Best to Best
Some people firmly believe in breeding ‘best to best’ which (as the description implies) involves breeding together dogs which most closely fit the ideal of what you are looking for, regardless of pedigree. This is the method most commonly employed in breeding conformation show dogs, and often involves breeding completely unrelated dogs. While you can wind up with some real aces breeding this way, the results don’t tend to be very consistent unless you are coupling the selection process with some form of inbreeding. Best to best breeding programs that involve extreme outcrossing or scatterbreeding seldom establish themselves as solid families of dogs, but the same program combined with some degree of selective inbreeding can be the foundation of a great bloodline.
What most animal breeders define as inbreeding is breeding of a brother to a sister, a father to a daughter, or a mother to a son. Linebreeding is a term that refers to breeding dogs that are related, but not quite as closely as above. This includes breeding cousins, half brothers and sisters, dogs to their grandparents, etc. The fact of the matter is, inbreeding and linebreeding are essentially the same thing. The scientific definition of inbreeding is breeding together animals that are more closely related than the average for their breed. The reason for the statement “more closely related than the average” is that in most breeds, all animals will trace back to some common ancestors if you go back far enough. Think about it: a dog has over a million ancestors in his twentieth generation, which for bulldogs would mean in most cases going back to the late 1800s. Obviously, there would have to be considerable duplication of ancestors at that level – there were probably only a few hundred dogs of our breed in existence at that time.
Some amount of inbreeding was used to establish any breed of animal, even in breeds that are not now inbred much. We once saw a gene search and five generation pedigree on a show-bred animal (it wasn’t even a dog, it was a cat) and in the five generation pedigree, we don’t believe there was a single common ancestor. But when we looked at the gene search, every single animal in the pedigree eventually traced back to one breeding pair way back in the tenth to fifteenth generations. In Pit Bulls, most of today’s dogs are descended from Tudor’s Dibo, but you would not consider breeding a heavy Bolio bred dog to a inbred Honeybunch or Alligator bitch ‘inbreeding’; they all are fairly heavy Dibo bred, but in fact you would regard this as an outcross because there would probably be no common ancestors at all within the first three to five generations. Often heavily linebred dogs may actually show to be more inbred than a first generation brother/sister breeding. Inbreeding can be measured using a mathematical equation called an inbreeding coefficient, the result of which is shown as a percentage value. A brother/sister, mother/son or father/daughter breeding between dogs that are otherwise not related has an IC of 25%. We have dogs on our yard, particularly some of our Nigerino dogs, who would be considered by most to be line-bred, but because of the extensive amount of linebreeding involve have ICs of close to 50% which is nearly double that of the above inbred’ dogs. Inbreeding is a very misunderstood thing and is often blamed for everything from bad temperaments to poor structure. Because it is considered such a ‘taboo’ in humans, many dog breeders take that same attitude towards inbreeding in animals. One major dog registry has even gone so far as to issue a statement against inbreeding on all their registration certificates and applications, and on registration certificates of dogs out of brother/sister or parent/offspring breedings they will put “INBRED” – sort of like the warning label on alcohol and tobacco products, we guess? It is amazing that a national animal registry can display such an obvious ignorance of genetics and animal breeding principals. Inbreeding does not put anything in that is not already there. What it does do is bring to the foreground hidden recessive traits, and unfortunately many undesirable traits happen to be recessive. So if you inbreed and get something bad, it is because vou brought to the surface something that was already present in the sire and dam of the litter. If that trait had been something fairly rare in the breed, and you’d instead kept outcrossing the two dogs, you may have never seen the bad trait, but you would also have been inadvertently spreading the trait and making it more prevalent. Selective inbreeding will actually help reduce negative recessive traits in your line if it is coupled with hard culling. Pick the pups in the litter that carry the traits you want and keep breeding them, cull (destroy, neuter and give away, whatever) the ones that are showing the negative traits you don’t want. Eventually you will have a line of dogs that consistently carries and throw the good characteristics you are looking for, and if you