Voices of Experience:

Interviews With Some of Our Long-Time Breeders (Part 2)

by Claudia Waller Orlandi, Ph.D.

Below we continue our interview with 10 of the top Basset Hound breeders in America, all of which have been breeding for 20 to 30 years and have had winning hounds at the national level.

It has been said: “Bassets Do Not Breed True.” Do you share this belief? Why or why not?

This question, perhaps more than any other, was interpreted differently by the breeders interviewed. One general point of departure for those who agreed with the statement revolved around the Basset’s genetic abnormality of dwarfism (Penny & Randy make some interesting comments in this regard); those who disagreed based their views on the role of pedigrees and the predictable nature of linebreeding. Because I have always been curious about how breeders across the board would respond to the statement, I purposely posed it in a general way. The question obviously lends itself to various interpretations.

Joan, Bob, Penny & Randy, Jinny, Sharon, Dawn and Sandra agreed with this statement in general. Bob (Hiflite) relates: “I have always believed, to the extent that the statement is true, that it is because of [the Basset’s] genetic condition known as achondroplasia (dawrfism), which is characterized by the arrested development of the long bones.”

Penny & Randy (Ambrican) feel that “the Basset Hound does not ‘breed true’ because it is a man-made dwarf. ‘Nature’ tends toward the norm so the Basset Hound breed (genetically manipulated to go against the norm) will have constant problems in physiological development. Dwarfism (or the genetic disease of chondrodysplasia) is a ‘normal’ state for the Basset Hound, and while we can get very close to breeding what we desire, the abnormal growth effects of dwarfism always lurk beneath the surface, ready to make an appearance.”

Dawn (Von Skauton) points out that in addition to the effects of dwarfism, the difficulty in breeding true may be due to the fact that, compared to some breeds, the Basset breed is older and the result of unique blends of many strains of French hunting hounds which were each developed to hunt various types of terrain. As a result, dogs with varying physical proportions made up the original gene pool.

Joan (Fort Merrill) believes the statement is somewhat true and also adds: “I feel that Bassets are more fragile than many believe them to be. Legs can be easily injured and even minor illnesses prior to 6 months of age can have catastrophic effects on young pups. Having raised 30 or more litters of Chinese Shar-Pei and Golden Retrievers has convinced me that Bassets are more fragile and difficult to breed true.”

Kitty Steidel (Sanchu) disagrees somewhat with the statement and feels that Bassets breed true to their pedigree. Kitty notes that in her experience the genetic impact of the grandparents is often stronger than that of the parents. This “grandparent” phenomenon illustrates the genetic principle of chromosome swapping in which a sire, who received half his genes from his sire and half from his dam, may pass along a concentration of genes from his parents, that is, the litter’s grandparents. In this case, puppies may look more like the grandparents than the parents. Although Kitty believes the breeding of Bassets follows basic genetic rules, she does feel that in “some bloodlines ‘just a little’ goes a long way. Since we are dealing with the dwarf gene, ‘just a little off,’ for example, can spell ‘a lot off’ once body weight is put on those limbs and front parts.”

Vicki Steedle (Halcyon) and Claudia Lane (Beaujangle/Classic) also feel that Bassets in general breed true to genetic principles. Vicki states: “Anyone with any knowledge of genetics knows the fallacy of the statement, “Bassets do not breed true.” If you breed littermates produced by a close true inbreeding, the puppies will certainly strongly resemble the sire and dam. The smaller the gene pool, the less likelihood for variance. The Jerman’s Tal-E-Ho kennel provided strong evidence of this.” Claudia Lane concludes: “I think that the fact that you can readily identify subtypes within our breed (i.e., Craigwood, Musicland, Tally-Ho, Beaujangle, Shoefly, etc.) is ample evidence that you can breed Bassets true to your type.”

Do you Inbreed/Linebreed (i.e., mate a dam and sire who have a common ancestor behind them in the first 3 or 4 generations) or Outcross? Or do you use a non-genetic system such as breeding like animals to like animals? How do you plan a breeding and how do you decide which system to incorporate?

