Paper Tigers

Linebreeding to a famous name is not always a healthy or productive approach to breeding. For someone who is not educated to the reality of canine genetics this approach can turn out to be downright dangerous. A common term applied to the practice of blindly breeding according to a famous name is "paper tigers". Although responsible, educated breeders do occasionally line breed... there is MUCH more involved in their research than a paper tiger name!

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Most pet owners are simply interested in a healthy, happy, loving dog and usually could care less about "name". They are smart to only use the pedigree to see how many of their pup's ancestors have been health-tested, enjoyed longevity of life, and have a history of excellent temperament. However, novice breeders are sometimes overly interested in the fact that their stud has Ch. Fabulous Boy in his pedigree. They may be unduly impressed by famous names right from the start.

For breeders looking to either begin or perhaps incorporate another dog into their bloodline ... understanding the depth of a pedigree should become a research project. Breeding dogs is a fascinating lifetime passion that requires a certain dedicated commitment to listening and learning. Breeders must accept responsibility for informed decisions.

Listed below are some common terms used in breeding:

incest (noun) ... sexual intercourse between persons so closely related that they are forbidden by law to marry.

inbreeding (noun) 1 : the interbreeding of closely related animals especially to preserve and fix desirable characters of and to eliminate unfavorable characters from a stock or 2 : confinement to a narrow range or a local or limited field of choice.

linebreeding (noun) the interbreeding of animals within a particular line of descent usually to perpetuate desirable characteristics.

Outcross (noun) the breeding of two animals unrelated.


Notice that incest does not mention animals; inbreeding, linebreeding and outcross do not mention people. Incest is a religious and social taboo and does not apply to animals. The purpose of inbreeding is "to preserve and fix desirable characters of and to eliminate unfavorable characters from a stock". What this definition fails to clarify is that this same breeding may preserve and fix (set, consistent, make stable) those traits, characteristics and genetic disorders that are NOT desirable. This is also true of linebreeding.

It is only reasonable to expect a breeder using these methods to know as much as possible about the preceeding generations. Information regarding ancestry cannot be obtained from simply reading a book or from seeing the CH in front of a name. Knowledge of preceeding generations involves seeing and touching individual dogs and if that isn't possible seeing and touching offspring. In this way it is possible to know what that dog/bitch produced when bred in a certain way. Responsible learning about ancestry and pedigree also involves communication with other breeders who may have first-hand information.

A book may state that Ch Fabulous Boy was a top winning Italian Greyhound in his prime. However, books do not generally divulge the information that Fabulous produced some nasty genetic disorders or that his puppies deviated pitifully from the standard. Although it is possible to read that Fabulous produced 30 champion children it is difficult to obtain the information that he had a total get of 1,000! These are things the record books and pictures don't print. These are things that are best learned from communication with other people, seeing dogs, touching dogs.

Many pedigrees are an impressive listing of dead dogs. At the same time those very same impressive pedigrees never list a cause of death. Breeders need to know about WHY a dog died and they need to know about what EXACTLY caused the deaths of offspring. Champion means the dog got 15 points at AKC confirmation events under 3 separate judges. Top Producer means the dog produced a minimum of 6 champion get (5 for bitches). How many offspring were produced that were NOT show quality or deviated widely from the standard? Pedigrees don't show that information. Breeders need to STUDY, STUDY, STUDY and LEARN, LEARN, LEARN from a diversity of sources!!!!

The above represent only the beginning questions and information that should interest a breeder. They are only the tip of the iceberg. Much information must be accumulated before beginning the possibly rewarding but much more often dangerous practice of inbreeding -linebreeding.

Inbreeding should only be practiced by experienced breeders. Experienced breeders are NOT necessarily those who have been breeding for a long period of time. An experienced breeder is one who possesses a strong grasp of genetics and has direct hands-on knowledge of ancestors for at least the first 3 to 4 generations. The best and worse of ancestors must be carefully evaluated before attempting inbreeding.

Inbreeding does nothing more than assign and duplicate similar genetic material of related parents among offspring. The more inbred, the more homozygous an offspring will be. If inbreeding is indicated.. then only the BEST examples of the breed should be used. Inbreeding substandard dogs usually produces more substandard dogs... and ones with increasingly obvious undesirable characteristics. The importance of inbreeding good specimens of the breed cannot be overstated!

It is well known that inbreeding tends to be associated with the appearance of undesirable defects... but inbreeding DOES NOT cause such defects. Inbreeding merely provides a vehicle for bringing those "bad genes" to the surface. Some of these bad genes are: cleft palates, open fontanells, PRA, some forms of epilepsy, missing body parts, etc.

Continuous inbreeding also has another serious side effect. It is called "inbreeding depression". This is displayed as loss of vigor, decreased fertility and increase of hereditary problems and abnormalities. Strict adherence to inbreeding has been responsible for the downfall of more than one great breeding program.

Well-meaning people sometimes take great pride in linebreeding and inbreeding from some famous dog in the past without a clue as to what strengths or weaknesses the animal actually possessed. A famous name DOES NOT assure greatness of offspring. Such blind faith can prove costly. Success comes in knowing the dog(s) in order to seek out desirable qualities and avoid genetic "mistakes".