were really diligent you will have gotten rid of (or at least greatly reduced) the defective traits in your line. Here is an example that hopefully will illustrate the above point. Lets say Mr. A and Mr. B have both decided to breed American Pit Bull Terriers. They each purchase a pair of puppies from the same litter from an ad. The dam of the pups had a great temperament, but unknown to A and B the sire of the pups was a terrible man eater. Now for the sake of simplicity, we are going to pretend there is a simple, recessive ‘man-eater’ gene; but in reality inherited man-aggression (like gameness) is most likely a very complex trait involving many genes. For this example, the gene for a good temperament is the dominant N gene and the man-eater gene will be the recessive n gene. For a dog to be vicious, he has to have two n genes (NN) because the gene is recessive. Mr. A and Mr. B’s four puppies are all Nn because their dam was NN and their sire was nn. Thus, because N is dominant over n, the pups all have very nice temperaments – once again this is just an example and the above genes are completely fictitious! Both Mr. A and Mr. B each plan to breed their pair of pups (brother and sister) together for their first litter of Pit Bull pups. The result of these litters, on average, will be 25% nn (complete man-eat-ers), 50% Nil (nice temperament but carrying the dreaded ‘n’ gene) and 25% NN (great temperaments). They each keep pups off their litters and breed fathers to daughters, mothers to sons, brothers to sisters, etc. Within a couple of years both men have an assortment of dogs, some of them very, very nasty. Mr. A blames the problem on inbreeding. He gets rid of most of his dogs and buys more bitches from several different bloodlines. He does keep “Killer” (one of his nn man-eaters) as a stud dog because he’s the best looking dog on his yard, and he breeds him to all of these new bitches. Because all of these new bitches happen to be NN, “Killer” never throws a man-eater, and outwardly, it looks like Mr. A is producing some very stable dogs. Mr. A will probably now tell everyone who will listen how inbreeding almost ruined his yard, even using “Killer” as an example (“yeah, he’s mean as a snake, but that’s just because he’s inbred—-he’s never thrown a bad pup in his life”) all the while selling his Nn pups all over the country. Mr. B takes a different approach. He culls all of his man-eaters and keeps breeding the nice dogs, maybe making a few outcrosses for some fresh blood now and then, then taking pups off the outcrosses and inbreeding them back into his current stock. He makes a point of getting rid of every single nn (mean and nasty) dog that pops up in his breeding program. It will be very hard to eliminate the n gene completely, because it can Tiide’ in an Nn dog, but by the end of several years’ breeding the vast majority of Mr. B’s dogs will be NN. If he is really serious about culling his dogs, he could even keep a pair of nn dogs specifically for ‘test matings’ to find out which of his breeding dogs are Nn; dogs or bitches bred to the nn pair that produce man-eaters will identifiable as carriers of the dreaded n gene. At this point, both breeders will appear to be putting out the same quality of dogs, as far as temperament goes. What is the difference? Breeder A is actually spreading the n gene and making it much more prevalent in the breed. Every single one of “Killer”’s puppies is carrying the n gene. Even if he had kept an Nn stud instead of an nn stud, his dog would still be throwing the n gene to fifty percent of his offspring. Breeder B, with his breeding program utilizing selective inbreeding, has help to improve the breed for generations to come by vastly reducing the incidence of the n gene in his bloodline. We hope this rather long-winded example has help explain how selective inbreeding can, over time, greatly improve the overall quality of a breed—and how just because you may see less defects by not inbreeding, does not mean they are not there. There is, of course, no ‘n’ gene (at least not that we know of) but there are many known genetic diseases including several types of dwarfism that are control by a simple recessive gene. When one inbreeds, it is with the hope of the offspring of a litter not only inheriting the genes of a common ancestor but inheriting them in duplicate— a gene inherited in duplicate is one in which both alleles (variables) of the gene pair are identical, i.e. the dog would be homozygous for this gene. In the above example, breeder B was trying to breed for homozygosity of the imaginary N gene. Breeders A and B’s first dogs, on the other hand, were all heterozygous Nn dogs, and A’s “Killer” was a homozygous nn dog. The more gene pairs are identical, the more uniform the dog’s offspring will tend to be. The more genes that are heterozygous (different) a dog has, the less uniform his offspring will be. This is the basis for the belief that a tighter-bred dog will produce better than an outcrossed or scatterbred dog, because