An English guy is driving with a Polish guy as his passenger, when he decides to pull over because he suspects that his turn signal may not be working. He asks the Polish guy if he doesn’t mind stepping out of the car to check the lights while he tests them. The Polish guy steps out and stands in front of the car. The English guy turns on the turn signal and asks, “is it working?” To which the Polish guy responds, “yes, it’s working…no, it’s not…yes, it’s working…no, it’s not…”
I grew up with one of the crazy Polish last names. It started with a “DZW’ and ended in a “ski.” I was called “alphabet” in the Army and our family had quite the array of Polish jokes to toss around.
My mother’s side is Maltese, that tiny little island in the Mediterranean, off the toe of Italy. We look a lot like Italians.
Both of my parents were purebred, 100% Polish and 100% Maltese. There is a pride in a bloodline. The specialty food dishes that come with it, the temperament, the intellectual specialties, and even the look the bloodline had—my Maltese family was all about the chest hair.
It’s easy to recognize people from the same bloodline because they are similar, they act similar, they look similar, and if you know one, it makes it easier to know another.
This is what a bloodline is. It’s a set of characteristic traits in appearance, temperament, and drive. These traits are consistent generation after generation.
I knew a breeder who had an incredible eye for his breed, he knew what he liked and he was able to find it. He purchased dogs from all over, not just in the states, but also imported dogs. He had bred a few hundred dogs and had a good name for himself, but he didn’t have a bloodline. His dogs couldn’t be recognized upon meeting them or seeing them in public.
The reason for this was that, while he had a great eye, he only bred his purchased dogs and their offspring, he never bred beyond that, creating a second generation. He never selected for the same traits generation after generation and as a result his kennel looked more meal at Golden Corral, a buffet of many origins, not the menu from an Italian restaurant.
The problem is that his whole kennel never built a reputation because he never consistently produced a certain type of dog. He couldn’t brag about his lines because he didn’t really create them. All of his marketing was convincing people to buy his dogs based on the reputation of the breeders he bought those dogs from, not because of him. This meant he could never sell his dogs for the same price as what he bought them for, and certainly not higher.
In the end, they were buying his dogs because they were good dogs, but also because they were convenient: they were good bloodlines at a cheaper price, and usually his buyers were in driving distance.
I want more for you, but you’ll need a bloodline to accomplish that.
Why do we care that we are building a bloodline?
From a basic perspective, we want predictability and repeatability in our dogs. When we know what we are going to produce it is easier to sell our pups, find them the right homes, and prepare our buyers.
You know you’re accomplishing this when you have a hard time distinguishing the differences in your puppies.
It’s actually a little funny. In the beginning you have a harder time distinguishing the difference in puppies’ temperaments, drives, and personalities because you’re new and haven’t had a lot of practice. As you produce and learn from your litters you’ll get better at noticing these differences and aligning the right family to the right pup…then a few more generations in you might feel a little dumb because you’re struggling to tell the difference in the pups, but it isn’t because you don’t know them or can’t read puppies, it’s because they are all similar because you’ve honed your bloodline.
I remember when this first started happening I felt like an idiot in front of my buyers because I wasn’t able to give them strong differences between pups in the litter like I used to. Then I realized it was because I had honed the genetics so much that they were all pretty much the same, which worked out well because my buyers are also pretty honed—as in I know my ideal customer and most of my buyers fall within a pretty tight circle of my ideal.
It can be nice when this happens because for the most part the main differences in the puppies will be their sex and their color and that can make sorting the pups a little easier without compromising the integrity of your program.
So if you’re getting to that point that they seem so similar you’re stumped at who to recommend, there’s a good chance you’re doing it right.
Besides making it easier to sell puppies. Why else should we care about building a bloodline?
I’m a sucker for amaretto, I wish more coffee shops carried that flavor syrup. It also happens to be the magic flavor behind Disaronno Liqueur, which I also like in my coffee—don’t worry, not in the morning, who says drinking coffee is just for the morning?
If you’ve ever had the pleasure of pouring yourself a glass of Disaronno, you’ll notice that the bottle says “Since 1525.” I remember the first time I noticed that thinking, holy cow, this has almost been around 500 years. I was impressed.
