Depending on your breeding goals, your initial or current breeding stock will either be very close to what you are trying to achieve in your breeding program, or they will be very far away from what you’re trying to achieve.
When what you want is already in your breeding program, then you’re looking to use a sustainment model in your breeding program. This model is going to be designed around have a ladder of females that you rotate out once they are ready to retire.
An aggressive breeding program is designed to quickly move through generations so you can pull traits from very different lines and formulate your specific line.
Think of it like your ideal dog is purple. If you can buy purple dogs you’re in a sustainment program, but if you can only buy blue and red dogs, then you’ll need an aggressive program to make dogs that are not only purple, but to consistently make them the same shade and tone of purple.
For example, if you are trying to breed labradors to be family companions, then you would do well to buy breeding stock that come from lines of labs that are used as family companions. If you have labs from family companion lines, and that’s what you’re going for, you don’t need an aggressive program, you can use a sustainment model.
You know you need an aggressive breeding program when none of your breeding dogs are what you want, yet they all have some traits and characteristics of your ideal dog. When you’re in a situation like this, you’ll want to move through generations of dogs fairly quickly so you can create your ideal breeding dogs faster.
You’ll usually want an aggressive program when you are trying to create something that you can’t just buy or is difficult to find. For example, you may have a male who has excellent conformation that you want, but your female has the drive and temperament that you want.
You would think that all the puppies would have better conformation from the sire and the temperament and drive from the dam, but that’s not always the case. A few puppies in the litter will come out better in both areas, but some of them can have the worst of both parents, they’ll have poor conformation and poor temperament and drive. This is why you want don’t want to keep this breeding pair in a “sustainment” program, it isn’t consistently producing what you want.
Sometimes it’s not that the dogs are bad, maybe they all have nice structure, but the drive or temperament ranges from intense to relaxed, from spazzy to calm. If your puppies would do well to go to very different buyers, as in they aren’t really the same ideal customer, this is also a reason to put yourself in an aggressive breeding program.
Another instance where you’ll want to use an aggressive breeding program is when you’re trying to do something like make a smaller version of a breed or a larger version, whether this is through crossing or careful selection, either way, you’ll want to move quickly through some generations until you get what you’re looking for.
Remember the most successful breeding programs are consistent. Consistency and predictability make the process of placing pups in the right home easier.
When I first started breeding I loved my foundation stud, but he was a bit much for the average family. I had one female who had the temperament I really wanted, while I had another female whose movement was what I wanted, she just glided across the ground when she moved, like her feet didn’t touch the ground. I wanted to mellow my foundation stud with the temperament of my one female and then make my dogs a bit lighter on their feet, like the other female.
I had most of what I wanted, but not all of it in any particular dog. I kept daughters out of my foundation breeders out of their first litters and brought in a stud who improved things even further, like metabolism and a stronger nose.
The goal of this breeding will be to take the best dog of the litter, as in the one closest to your ideal dog, and retain her for your program.
We wouldn’t want to do this breeding many times over because it isn’t going to give us repeatable results for our buyers. Remember, when building a breeding program, it’s ideal that all the pups you are producing are similar, especially in structure, size, temperament, and drive. When these elements of your puppies are predictable you will better be able to align your puppies with the right families because you’re only trying to find that ideal puppy buyer.
In a situation like this, you’ll be retiring breeding stock once you’ve replaced them with the next generation and improved the lines to be more of what you are looking for.
The Goal of a Sustainment Program
Now, I’ll be honest, while I love my dogs and what they are, I’m always looking at them, evaluating them to see what I can improve, and if you asked about any of my dogs, I could name off a few things I would change on each of them.
So if you’re always looking to improve your dogs—which I feel you should be—then when do we know that we’ve reached sustainment?
You’ll know you’re there when the pups you are producing easily align with your ideal puppy buyers, without much variation.
Sure you may have a pup who is slightly more independent and a pup who is slightly more codependent. This isn’t a big variation, especially if you have a family that the first dog can go to where he’s an only dog and the second family already has another dog, so the codependent dog will have a buddy.
Another indicator that you’re in sustainment is when you have a difficult time seeing the differences in puppies, especially when they were so obvious to you before. This happened for me in my fourth and fifth generations, where I finally had selected generations of the same type of dog to retain for my program and I was merely tweaking a few things.
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Moving to an Aggressive Breeding Program
While the majority of breeders will mostly stay in sustainment, there are some times when you’ll want to jump out of sustainment and move into an aggressive breeding program.
You may jump to an aggressive breeding program if you find that your dogs don’t work for your ideal puppy buyer or the match is becoming a little harder. For me, when I changed prices and moved to a higher price bracket, I found my customers changed a little bit, they didn’t do as much research and expected more from me given the price. This was fine, but they also became more picky about color.
Now I know that color is not what makes the dog, but sometimes it’s what makes the sale, so in this instance I searched and searched for a dog that would retain the temperament, drive, and style of my dogs, but who came in the color that was popular. It took me a year to find the right kennel, then two years of waiting before I could take him home.
