IN MY PREVIOUS blog I wrote about that much-missed lover and protector of the Bullmastiff breed, Douglas B Oliff, someone who (as described by Christofer Habig) was particularly good at ‘thinking out of the box.’

  “Thinking out of the box can stimulate new paths and bring thing effectively forward – particularly in our world of dogs, where today we seem to need more independent leadership, and not just followers. And what might be most needed is a kind of thinking which encourages dog breeders not to give up their beliefs, but to elevate and transform these beliefs so they can help build a safe future for our passion.”

I suppose the above passage, also written by Mr Habig, could be applied to the benefits gained from line/inbreeding, a fundamental tenet of the pedigree dog world and an aspect that has received so much bad/misinformed press in the mainstream media over the past few years. Strangely enough the very same media that goes on to celebrate pedigree horses, cattle and pigs (in our recent spate of agricultural shows) that were produced using the very same methods as our champion show dogs!

However, every breeder I know accepts the need for an occasional outcross in a breeding programme. I keep and breed rare breed poultry and one of my favourite breeds, the sultan, has benefitted several times throughout its long history, from an introduction of a complete outcross. On several occasions this outcross has completely reinvigorated this unique and stunning breed, bringing a much-needed increase in fertility and a dramatic increase in the size of the bird. I’ve witnessed this also being used to good effect when I kept and bred fancy pigeons and canaries.

Our detractors often label us as ‘dinosaurs’ or as being ‘trapped in the Victorian age’ but this simply betrays their ignorance. If they happen to read any of the Victorian/Edwardian canine literature they would quickly see that most of the eminent authors of the day constantly warned their readers about the perils of constant close ‘in and in’ breeding. These dangers have been warned about right up to the present day. This is why maintaining and reading pedigrees is so important before any mating is planned. Breeding any form of livestock (and more especially dogs) is a serious business and is not something that should be entered into lightly.

Thankfully the, ‘thinking out of the box’ attitude is still alive and kicking in our world and it can often be detected most strongly in the breed notes of DOG WORLD.

One particular set of notes I’ve been following of late is that of the Bearded Collie by Wendy Hines. Over the past few months there has been a lively discussion on the need for an outcross within the breed and I have found it fascinating. Jacquie Smith (Tassietay) wrote:

  “I’ve just been reading your breed notes and was very interested in what Keith (Hicks) had to say. I’ve been thinking about this for some time but haven’t felt it my place to comment as, although I’ve had Beardies for 40 years, I have done very little showing and breeding, we have always focussed on the training side of things. However as you asked for comments maybe now is the time. I agree the use of an outcross is probably the only way to save the Beardie, but where to go? Maybe we should look at what breeds we know are in the background of the Beardie and breed back to those? We know Border Collie is there but in my opinion that wouldn’t be a good choice as apart from not wanting their high drive and work ethic they have many health issues that Beardies do not. I do believe though that there was some Deerhound blood introduced at times, now as far as I am aware Deerhounds have only one major health issue, liver shunt, which could be tested for as puppies so there would be no chance of introducing that into the breed. I know we already have issue with narrow bottom jaws but with care this needn’t be a problem and is less damaging than the situation we are currently in. Many years ago I read a Deerhound book called, ‘Living with Deerhounds’ and I was quite surprised to find how many characteristics our Beardies share with them, so hopefully wouldn’t do too much damage to the character of our breed. It would certainly help to get some coarseness into the coats!”

The discussion has demonstrated just how much thought and care has to be put into the idea of introducing an outcross into a breed. It isn’t a case of we’ll ‘just throw in a bit of this and a bit of that’ and keep our fingers crossed for the best. I had wondered why some of the working Beardie lines couldn’t be used in a future outcrossing programme but Jacquie went on to answer that question and once again it boils down to traceability and the vitally important component of pedigree. She continues:

“Being an owner of both Kennel Club Beardies and working line Beardies I am not keen on using working stock for a few reasons; the pedigrees of working stock are rarely complete and from my experience, rarely accurate so there is no way of knowing what might be behind those dogs. There are several health issues some of which can’t be screened for e.g epilepsy. Working Beardies have a very high drive and extremely strong working instinct which, again in my opinion, doesn’t make a good family pet for the average person… although they would be great if you have aspirations for competition.”

Hutchinson’s (1936) has an interesting piece on the Bearded Collie that relates to the assertion that the Deerhound had a key role to play in its early development.

  “The Highland or Bearded Collie is a distinct breed with many characteristics peculiarly his own. He was at one time very popular with the Border shepherds, and was known as the Border Collie.

  “These Bearded Collies were supposed to be of a different strain from the Highland Collie. The former were of a slate coloured hue and the latter were of a reddish colour, were slightly smaller and did not carry such a profuse coat, which, however, was inclined to curl.

  “Again the old breeders insisted that the dogs should be like the Highland Collie and the Scottish Deerhound, viz. self-coloured. They were of the opinion that the old Highland Collie had some Deerhound blood which was quite in keeping with the texture and the colour of his coat. The original Deerhound was also either of a blue grey or red sandy colour. Broken colours were supposed to be a sure sign of alien blood and were not countenanced. In late years however, quite a number of broken coloured dogs made their appearance in the lowlands of Scotland, where no doubt crossbreeding was freely indulged in.”

I’ll certainly continue to follow what happens within the Beardie community with interest as whatever they decide to do could provide food for thought for a number of other breeds that may have reached a genetic bottleneck.