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More On Inbreeding

by Rev. John Parks

          The beginning Beagler can easily get the wrong idea about inbreeding. He may see other successful breeders making close matings, such as brother-sister, father-daughter, and mother-son crosses, with seemingly good results, and therefore may come to the conclusion that it is the best road to success. This simply is not true. Inbreeding, as I have said previously, can be like "playing with fire" if you don't start with absolute top-notch individuals; and even then there can be many hidden surprises. Hence, the breeder must be ready and willing to cull out any and all faulty hounds that result from close matings. He must also select the right individuals to carry on the line. One misstep here and he'll soon know it.

          Each succeeding generation multiplies the chances of more firmly imbedding, not only the good qualities the he (the breeder) is trying to sustain, but also the undesirable traits and hidden weaknesses that he would do well to avoid. So, you see, you've got to get rid of every weakness when it appears or else you are going to have it around "haunting" you from then on.

          If you have a hound that is strictly the product of outcrossing, then that hound will have 62 different individual ancestors in his five generation pedigree. If you mate him to his sister the ensuing litter would have only 32 individual ancestors. Then, if you continue the brother-sister matings on through, say the fifth generation, you will cut down the ancestry enormously.

          The individual dog is like a bus in which all of his ancestors are riding. The parents and grandparents are in the "front" of the bus and the ancestors from more distant generations are riding toward the back of the bus. At any given "stop" (or a mating), any one, or any combination of these ancestors could "get off" the bus and show up in the offspring. All that inbreeding does is cut down on the number of different individuals that are riding on the bus so that the uniformity of the offspring is greatly increased.

          Nature doesn't always deal in predictable ways though, so hidden undesirable traits will still sneak through and surface in spite of all the breeder's efforts. You will then say, "Where did that come from anyway?" Inbreeding may look like the "in" thing to do, but as you can see, there is really a great deal of risk involved. Or, you could compare inbreeding with speculating in the commodities futures. If the trend of the market goes your way, you succeed -- sometimes in a big way. However, if the trend of the market turns against you, you fail -- in a big way!

          Another example of inbreeding appeared years ago in a chart in a poultry magazine showing how an egg producing strain of chickens could be developed by breeding daughters back to their sire, then granddaughters and so back to the same cock bird for five generations. The final product was calculated to be 97.75% the same blood as that one male.

          Such a system might work when the breeder is breeding for only one trait, such as egg production, but in Beagles the problem is that we are breeding for many traits at the same time. This complicates matters considerably.

          Inbreeding is a very intense form of breeding, and unless it is coupled with strict, disciplined culling of all faulty individuals, will bring on failure in a hurry. The reason is that inbreeding intensifies both the good and the bad traits that exist. So, if you don't get rid of the bad, your efforts are doomed to failure. If you do a good job of selecting the best and culling the rest, and you keep inbreeding, soon the line will be very uniform. Some even argue that inbreeding will improve the line, however this is limited by the quality of the individuals that you began with in the first place. This is why I would advocate some judicious linebreeding before you even think about inbreeding.

          I have observed more than one successful breeder who seemingly had it all going his way for a time and then he would start breeding closer and closer related individuals, refusing to practice the culling that is necessary until finally he was producing lower and lower quality hounds and eventually the kennel slipped into obscurity because the hounds being produced were no longer useful hounds.

          The real key to successful inbreeding is the breeder himself, and how well he carries out a program of selective breeding from the best bloodlines that are available, and whether he is flexible enough to bring in the right outcrosses to meet any deficiency and improve the strain with the needed characteristics. He has to have the uncanny ability to size up his hounds objectively and keep only the best for breeding stock year after year, generation after generation. That's no easy trick to do, believe me.

          One way that experts categorize inbreeding stock is to divide them into groups as follows:

  1. Those that dominate most matings by producing offspring like themselves.

  2. those that contributed at least half of the attributes to any mating they were involved in,

  3. those that contributed nothing (good or bad) to the offspring,

  4. those that contributed only bad traits to the offspring.

The simple way to select breeding stock then is to continue breeding only from categories 1 and 2 and discard the individuals in categories 3 and 4. Sounds easy you say? It might be if the breeder had the discipline to rigidly carry out the practice. Few of us do, though.

          I hope this helps to clarify my earlier discussion about inbreeding. If you are a brand new unskilled breeder, probably it would be best for you to leave the inbreeding to the veteran and then take advantage of the qualities that he has instilled into his stock. If you are the type that loves a real challenge though, then nibble a little at inbreeding if you must, but don't commit your whole program to this course. Remember, it may be popular to inbreed, but it might not always be wise. The wise Beagle breeder will linebreed from quality stock long before he will inbreed. However, there may come a time for even you to try inbreeding. Be careful though, and if you do not get the desired results, stop and go back to another method.

Should you have a concern regarding the health of your Beagle(s), you should contact your veterinarian. All information on this site is presented solely for educational and informational purposes and should not, at any time, be considered a substitute for seeking or receiving veterinary care for your Beagle(s).