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Why am I doing this??!!

Shawna and Pearly Baker 2005

Lately I've been getting repeated questions about my breeding program. Some are eloquently asked. Some are the volume of a raised eyebrow. In this blog article I will attempt to as clearly and concisely answer these questions. There is a comments section below for more questions and concerns. Please feel free to engage knowing that I do not hold authority on the canine species, nor do I know it all. Always open to new knowledge and shared experiences. The scope of my breeding program is HUGE. There's so much that went into the background of it that the foreground becomes faceted.


I've broken this article down into an FAQ, in hopes of making it easier to navigate what I intend to convey to the reader. Sources and quoted text are listed at the bottom. Many of my references are personal experiences, carefully curated in a pile of spiral bound notebooks. The website - www.shawnasdoglife.com holds some records and notes, but I can only have so many pages. There is currently no archive for all the changes I've been through - however the Facebook page "Dogs of Fennario" spans some ten years back, so it's close. (A note here about social media and me. I think people put WAAAYYYYYY too much stock in its truth. Impulse control is a big problem for a lot of people. They say things they wouldn't otherwise think and feel because it's too easy when you don't have to look someone in the eye. It doesn't feel like real life to me, so I don't share many opinions. This blog article is different. Strap in cause I'm gonna give you my opinion.)

Why do you breed dogs?

I have an awesome responsibility. The word awesome in this case meaning awe inspiring. I am in the foundations of a new dog breed. I am responsible for the quality of life for untold creatures, 2 and four legged. I am responsible for human animal bonds. I am responsible for the future lifestyles, lifebloods and life goals. I don’t take this responsibility lightly.


Shawna and grooming friend 2012

First and foremost, I breed dogs for myself. My breeding program’s end goal is a pack of Livestock Guardian Dogs (LGD’s) that will protect my small acreage farm. This farm will allow me to live with some degree of self-sufficiency. I want goats, chickens, fish and a modest vegetable garden. You know, whole "Lion King - circle of life" stuff. I want dogs that are effortless to raise, that will function and thrive in that environment. I want a certain size and I want them to look a certain way.  Some may say I’m literally putting the cart before the goat, but I don’t think so. I’m of a certain age and degree of health that having the dogs in place will make the rest of it possible to manage.  The other part of my life goal involves sharing some this dream with other like-minded people.   I can provide them with dogs that will help their lives be more manageable as well. There’s a wonderful flip side to all that— to share some of this magic through Service Dogs (SD) and Therapy Dogs (TD). Traditionally, an LGD has some wonderful traits that can lend to these careers, such as a strong connection with their charges, a stubborn insistence and independent working ability.  However, an LGD will also carry some undesirable behaviors that usually negate LGD’s in these careers.  Wandering, prone to barking and an unmanageable coat for indoor living.  I have a gift with dogs, and this is the best thing I can do with it.

Before I acquired my first stud dog, I took the time to study the development of dog breeds worldwide, and the effect of dog breeds in our modern society. I learned that right about every 150-200 years*1 mankind will reinvent the domestic dog along with the culture that stewards it.   This is a cyclical occurrence that has been in progress for approx. 10,000 years.  This modern day and age is no exception, seeing the Eurasier, Silken Windhound, American Bulldog and the CMD Registry (CMDR) Colorado Mountain Dog (CMD) as new burgeoning breeds on the American landscape. We also see the decline of some breeds as their function declines, such as the English Harrier, Ibizan Hound and the Turnspit. This advance and retreat of breeds is a normal, and until recently, accepted way of managing our domestic animals.  

Our culture has become protective and sensitive to pet over population, and we see a flux of LGD breeds winding up in rescue because the temperament and physique of those dogs have been preserved and carried forward into a society that no longer needs such a liability.   The public is finding itself being asked to suit the dogs instead of the dogs changing to fit into the public’s lifestyle.   And THAT is what is causing such a problem with our modern dog breeds.  I aim to change that.

 

Why are you part of creating a "new breed" ?

