Remarks on Shaw Article

Jan Shaw's research is a very interesting contribution to the scant literature on breeding field trial pointers. As in other endeavors in the research enterpise more questions are raised than answered. Some very apparent questions are:

1. Does his conclusion apply to the production of all field trial winners (not just champions)?

2. Is there a logical explanation for his findings?

3. How does his finding correlate with the age of the bitches when they are bred?

4. Is litter size a correlate of the age of stud? If so, to what degree? If so, could this explain

Shaw's findings?

5. How does the frequency of breeding influence his finding?

6. Was there any attempt to control the true age of the studs studied (i.e. some with claim of

an age of six are in reality eight or nine years of age)?

7. Should his findings influence breeding decisions? If so, how?

Remarks on each of the above follow.

1. Does his conclusion apply to the production of all field trial winners (not just champions)?

It would seem reasonable that it would apply to the production of all field trial winners as well as to the production of champions and to the production of just better hunting dogs.

2. Is there a logical explanation for his findings?

This has been the most frequently asked question. The question of do you prefer to use new or old seed for your garden suggests clues as to what might cause this phenomenon. Unlike most cells in living things the germ cells (e.g. spermatogonia) are as old as the organism. Does freshness (i.e. age of stud) influence viability? Logic suggests an affirmative answer to that question. Shaw provides affirmative empirical evidence. For years biologists have been trying to figure out how genes are activated. A leading theory is one that suggests the gene activation is tied to the uncoiling of the tightly wound form in which DNA is stored. For most of its lifetime the several feet of DNA in each cell is stored in a tightly packed form. Before it is replicated and expressed it must become unwound. Is it possible that years of storage while tightly wound decreases viability? If one can agree affirmatively to all of this then it is only a small step to address the next question.

3. How does his finding correlate with the age of the bitches when they are bred?

His report does not mention this. The remarks on the previous question suggest that age of the bitch must also be a factor. Why should an old egg not lose viability as much as old sperm?

4. Is litter size a correlate of the age of stud? If so, to what degree? If so, could this explain Shaw's findings?

Again, his report does not report data on this. It would seem logical that we would have a strong correlation here.

5. How does the frequency of breeding influence his findings?

Common sense dictates that, other things being equal, the more frequently a dog is bred the more champions are produced. Unless spending money on stud fees is a goal, to ignore frequency of breeding makes no sense at all. Frequency of breeding, according to the records, is probably the most dominent factor in the number of winners produced and the number of champions produced. The best stud dog, in terms of the best champion producer, should be defined as the one that requires the fewest breedings to get the greatest number of champions (or the fewest number of litters required to produce a champion).

6. Was there any attempt to control the true age of the studs studied (i.e. some with claim of an age of six are in reality eight or nine years of age)?

The fact that the registry refuses to take serious action to prevent fraudulent registrations renders problematical any quantitative studies of stud dog prepotency.

7. Should his findings influence breeding decisions? If so, how?

This is the most important question addressed here. Shaw's findings give breeders an additional factor to consider in breeding decisions. The situation is similar to judging a field trial in that the factor is one of several to consider; the big question is not to use or not to use it but how much to weigh it. There are no quick and easy answers. One certainly could not logically make a decision to breed to dog X only because he is young. Most studs are not good studs in terms of improvement of the breed. That is documented in the Pointer Breeders' Almanac . It follows that in terms of improvement of the breed that most stud dogs are not good studs. The findings of this study do not render less important any of the factors discussed in Selecting the Field Trial Stud Dog in the Nineties (i.e. the stud's natural abilities, his breeding, his productivity record, and his field trial accomplishments). Natural abilities refers to inherited traits and by implication those that he might transmit. The only proof of those is his productivity record such as his Prepotency Index (PI). Whether or not a stud is young or old a recorded fact is his PI which is either high or low. It would seem that one would heavily weigh the odds in favor of high quality get if one bred to a young stud with a high PI. To breed to a younger dog only because of his perceived natural abilities, breeding, and field trial record could result in breeding to a stud which, with time, proves to be a mediocre stud (one with an unimpressive PI). If good luck is with the breeder he might end up as a good stud (high PI). This leaves the breeder in a Catch 22 situation: breed early and risk medicority, wait until the stud is proven (high PI), but old, and risk mediocre results.

A piece of useful unavailable information would resolve the above mentioned dilemma. That information is to what degree does increased age decrease a stud's prepotency. If that was known one could say either it is worth waiting to ascertain that a stud has a high PI or that it is not worth waiting for this determination. It is unfortunate that at the present we don't have an answer. A reasonable position, in light of the above, might be to wait. Since most dogs turn out not to be great studs, by not waiting for a high PI is to increase the odds in favor of mediocre results. Restated, to breed to dog X because he is young and has the right breeding, natural abilities, and field trial record would appear to be more risky than breeding to a proven top stud, albeit that his prepotency might be reduced because of his age. The unproven assumption with this position is that the risk of decrease of prepotency with age is less than the risk of breeding to a stud which eventually proves to be medicore. It must be restated that it is recorded fact that most name dogs, even when they are high in the other criteria previously mentioned, turn out to be mediocre studs (mediocre in terms of an unimpressive PIs). This position (i.e. to wait) is heavily influenced by the possible negative outcomes of any breeding. Such negative possibilites include harm to the bitch (which has consumed time and money of the breeder) including the possibility of negative effects on her future field performnces, lose of her reproductive abilities, or even her death. Another negative is difficulty of selling pups if they are not of the current popular bloodlines (albeit popularity is seldom based on prepotency).

Although Shaw addressed this issue in terms of stud dogs, a more convencing case might be made for using age as a factor for brood bitches. Since because of the small sample sizes any statistic of brood bitch quality is relatively meaningless when compared with stats on stud dogs with over 100 get on the ground. It is nice to know that a brood bitch is a good producer, but there has to be a first breeding. That is, hopefully, based on her breeding, personal attributes, and field trial record. If the position that earlier is better is valid then a case might be made for breeding her younger. Some time ago an article titled "The Cost" appeared in The American Field. In that article it was lamented that by not selecting the most prepotent sires for major circuit winning bitches that there had been a great cost to the breed in terms of improvement of the breed. If the thesis advanced here is valid it can be added that improvement of the breed has been hurt by not breeding these great bitches when they are young. Too often zealous owners and trainers opt not to breed the great performance bitches until they are well beyond the hypothesized more productive years. The our purpose of the field trials is the improvement of the breed. To be consistant with this, if age is a factor in production of quality, owners should retire bitches after their first championship and devote the remainder of her career to the improvement of the breed via breeding to the most prepotent studs. How often does one hear of quality litters out of aged major circuit champion bitches?

In closing these remarks the hypothesis is advanced that there is an optimum time for breeding for improvement of the breed. This optimum time is an expression of the sum of the ages of the stud and brood bitch. This is an interesting research idea for someone to follow up. This suggests that, for example, if the most effective sum is nine, then a six year old stud should be bred to a three year old bitch. The negative affects of old age might be counterbalanced with a younger breeding partner. There might be a ceiling and basement for both addends.

A last remark is that that there have been studies of first born children compared with others in the family. Findings in those studies might be of interest to the canine breeder.

Frank Thompson (gn052@accucomm.net)