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  Breeding Philosophy

THROUGH THE GENERATIONS....sharing the memories of a philosophy on breeding........

My first memory of Beagles is of them working as a pack. I remember they were chasing merrily around my grandfather and the other hunters feet waiting to be off on the hunt. It was a misty, chilly morning that only the south central northeast seems to do with great regularity. I was allowed to accompany my grandfather on horseback as he was no longer able to do the hours of walking, my uncle and the other hunters were on foot.  My outings with the pack were weather permitting, due to my age.  I was thrilled to ride on horseback with my grandfather, enabling me to get a birds eye view of the excitement. This small group of hound men bred the thoroughbred horses, Beagles, and Fox Hounds of the region and were responsible for the many show and field wins. They felt a good hunting hound had to be well made, as well as have a great nose. Since most of these fellows were also breeders of our regions wonderful Thoroughbred and Standardbred horses; breed type, soundness, and movement were of paramount importance to them, as it was to most breeders of that era. To have had the opportunity to learn at their feet, was something I treasure as beyond price today. I can honestly tell you I had no idea how lucky I was, and it took many years for that realization to come to me. But when it did, I then finally understood I think why this group of gentleman farmers took so much time with me and their respective sons and grandsons at the time. It is interesting today to look at the number of sons and grandsons from the local farms who have quite successful careers in horse breeding, and a number are branched into purebred dogs as well. I am hopeful that by sharing information with others we can continue the valuable legacy that was left to each of us.

One of my first memories of Beagles individually is of sitting in the living room near the fireplace with our beloved Ginger and her newborn group of puppies, only a few hours old. Gingersnap was my grandfathers favorite beagle; being a splendid hunter as well as beguiling my grandmother into a place in the house. A feat in those days, where dogs were most definitely "outside". Ginger came from what I was told were famous lines in Virginia and Georgia, having both show winners and field champions in her pedigree, but this was nothing unusual, considering nearly every pedigree of the era I've ever picked up can show the same. Many times I have wished for my grandfathers records, that I might have been able to find a line descended from her origins. Unfortunately upon his death, the dogs were disbursed apparently to the winds, and I was never able to find any traces of them. The thrill I got years later in seeing the photos of the famous Kings Creek beagles, I can not begin to convey in words. Seeing the lovely Ch.Kings Creek Triple Threat to me was like stepping back in time. I have never known for sure where my grandfathers beagles came from, but the "look" of Kings Creek type can give me a glance into the window of my family's past like nothing else can.

They used Ginger to teach me much about confirmation, but I learned how to evaluate puppies by watching and listening to this large entertaining group of gentlemen argue the merits and faults of each of her puppies, pedigree analysis, and the abilities of their dogs in general. This group of grandfathers and dads were very patient teachers, carefully explaining until the lesson was understood, as well as teaching positive methods of handling and approaching Hounds. Ginger was a willing, patient dog who loved attention, and would happily stand for hours of me learning to "stack" and gait her. She calmly allowed me to attend the whelping of her three litters, and I loved every minute of my "job" helping to raise and socialize the puppies. My mother did not figure out for quite a long time my great interest in Hounds. It likely was a tremendous shock to find that my grandfather had been quietly teaching me about beagles and hounds in general when she thought I was simply visiting grandma and "Poppy". During this time she was off to shows with her terriers, none the wiser till it was too late. That she could never get me interested in her terriers and herding dogs is still a big disappointment to her I am sure. My grandfathers wish was that someone would succeed him in breeding his beloved hounds, since he was only able to get his sons interested in the field end of things. So perhaps he worked extra hard on his only granddaughter seeing in her as the only way to keep the generations of hound men of the family going. He must have succeeded beyond belief, because we certainly have quite a collection of Hounds here.