So how does this relate to dog breeding other than the fact that the occasional dog buyer might drive you to want to drink?
With the longevity of the brand, the recipe, it’s reassuring. You see if Disaronno has been around this long it means that it’s actually good. We don’t have to worry that it’s popular because a famous guy tweeted about it, nor do we have to worry that it lasted because the original store that carried it just had a good location, so it was bought a lot.
Disaronno has lasted through many wars, which means its worth is intrinsic, its popularity is not a result of good luck and circumstance.
Just the same, in the goat world, I loved it when I was getting a goat and half the pedigree had the same herd name on it. It meant there was a good likelihood that I was getting what I was thinking I would get.
It does work a little different in the goat world than it does in dogs, at least with AKC’s registry. I’m not going to lie, I like the goat world better here. In the goat world, whoever owned the goat when she was bred is whose herd name was at the beginning of the registered name. I always found it odd that I could buy a puppy from another breeder and slap my kennel name at the front of it.
With my purchased dogs, I’ve always honored the breeder when possible in my dogs’ registered names, but I find it funny that it’s an option unless the kennel prefix is set by the breeder—and even then it’s not a guarantee with paper applications.
Anyways, I like the way goat world does things, as it lets you know who selected the breeding more readily, making the pedigree a little more insightful in my opinion.
We know we want to build a bloodline that has predictability and repeatability of traits in appearance temperament, and drive, but we also want the longevity that goes with it because that builds rightfully-earned trust with our buyers.
Want to Get the Roadmap to a Successful Breeding Program?
How do we do it?
We need related dogs through generations, while also respecting genetic diversity.
You need to start with selecting to retain males or females in your breeding program primarily. I’ve met a few breeders who retain males, but when I run all the numbers and combinations, I find it much easier and more efficient to retain females you’ve bred and bring in new blood through studs. The added bonus is you’ll be completely aware of the mothering ability of the line.
Basically, you’ll decide how many lines you want to run—I have a nice formula in the Dog Breeder Society to calculate all this—and then you’ll figure out when you’re going to retire these breeders and how you’ll replace them.
Let’s look at a simple start to a breeding program. In my opinion, there are two simple ways to start a breeding program that make sense to me, if you have more time, space, or financial resources you can go bigger, but I don’t know that it would be necessary. Sometimes smaller and more controlled is easier to manage and learn from, and doesn’t place as much pressure on you.
The first way to start is to buy a female, breed her to an outside stud, and retain a female puppy out of her first litter. You will then have two females that are generally separated by the amount of time it takes to raise a puppy to be a breeder. Since both of these females are related, it should be easier to find a stud that is complementary to both females that you can purchase and use in your breeding program.
When you are ready, you’ll replace the females with female offspring from this stud. Those females will be selected based on the qualities that will be best for your ideal puppy buyer of course.
You’ll then look to purchase a stud that will complement both the females you’ve retained in your most recent generation.
The other way to start is to buy a stud that you really like, as in he’s most aligned with your ideal puppy buyer, and then you find two females that will improve the little things about him that you don’t like. This female may improve his muscle mass and drive, while this other female may have the temperament, colors, or fur you’d prefer or she may improve structure, whatever it is you want to accomplish for your ideal puppy buyer.
Then you keep daughters out of these females that reflect the improvements you were looking for. These daughters will begin building your bloodline because they will both carry the traits of your stud. From there you will bring in a stud who improves the daughters in the way you want to further improve and hone your bloodline.
The bloodline will be built through the retention of females in both starting options.
The females you choose will set the stage for your next generation of dogs, so you need to be very careful to select the right dogs. This is why I recommend you’re willing to select a female to replace your current mama, a few litters before you actually need to, so that you can pass on a litter if the right female isn’t born and you don’t feel obligated to keep a less desirable female as a breeder because you need to retire her mother.
In the beginning, it’ll be a little messy, you’ll get a lot of outcrosses, as in the variation in the puppies will be a lot. They may be vasty different sizes, a variety of colors or patterns that you may or may not want, they may also be all over the place with temperament and drive.
