Breeding for Correct Temperament
Lu Escher wrote in with this article. We welcome submissions from our browsers and look forward to reading yours!
As breeders, we can be sure of only two things about the puppies we produce. For no matter how long and well we plan and how hard we hope, no one can tell in advance that a particular pup will for certain be a great field dog, or a top show winner, or a superior agility competitor. But two things about each pup are certain: it will either live, or sicken and die -- and that is why we breed for good health; and if it lives , it must surely do so in the company of humans -- and that is why we breed for correct temperament.
Breeding for good temperament is both easier and more difficult than breeding for good health. It is easier in that we can see temperament for ourselves, early in the dog's life, and without a battery of expensive tests. It is more difficult because of the enormous temptation to rationalize: to tell ourselves "This dog would have been just fine with better owners.", or "This dog is such a great performer that his temperament at home really doesn't matter that much.".
The temptation to make excuses for poor temperament is at its strongest when we strive to win at the highest levels. We tell ourselves, "Sure, he's hard to live with at home, but he NEEDS that attitude, that drive, to do the winning he does.". We ignore our own knowledge of multiple national champions who were the proverbial "ball of fire" in the show ring or the bird field, but who were laid-back "sweethearts" at home. We want OUR dog to be the best -- who doesn't? -- and if he's the best in one particular area, we tell ourselves the other areas don't matter because he's so exceptional in this one.
Then our dog's pups go to their new homes. One pup has the attitude to be a top winner like his parent, but he expresses it by biting a person who doesn't have the experience necessary to deal with an out-of--control dog. That pup gets put down. One pup's family tries hard for a year or so, then turns him in to rescue saying "We just didn't know what we were getting into.". One pup scales the backyard fence and runs off; no one ever finds out what happens to him. One pup muddles through a more-or-less unhappy decade with his family; when he finally dies, they heave a sigh of relief and swear "If we ever do get another dog, it sure won't be another one of those crazy vizslas!".
One breeder I know of received a phone call last week, from a man who owns a pet pup sired by a dual champion vizsla. The man told the breeder, "You know, me and my vizsla boy used to hunt pretty regular when he was a pup. You said he did all right in that fancy show you took him to, too. But these past few years he's pretty much just been a couch potato. I'm retired now, and there aren't as many birds around here as there used to be -- hard to find good places to hunt, so much is fenced off and posted. And I personally never did care anything about that breed show stuff you go in for. But the boy's just such good company for me; can't imagine what I'd do without him.
He rides up in the pickup cab with me when I go to town, and everybody in town says hello to him; they all say they wish they had a dog like that. The manager at the burger place always buys him a vanilla ice cream when we come in.
Funny thing , though; he's out of shape and lays around the house most of the time playing with my nephew's kids, but when some old friends of mine took us to the big quail shoot , he found seven birds and placed third. Really riled some of those pointer handlers that had been getting their dogs ready all year. He's pretty as a picture, too; that little bit of grey he's starting to get on his muzzle just makes him handsomer than ever, I think.
Guess he IS getting older, though, just like me. You going to have any more pups any time soon? I just can't imagine not having a vizsla around, now that I've got used to living with one."
That's what breeding for good temperament means -- it means that our puppies will have the optimum chance to live long lives as valued, well-cared-for members of their human family. To breed for anything less is to deliberately cheat both dog and human.