Three Common Misconceptions of Aspiring Chihuahua Breeders about SelectingBreeding Stock
As published in the August-September, 2009 issue of Los Chihuahuas
John E. Cipollina
Hartsville, South Carolina (843) 332-2313
Fax: (843) 332 1521
For more information
Since becoming involved with Chihuahuas in May of 1986, I have had many opportunities to observe people come and go. I have had the honor of making the acquaintances of world class breeders and the privilege working with several of them. As with any worthwhile endeavor, consistent success does not come by accident. Their success came by making consistent good choices in selecting breeding stock and not by dumb luck. There are many Chihuahua breeders who claim to be “hobby breeders,” but in my opinion only a small percentage of them truly understand what it takes to build a successful breeding program. I would like to share what I believe to be the three most common misconceptions aspiring breeders have while attempting to build their breeding program.
The first common misconception is “I like that dog; therefore, I want to breed to it.” To the uninformed, this type of thinking makes perfectly good sense but it doesn’t necessarily work in practice. It is an erroneous assumption to believe that if a dog looks like the type of dog that you would like to breed it will reproduce itself if bred to your bitch.
There can be many reasons why the type of breeding choice in the aforementioned scenario can fail. Your bloodlines and those of the stud dog may not compatible. Not all blood lines work well together. If the stud dog is from an out-crossed breeding, it lessens the chances of reproducing itself especially when being out-crossed to a bitch which may or may not be out of a good line breeding. Every once in a while a breeder may get lucky and breed a nice representative of the breed when the genes of mediocre breeding stock line up correctly. There is an old cliché that says “if you throw enough mud against the wall, some of it is bound to stick.” I refer to these breeders as “shotgun breeders” because they breed multiple litters out of so-so breeding stock and occasionally get a good dog. I have seen this happen from time to time over the years but the breeder cannot produce that quality again even when repeating the breeding.
The correct approach would be, “I like that dog, I need to see what the breeder did to produce it” My advice would be to look in the show catalog and see who the breeder is and also the sire and dam of the dog. Contact the breeder and ask about the dog’s pedigree. Look at other dogs bred by that particular breeder and see if there is any consistency in type and overall quality. If there are litter mates or other dogs of similar breeding that have the look that you like, it may be worthwhile looking into further. My late mentor, Hap Bagnato, from my days in Great Danes back in the ‘70’s would always say “if you like a dog, breed to its sire.” It is an oversimplification, but the concept does have a certain degree of merit. You may also want to look at the get of the dog that you admire and see if he is producing your desired structure and type and if he is pre-potent siring good quality get when out-crossed. If you do not see the consistency in structure and breed type in that particular breeding program, it would be a fair assumption that the dog that impressed you in the ring may very well be a fluke. My advice would be to look somewhere else for stud service that can produce what you are looking for.
One word of caution should you choose to breed to an established bloodline that has the type and structure you want in your own is that you may not get what you want in the first generation. My suggestion would be to keep the best bitch out of the litter and breed her back to the bloodline of the sire. The fact of the matter is that breeding programs are not built on one breeding. It takes time and planning.
The second common misconception is “I would never breed a dog or bitch with …….” I was fortunate enough when I first started with Chihuahuas to become acquainted with the late Carolyn Mooney who became a good personal friend and my mentor. Her guidance provided me with the basis on which I built my own breeding program. One of the most valuable pieces of advice that she gave me was “don’t select your breeding stock by choosing dogs based on the lack of faults because you are breeding to the lowest common denominator and will generally produce mediocrity.” When contemplating a potential breeding she would encourage me to look at the virtues that the dog or bitch had to offer to my breeding program and make a decision based on weighing all of the factors. To a newcomer to the fancy, the idealism in the statement, “I would never breed anything with a disqualifying fault” sounds quite impressive. However, when put into practice the unintended consequences could be to say the least counterproductive. Case in point; the top producing brood bitch up to this date is Pittore’s Flamenco Dancer. According to her breeder, Patricia Howard Pittore, the bitch was over the 6 lb size limit which according to our breed standard is a disqualifying fault. From my own personal experience as a breeder and exhibitor, I have found that avoiding breeding a bitch only because she is over sized is foolish for this reason; if you only breed the smaller bitches and don’t occasionally use a larger one, you will eventually lose your size and have the problem of having bitches too small to breed. I am in no way advocating breeding a bitch just because she is big and has functional ovaries however, not using a bitch in a breeding program just because she is over the size limit is self defeating. An over sized bitch can prove to be a gold mine in the right hands.