Inbreeding is the most severe and demanding test of the genetic integrity of an animal. Inbreeding only works when the breeder is dedicated and willing to take the consequences of their actions.

Linebreeding works in much the same way as inbreeding. Many breeders would like to think that inbreeding and linebreeding are different approaches. This is not the case. Linebreeding merely uses more distant relations than inbreeding (breeding brother/sister, mother/son, etc.). In theory..both practices are so similar as to be for all practical purposes identical. Linebreeding typically uses "cousins" or dogs who have similar relatives within their pedigree. Most linebreeding crosses over to the realm of inbreeding when dogs in the pedigree repeat themselves many times. Ch. Butch and Ch. Girl may have different sires/dams, but if grandfathers and grandmothers are the same ... this is inbreeding. True linebreeding is when a family of dogs, such as cousins, are used. This means Ch. Butch and Ch. Girl will have grandfathers and grandmothers who are aunts/uncles to each other, and so forth.


Listed below are some genetic terms which apply to a discussion of outcrossing:


Phenotype: The visible expression of a character. A dog who is BB and a dog who is Bb will appear the same (black) phenotype, but have a different genotype.

Genotype: The genetic structure of the animal ..what the animal carries in its genetic makeup but which may not be apparent in its appearance. For example, a dog who can see, but carries the gene for PRA.

Heterozygous: Strictly different - used to indicate dogs which carry different alleles of a gene at a specific locus. Examples: Bb, Aa, Ee, etc.

Homozygous: Strictly the same - used to indicate dogs carrying the same allele of a gene in duplicate. Examples: AA and aa are homozygous.


The goal of any breeder is to have the phenotype (the look) of the dog be as close as possible to the standard of the breed. Many breeders fall into the trap of thinking that because Ch. Fabulous Boy finished quickly, that bred to related Ch. Fabulous Girl will produce Fabulous children. They rarely look beyond that "CH" to actually see if the phenotypes of these two dogs are compatible and produce desired results. Sometimes they are stunned to find that instead of Fabulous children they wound up with less than fabulous disasters! They will also scratch their heads when Ch. Fabulous boy bred to unrelated non-champion mediocre girl produced truly fabulous children!!!

These differences are caused by the genotype behind these dogs. Some of the greatest dogs produced have been through outcrosses. Outcrossing involves breeding dogs with unrelated ancestors. In Italian Greyhounds it is very difficult to find dogs completely unrelated because the gene pool is so small. When breeding Italian Greyhounds one would have to say that dogs who no common ancestors within the first 4 or greater generations would be considered outcrossing. Outcrossing is a great tool that is unfortunately not used as much as it should be. As seen in the above examples of inbreeding and linebreeding... loss of vigor (i.e. health problems) can begin to arise sharply. Outcrossing can bring back that health within a breed. This is commonly called "hybrid vigor". Using phenotype as a guide one can produce great results using outcrossing to obtain their goals.


So where should a breeder start?

First.. a major decision must be made. The breeder must determine and then set EXACT goals. The question of "What is a PERFECT dog?" should be examined, discussed, studied and answered. The breed standard should be understood and then memorized. It should also be applied in a hands on fashion to any potential breeding animal. Don't try to put the dog in the standard - put the standard on the dog.

Consistency only occurs when the same desirable phenotype is consisitently chosen. This is done in the hope and expectation that the genotype matches the phenotype. Avoid choosing a dog because he has a nice front but doesn't have the the desired "type". Be picky and choose the dog who has both type you like and a proper front.

Along with consistency comes a dedication to goals. The downfall of many breeders wishing to establish their own particular "bloodline" or "look" is jumping from dog to dog to dog without thought of the ultimate goal. This often happens to otherwise good breeders who want something that looks like the fashionable current winner... yet don't concentrate on their ultimate goal. The result can be heartbreaking.


A word on Kennel Blindness:

Another cause of breeding heartbreak and disaster is kennel blindness. Kennel blindness is the inability (or refusal) to correctly evaluate one's own dogs. Breeders "suffering" from kennel blindness cannot/will not see the faults of their own dogs. The person with kennel blindness continually declares all puppies in a given litter as "show quality" ... even though feet may be going east-west, eyes light, 10 inch legs on a 40 inch long dog, noses like Pinocchio, etc. The kennel blind person's dogs are always perfect ...never mind that the dog trips over his own feet when walking. Yet that same person can look at someone else's dog from 50 feet away and determine that dog has a left, front foot which turns out just a tad!

The kennel blind breeder also has no health problems..ever. He/she conveniently forgets the litter that all died of kidney disease because it was the stud's fault...not HIS/HER dog!

The kennel blind person has NEVER bred a pet quality puppy, they are all "show quality" dogs and great for breeding!

There is no optician in the world could write a prescription for lenses to correct kennel blindness. Breeders must learn to honestly evaluate their dogs and puppies. They need to realize that ALL puppies are NOT show quality or breeding quality. They need to study and realize that responsible breeding means a lifetime of learning and committment to education.

In the meantime most breeders would be well advised to frequently employ the technique of self-criticism and use the technique of inbreeding or linebreeding sparingly ... with great caution.