By Karen L. Foster
As your longevity in Springers increases, the questions you ask and the decisions you make about your individual dogs, the breed, and the sport become increasingly complex. The wealth of knowledge you acquire over time enables you to make fair and caring decisions. However, that same knowledge also enables you to take shortcuts and make choices that might not always be in the best interest of your dogs or the breed.
When considering a breeding, think about whether you ask stud dog owners or brood bitch owners the sort of questions that you would rather not have to answer yourself. Do you ask questions that are specific enough? For example, rather than asking, "Is your bitch OFA certified?", do you ask the more specific question, "What rating did your bitch receive from OFA?" Do you regard all information you are given with a healthy skepticism?
Irrespective of your ultimate decision to breed a particular Springer or not, you should be brutally honest with yourself about the individual dogs in your pedigrees in terms of temperament, health, type, structure, soundness, and overall quality.
Ask yourself about how you raise your puppies. Do you leave your puppies with their dam long enough to allow her to teach them "dog manners"? Do you extensively socialize your puppies to acclimate them to many people and environments? Do you place them in the best possible homes, even if it means keeping them longer than you had intended? Do you follow up with puppy owners at least weekly for a few weeks, monthly for the first year, and at least yearly thereafter?
It is vital to stay in touch with people who have acquired dogs from you. Do you help owners of dogs you have bred solve behavior, health, or other problems, or do you simply offer to take the dog back and replace it? Do you periodically survey everyone to whom you have ever sold a puppy about its temperament and health, their overall satisfaction, and other concerns? Do you use information garnered from all owners (show, performance, and pet) to adjust your breeding program to improve quality? Do you follow up with people who have older dogs of your breeding, so you know what diseases and conditions your line tends to develop as it ages?
Consider how you tend to react to dog show situations. Do you remove your dog from competition the day it favors a leg, vomits, or simply "isn't right," or do you patch him up and show him anyway? Do you tell your conformation, obedience, or agility instructors "No" when they recommend a training technique you believe inappropriate for your dog? Do you correct your dog with increasing force and frustration when he begins backing away from conformation judges, lying down on the long sit, refusing jumps, or avoiding weave poles, or do you first take him to the vet?
Another thing to think about is your own restraint in terms of how many dogs you can properly care for and give necessary attention to. Do you limit your number of dogs to no more than you can exercise, train, groom, and provide attention to each day, and still give your job and family the time they require? Do you feed your pets and retired Springers the same quality of food you are feed the dogs you are keeping in show condition? Do you provide the same level of care for your multiple dogs that you lavished on the one pet who introduced you to the sport?
Think about how you are doing in terms of really helping the breed. Do you volunteer to help the parent club and your local Springer, all-breed, or performance clubs wherever they need you? If you breed litters or use your male Springer at stud, do you assist with rescue? Do you intentionally skip one weekend of shows each year and then donate the money you would have spent to the ESSFTA Foundation or your local Springer rescue group?
Do you focus only on what's in the sport for you, or do you begin to repay the sport for the friendships, pleasure, and knowledge it has provided you? Some of these questions are tough, but in answering them we can keep our focus clear and strive toward doing our best.
- Karen L. Foster