by J. David Clarke – Davenloch Collies
When you think of R&R, one immediately thinks of rest and relaxation. When it comes to breeding better Collies rest and relaxation are not terms that can even be remotely applied to the breeding game. For the purposes of this article, R&R is synonymous with risk and reward. In the 21st century breeders face a whole new set of challenges with respect to the logistics of breeding that are very different from any that might have been faced before. These challenges are not necessarily any greater than were faced by breeders of the past, but simply challenges that come in a somewhat different package.
As a Risk Management professional by trade, I myself practice on a daily basis, a five step process that I have found to be very effective when applied in a simplified way to the pursuit of breeding better collies. This process is a follows:
You might ask why it would be important to even talk about risk at all. Surely, any astute breeder is fully aware of the risks financially, and practically when it comes to their valued dogs, and that the best laid plans do not always produce the intended results. However when you debrief after what was intended to be the most forward dynamic breeding you have ever done, and it went horribly wrong, or you never got puppies, it is with near certainty when you review the chain of events, you see missed pieces to the puzzle right before your eyes!
When you think of your intended goal as a breeder, what exactly is your intended goal? Are you content to have just what you have today? Is that enough for you? Or do you dream of one day standing in the winners circle at the National or another very prestigious event with a dog that is a result of your very own interpretation of the breed standard, created by the power of your dreams, hard work, and risk taking.
I for one have moved away from the temptation to apply what I would term restrictive vision to my selective breeding choices. At one time, certain challenges that I perceived to be insurmountable would have meant that I would stay put and look at what might be termed the dog next door, simply for the convenience of access to a stud dog or a bitch to lease. The sheer distance between myself and the dogs I really admired and wanted to utilize seemed like light years to me. Now I am not saying that the right dog for what your intended goals are might not be right next door. There may very well be times that the right dog might be overlooked for the simple reason of just that, it is right next door. However I have found that for the sheer convenience of access, as a replacement for access that might otherwise cost an arm and a leg should you ship or lease from far away, taking that easy road can have its own set of consequences. It is a given that the consequences may not be that dire if they present themselves at all. However such unwillingness can leave a budding breeder in a state of stagnant non evolution and keep them from what could become a line of outstanding Collies.
When you think of your intended goal as a breeder, what exactly is your intended goal? Are you content to have just what you have today? Is that enough for you? Or do you dream of one day standing in the winners circle at the National or another very prestigious event with a dog that is a result of your very own interpretation of the breed standard, created by the power of your dreams, hard work, and risk taking. In the end, having had such a dream, who could ask for a more just reward? Lofty goals and thoughts? They most certainly are. Perhaps you may have even won at the National, and are wondering “where do I go from here?” Without such targets, or if you are perhaps ruled by what you view as insurmountable obstacles, finance, distance, your preconceived notion that there is no way that famous breeder with those magnificent collies will ever give me the time of day, or your thoughts of “I don’t think I have anywhere to go from here”, that mind set can put you on the losing team before you even really start the game.
Step one of the process is identifying the potential risks. Before you even get to this point you truly need to determine your willingness and fortitude to press forward beyond your preconceived expectations of failure, what you might view as insurmountable obstacles, or thinking you have no where to go from where you are at. You may even have to plan well in advance for the financial resources necessary to take that first leap. This particular challenge can indeed be more significant for one breeder than it might be for another, but let’s face it, financial resources play a role for everyone in some way towards producing better collies. If we take the five step risk management process and simplify it into three steps that are more workable you might think about it this way.
1) What can go wrong?
2) How can I prevent it from going wrong?
3) How do I deal with it if it does go wrong?
I know you are probably thinking this is such a negative way to approach something that is so exciting, like this fabulous litter that I have been waiting my whole breeding career for. I would view it not so much as a negative approach, but an approach that allows you a more focused vision of the pathway towards reaching your goals.
In the past, breeders faced huge challenges in getting to the right stud dog due to far less advanced traveling capabilities, shipping, the inability to obtain frozen or fresh chilled semen, lack of DNA markers that today identify clearly many genetically hidden risks associated with our breed and the like. Yet they did overcome many if not most of those challenges at a time when technological advancements were not the savior of the day. Now how did they do that? They indeed took risks without any positive result whatsoever, and in many other cases ended up with dire consequences. I would hazard to guess that the successful kennels of the day thought about what could go wrong as a preliminary step when planning a particular breeding that might not be as convenient as using the dog next door. Today, we have the capability to travel and ship dogs long distances between destinations taking mere hours in most cases, when our predecessors had to think about such a venture that might have meant a rail car ride that literally took many days! Yet, there were those who were willing to take such risks, and there were those who succeeded. There are also numerous stories about those who won at the National more than one or even two times! These are the success stories I am hoping we all think about when reading this article. Thank God for these stories, as our breed would not be where it is today without the fortitude, determination and risk taking of those who came before us.
Bottom line is, that as simple as such risk analysis may sound we must face the challenges, and acknowledge that without risk taking there would be no advancement.
Now what about our day and age? Yes we can travel far more easily, but we now face airlines that charge exorbitant fees to ship larger dogs, along with restrictions on flights into and out of various countries, including Canada and the U.S. We also face the fact that we have yet to develop DNA markers for some of the worst genetic maladies of our breed such as DM and other autoimmune disorders. We need to acknowledge these risks for what they are. If we do not, it is impossible to move onto step two – How can I prevent it from going wrong? If you do not know what you are attempting to stop from going wrong you are defeated before you begin. There may even be some risks you identify that are completely beyond any control whatsoever. So what do you do about those? You obviously can not stop them from going wrong when you have absolutely no control. Yep you are right you can’t. But at least you know such risks exist and you need to prepare for the outcome of what those things could bring your way. You never got puppies after all the money you invested. You got sick puppies even though you thought you had investigated that pedigree to the point when it could not be investigated any further. As a result of the breeding you discover your gorgeous bitch is a carrier of something you never thought would ever come from one of your dogs. You shipped in chilled semen to use on your bitch at the exact time you would require it based on progesterone tests, only to have the shipping company lose it for a day or two and you missed the window to breed your bitch. Things beyond your control, yes they are, but going in with your eyes wide open will truly help soften any blow such events can throw at you. Can you afford the financial setbacks such things could bring, and if such things go wrong, do you have the fortitude to pick up the pieces and carry on?
Bottom line is, that as simple as such risk analysis may sound we must face the challenges, and acknowledge that without risk taking there would be no advancement. We know that the North American Collie of today is the product of the greats, Bellhaven, Lodestone, Tokalon, Parader and the list goes on. These kennels as well as modern day kennels faced significant challenges with genetic issues, and they somehow worked their way through. They were and are able to provide strong foundations for many newcomers to draw from. They worked their way through many of those things without the availability of DNA testing and the advancements of modern science. The stories of their very evolution as masters and mentors of our breed are stories of risk taking and the application of a risk management process that was and is applied on a regular basis. Learning from them is invaluable. We as modern day breeders face our own set of challenges. Although they may be different challenges than those of the past, by the taking of calculated risks, and applying a risk management process to them, serves to advance the Collie and provide an even stronger foundation for the next one hundred years! As a breeder, don’t be afraid to evaluate your risks and take the steps to manage them. It could mean you indeed breed to the dog you have always wanted to even if that dog is 4,000 miles away, or you take that opportunity to utilize a pedigree you may never have considered before. The list of possibilities does indeed go on. If you do not face risks and manage them, the only thing you stand to lose is your dream however it might look to you, and the exciting journey it was to actually get there.