Puppy Evaluation: A Breeders’ Roundtable (Part Two)
by Arliss Paddock
|Helyne Medeiros with two Pointers she bred — two of the four all-breed Best in Show winners in their litter.
Photo Credit: Courtesy of Helyne Medeiros
Once the puppies in a litter are a few months old, it is time to decide which ones should go to homes where they'll strictly be beloved companions, and which are conformation or performance prospects. It can be difficult, however, to look at those youngsters and guess at how each might turn out. Some traits can improve, while others are less likely to; a pup who looks awkward at a certain age might be beautifully balanced later on, and vice versa.
The ability to see the adult dog in the youngster is a skill whose nuances can take years, even decades, to develop. The trained eye of experience can hold great sway in puppy evaluation, which is an area where the novice breeder can particularly benefit from the mentorship of others.
Recently AKC Breeder interviewed several longtime breeders about their puppy-evaluation methods so as to share their valuable insights, and we presented Part One of these interviews our Winter 2012 issue. Here in Part Two we are privileged to share further advice from two more outstanding breeders.
In this issue we hear from Pointer breeder Helyne Medeiros, of Cape Cod, Massachusetts. Helyne has been in love with dogs since childhood and by age 8 was showing in conformation, obedience, Junior Showmanship, and 4-H. Her first big win was when as a young girl she showed her English Setter, Meg, to Best in Sweepstakes, Best of Winners, and Best of Opposite Sex against tough competition at a specialty. Over the years Helyne has carefully developed a very successful breeding program, and her Seasyde Pointers have included national-specialty Best of Breed winners, multiple all-breed Best in Show winners, and all-time top winners in the breed. She has been involved with many dog organizations and has served on the boards of the American Pointer Club and the Cape Cod Kennel Club, representing the latter club as an AKC Delegate. She exhibits her dogs in conformation, hunt tests, and field trials. She is also an award-winning groomer and photographer and has lectured on grooming, conditioning, and handling show dogs.
We also interviewed Pharaoh Hound breeder Rita Laventhall Sacks, of Leesburg, Florida. Rita imported her first Pharaoh Hound in 1969 and is the person most instrumental in introducing the breed to the U.S. Her Beltara Kennels, Reg. is regarded as the breed's foundation kennel in this country. She helped establish the Pharaoh Hound Club of America and later set up the breed's registry and stud book, which she maintained with her daughter, Laurie C. Laventhall, until breed recognition, at which time the records were turned over to the AKC. Rita has served on the PHCA's board of directors since the club's inception and serves as the club's corresponding secretary as well as its judges' education coordinator. She writes the Pharaoh Hound column for the AKC Gazette and is co-author of The Pharaoh Hound, a book widely used by judges and fanciers alike as a reference for the breed. With Rita's selective breeding program in place, Beltara Kennels continues to produce champion Pharaoh Hounds every year.
At what age(s) do you ideally like to evaluate puppies for show/breeding potential?
Medeiros: "I start to evaluate the puppies from birth on, but between 7 and 8 weeks is when I make my final decisions as to where each puppy will be best suited and who I will be running on myself. I typically run on one or two myself, but then I reevaluate them at 6 months to make an ultimate decision regarding who stays and who goes."
Sacks: "Although I watch my puppies constantly and carefully, I try not to actually evaluate them until they are at least 12 weeks old. At that time there is more development but they have not yet reached that awkward puppy stage where they seem to grow in different directions."
Many breeders evaluate puppies using approaches such as table-stacking, observing the pups at liberty, and looking at photos or videos. What are your preferred evaluation methods?
Medeiros: "All of the above. However, observing puppies on the ground is how I make my final decision. Stacking them on the table allows me to actually feel the parts. Still photos allow me to see the overall outline, and videos 'show the truth' as to how each puppy moves, how he carries his tail, and how he presents himself overall. I've even been known to spend hours slowing down videos frame by frame, step by step."
Sacks: "I prefer to watch them at play. I also like to put them out in my long dog runs next to each other and watch them move up and down. I do most of my evaluation this way. I watch them every day until I am satisfied that I have graded the puppies correctly.
"I have put them on the table to stack them, but I've never really been totally satisfied with this method. I prefer to observe them moving freely."
What do you consider to be the basics or "must-haves" that you look for first in selecting the show/breeding prospect?
Medeiros: "The one who has the closest to the 'all-over package' is the keeper. They must first have the correct Pointer outline, both standing and moving. Correct carriage is also important, because it is part of the breed characteristics. Then, the charisma is the icing on the cake!"
Sacks: "Shoulders and hindquarters must be in balance. The importance of properly angulated shoulders is reflected in the dog's gait.
"I look for the shoulder blade and upper arm joining at an angle of approximately 90 degrees. Slightly more would be acceptable, but not an angle of 110 degrees, which is an extremely straight or upright shoulder and is incorrect.
"Hindquarters should be in balance with the shoulders. Correct construction of the hindquarters is where the pelvis and upper shank meet at a right angle (90 degrees), and the upper and lower shanks, which are of equal length, meet at an approximate right angle of slightly more than 90 degrees. It is important even at this young age that forequarters and hindquarters be in balance.