Judicious breeders avoid breeding stock with serious structural faults. For example, I would not breed a bitch with bilateral luxating patellas or one that is extremely undershot. However, not breeding something for reasons like the bite is less than perfect or some other minor imperfection could be like throwing the baby out with the bath water if it has something positive to add to your breeding program. I can say from personal experience that if you judiciously breed with a slightly less than perfect bite in will not necessarily put the problem in your line. To be perfectly honest, I have gotten some of my worst bites from both sire and dam with the best. No matter what you breed, for one reason or another, there will be pets in among the show and breeding quality puppies.
What has worked well for me over the years is to focus on the sum of the parts as opposed to fixating on one characteristic. To this date, my top producing stud dog is Ch. Maestro’s Opera Buffa. The dog had a slightly wry bite but was a good representative of the breed in other aspects and had the pedigree to be able to reproduce his virtues. There were those who questioned the wisdom of using him in my program due to the potential of the fault appearing in future generations. In as many as seven generations down from him I can count on one hand his descendents with his bite. When I select my breeding pairs I look for the virtues each one has to offer. The fact of the matter is that there is no perfect dog and no matter what you breed it will have faults. One just has to be careful not do double up on undesirable traits. It may seem logical to the novice that if one breeds two dogs with perfect bites or pretty head pieces their get will have the same qualities, but in reality it is not always the case.
In all honesty, it has been a long time since I have bred anything with a questionable bite but I have been doing this for some time now and I no longer have to. However, a novice breeder needs to start out with the best they can get and build from that point. The cold hard reality is that breeders don’t let their best breeding stock go to newbies.
The third common misconception is “my dog is a champion; I am going to use it in my breeding program”. Just because a dog has a title doesn’t mean that it is of breeding quality. This seems to be one of the hardest pills for novices to swallow because their first champion is sentimentally special to them. Most peoples’ first dog is not usually of the best quality because, as I stated previously, breeders normally don’t put their best with newbies. I have seen over the years Chihuahuas finish that in my opinion were not of show or breeding quality. If presented well and the dog is showy coupled with being shown often enough, it can finish. Unfortunately there are judges that can only see showmanship in the ring and overlook better specimens because they may not show as well. As a breeder exhibitor, the most frustrating aspect of the fancy to me is that some of the best representatives of the breed in structure and type may not have the best showmanship and often lose to lesser quality dogs because of that.
A successful breeding program requires four important elements; dedication, vision, planning, and patience. Dedication means that one is willing to take the time to continually learn about the breed and not take the path of least resistance. Vision is having a picture in mind of what one wants their dogs to look like. In planning one must study pedigrees, learn what bloodlines carry the desired traits, and what combinations work well together. When selecting breeding stock a good breeder breeds for phenotype not by phenotype. Case in point, my Maestro’s Magic Moment MNM was a plain bitch to say the least. She was a gift to me from Carolyn Mooney. Again, there were those who questioned my wisdom for using her in my breeding program but I knew what was behind her and had gotten a preview of her potential by seeing what others had done with similar pedigrees. Ultimately she epitomized what I believed a brood bitch should be by producing top quality get that too were able to continually improve my breeding program. Finally, one must have the patience to follow through with their planning. Successful breeding programs are built over time and several generations, not just one breeding.
My advice to the aspiring breeder is to first take the time to learn about breed. Find yourself a knowledgeable mentor who is willing to share their experience with you. Allow that person time to get to know you. They need to know that you are serious about learning the ropes before they are willing to take time to help you. Don’t be put off if that particular individual doesn’t immediately warm up to you because I can say from personal experience that the majority of people that come into the fancy don’t follow through when they see what is involved. Listen to what that person has to tell you even if it may not make sense to you at the time or may not be what you want to hear. That person did not achieve what they did by not knowing what they are taking about. The next step is to get the best bitch that you can find and follow the advice of your mentor when it comes to the selection of the stud dog. Continue to follow the advice of your mentor as time moves on because in most cases it takes more than one generation to produce what you are hoping for. Finally, once you have achieved a certain degree of success, don’t turn your back on your mentor and those who have helped you along the way. No matter how much you may know, you can always learn more. I was fortunate enough to have a twenty-one year working relationship with Carolyn Mooney and until her death I could always benefit from her advice no matter how successful I may have been.
For more information call or e-mail