there is less variation, but one must remember that just because a dog with more homozygous genes will produce more consistently uniform dogs, does not necessarily mean he/she will produce better dogs: the homozygous genes inherited can just as easily be for bad traits rather than good, in which case the dog would ‘consistently’ throw nothing but garbage. On the other side of the coin, an outcrossed dog may throw highly variable, but consistently high quality offspring. This is why the quality of the dogs themselves, as well as the quality of their immediate ancestors is so important in making a breeding, and also why so many ‘pretty pedigree’ breedings fail. Now there is one problem excessive inbreeding can lead to; beyond a certain point inbreeding causes inbreeding depression, which is characterized by loss of vigor and loss of fertility. The dog may be plagued by health problems, have poor resistance to disease and parasites, and just not really thrive in general. Fertility may be poor in both sexes; a stud dog may have a low sperm count or a high percentage of abnormal sperm and a bitch may have small litters or pups that are born weak or stillborn. Depending on the degree of inbreeding depression, either sex may even be completely sterile. At what point inbreeding depression appears depends on the species and the individual animal. Most Pit Bull bloodlines can tolerate a considerable amount of inbreeding with no ill effects. The only good thing about inbreeding depression is that it’s effects can be eliminated with a first generation outcross. You can take dogs from two entirely different bloodlines that are both inbred to the point of loss of vigor, breed them together, and come out with fantastic dogs. This is what’s called hybrid vigor. However, any negative traits you may have locked into the line as a result of unselective inbreeding may take several generations to get rid of, i.e. if your dogs have weak structure because you picked weak structured dogs to use in your inbreeding program, it may take several generations of breeding to well-built dogs to improve the line again.
An outcross is taking two dogs that are basically unrelated and breeding them together. Usually this means dogs who have no common ancestors within the first four to five generations. As mentioned above, outcrossing is an excellent way to reverse inbreeding depression, and is also useful for breeding characteristics into your dogs that you have either lost, or never had. For instance if you have managed to develop a line of dogs that have tremendous gameness, but lack mouth, you might outcross to a dog that has a great mouth. For this to be completely successful, you should ideally try to go with a dog that is down from several generations of hard mouthed dogs and not just a ‘fluke’, and dogs that are also fairly deep game as well. If you were to use a hard mouthed cur as your outcross, you might get the mouth you were looking for but you are taking a step backwards because you’re going to lose some of the precious deep gameness you worked so hard to produce consistently. Some lines cross together better than others; you might want to choose something that has already proven in the past to go well with your line, but on the other hand, there are probably many great breedings people missed out on because “it’s never been done before”. There has to be a first time for everything, and your ‘experimental’ outcross may turn out to be one of the best breedings ever made. Any breeding you do should have a purpose, that is, there should be a specific reason behind why you are doing that breeding. Inbreeding for the sake of convenience or just because it’s inbreeding is not selective breeding. Are you breeding your bitch back to her father because he is an outstanding producer and she is one of his best offspring, or are you just doing it because it’s a father/daughter breeding? A certain pattern of breeding alone does not automatically denote quality, it’s the individual dogs that were bred together that are important. Likewise, randomly and repeatedly outcrossing serves no real purpose. For instance you could take a scatterbred bitch that was sort of a Heinzl/Patrick/Eli/ Sorrells bitch, and cross her to a male that was Alligator/Panama Red breeding, and then take a bitch of that and breed her to a dog who has a little Red Boy/ Jocko blood, and maybe breed one of those pups to a Zebo/Boomerang dog. At the end of all this, you will still have purebred, registered American Pit Bull Terriers, but that is about all you will have. You won’t have a family or bloodline of any sort. Dogs bred this way can sometimes be a great individuals but are a challenge (often even a disappointment) to breed because they seldom will consistently reproduce themselves. This is not to say an outcrossed dog cannot be a good producer or a valuable part of your breeding program, but if you just keep on outcrossing aimlessly you are very unlikely to retain any of the traits that made the dogs good in the first place.