The CMDR CMD is looking to create an LGD that is comfortable with smaller territories, barks less, has an affinity for all things human and the things we care for.   The standards of the breed describe a much more managable coat than we see with most LGD’s.  Not as long and profuse over the whole body, with a striking mane and flashy tail.

The CMDR has an open stud book, which means that new Foundation Dogs (FD’s) can be added and therefore genetic diversity can be introduced at crucial times in the crafting of a breed. 

Imagine a breed development program as a pyramid. Fd's at the bottom and their consequent offspring leading to the top. As the breed works getting traits set, the pyramid narrows, and genetics become more and more closely related. Imagine then an upside-down pyramid on top of your original (or an hour-glass shape). The narrow part of the hourglass is a genetic "bottleneck".  An open stud book means new genetics. New genetics means the pyramid can be widened again, carefully controlling and avoiding genetic bottlenecks. The best way to ensure optimal health in a species is through genetic diversity.  Even a loosely inbred population of any animal will degrade and fail without genetic diversity introduced in consistent patterns. 

Sometimes a condition will pop up in a breeder’s lines that has no detectable origin. The CMDR has a resourceful pedigree database and a network of breeders that can work closely to weed out the condition from the breed, often using intentional breeding program bringing in new Foundation Dogs.

How can you tell which dogs will be good LGD's? Service Dogs? Therapy Dogs?

My personal breeding program also has FOUNDATION DOGS. Mithril, Bonnie Lee, InShAllah and August West are my main founders.   With the exception of Auggie, my dogs have the highest breed content as Great Pyrenees. It shows. I have more barking than I’d like. Some of my dogs have too much coat. Some have “stranger danger” and some have too much prey drive.

When a breeder is just starting out (the first ten years) and looking to improve temperament in their lines, they introduce new stock that have none of the issues they are looking to overcome.  The consequent litters will have a range of the behaviors. Some of the pups will have compounded undesired behaviors. Some pups will have a few of the undesired behaviors, and some pups will have none.  The breeder selects the best pups with the best temperaments to move forward into future generations. With careful selection, the undesired behaviors can be lessened with each generation, while preserving those instincts, the essence that are the hallmark of the CMDR CMD. Predictable heritability of temperament and behavior is one of the factors that makes a breed—a breed.  A bird dog needs to throw bird dogs in the offspring in order to be considered a bird dog.   An LGD has heritable temperaments that are harder to define.  Being “good with” livestock breaks down into several facets of behavior that can be gauged by a scale of 1 to 10, during specific periods of intellectual growth.    Some behaviors are very nuanced, like finding the highest part of the property and staking out a spot there (desired).  Other behaviors are easily observed, such as the use of eye contact and staring at prey (undesired).   I developed temperament tests and standardized them specifically for my Colorado Mountain Dog breeding program.  I’m looking for low vocal scores and high social scores.   These scores help me select pups for my program and match puppies with folks on my waitlist.   The temp. tests also let me know where to put my energies into training and socializing. 

 


Why ON EARTH are you adding German Shepherd to an LGD breeding program??!!!!!!!!


Shawna and Auggie in 2015

Let me start answering this by making it absolutely clear that this aspect of my breeding program is a very carefully guarded project that is not affiliated or approved by the CMDR. My intention is that someday I may ask the CMDR to introduce this line, but it will be years from now. This awesome responsibility of mine demands rigorous evaluation and honing of LGD aptitudes I am looking for in my stock, while maintaining the high quality of health in my lines. I'm going to sideline a bit and beg your patience to read the following story*2.

Once there was a Labrador breeder that was contracted to stud his Grand Champion male. On the way to the breeding site the Champion was hit by a car and was in no shape to mate. The breeder returned home and grabbed an unproven younger male that resembled the injured champion. The breeding was successful and a beautiful litter of AKC labs was the result.   No ill fate seemed to take place from the secret switch.  Several pups from that litter went on to produce litters in the first few years of life. Five years later the switched male died from a fatal liver condition.   Within ten years of that, the Labrador Retriever breed is peppered with this condition and since the switch was not revealed for generations after the breeding, its line origins have been lost forever.

