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Learning to Let Go

(Photo Courtesy of Locksley Scottish Terriers)

For me, today is all about letting go. It’s not something I do easily. I am the eldest son of the eldest son. Even as a young teenager, I was in charge of my younger siblings whenever my dad was out of town.

Many people in the dog game share my reluctance to let go. It starts early in the fancier’s experience. Most of us enter the show world with a pet, or at the best a very average show prospect. It’s part of paying one’s dues. Very few reputable breeders (in fact, none I have ever known) will sell a newcomer a top show prospect. I suppose it is possible if the sale is accompanied by a contract with a well-known professional handler who is to oversee the dog’s show career. My first serious show dog was shown 25 times before securing her first point. I never did finish her, though she did produce some champion offspring. Only after a year of showing every other weekend did I gain enough credibility to secure a competitive show dog. Many exhibitors have a hard time of letting go of that first show prospect and end their association with the game out of frustration at not being able to win on a regular basis.

Quite a few exhibitors also have a problem letting go of their dream of competing with the professionals. I am one of those exhibitors. My motivation is not that I want the thrill of being a successful owner/handler or that I am too cheap to spring for a handler, but that I really can’t bear to be separated from my dogs overnight. The reality of our sport is that only a handful of people can compete with our better professionals. That is not because of some nefarious dog show politics, but because only a handful of non-professionals have the time and are willing to put in the effort that the professionals do in order to be competitive.

Most fanciers who stay in their game will want to, at some point, try their hand at breeding. It is not a step to take lightly. While I think that many established breeders are overprotective of their breeding programs to the detriment of their breeds (some of our at risk breeds are at risk because of overprotection), I do think there are people who are breeding litters that shouldn’t and many people who should get more experience before they start breeding programs.

One of the hardest things in a breeding program is knowing when to let go of a newborn. As a former Toy Dog breeder, I can tell you that many people go through extraordinary steps to hold onto a puppy, especially when it’s the only puppy in the litter. I am not a vet or medical professional, just a guy who has whelped his share of litters, but after 40 years in this game I have some serious reservations about retaining puppies that lack vigor or bitches that have problems whelping.

If you want to succeed as a breeder, not only will you have to be pretty hardhearted about newborn puppies, you will find yourself neutering, spaying and petting out a fair number, if not a majority, of your breeding stock. Then there is that tough job of placing a whole litter of puppies. Apart from a litter of Boxers I rescued when I was 12, all of the litters I have bred have been small, no larger than four. While that made it easier to place those I didn’t keep, it was still difficult to let go of them, especially the show prospects. Frankly, it is easier to place pets than show prospects. I only had one pet placement I regretted, but I had a few show prospects that never even saw their first show.

Finally, there comes a time when a breeder, even a very successful breeder, has to let go of their program. Unfortunately only a minority of breeders do this well. Most of the time a breeder’s life work dies with them. Not nearly enough breeders think about passing along their breeding program to a trusted protégé. I have come to the point in my life where I probably will never breed another litter. I have too much respect for what it takes to be good at it.

Tomorrow my only daughter is getting married. Letting go has never been harder. And that’s today’s Back Story.

Written by

Billy Wheeler has been attending dog shows as a spectator and exhibitor for over 40 years. Billy is the man behind the popular Dog Show Poop. He is a retired management consultant who has advised multiple organizations affiliated with the AKC and the Cat Fanciers Association on business management, long range planning, customer service, and legislative matters. After 25 years of living in the big cities of New York, San Francisco, and Washington, DC, he now resides in his hometown of Memphis TN with his wife, Brenda, her Toy Poodle and his Cairn, Scottie, & IG. When he is not blogging, Billy can be found in the kitchen cooking, and listening to opera.
  • Anne November 10, 2012 at 11:21 AM

    Very touching on such a variety of levels – Thank you!

  • Peri December 29, 2012 at 7:25 PM

    I am blessed with multiple nieces who have a strong intere in purebred dogs. The transition has already begun 😉

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