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Gundog bloodlines

The basis for most breeders of the working gundog is derived from field trial results. On the face of it, this would appear to be a common-sense policy, provided that the results are reliable, of course. However, as my friend the late great Jack Windle used to say, ?To beat 15 dogs in a trial is difficult, but to beat 15 dogs and a judge is impossible!? Indeed, all it takes is one biased or incompetent judge to create a false winner.

I have gone on record many times to say that if a dog or bitch is awarded the winner?s accolade that has not earned it, then the true winner is downgraded and will not receive the publicity that it deserves. Thereby, if such false images are perpetuated too frequently, the intending breeders? guidelines are distorted and the on-going future breed standards placed in jeopardy.

In days now long gone, field trials were conducted by a small, wealthy and elitist group of dog enthusiasts, whose sole aim ? and no doubt, the odd wager ? was to determine which was the ?best dog on the day?. That was from the 1880s up until the 1940s. There was no monetary value placed on the dogs at that time. In those days, dedicated breeders started experimenting with matching various good dogs with bitches of equal quality and no doubt working more on hunches than scientific knowledge brought about famous bloodlines such as the ?Saighton and Ovara?.

Unfortunately, in the late 1950s and 1960s, field trials, though not supported in anything like the numbers today, were growing in popularity and with this influx of newcomers the value of the gundogs began to rise, though as yet, not significantly. This was to change dramatically over a short period of time for Danny McKenzie, a well-known Scottish amateur trainer, who undoubtedly had good intentions, introduced field tests and for the first time ever ordinary people realised that what until then had appeared to be a pursuit where only gamekeepers and pundits were privy to the secrets was not so difficult. Now they could dream of having a go in field trials.

From that moment onwards, prices rocketed and it soon became apparent that to own a field trial champion stud dog was something to aspire to. Indeed, I have known many working chaps whose stud dog earned more for them annually than their yearly salary. And whenever the filthy lucre raises its ugly head, charlatans are not far behind. Avarice quickly became common and soon it was necessary to become ?one of the boys? to conform and ?fit in? with the establishment and its machinations.

Added to the resultant misrepresentation that distorted the breeding potential of the breeds, came another manifestation; one that was even more damaging ? the breeders? realisation that to the average person, a pedigree festooned with field trial champions, marked in red ink, was a great selling point for the puppies. Thus, the breeder?s aim was to mate their bitch to the Kennel Club Champion
of the year, with no regard as to whether or not there was a genetically homologous alliance between the pair. Indeed, it speaks volumes for the breeds? resilience that any form of quality survives ? this is by luck rather than good judgement. For the fact that a dog is or is not a field trial champion or winner means nothing if there is not a familial link between the breeding pair, unless, of course, it is the third mating from the same bitch to an outcross sire.

I am not aware of any breeder in this country who over the past two decades has bred a ?bloodline per se?, yet repeatedly we see breeders proclaiming ?such and such bloodline? or ?lines to so and so?, followed by the name of a well-known dog. To breed a bloodline requires good judgement, dedication and self-belief, thereafter a sound breeding regime entailing the old method of twice in, once out. That is to say, as the strength of your kennel lies in the dam line, you have the choice of every dog in the country to pick from.

When planning to breed from a bitch you must send for the pedigree of as many stud dogs as you can. There are plenty advertised in Shooting Times. If you find that the current field trial champion of the year has a homologous link to your bitch, then you could with all good conscience choose him. However, if he does not have a familial link to your bitch then, unless you are looking for an outcross, there is no point in using him. Over the past few decades the term ?pre-potent sire? has been bandied about. This is balderdash.

A top-class sire cannot enhance the genetic propensities of the progeny, he can merely maintain it. Genetic engineering is not a magic wand, but a consistent method of striving for a specific goal. Records show that randomly mating top-class bitches to an unrelated dog sometimes produces quality progeny. However, it cannot maintain that quality consistently in future generations, for the breeder has no method. He or she has no idea how to perpetuate the quality achieved in the present generation, for they have dipped their hand into a Pandora?s box. Consequently, any future progeny will more than likely fail to breed true to type. If there is any maintenance of quality, it will have again been purely by a hit-and-miss method and the quality achieved will have been derived from an entirely new combination of chromosomes and their genes. The breeder is meandering through a genetic wilderness, relying purely on luck. By no stretch of the imagination can such a regime be construed as a bloodline.

There is not enough space here to go into the whys and wherefores of genetics. I have discussed it in my book, Gundogs ? Their Learning Chain (Swan Hill Press, £14.99), but for the guidance of those who would genuinely wish to embark on fashioning their own bloodline and improve upon the breeds, the following is purely a nuts-and-bolts approach.

If a bitch has a genetic fault, it is a fault too many; she should not be bred from. However, if you have a bitch which you consider to be ?quality? then you can shop around. Provided that she is not ?in-bred?, that is with more than two or three related ancestors in the first three generations of her pedigree, you could implement the conventional method of bloodline breeding. If she is ?in-bred? then you would seek an outcross sire, that is to say, a sire who is not related to your bitch in his first three generations. Thereafter, for the resulting progeny from the union, if there were no faults found, you would select the best bitch and mate her to a sire with a familial homologous link, that is one with a sire or dam related to her in his first three generations. From the resulting progeny, again, if there were no faults found, you would select the best bitch and again seek out a different sire, one with a genetically familial link to your bitch. Thereafter, one of the resulting progeny would be mated to an outcross sire. If the results of a particular mating are not to your liking, then you would sell off that litter and mate the bitch to another sire in your quest to enhance the bloodline?s quality.

You will note that I have added the proviso ?if there are no faults found? to my guide, for genetic engineering is not the be all and end all. Within every form of animal life, there are many mutant recessive genes that are present from generations long gone, and all that is required is for two of these to unite to form a double recessive gene in order that a fault manifests itself. None of the resulting siblings should be bred from, for they are all carriers of that undesirable gene. By this method, over time you will breed a bloodline and the progeny will stand tall against their contemporaries.