of litters a dog is allowed per year. I realise that occasionally this may present practical problems – not all matings result in litters – but it might help to ‘spread’ the influence of a dog over several years and allow breeders to observe that an individual dog is capable of living a long healthy life and better observe the health, type and temperament of his offspring.
I also feel it is a shame that people often repeat successful matings. I can often understand their reasons – and I know the offspring aren’t genetically identical to their earlier brothers and sisters – but in these days, when most people don’t have many litters from an individual bitch, it seems a shame not to try a new combination to help increase genetic diversity.
I also feel it is a somewhat missed opportunity when importing dogs from abroad, to bring in those from already popular sires. Again while they will be genetically different, it is likely to lead to future doubling up on the popular sire who has already been widely used in the UK, something that is not going to help bring our COI down.
I have long thought the show ring is a double-edged sword. On the one hand, hopefully producing the best and most typical Bearded Collies with breeders most likely to health test but, on the other, the desire to win and produce dogs who are successful also increases the probability that particular dogs will be overused, particular pedigree combinations are frequently repeated or current trends in type are followed. Judges also have a great responsibility here.
As you have said, we have been ‘taught’ that line breeding was the way to go and there is no doubt it has produced some very beautiful Bearded Collies. We do need to change but it is not easy to change the habits of a lifetime and ones that have worked. I feel the top breeders have the most responsibility to take the lead on this.
To end on an optimistic note, I feel there are signs that folk are starting to become more creative with their breeding programmes and do consider COI as one factor when planning their matings. I understand, too, that the KC has plans to introduce a feature in Mate Select whereby the contribution a particular sire has already made to the gene pool can be checked, again helping breeders when planning a mating.
I agree that we need to look carefully at what we do before it is too late – and we need to make changes – but I hope that with education, openness and honesty we can find a way forward without imposing too many rules.