A solid breeding program usually involves various combinations of both inbreeding and outcrossing. Outcross to get the qualities you need and then inbreed to lock them into your line. For instance, you could do a father/daughter breeding with two of your best dogs, keep the best pair off that, breed the bitch to a male from a different bloodline, keep the best bitch off that litter and go back into the father or uncle with it, and so forth. If you look at many of today’s top bloodlines, you will see in many cases that the breeder has made a foundation of a few key dogs, and crossed offspring of these dogs back and forth, throwing in a little of something completely different every now and then. The first part of making any breeding is selecting your broodstock; different people will of course have different priorities in choosing which dogs they will be breeding together. Decide what it is that is important to you, i.e.. what qualities you are looking for in a dog, and then do your homework looking for a line of dogs that is consistently throwing those qualities. Have a rough idea in your mind of what is the minimum acceptable level of quality in a dog is for your breeding program, and try to stick with it when choosing your foundation stock, but you have to know when to make an exception if you feel it will be positive for your yard, one example would be if you don’t like cold dogs but have a chance to acquire a cold bitch that is producing winners like crazy. In performance, it is what the dog does that is important, but in breeding, the single most important thing is if the dog can produce what you are looking for. There are many an ‘ace’ out there who never threw a dog that was as good as they were (and a few that unfortunately seemed to have trouble producing even average quality dogs) and such a dog has no value as a brood dog. On the other hand, there have also been many dogs throughout history that produced much better dogs than they themselves were. When you are starting out breeding dogs, one good way to begin would be to buy an older, proven brood bitch that has the qualities you are looking for and has already begun to show she can throw those qualities. Take that bitch and breed her to a quality stud, maybe a dog bred similar to what she has already produced well with. If you kept as many of those pups as possible so that you could see which ones turned out and pick the very best, and did that each time you bred her, in just a few short years you could have a yard of dogs as good as any in the country. If you cannot afford a proven bitch, get a well-bred bitch pup, or a few good bred bitch pups to raise up and breed. Instead of spend thousands of dollars filling up your yard with pups, prospects and grown dogs you’ve bought, with a little patience you could breed your own. Unfortunately, not all dogs are going to work out to be what you want them to be, but with the latter method all you have wasted is your time and some dog food rather than a large amount of money.
If the first generation off your foundation bitch gives you some solid bulldogs, you could then do various breedings back and forth with half brothers and sisters off her, sons back to her, and so forth – always keeping only the very best – and make this bitch the foundation of your yard. Maybe even take a few of her daughters and breed them to good stud dogs off your yard, to get males that you could then breed back to your bitch if they work out. We say a bitch because it is easier to do this with a brood bitch than a stud dog, because with the bitch, for the price of an airline ticket and a stud fee you have your choice of any male in the country standing at stud. With a male, once you have gotten a good dog you will have to then purchase some quality bitches to breed him to. The important thing, however you start out, is to know what it is you want, develop an eye for recognizing it, and don’t fall into the pattern of kennel blindness (pretending what you want is there when it isn’t). Learn as much as you can not just about the blood you’re working with, but other bloodlines and the breed in general. Don’t hesitate to bring in something new if you think it will work in with what you already have, and don’t hesitate to get rid of what you have and start over if it just isn’t working. As to what it is you want to breed for, that is a matter of personal opinion. Different people breed for different reasons, there is nothing wrong with that unless of course you are breeding for one thing but misleading people you sell pups to into thinking you are breeding for something else; i.e. it’s not wrong to breed for big, pretty dogs if that’s what you like, but it is wrong to try and sell them as game-bred dogs if you aren’t breeding for gameness.