He was great, except one problem, despite the breeder’s expectations, he was about 20 lbs heavier than I had hoped, he’s taller, and just bigger in general. Now I’m short enough that it’s fair to say I embrace my Napoleon syndrome, which is why I love driving large diesels, but when breeding dogs, I find it personally difficult to manage dogs that are bigger than 70 lbs. After that size I have a hard time carrying them if there’s an injury or breaking up a dog fight should there be one.
What I ended up doing with him was a bit of a balance between sustainment and aggressive breeding program. For the sustainment piece, I did have a smaller female who produced dogs that were in the size I wanted, I retained a female out of that pairing who is larger than her mother, but not as big-boned as him, I also placed a brother of the female I kept in a co-own, this allows me to keep his genetics in both a male and female allowing me to retire him from the breeding program, without losing his genetics, but also so that I’m not putting out consistently giant dogs that aren’t representative of my program.
On the sustainment side of things, I still use him with that female, it is a very popular litter because of the coloring, BUT since she’s intense, but slightly neurotic and he’s less intense, more goofy and easy going, the puppies tend to get a blend of the two traits, obviously they are a range, but the range tends to fall between the two parents, which are both within the guidelines of my ideal puppy buyer, so it works. I just need to preface the situation so that the buyers of the larger pups will understand they aren’t getting a medium-sized shorthair. It works out because the size of the shorthairs is less of a concern for my buyers, they prioritize other traits.
Just be careful, a situation like this won’t always work that way so easily. If your selling point is that your dogs are small and you get a surprise giant stud, it could be difficult to sell those pups because the buyers are specifically looking for a small dog. It comes back to knowing your ideal puppy buyer and making your program and breeding decisions geared to them.
Sometimes, as your program grows, you’ll need to bring in genetic diversity because your dogs will be too interrelated. For example, say you had four or five generations of your maternal lines, but then you decide to cross your two lines to tighten up your genetics. This is a great way to hone your lines and solidify your bloodline. However, that next generation, as in the daughters you kept from the cross, well they’re related to everyone in your kennel, so you can’t breed them to your lines again. So what do you do? Well, you’ll have to bring in outside blood.
Back in my goat breeding days I always drooled over this woman’s goats in Wyoming, she had these black goats with little bits of red as accents, sort of like tan points on a dog. I just loved them, I always loved the black Nubian goats the best. She was a master at weaving her genetics into her lines, crossing them back to themselves and you could tell her goats in any picture, they had that style.
But she also knew that she was pushing the envelope on it, that she would be taking unnecessary genetic risks if she didn’t outcross to some new blood. She selected a beautiful buck from a herd a few states away. Her goats had gotten shorter over the generations and this buck was tall and robust. She bred him to her whole line over two years and then sold him to another herd who could use him. She kept enough daughters and a few sons that she was able to continue breeding within her lines.
I was lucky to get a direct daughter out of him and she was an amazing goat, I loved the cross, but for her it was just a stepping stone to the next generation.
Color is often a reason you’ll endure some generations of an aggressive breeding program.
Again, breeding for color is not the be-all, no one wants a pretty dog with hip dysplasia, BUT it is fun, I’m not going to lie to you. I’ve LOVED color genetics since I was in high school and learned about it. I think it’s fine to breed for color or patterns, so long as you don’t sacrifice the quality of life for the dog and owner in the process.
I’ll be diving into some color genetics soon, but there are some genes, like the piebald gene, which is also called the Parti gene in poodles. The piebald gene is the gene that makes a dog white to where it looks like it has patches on him. If you think of Wishbone the Jack Russell, he’s a piebald. In my shorthairs, all dogs that are not solid, are technically piebalds. You see this in cattle dogs, too. It’s very common, many breeds are entirely piebald, meaning they only carry the piebald gene in the genetic pool.
Without killing you with giant genetic discussion, the piebald gene is recessive, it means that it takes the gene from both parents in order for the offspring to show the pattern. If you wanted to great a line of all piebald dogs, you can guarantee you’ll have all piebalds if you breed two piebalds together.
Well what if your females didn’t carry piebald at all? Well, you could bring in a nice piebald stud, breed him to your females and retain daughters. Even if the daughters aren’t piebald due to the mother’s dominant pattern gene, they would all still carry a copy of the piebald gene from the father.
You could then breed these piebald-gene-carrying daughters to another piebald and get 50% piebald dogs. So in your second generation you could have the piebald dogs you want.
If you wanted your kennel to be all piebald, then in this aggressive program, all the generation one daughters, the ones who carry piebald, but didn’t show it, could be retired and rehomed. This creates continuity in your genetics because your females carry your bloodlines, and yet, you’ve been able to change the pattern of the dogs by bringing in the piebald studs over two generations.
So long as you breed the second-generation, piebald females to a stud who at least carries piebald, then you’ll get piebald pups, and of course, if you use a third piebald stud, you’ll get all piebalds.
I love having the variation in my kennel, it’s more fun to look at and to me, it makes the litters more interesting.
So what about you? Do you need an aggressive or sustainment program? Are your breeders purple? Or are you still mixing some blue and red together?