The Genetic X Factor
by Barbara "BJ" Andrews, AKC Master Breeder, SAAB Member
The real secret to becoming a top breeder of top winning, top producing AKC champion dogs or any other domestic species is the super-simple genetic "X" factor revealed here...
Since the mid-80s, I have explained in breeding seminars, my Akita video, and in numerous magazine articles “The strength of the sire is the power of the dam.” The genetic truth is in that simple sentence but you won't get it until you know why and how it works.
If this were a genetics textbook, it would lead you with boring, lengthy step-by-step lessons but student or master, here's a shortcut to an amazing genetic discovery.
You could try all the fancy genetic breeding methods but unless you understand and apply the X factor you might as well go back to knitting or whatever creative thing you previously enjoyed. If you study until you are conversant with terms like genotype, phenotype, and homozygous, you'll be convinced that you know all there is to know about breeding great dogs. Trust me, most serious dog breeders have read a lot of books on genetics and may use all the right terms but before you get too impressed, check on how many great dogs they have actually bred.
Here's the take-away. A great male brings a breeder glory but it is the bitch that sustains a breeding program. "The strength of the sire is the power of the dam."
I used that phrase in my Akita “demo tape” during the early 80s and it became popular quote among top breeders in many different breeds. Those who knew or had actually seen those All-Time Top Sires, Sachmo, BigSon, and Widow-Maker (pictured above, courtesy Moretto film company), and applied the genetic secret enjoyed outstanding success as breeders and in the show ring.
The statement was repeated in several breed books I did for TFH publications (the largest publisher or animal books in the world). I was flattered that it was so widely quoted but more so, grateful that it helped. While judging the Top Twenty at the 2010 Akita National, it was especially gratifying to see that so many great breeders really "got it" because the quality was exceptional.
Proving Genetics Statistically
I know the X-factor premise seems too simple. For those who rely on statistical data; Bill and I are owner-handlers who don’t “network,” have no dogs at public stud and keep fewer than four breeding age bitches. Yet we’ve had over half of the Akita Hall Of Fame Producers including the All-Time #1 and #2 Sires, and two of our bitches are tied for the #1 Dam All Time. Most of our Top Ten Producers also broke existing show records and a several O'BJ dogs set new records which still stand over two decades later.
The "power of the dam" has also enabled us to produce top winners and/or producers in three breeds and it will do no less for you if wisely used.
Credit for understanding and applying the power of the bitch came to us in the sixties when my mentor, Dorothy Gooch of Skyraider Dobermans, planted a seed that grew into a belief. Questioning other breeders, I became convinced it was indeed the dam of a great sire who passed on genetic prowess. Taking it a step further, I noted that a stud was only as good as the bitches he served unless he was extremely dominant in which case, it was his daughters that would earn him a reputation as a great sire.
My Akita Sachmo is still the Top Sire of all Working Breeds from only 41 litters. Thirty years later, some savvy people remember him for the long list of ROM bitches he sired rather than for his 101 AKC Champions.
Now, through genetic science, we are able to prove what top breeders previously only “knew.” It isn't that the bitch influences a litter because she nourishes the pups, there's a purely genetic reason why the dam contributes so much to a breeding program. I’ve always been fascinated by differences between dog breeders and livestock producers. The latter have exhaustive data on hardiness, weight, and reproductive ability because cattle, pigs, chickens, etc. are an economic crop. Companion animal breeders have to muddle about without the economic incentives that spur great scientific advances.
The Real Genetic X-Factor
Now, in 2002, what we "knew" in the 70s is proven by the Thoroughbred horse industry's genetic advances. The sire has traditionally been credited with genetic power but now records are proving that the female passes on intelligence and physical attributes through something I nicknamed the “X Factor” because as a lay person, I can make up simple terms.
Seriously, it seemed right since the X chromosome is actually much larger than the Y (male) chromosome. X carries a heavy genetic load. The female chromosome is responsible for most of the highly desirable characteristics for which breeders strive. If a mare gets the magic double X, she is even more empowered to reliably produce outstanding progeny, including great sires. What we dog breeders have learned from each other, geneticists are finally confirming.
So knowing that, how does one reach the pinnacle of success in dogs? There are two roads. The shortest route is buying and campaigning a great male. The other is buying a great bitch out of a great bitch and using her wisely.
It depends on whether one wants instant or long term gratification. Both are equally important, especially when it takes a sizeable budget to mount a successful show campaign. A person may have to choose which goal is most satisfying because rarely can you do both. The great breeder depends on wise and wealthy owners to prove the genetic capabilities, whether on the track or in the show ring.
The sport of dogs will remain healthy thanks to dedicated fanciers who campaign outstanding breed specimens created by talented breeders. It is a wonderful partnership!
If you have discovered that your forte’ is study, nurturing, and creativity, then put your money and time into a great bitch that comes from a line of great bitches. She should become a ring star herself before being bred. You will have to think carefully if she is of a late maturing breed. But one thing is as certain as anything ever is when it comes to genetic formula.
If she is from a blood line of powerful bitches, she’ll give you males that not only win but with a little luck and planning, her sons will pass on her qualities to your next generation.
That is why “The Strength Of The Sire Is The Power Of The Dam.” Shucks, we always knew that, we just needed the geneticists to confirm it.
reprinted from Mrs. Andrews' ShowSight Magazine Column
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