Use this to your advantage, it’s a great stage for learning to notice the differences in puppies, it will be easier to learn when they are so different. As you hone your lines the differences will minimize which will up the difficulty level of putting the right puppy with the right family, BUT you’ll be better prepared because you saw the differences when they were more obvious.
You’ll also be able to start noticing personality differences at younger ages. I can see the personalities around four weeks of age when my puppies are walking well, but their differences are obvious to buyers for a few weeks. This is how you train your eye: time and practice.
What about Doodles and other Mixes?
Great question, as my understanding of doodles and other crosses grows, I have greater respect for the honest doodle breeders, it’s tough.
Because doodles and other crosses are most predictable in F1 and F1b crosses you’re going to be unable to keep the F1b offspring for continuing your lines, so you’ll probably need to have your bloodline live in your purebred lines, which means in addition to having your doodles, you’ll want to consider keeping a purebred line as your feeder line to your doodle lines.
What would this look like? Well, if you bred labradoodles, you may want to keep a Labrador line and potentially a Poodle line. I find with many doodle crosses, the Poodles are a bit vanilla, not in a bad way, but more that they go with nearly everything, so the doodles take on a lot of the personality traits of the breed they are crossed with and the poodle just ups the intelligence of the breed—and sometimes the energy.
If you anticipated breeding your purebred female six times, then you might want to have 1 or 2 of those be purebred breedings—even though your ideal puppy buyer is looking for a doodle—just to replace her or to keep your purebred ideal puppy buyers happy. The other 4-5 breedings with her could be with a Poodle to make your primary doodle puppies.
What this allows for is the building of a purebred bloodline that will give your doodle breeding program continuity while also not giving you the genetic unpredictability that F2 and later generations would.
In the cross of my shorthairs and rat terriers, I am keeping two purebred lines, and therefore working with three different ideal puppy buyers, it is a lot to work with. Usually poodles as a breed would attract a very different ideal puppy buyer than your other breed you’re using to make doodles, so it doesn’t always make sense for doodle breeders to keep poodles as it would be hard to move and sell the poodle litters, whereas the breed you’re using to cross with the poodles is usually similar to the doodle in temperament and personality with a few differences, so working with these two different ideal puppy buyers is easier.
The key to selecting a bloodline is actually knowing what traits you want and what traits your ideal customer needs. Unfortunately, this isn’t something you’ll have worked out overnight. Sometimes it takes getting dogs returned to you, like happened to me several times, that showed me where my breeding program and ideal customer didn’t align.
You may breed some dogs and realize they are too much for your ideal puppy buyer or that they aren’t the right size or temperament.
Sometimes you’ll realize that your ideal puppy buyer is actually someone who thinks they need a lot more dog than they actually do. I see this happen a lot with German Shepherds, people think they want a strong guard dog, but they really want a good, loyal, predictable, less intense watch dog. So you have to be careful not to always take everything your puppy buyers say at face value, egos can muddy the waters.
You may also be building your bloodline and want to change gears. Don’t kick yourself, embrace it and roll with it. I thought I wanted to breed great hunting dogs that went to families, but after doing that and realizing that my ideal puppy buyer was an outdoorsy family that also enjoyed hunting, I switched it up, so now I breed family dogs that go to hunting families. My dogs still hunt, but the priority has always been a dog that thrives in a family first and then hunts. Rearranging these priorities in my breeding selection process was really impactful in my bloodline. It adjusted the drive of my dogs to thrive in today’s world, not what the world was 70 years ago on the farm.
When I look back at my bloodline, all of my dogs are related to Buster in some way, they are all his derivatives. It is that continuity that built my bloodline. It got more robust as the following generations were built on my next stud Rusty. After you get the bloodline honed, you can look to add genetic diversity through some outcrosses to different studs and then tie it back by breeding two of your lines together after retaining a stud you’ve bred. There are so many options once you get going.
I hope this episode gave you the incentive to take a step back and evaluate your breeding program direction, what you want from your dogs, and how you’ll accomplish it.