The one thing I want to convey to everyone is their great love and devotion to our wonderful breed. They cared about issues we still tackle today too, they worried about the breed tendency to become too small, due to tiny bitches and C-sections (not unheard of even then). Unsoundness was never forgiven, they were placed as pets with children visiting the horse barns. They passed on the importance of keeping dogs well for them to do well. I remember walking through the kennel like it was yesterday, and thinking how neat and tidy everything was. A little grooming area off in the corner for us to practice stacking, the neat area with all the whistles, leather leads and hunting horns were kept, and all the polishing I remember doing. I remember the sweet smell of the cedar shavings the dogs and horses were bedded in. My surviving uncle told me that the runs were 8 ft x 20 ft long, and that each dog had a nesting box inside the building with a lid that could be raised to clean the cedar shavings in their nesting box area. My grandfather was a master carpenter, so all this was built with fine craftsmanship. All we have left of the era is one 50 year old dog box, which my brother still has. Who would have thought - an heirloom doghouse! Our favorite area was a little paddock where the puppies were introduced to bunnies in a protected setting. This area doubled as our training area where anyone straggling in from the horse barns was fair game to be drafted to "judge". The dogs were well fed as we were in farm country. Horsemeat was a big component, but other meats such as lamb and mutton readily available locally figured in depending on what was available. Oatmeal was the primary cereal base, with vegetables from the garden. My uncle told me packaged dog food was not available consistently for many years, and towards the end they were using a Dog Chow when it came on the market mixed with meat.

These gentleman were insistent on the studying of pedigrees, and even made trips to look at dogs in a pedigree before doing a breeding, believing the apple does not fall far from the tree. I would like to share some of the things I learned which I think are important enough to pass onto someone, rather than just be in my memory bank. Some of the same things are being said by judges today about our breed, so obviously we have been dealing with them before.

1. Be absolutely sure your beagle has nice straight front legs. My grandfather stated that he had spent many years trying to set straight sound legs into his beagles as had everyone in beagles he knew. He was adamant that it had been difficult to set the trait, and that it still had a tendency to roll forward as a recessive especially in the 13" variety. I was warned not to ever compromise on that trait. He also counseled that breeding 13" to 13" would show this trait in a pedigree faster than any other way he bred. He was not referring to the straight shoulders we see today, he was referring to the front leg bones looking at the beagle from the front.

2. The quality depth of the litter is determined by the dam. I know most people would argue the point. But the top producing stud dog will produce nice puppies that is a given, but the depth of quality in the litter is determined by the bitch herself. Over and over through the years I have seen far superior quality puppies, and in more numbers when the bitch herself is of top quality. When a good producing stud dog is given a superior bitch it often results in whole litters finishing in many cases, and they often go on to be top producers themselves.

3. A top producing sire always has a top quality dam. Since nearly every top producing sire regardless of breed has an outstanding dam, I don't think anyone argues this point anymore.

4. Always select for proper shoulder angles in every generation, as this the hardest trait to set and keep it breeding true. Again, I think time has proven most folks have little to disagree with on this one either.

5. In picking your next generation be careful of selecting individuals with a short rib cage combined with a long loin. To the uneducated eye this puppy has a square outline, but in reality he has two major faults instead of one. In fact look for a puppy who has a body length which is 3/4 rib cage and 1/4 loin. This gives the dog plenty of lung room for breathing which he will need to keep up with the pack. A defect that often turns up in breeding with short rib cages is that it keeps getting shorter and individuals have been noted who have a rib cage so short that it stops behind the elbow, i.e.: pigeon breasted, not just a fault but a defect, which should be severely penalized. I have to agree on this, because as time goes on I see fewer and fewer beagles in the ring with the old proper length of rib cage. I have seen one individual so short he nearly appeared to have his front end attached to his rear by simply a long loin. Surprisingly, the provisional judge put him up that day because he was the "squarest" beagle in the ring. He was indeed! However, what was missed was that he looked deformed if you knew anything about anatomy at all. Plus the dog honestly had very little skeletal covering over his internal organs. Do not fall into that interpretation as fitting the standard.

6. In reality absolutely square is not what is wanted at all. As the standard was written by horse people, look at the standards of horses. To get proper movement to last all day in the field requires the individual to be slightly longer than high to allow for a full and unrestricted stride. Many of our current judges are being educated to a "square" look ( or that is how they are interpreting what they are being taught). In many cases these new judges seem unable to discern the difference between the body configurations discussed in #5, and how it affects proper movement. There seems to be more dogs winning today regardless of their movement, making a lovely picture standing still, but as far as I know we have a breed who needs to work for a living. We do not show in the non-sporting or toy group. In fact, I have to say, I've seen many toy dogs put together better and more functional than a lot of beagles I see today. This is not what our forefathers envisioned for our breed. We need to pay a little less attention to visual outline, and pay more attention to feeling the dogs bodies and really noticing how they are put together.

