The Whelp Leader

It is too early to tell much about the quality of the puppies in our litter. Today they are ten days old and for the first time you can see some individuality developing. They are all over 20 ounces and up on their long legs walking around the whelping box. Still blind and deaf, they search out each other and their mother for sleeping. But they are also spending more and more time wandering around the box. They seem to be interested in their surroundings for the first time. Sitting on the bed in their room we watch them and see there are three distinct personalities emerging. The boy is still the smallest and what was once the biggest of the two girls is now the mid-sized one. The second born puppy, the pink puppy, is now the biggest and she is the whelp leader!

This puppy is the first to explore their 4 X 4 world. She is loud and very strong. Today she nearly climbed out of the box. She falls heavily onto her brother as he has become the designated pillow for the girls. And she nearly runs to her mother when she returns to the box. This whelp leader is first to push the other puppies aside when she wants to eat. When you hold her she struggles, but will settle down on your neck if you push the point. The other two take little walks and generally seem peaceful and contented. Not so the pink puppy. This puppy leader already seems confident and full of herself! Just like her mother.

This will be the first time we register a litter online. Only three puppies, but every little bit helps. We always register every puppy, companion or show prospect, with the AKC. We believe in the integrity of the organization, and its mission to maintain the registry and track trends in our breed. I always used to read the registration statistics in the Gazette every month. Kerries and Bedlingtons have few registrations annually, with Bedlingtons being almost rare. Now the AKC has decided not to publish registration data in their magazine. Reports are available as to these statistics, but at a cost that is not insignificant. Nobody can provide a reasonable explanation for this omission so we all speculate. registrations overall have been in decline for several years. The top ten most popular breeds, the purebred dog version of the usual suspects, are holding their own, but many breeds are slipping away.

Why is this happening? The term breeder used to be synonymous with craftsman, back in the day. Dog people calling themselves breeders devoted their lives to perfecting their vision of a chosen breed and reproducing it over and over. Their vision was honed by years of study, comparing notes with other breeders and through competition. The high quality and the improvements made to many breeds of dogs reflected this craftsmanlike approach. These people lived outside of town, had the room and help to house the number of animals necessary to build a line of fine dogs. These breeders did something we aren’t doing these days: they produced a lot of dogs. To be successful in anything takes planning and practice. To successfully make changes, correct faults or enhance virtues in your line you need to breed a sufficient quantity of animals to set your course. These breeders registered their puppies because they were purebred and the championships they earned didn’t come in one show season. When did this change?

After WWII, there was great optimism in our country. Industry boomed and more and more people moved to cities. Coinciding with this urban migration was a rise in pet ownership. To assist struggling farmers, the US Government hit upon an idea: breed dogs for the insatiable pet trade. Now there were people breeding lots of dogs, not to improve any particular breed, but to improve their bank accounts. Puppies coming out of these kennels weren’t like the puppies from the earlier dog men. They lacked quality and often health. Being a dog breeder was no longer a respected vocation. As the public became aware of the conditions of some of these dogs, breeder became nearly synonymous with cruelty and abuse.

Modern breeders do nothing to improve the situation. How many times do we criticize our peers who breed more than two litters a year? Many show people are fond of saying they breed quality, not quantity. But can anyone who has attended a recent dog show attest to this? How can you consistently breed quality when you only have one or two bitches to use and only breed them once a year? I don’t believe the decline in registrations is because breeders are failing to fill out a few forms and pay some modest fees to the AKC. Or that they are disillusioned about the direction dog shows appear to be taking. Rather, I believe they are just breeding less.

The neighborhood I grew up in was predominantly Catholic and most families were large. Several on our block had eight children and six or seven were common. The bells of the church rang over our street as if to give validation to the parents who created these large broods. In time, a large family seemed so “rural’. In the ‘burbs you didn’t need more farm hands. “Urban” families lived in smaller homes and more than two or three kids was considered so excessive. Eventually, assisted by large doses of peer presure, smaller families became the norm in our area. Schools were closed due to lack of kids to attend them. It wasn’t that the kids weren’t going to school, there were just fewer of them. Sound familiar?

Many hobby/show breeders let it be known that peers who are trying to develop their line, and thus breed multiple litters a year, are quasi-puppy mills. Most towns and cities support this notion by enacting restrictive statutes governing dog ownership. Limit laws, breed specific legislation and unreasonable licensing requirements all serve to force legitimate breeders underground or out of the sport all together. Hobby breeders may feel it prudent to breed once every few years to not call attention to themselves, or out of fear they will not be able to sell their puppies. Or maybe they fear their peers’ reaction if they see a substantial number of puppies being registered throughout one year.  Stewarding the breed in this manner, when less desireable traits crop up these infrequent breeders are powerless to make corrections. What results is mediocrity in the ring, and a loss of respect among the breeder’s peers. If this happens across most of the country, overall breed quality will decline along with the registerations. Who is the winner then?

If we want to help the AKC remain a viable organization, one that can fight our battles against those who would want us all to stop producing purebred dogs, we have to encourage the registration of every puppy by every breeder. If we want to continue to attend dog shows, agility, obedience and field trials we need to promote the value of breeding by knowlegeable people who care about their breed and promote purebred dogs in general.

Our whelp leader, and her siblings, face a future we hope is full of loving owners and if we have done our jobs, maybe a chance to make a difference in our line. If others do their jobs she will see more puppies like herself registered and a renewed vigor in the sport of purebred dogs.

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