To Thine Own Self Be True

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It is a fact of the Dog Game that you are going to make, and lose, good friends. By nature, dog fanciers are a passionate bunch and the most passionate of dog people are the breeders. They love their breed. They love their dogs. They commit money, effort and aspirations to their breedings. So it is only natural that they form friendships with those people who share their passions.

It usually starts when one buys a puppy, sells a puppy, or uses a stud dog. Chances are you are strangers when you first meet. These days you probably first communicate via the Internet. "I love your fabulous stud dog. He's sooo gorgeous! Can I breed my Trixie to him, please?". Plans are made, the deed is done and money changes hands. Everybody is very excited about the breeding and the word gets out about the pups. Buyers line up to get one of these dandy little sure-to-be-specialty winners, and joy abounds.

People can't wait for the shows to begin. At six months they start dragging the pups to every show within 300 miles. As soon as they get to the show grounds the buyers hook up with the breeder and/or the owner of the stud dog. Ribbons are won (or not, if the judge is a complete idiot or is totally political). Dinners are shared and in the evening the laughs flow with the beer and the wine. What's not to enjoy? On to the next show! These are the good times. It seems that your new friends are your best friends.

Time passes. Some championships have been achieved perhaps. The pups have all grown up and people are now thinking it's time to breed those dogs.

This is where the trouble starts.

The original breeder feels that the owners should follow his or her advice. After all, he produced the dogs and he has a master plan. Or if he doesn't have a master plan, at least he feels that his opinion clearly has more weight. The dog owners start to think the breeder has a "God Complex" and is becoming an egomaniac. Chances are, while showing their precious puppy, the new owners have seen a "gorgeous new stud dog who won a big show" and they want to breed to him. The breeder does not agree. Conversations become arguments. Emails get testy. Positions start to harden. Somebody does a "reply all" by mistake and feelings get hurt. 

At the next dog show, there are cold shoulders and people are forming new alliances. So-and-so is no longer speaking to you-know-who but hanging out with the new stud dog owner. The cycle begins again.

To those outside the Purebred Dog Cult, this all sounds rather like school children forming cliques. In far too many cases, it reaches an absurd level and people drop out of the game completely. The club loses a member, and what's worse, the breed loses a fancier.

Why does this happen? Is it just human nature? From over forty years of both observation and direct experience, I suggest that the only real way to avoid the worst of this phenomenon is to follow the advice of Shakespeare: "To thine own self be true, And it must follow, as the night the day, Thou canst not then be false to any man." In other words, develop and follow your own breeding plan. Do your own homework and figure out what kind of St Bernard works for you. Slowly and surely concentrate the genes that will produce the kind of dog that matches the one in your mind's eye. Listen to what others advise, but quietly make your own decsions and leave others to make theirs. No matter what you say, no matter what arguments you present, people will go off and do what they damn well please. Trying to restrain them with buyers' contracts or co-ownerships will, in our experience, not succeed. You can only really control what you do with the dogs that you have in your own backyard.

Plan your breeding program on a solid genetic foundation and breed your plan. By all means, make adjustments along the way, but don't throw the plan out every second generation. Focus on the dogs, and the people part will tend to take care of itself. With a bit of luck, you will end up with many great dogs and a few good friends!