Last month we discussed the importance of using a legitimate documented pedigree as a road map for any successful dog-breeding program. To briefly recap, if a hunter/breeder is serious about developing his own line of bear dogs – or at the very least, interested in consistently producing a high quality bear hound for multiple generations – then he or she must know the specific lineage, and the desired traits of all the dogs that preceded them.

            That pedigree can be a formally authorized document from one of the official dog registers –such as the UKC, AKC, or others – or it can be something as simple as a handwritten document meticulously maintained for generations by an individual breeder. They both serve the same purpose and both work equally as well. The point here is that you need a road map of this type to record and track your breeding success –or lack of same. And in my opinion, if you are breeding for the long haul, for long-term success, or especially if you are trying to develop your own strain or bloodline, then an accurate pedigree is integral to your success.

            I want to reiterate that this principle applies to any hunting dog breed –not just Plotts. Yes, my preferred breed is the Plott hound, and thus my explanations and examples all generally pertain to that breed and the respective breed icons that perpetuated it.  But these arguments apply to any pure bred hunting dog –period – or at least in my opinion they do.

            The importance of pedigree is even more important to anyone doing successful line breeding. In this issue we’d like to explain our understanding of line breeding and in-breeding, the difference between the two, and the reasons why sound line breeding techniques are imperative to any successful long term breeding program for any type of hunting dog.

            I don’t claim to be a genetics expert or anything close to a scientist or doctor. I keep things simple here because I am not smart enough to do it any other way, and as I said before, I am only sharing with you what other folks –who were or still are experts – graciously shared with me. I take no credit for any of it; all the glory should go to them.

            First, let’s define line breeding.  The late, great, Homan Fielder originated his legendary Bear Pen Plott hound line in 1954, and Mr. Homan –assisted by his sons Steve and Randy – perpetuated this legacy for well over half a century. Steve Fielder continues that tradition still today. Not only does Steve have a rich family history due his connection to the Bear Pen line, but also he literally spent his entire professional career working for the major kennel clubs such as the UKC, AKC and PKC. So Steve is well versed and knowledgeable about all hunting dog breeds –not just Plott hounds.

            Back in 2004 I asked Steve Fielder for his expert definition of line breeding. This was his reply: “Line breeding is a term used to describe the breeding of dogs, within their own family bloodlines, but in this case, (and different from in-breeding) a bit further apart –such as uncle to niece, aunt to nephew, cousin to cousin, etc. Dog breeders use line breeding techniques to gather and retain as many genes possible of a specific dog. By breeding back to the canine whose traits they hope to replicate or reproduce they should produce dogs with similar positive traits.”

            In other words, the breeder’s objective in line breeding is to stay within the same bloodlines, and breed close –but not too close – within their respective lineage. And in doing so, you should consistently produce dogs with similar qualities and genetic traits for multiple generations.

            Many confuse line breeding with in-breeding, and while that’s understandable, there is a big difference between the two. In-breeding is breeding dogs VERY closely within the same bloodlines –such as a mother or father to their pup, or brother to sister, etc.

            The negative end results of inbreeding can lead to pups suffering from physical and mental defects. Although it must be dully noted some breeders are willing to risk this because they sometimes will produce a superior dog, almost identical to the sire and dam.  I won’t name names here, but you can find a few world-class dogs in all breeds that were a result of in-breeding –so you can hit the jack pot occasionally by in-breeding.

            However, in my experience this is exceedingly rare. Far more often the litters consist of pups with serious problems that have to be put down.  I refuse to do it myself for the above mentioned reasons, plus carrying, producing and caring for a healthy litter is hard on a gyp. You only get to breed a good female just a few times in her hunting and breeding career, so in my opinion you need to maximize your chances for success every time –and you definitely don’t want to make it more difficult or harder by in-breeding.

            Moreover, I just have more respect for my dogs’ than to put them it that situation. I guess if you are the sort of the breeder that considers your animals as nothing more than disposable tools that you can afford to lose without concern, then that’s your right. But that’s not for me. I am not being critical of anyone else, just stating our beliefs.

            Line breeding is especially important for anyone wanting to originate their own strain or lineage, as well as to any breeder who wants to retain or maintain their existing bloodlines for future generations. And as we discussed last month, a written pedigree of some type is imperative to achieving either of these objectives.

            Many folks want to start their own line of dogs –but few have the knowledge, or just as importantly, the time and patience to do it. It takes 25 to 30 years to develop and refine your own bloodline, and even longer to maintain it. In my opinion, good line breeding techniques are the best way to do it.  And even then, if those techniques are not maintained correctly decades of hard work can be lost with only one out-cross to another bloodline.

            Now, don’t get me wrong, many breeders have produced consistently fine bear dogs for many years by doing nothing more than just breeding the best to the best regardless of the bloodline. That is a simple time tested formula that no one can contest. However, the end result may be a superior bear dog—which is all that most of us want anyway –but it is still, at best, hit and miss breeding –with usually a lot more misses in the litters. This is due to the fact that you don’t always know exactly what’s behind the dogs you are breeding to. That’s where line breeding and pedigree comes in.

            As usual, I always go back to the old master, Vaughn “Von” Plott (1896-1979) for his insight on this. Here are his thoughts on the subject:

My father, Montraville Plott, (1850-1924) always had good horses, good chow and good dogs. He told me how to keep the dog breeding in line. He taught me all that glitters is not gold and to keep the breeding secrets safe. I think that’s why our dogs are better than any others. We breed pure Plotts. We don’t mix them with anything else. Mine are pure bred just like my daddy left them to me. I breed mine straight. Everything that’s pretty don’t shine! I line breed them. I don’t breed brother to sister, daughter to father or any of that in-breeding. I breed the best to the best and I know what’s behind all of them. And how do I know which dogs are the best?  I take ‘em to the woods and see! THAT’S the way to find out. See who’s who!”

            That pretty much sums it up for me. There’s an old saying here in the south about there being more than one way to skin a cat. I am not sure where that came from, but the same applies to successful dog breeding. There are many ways to do it and almost anyone that is successful will argue that their method is the best.

But I am not that way. I am not saying–the Plott family way is best.  But what I am saying is this; If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it, and if it was good enough for my legendary family members –and their friends like Bud Lyon, Gola Ferguson, Taylor Crockett, Gerald Jones, and Isaiah Kidd, among others – that all came before me, then it’s dang sure good enough for me.

            Next time, we’ll discuss other bear hound related topics aside from breeding techniques. But until then, thanks for your time. I sincerely hope that God will richly bless and protect you, your family and your dogs in all that you do. Good hunting my friends!