"Since there are so many people who do not have a clue as to how to envision these angles, the quick and easy check for rear overangulation in Pharaoh Hounds is to use the 'rule of plumb': Imagine a plumb line from the base of the tail to the ground; correct Pharaoh Hound rear angulation should have that plumb line fall to where it is just touching the dog's rear toes when the hind foot is set with the hock perpendicular to the ground. If the toes are behind that plumb line by an inch or more, then the dog is overangulated in the rear.
"Another 'must have' is correct tail-set, which is neither high nor low, but medium."
How and when do you assess puppy temperament and personality, and how significant a role does temperament play in your overall evaluation?
|Photo Credit: © AKC
"I start to notice temperaments as soon as they are up on their feet and motoring around. Because they are first and foremost sporting dogs who are bred to hunt, I feel that it is very important not to keep one who is shy, noise-sensitive, or easily spooked. Those who fall into that category, regardless of their beauty, are immediately removed from my breeding program. Ultimately we have to live with them as family companions!"
"I assess puppy temperament and personality from the very beginning, and with good reason. The first Pharaoh Hounds to come to the U.S. were very diffident with people. The breed had more or less been on its own, with minimum human interference for centuries. The Maltese farmers who kept them used them for hunting and not as pets, placing emphasis on the natural instincts of the breed, leaving them barely domesticated.
"Forty years ago, our first Pharaoh Hound puppies, starting as young as 6 weeks of age, would begin to resist being held closely, even panicking. It is the only
feature of the breed that we deliberately set out to change. Many an outstanding show-quality Pharaoh was never bred because of a reticent personality. We felt that the foundation dogs had to have dependable temperament that would interact with the modern world if the breed was to succeed in this country and eventually become recognized and enter the Hound Group."
What flaws do you consider to be possibly "forgivable" in puppies of your line or breed? Conversely, which do you deem so serious as to eliminate a puppy from consideration as a show/breeding prospect?
Medeiros: "I am very critical when selecting puppies. I eliminate straight fronts, the wrong outline, unsoundness, and a really bad head or tail. However, there are some faults that I can forgive if the puppy possesses the characteristics that define the reason why I did the breeding in the first place, thus taking a step forward. I am also careful not to choose puppies who have qualities that are 'the drag of the breed.' I personally prefer extreme over common and mediocre."
Sacks: "A soft topline in a puppy is forgivable in Pharaoh Hounds, as is toeing-out of the front feet. These often change with maturity. Some PH puppies have a somewhat tightly curled tail which, as the puppy matures, can relax and become correct—a good reason for not letting my puppies leave before 12 weeks of age.
"Lack of balance front and rear will not change, and I would never offer such a puppy as a show or breeding prospect."
From your observations in your own breed/bloodline, which conformation flaws do you feel can improve with maturity — and which have you found to rarely or never improve?
Medeiros: "The chiseling on heads can improve with maturity; however, a truly plain-looking head at 8 weeks will most likely always remain plain, and a fancy head will not end up plain. A puppy with extra skin, or even one who rolls, will typically grow into his skin. Also, a puppy who is not as coordinated because he has more angles will find his legs at a later age but will have a better scope once matured. The less-angled pups tend to be more coordinated early on but also will be restricted in movement."
Sacks: "Although heads can change, such as the foreface growing, lack of parallel planes will not correct with time. High or low tail-sets do not change, but toplines frequently do. Toeing-in with elbows out does not change, but toeing-out can correct with maturity. Front and rear angulation do not change."
Are there any further insights on puppy evaluation you'd like to add?
Medeiros: "My goal as a breeder is to be forward thinking and to look at dogs who can offer our breed what it needs now and in the future. If we are not improving our lines with each breeding, then the breed will possess more mediocrity than quality. Thinking out of the box, adding an extreme dog, and taking risks—this is what brings us to the next level. I truly believe the open-minded breeder has more success than the one who will only breed to her line or will not make her stud dogs available to others because she fears someone else will get something even better than she has. Instead, think how they could get something that you could eventually incorporate back into your own line, while bringing in new blood. This is called bettering the breed. Success comes to those who really care about where the breed is going, while understanding how it evolved and the purpose."
Sacks: "Above all, resist the temptation to be kennel blind. Acknowledge the faults that you see, try to identify their origin in the pedigree, and adjust your breeding program accordingly. Always try to improve. Do not base your breeding program on the winningest dog but on the most correct one. They are not always the same."
Rita and Helyne, thank you very much for so generously sharing your invaluable insights and advice.
"Choosing Your Puppy," Jack and Wendy Volhard's Puppy Aptitude Testing (PAT) program. (Downloadable/printable testing sheets and information: www.volhard.com
The following books and DVD are available through dogfolk.com, amazon.com,
and other vendors:
Tricks of the Trade,
by Pat Hastings, with Erin Rouse; Dogfolk Enterprises, 2005 (revised edition). Includes detailed discussion of puppy-evaluation techniques.
Another Piece of the Puzzle: Puppy Development,
by Pat Hastings and Erin Rouse.
(DVD), by Pat Hastings and Erin Rouse.
Arliss Paddock breeds and shows English Cocker Spaniels and is former managing editor of the AKC Gazette and current editor of Gazette the breed columns.
For an alphabetical list of breed-rescue groups, click here