As part of the critical process of choosing a sire and dam, as well as deciding which puppies to keep, below we address the topic of kennel blindness.
"The breeder, to be successful, must look his dogs ...not only in the face, but in the body, front and running gear. Even to themselves many breeders will not acknowledge their failure when they fall short of their objective...and in an effort to convince others of the perfection of their dogs, [they] convince...usually only themselves." Onstott
Found in many kennels of purebred dogs, kennel blindness is a "disease" which renders a breeder incapable of seeing faults in his own dogs. Kennel blind breeders tend to twist and distort the standard to justify the dogs they breed.
Because serious faults can become set in a couple of generations, unless quickly diagnosed and treated, kennel blindness can be fatal to a successful breeding program.
An inability to see and appreciate the good qualities in a competitor's dogs.
Kennel blind breeders tend to focus on negative features in dogs other than their own.
Suggestion: Re-read your breed's standard keeping in mind that most standards delineate the essential aspects of a breed, allowing breeders the freedom to express their own concepts of the non-essentials. In this way a range of excellence may be produced in a breed without sacrificing each dog's ability to fit into the standard.
The belief that you have bred the "perfect" dog.
No "perfect" dog has ever or will ever be bred in any breed. Even your best can always be improved upon.
Suggestion: Realize that your concept of what is ideal may change. Experience with a breed may gradually change the priority a breeder gives to certain features. A stickler for correct heads may gradually start emphasizing angulation and movement, realizing that the latter are also essential aspects of the breed.
Blaming the fact that your dog is not winning on bad judging, politics or anything except the possibility that there may be something wrong with your dog.
Kennel blind people always have an excuse for why their dog didn't win. While some of their reasoning may be legitimate, consistently losing under a variety of judges usually means a dog does not fit the standard in one or more important aspects.
Suggestion: If your dog is not winning, ask several knowledgeable people to evaluate your dog. Tell them to be honest and listen with an open mind.
Kennel blindness is more apt to be a problem for the following:
Breeders who do not have an 'eye' for a dog.
Some breeders are simply not born with an 'eye' for a dog. Despite having read and studied their breed's standard, they are incapable of correctly evaluating structure and movement.
Novice breeders who are strongly affected by a dog's temperament and personality.
Many kennel blind people think all puppies are cute. These owners usually decide to breed their dog, not to improve the breed, but because they love his personality and want more puppies just like him.
Breeders who have produced quality animals in the past but are now struggling to stay on top.
Many successful breeders who have had past super stars are usually looking for their next big winner. They may be more prone to over-looking faults in their animals.
Breeders working with small numbers of dogs.
Because small breeders have less to choose from, they may not want to open their eyes to problems in their breeding program.
Breeders whose every waking moment revolves around dogs.
Making dogs a "live or die" situation can affect objectivity.
They are truly objective and rarely satisfied with their own dogs, criticizing them more harshly than others would.
Regardless of time and effort already spent, they are ready to remove from their program dogs that do not pan out, even to the point of starting over with new foundation stock.
They have an 'eye' for a dog and can appreciate a beautiful one regardless of who bred or owns it.
If caught in time, kennel blindness can be cured before it has a lasting, detrimental effect on your breeding program. Following are some tips.
Avoid over-emphasizing a certain feature in your breeding program to the detriment of overall correctness.
Although most breeders try to emphasize the excellence of the whole dog, it is human nature to over-emphasize certain features. In fact, the importance we give to a particular trait in our dogs is how we express our "breeding personality" and create what we feel comes close to our ideal. One breeder may be a stickler for fronts and another for toplines. .The danger here is that by focusing on just one feature we can become "blind" to other faults that may be creeping into the breeding program.
To assess your kennel blindness level, ask someone whose opinion you respect to objectively evaluate your dogs.
Some of the best people to ask are knowledgeable breeders who are not kennel blind themselves. Be sure this person really understands the standard and request that they honestly critique the virtues and faults in your dogs. Ask more than one qualified person and compare their evaluations with your own.
If you are falling short of your objectives, it is most important to admit it to yourself.
As difficult as it is to admit failure, the realization that our dogs do not possess certain virtues can be the first step in devising a plan to obtain what we really want.
The wide range of quality in the dogs produced in any breed tells us that not everyone is born to be a breeder. Experts feel that one of the most accurate predictors of a breeder’s potential to produce animals of high quality is whether he possesses an "eye for a dog." Grossman (1983) tells us:
"The importance of having an ‘eye for a dog’ cannot be overstated…. There are some extremely knowledgeable breeders who …can ‘talk a great dog,’ [but] are not able to produce an outstanding specimen….The consistent breeding of show quality dogs should be considered an art. To some breeders this comes naturally with little effort, others have to learn this art, and still others will never achieve success in this most important area of purebred dogs."