Jinny (Stoneybluff) states: “I am a great believer in linebreeding and inbreeding. However, I also consider the appearance of the dog and what he/she has produced in the past. I am not a believer in ‘what you see is what you get.’ I have found this is the philosophy of many of today’s breeders. I use a little of both systems. First, I study the pedigrees looking for close linebreeding. Then I consider the two animals to be bred and what they offer each other.”

Sandra (Craigwood) as well, uses some of both systems. In her words, “most [breedings] are done with some common ancestors, although not closely related. I seem to have more success by looking at the bitch and deciding what needs improving to get my idea of the perfect Basset Hound. Then I decide which male will help the most. I use the same male a lot. In this way I am familiar with what they produce and have a better idea of what to expect. Since I don’t usually breed bitches more than three times, by the time I figure out what they produce best, it’s too late!”

Like Sandra, Sharon (Castlehill) uses linebreeding as well as non-genetic approaches: “Jim and I use both systems in our breeding. Our bitch always determines what we do and when. For us, fronts and shoulder angle and placement are the most difficult to breed and retain. We would never risk using a stud who may jeopardize genetically or non-genetically this part of the Basset Hound.”

Penny & Randy (Ambrican) say: “We use linebreeding and place a lot of emphasis on the grandparents in the pedigree as well as on the actual hounds we are considering mating. While many will breed based on the pedigree alone, a feature manifested by a particular individual may represent a dominant trait of that hound’s legacy. It is therefore always best to get all the information possible from the breeder of the stud and not rely upon hearsay.”

Dawn (Von Skauton) says: “Generally, linebreeding is the best basic tool, however, in Bassets, one cannot overestimate the dog itself. Do not expect to pick up a desired characteristic of the line if neither the dog nor the bitch exhibits the trait. Like to like can cement in a wished for trait but may not be practical if the sire and dam both exhibit the same undesirable traits. Inbreeding should only be done by experienced breeders who know most of the dogs in the first 4 generations of the pedigree.”

Vicki (Halcyon) and Joan (Fort Merrill) use inbreeding and linebreeding. Vicki says she is “not a gambler and prefers as small a gene pool as possible, within reason.” Joan adds that she does not outcross.

In response to this question, Bob (Hiflite) says: “Absolutely no question, linebreeding and inbreeding. Breedings were planned by taking the best of what we produced to the best (again, in our opinion) of what was available within the line and style we liked. Essentially, we only bred within the Abbot Run Valley Brassy side of the Lyn Mar Acres line.”

The breeding system of Claudia Lane (Beaujangle/Classic), in her words, is “linebreeding, linebreeding, linebreeding with judicious outcrosses. Grandfather/granddaughter crosses worked especially well for us and produced some exceptional animals. For the first 20 years all my dogs were linebred on 3 dogs. The first was CH Blue Billy Bojangles, ROM. Siring 59 champions, Billy was the top producing sire for the last ten years (this year Billy’s record was surpassed by CH Hiflite Briarcrest Extra Man ROM – our congratulations to Knox Williams!) Our other 2 top sires were CH Beaujangle’s Ten, ROM (with 49 AKC champions) and CH Beaujangle’s J.P. Beaureguarde, ROM (sire of 43 AKC Champions). In 1989, we knew it was definitely time for an outcross, which we did end up doing when we went to Judy Tuck’s CH Jollytime’s G. Q. of Cloverhill (Jake). It was a total gamble but one that really paid off.”

Kitty Steidel (Sanchu) relates the following: “We have tried linebreeding, inbreeding (brother to sister) and outcrossing about every third generation. Linebreeding worked best for us. Whether we outcrossed or linebred, we came across more or less the same number of genetic problems. However, we could more easily and accurately evaluate the pups from linebreedings. After some 30 years of breeding within the comparatively small gene pool which defines the Basset Hound bred in America, I believe when we outcross we are possibly really linebreeding (and even inbreeding). For this reason, we have tried very hard to introduce ‘new blood’, so to speak, into the States. We are just now using some of the dogs coming down from the imported dogs.”

In Part 3 the breeders discuss traits on which they place emphasis and those traits which are most difficult to correct.