Transparency is a buzz word that often comes up in conversation among breeders. Some advocate for breeders to “air their laundry” for all to see, for the betterment of the breed, displaying all health clearances publicly. While I am all for genetic testing and other health testing, there is much more that goes into making sound breeding decisions than selecting a stud dog based on publicly posted health clearances. One must also bear in mind that not all illness is genetic; environmental influences have to be considered, too.

My approach to selecting a stud dog includes a long, in-depth conversation with the breeder of the dog (and perhaps breeders of other dogs in the pedigree). The conversation begins with a statement that anything shared is between the breeder and myself, with the understanding that there are no perfect dogs and that the breeding that I propose will be a reflection on both my breeding program and theirs. Candor, honestly, trust, and respect for the work that each breeder has done, and continues to do, is a necessary component of the success of any breeding.

When I’m interested in a dog, it’s a dog whose type and movement have caught my eye or, it may be a dog, and a bloodline, with a trait(s) that I am working on improving in my own line. I’ve identified the strengths of my bitch, her pedigree, and my bloodline and I know the areas that I most want to improve. I then have a candid conversation with the breeder of the stud dog about many things, some of which can be tested for and many of which can’t. Many of the traits have nothing to do with health but all of them help move the breeding closer to the ideal that I seek.

The breeders that I respect the most have been very forthcoming, very candid, in sharing the strengths and weaknesses in their lines. One long-time breeder sent me ten hand-written pages in response to my questions about their stud dog, his pedigree, his relatives, and the puppies that he had produced. I wept in gratitude when I received the breeder’s letter. Another long-time breeder was very generous and openly discussed a number of questions regarding a prominent sire in the breed. I had heard rumors about the dog but I owed the breeder the opportunity to speak for their own dog and their own breeding program. The information that they shared helped me to make more informed breeding decisions that improved the quality of my own dogs and reflected well upon their own.

As a breeder and as a mentor, I try to encourage the same sort of dialogue among other breeders. At our National Specialty last month, two events were held which I have long advocated for: a stud dog showcase and a breeder’s forum, a panel discussion with long-time breeders. The events allowed time in the evening for dialogue among breeders, a time to socialize and discuss many aspects of the breed, and learn from one another. The focus at Nationals is often on the competition but, for me, Nationals has always been about the future of the breed and a chance to network with other breeders. The events were well-received and I hope that they will continue in the future.

Returning to the topic of transparency, I prefer to remain publicly opaque. I do genetic testing, I do health testing, and I stay in touch with the families that have Talbot Hill dogs. I also respect the breeders that I work with and share with them the results of my breeding. I avoid rumor and gossip and, again, give the breeders the respect that they are due by going directly to them for the information that I need. I hope that others will do the same for me.

I’ve been very fortunate. My beagles are very healthy with only occasional minor issues that I keep an eye on to keep in check. I’m pleased with the improvement that I’ve seen with each generation since my return to breeding in 2015, building on several generations of breeding that preceded my battle with cancer in 2008. I have nothing to hide…but I’m also not inclined to hang my laundry in the front yard for anyone who passes by to form an opinion about. I want to encourage a conversation if someone is genuinely interested in my dogs. I’ve known health certifications that have presented misleading results and I’ve shared more detailed information than the posted result might suggest.

I write this post after having made the decision to place two beautiful dogs that I’ve bred in pet homes. They are healthy, happy, beautiful dogs that will live perfectly normal lives…but there are times when a breeder has to make difficult and rather devastating decisions. It’s the right thing to do. Will I be transparent about why…no. I’ve discussed the decisions with the people who need to know and will be candid with others as needed. And then, I will fold my clean laundry, put my socks and panties discreetly in a drawer, and look forward to the next litter.

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