An "eye for a dog" is an old dog man’s expression referring to a person’s "almost instinctive ability to know what is true quality in animals and what is not" (Nicholas, 1979). Grossman (1992) defines the term as "the ability to select a good dog without a lot of effort" and concludes that this attribute, more than any other, is the most important thing a breeder can possess. In addition to having a greater ability to visualize the potential impact of various ancestors in a dog’s pedigree, breeders with an "eye" tend to more easily grasp abstract breeding concepts such as balance. The following analogy by Grossman (1991), which refers to coated dogs, offers a clever explanation of an "eye for a dog" than I am certain both men and women can appreciate!
"What do I mean by an eye for a dog? Let me draw an analysis for you. When my wife goes shopping she flips through acres of dresses on racks. To me, they look like floppy things on hangers. To her, knowing her measurements and what color and style flatter her build, it’s easy for her to visualize the necessary accessories to finish the outfit. You, as a breeder, need to do the same sort of things: What kind of build do you want your puppies to have; what should their color be; what accessories, texture and length of coat, ear set, etc., do you want. You have to be able to visualize the sire and dam and their parents and grandparents. Then you can create by breeding one almost like the ones you have visualized."
As breeders, they consistently produce animals of high quality.
They can evaluate any dog quickly and easily.
They have an instinctive ability to recognize quality and soundness in almost any breed.
They place a high priority on, and can recognize, the intangible element of "balance."
"To some breeders, ‘having an eye for a dog’ is second nature. Breeders lacking this natural talent can become self-taught provided they have the intelligence and motivation to discern between the good and poor specimens put before them." (Grossman, 1983)
Breeders who consistently produce fine dogs may have a natural eye for a dog, while other persistent, dedicated individuals have taught themselves to have an "eye for a dog." The artist has an eye for balance and elegance. So too must the breeder of dogs. For those needing to train their "eye," working with a knowledgeable mentor can put you on a fast track to acquiring an "eye." An experienced mentor can literally place your hands on various parts of a dog’s anatomy and expertly guide you through many aspects of evaluating a dog’s physical make-up.
Breeders can begin to train their "eye" by learning to evaluate a dog’s outward appearance or phenotype. Several things helpful in evaluating phenotype include: (1) a copy of your breed’s official Standard and Illustrated Standard; (2) A list of faults in your breed that are considered Very Serious, Serious and Minor; (3) an illustration of the anatomical parts of the dog; (4) a scoring system and (5) a recording system which allow you to keep your evaluations for future use.
The process of training your "eye" to evaluate the conformation features of a dog involves the following steps:
Knowledge of a dog’s basic body parts is an absolute necessity for any dog fancier. Study your breed Standard and illustrated standard and with the help of an anatomical chart, locate on a "living, breathing" dog each conformation feature. Locating each part on your dog is essential to deciding if it meets the Standard for correctness and is a crucial step in training your "eye.".
After locating the parts of the dog the breeder must evaluate their correctness based on the Standard. As Grossman (1983) notes: "The concept of relating the various parts of the dog to each other and viewing this relationship as a whole, rather than as a series of individual good or bad traits, is the key that so many breeders never grasp" – this is the all important crucial concept of balance. Training your "eye" to evaluate balance takes persistence and experience.
Make notes of your evaluations for future reference. Many master breeders devise numerical scoring systems that are quick and easy to use when planning future breedings.
Formulating a plan
Based on your scores and notes, formulate a plan to improve features which do not meet the Standard. Scoring and making notes on the first 3 generations of ancestors in a pedigree can help a breeder "visualize" how a future mating might turn out. The ability to visualize the ancestors behind a sire and dam is an integral part of having an "eye" for a dog. A color coded stick figure pedigree can be especially useful in this regard. It is important not to breed two dogs who possess the same faults and to realize that closely linebred animals (i.e., those having a common ancestor behind the sire and dam in the first three generations) may be more apt to pass their physical features on to offspring.
A starting point in strengthening a breeder’s "eye" is the ability to locate and evaluate the conformation features, unique characteristics and structural balance which define a breed. Having the "eye" to visualize a sire’s and dam’s ancestors, combined with the use of scoring and recording systems, can provide valuable information on the traits parents are likely to pass on to offspring.
A breeder’s goal is to create his ideal dog. Having an "eye," that is, having the ability to recognize quality in a dog, as well as the ability to visualize ancestors in a pedigree, is one of the most important things a breeder can possess in order to create his ideal.
Claudia Waller Orlandi