7. If you produce a defect in a litter, you can be 99% sure (1% allowing for random mutation) that the defect is not new, and has been seen in some ancestor previously. In which case you have uncovered a hidden recessive in the family closet. And trust me someone before you has definitely gotten the trait before. I will also share with you this piece of information--- to turn up a recessive gene, you must inherit it from both the sire and the dam. So no good blaming that stud dog you used or someone else's bitch, it takes two to tango on a recessive gene. The sheer numbers of breeders I have talked to over the years who don't know this basic principle amazes me.

8. One possible explanation for #7 above is that Beagles seem to have a tendency for some reason to roll a long buried recessive forward when the ancestors are common in the 5th generation, with nothing else up in the closer generations being related.  We'll identify it here as a long range line breeding for want of a better term. I can only say here that I had always seriously doubted this one, until we produced one puppy in two separate litters ourselves (as well as a few friends litters over the years in unrelated lines), that bore no resemblance to either parent, or any relative in living memory, and thought we got some odd ducks indeed. An old breeder friend, seeing the litter, whipped out an old photo album and said "this is where your puppy comes from". The great-great grand dam pictured could indeed have been the dam to these two, the resemblance was uncanny. And for her to roll forward after so long a time amazed everyone, and I think proved my grandfathers theory that this was possible. In these two cases it was a long ago nearly field type head from a very old pedigree. We had inbred on her grandson on both sides without knowing anything about her being any more than a name on a pedigree.

9. Color and markings were taught to me as "A good hound can not be a bad color". The same old line we have all heard for many years. And I have to say for the most part it is basically true. But I was also taught that any dilute had to have the darkest possible eye and pigment, a fundamental thing that I refuse to compromise on, ever. Another rule he practiced on color breeding was "Never breed a dilute to another dilute" (i.e.: red & white, lemon & white, liver/chocolate shades, blue shades are all considered dilutes). While he had no dilutes other than an occasional red & white, he counseled they should always be bred to the blackest tri colors with deepest pigment that you can find." To do otherwise will produce light eyes, and pink pigment around nose, eye rims, and lip areas, which is very unsightly. And I also have to admit that there are dilutes that I do not especially like, but I do have a fondness for my favorite red & whites, and the darker the colors in any beagle the better I like them. All that I can share with you on this is that everyone will have to search their own conscience on this. My goals first have to be beautiful breed type, soundness, ground covering movement, health, temperament, showmanship, and the intelligence to compete in many areas. We are all faced with hidden recessives on color and many other issues in this breed. As a wonderful geneticist at a lecture told me "Dog breeders amaze me, they will keep a dysplastic or blind dog or whatever, just because they are the "right" color. You won't find a single livestock breeder basing every decision with many health or defects issues at stake, on color". He went on to inform me that genetically the easiest thing to change on a dog is his color !!!! So true! Color is so easy to change and never have it show up again. Please get past this mindset. Use the best available for your purposes, our breed will be the better for it. 

10. "Those who do not learn from the past, are destined to repeat it". This was never truer than in the world of purebred dogs. You must learn from what breeders before you did. Look at pedigrees, what lines did they work with? How did they combine them? What was successful? What was not? What health issues are you facing because someone just wanted to be #1, and cared for nothing else?

11. Ask questions of other breeders, you can learn much from talking to breeders of other breeds. Talk to livestock breeders, horse people are especially knowledgeable. Above all, never be afraid to learn. Learning is a fundamental to your breeding program success from now till the day you pack it in. The day you quit learning is the day your breeding program is over.

12. Here is some advice from our day and times: There is genetic good and bad in every dog. In fact geneticists tell us that there are five lethal genes in every single living thing on this planet. Therefore it is impossible for dogs in your line to be free of every hereditary defect. This is the reality of what we face, to think otherwise is folly. Being a breeder means being not only responsible, ethical, but also brave. Those who don't have the courage to face problems and stop them from being passed on, will find themselves bred into a corner very fast. Only you can decide whether to try to breed around a defect or discard the stock and start over. We can not make that decision for you. But be aware that today we have tools to help us our breeders of yesterday only dreamed of. The benefit of DNA testing, and other testing such as OFA, CERF and a DNA test for Epilepsy are going to be a blessing in the future to purebred dogs. This is more than our forebears ever hoped to have. We hope that beagles survive into the next century because someone cared enough to test their animals on health issues, and keep genetic diversity within the breed. We hope you all have the courage to make the decisions necessary. We are sure that the breeders in the future will be grateful for what we are doing now to prepare for the future of the breed.

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