The moral of the story is that even reputable breeders are fallible humans that can sometimes not be honest. Sometimes a breeder is not even aware of unwanted pairings; fences scaled in the middle of the night; the neighbor's dog gets under the fence during the day.  Things happen. 

I feel the best way to ensure I am working with accurate genetic information is to have first-hand knowledge of the behavioral and health history of my foundation dogs.  In the cases that I do not know their history, careful pairings are made in the interest of learning how each dog will pass on their desirable and undesirable behaviors.  

  It just so happens I have a Unicorn.  A dog with very low prey drive.  No people inhibition and no dog aggression. An enviable intuition and genuine concern for all creatures in his bubble. His ancestry is traceable and available for research.  I personally have laid hands on five generations of his ancestry and have extensive knowledge of what he throws in his offspring.  

All of the FD's in my breeding program consist of different breed makeup. I've got Anatolian Shepherd, Maremma Sheepdog, Akbash and of course Great Pyrenees. I've also got a smattering of non LGD breeds in each one of them, (as per EMBARK DNA test) I've got St. Bernard, Australian Shepherd, Collie and one CMDR CMD came into my program with a little German Shepherd already in there. With all of this unknown ancestry, having such a long lineage of at least one foundation dog gives me a solid leg-up on innovation, and skips generations of genetic guess work.

What are your plans for future lines?

I have brought some very good genetics together for CMDR CMD's and am currently living with my third generation. They say it doesn't really feel "true" (meaning in line with the standards) until the 5th genration and beyond - but so far so good. I want to keep working on people friendly, easy to keep dogs I am working with now. I am 2 generations into this GSD line with having kept just one male with everything I want to use in my LGD stock. He will be kept carefully under wraps for now as I work on the CMDR lines and breeding the non LGD percentage down in those that need it.

I am currently researching the "Sarpliniac" breed. It has the color and reported temperament I am looking for. I am honing my training techniques for poultry specific Livestock Guardians. The training is an important part of my breeding program. I need to able to easily train my dogs. Trainability is a large part of evaluating LGD's. If over the years I am exerting too much energy into training, I will need to consider that I am breeding with "Rose colored glasses". A very human condition common to breeders is that they are so in love with their dogs (I totally understand) they will consider their efforts normal, and consider the public should as well. This is bad. Only time and collected experience can reveal the trends in training for my lines.

It has been ten years since I started putting this dream of mine into action with August West. Five years since I started bringing in Livestock Guardian Dogs and 3 years since my Founders first started my lines. This year will see my first "bred by" LGD's and next year will put a total of five service dogs on the ground for me.


Slow and steady....getting ready for the next chapter.


With everything I've learned over the years, I've cemented some solid ideas. I am still learning that I am wrong sometimes.


I have an awesome responsibility. The word awesome in this case meaning awe inspiring. I am in the foundations of a new dog breed. I am responsible for the quality of life for untold creatures, 2 and four legged. I am responsible for human animal bonds. I am responsible for the future lifestyles, life bloods and life goals. I don’t take this responsibility lightly.




 

 

 


  1. The Lost History of the Canine Race - ElizabethThurston 1996)

  2. Dog Breeder's Professional Secrets - Sylvia Smart 2008  

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This is a fascinating and informative post. My dog, Icy, is the daughter of Auggie and InShAllah. She’s on the smaller side for a LGD at about 62#, but boy, does she hit the mark in other ways. She rarely barks. When she uses her “big girl bark” I know to check what’s going on outside, because she detects a threat. She has a beautiful, luxurious tail and plenty of fur, but it’s not as thick and bearish as a purebred Pyr. She sheds, but seriously, it’s manageable and she doesn’t have massive seasonal coat blows. She loves humans small and large and is gentle with them. She’s curious about other animals but has little of what I would call…

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