By the time our litter of prospects is 10 to 12 weeks old, we
expect to have narrowed it down to 2 or 3 of the most promising. Obvious pets
have been settled on non-breeding agreements into carefully selected families
which have the essentials: a secure fence, a member of the family at home
during the day, and a genuine desire for an English Cocker.
Now comes the more difficult evaluation of the remaining stock. Do we
have a top flier? Is there a selection of finishable dogs which we must
run on or are there dogs with Group potential among the brood? In making
these decisions, we focus on the following criteria: overall balance and
eye appeal, structure and soundness, and attitude. These three, coupled with
the correct finishing touches of coat care and presentation can help us ensure
our swans develop as planned.
In this article, I will focus on balance and structure as we try to
apply it at Ranzfel and offer a few practical suggestions as to what we look
for in choosing puppies. Much of this is common sense and regularly practiced
by experienced breeders.
Balance and Eye Appeal: There is no question that some puppies fill
the eye with an indefinable quality that is a result of the pleasing combination
of all their parts. These are the pups that are NOT evaluated by comments
such as, "I adore that powerful head," "What tremendous rear angulation,"
"Just look at that length of neck!" Remarks of this sort always suggest
a puppy that is out of balance because one element of structure is overpowering
all else. I want to be able to put my pup on the table and say, "My, that's
an even, balanced puppy." The selection of a pup which shows balance is
often difficult after 8 weeks and much before 8 months. The upper limit varies
for different lines, but we have found our own dogs are best evaluated around
8-9 weeks. We then stop worrying during the rapid growth periods, or during
teething. At this point, a good selection of photographs and profiles, fronts
and rears is most helpful. We have found that the most balanced pups usually
look on the small side especially at 5-7 months. They are "compact packages"
and as puppies strike one as diminutive but as adults prove to be correct
Structure and Soundness: In assessing the way the pup is made, it is
important to differentiate those parts of the structure which might change
and those which will remain fairly constant. We feel that the following are
some of the things which will remain fairly constant. What you see is likely
what you get.
1. Low on leg. We have found that rarely does the short-legged,
low-to-the-ground pup become square and correct. In most cases, these pups
are too long in the loin and should not be retained in a breeding program.
2. Loose shoulder assemblies, pin toes, loaded or heavily muscled shoulders.
I've combined rather a number of problems in the shoulder assembly, but
frankly, this is a serious problem in the breed and one I find rarely improves
or corrects. Shoulder layback is hard to predict but my rule is that if it
is poor it is unlikely to improve. If it is good it may not stay good in
the adult. Minor looseness in the front will tighten with good exercise.
3. Low tailset and falling away croup. These are fairly set at 8-9 weeks
and should be avoided. Because these are difficult to breed out, we are fairly
ruthless in eliminating them.
4. Serious rear end weaknesses, narrow quarters, long or cowhocks. Don't
be tempted here - this is a serious fault and they never move right as adults.
5. Lack of forechest or depth of brisket. Keep reminding yourself that you
can't create something that wasn't there to begin with.
6. Eye colour and size. The small, round or light eye will be there only
worse in the adult.
7. Roach - any tendency to a roach or excessive arch over the loin is not
going to go away.
8. Fine bone/Excess bone. The shelly, slab-sided pup that is lacking in
bone quality usually matures into a fine-boned adult. Equally I avoid the
extremely heavy-boned pup that shows excessive coarseness. Usually accompanying
this is the heavy throat and dewlap of the very loose-skinned pup. Sometimes
they'll "grow into" the skin a certain amount but avoid those pups with Basset
On the other hand, there are many characteristics of our pups
which MAY modify to a degree as the pup grows. Do realize, however, that the
limits to the modification move to the norm for the breed. The pup is never
going to improve to the point of excelling in the characteristic in question.
The extent of the change does vary within breeding lines. Here a familiarity
with your pedigree is invaluable. Know your sire and dam's strengths and
weaknesses. Know equally well the grandparents. If you are consciously striving
for a certain quality in the pup you select then place greater emphasis on
that quality when you evaluate pups. Be objective about your choice. While
hard to admit, it may be necessary to say that the litter is not up to the
standard of the parents. Unless you feel you have made progress in the result
of a breeding, there is absolutely no merit in keeping a pup from that mating.
You are merely marking time or worse regressing. It is time to be fairly
ruthless in your assessment of your prospects.
Facets of structure which change include the following:
1. Head planes. Some pups, especially when teething, lose
the distinct stop they had at 7 weeks and go through a very "plain" period
with considerable under-eye fill in. Be patient. If the head was right as
a baby, it should come back. In addition, prominence of skull and occipital
bones may blend and smooth.
2. High in the hindquarters. Rumpy puppies often level out. Do not despair
about this problem when pups are teething but be very wary if it remains
after that time.
3. Toplines. As shoulders alter and musculature acquires strength and tone,
the slightly soft topline may come right. Again, it is a matter of degree
whether the improvement takes place.
4. Feet. While strong, thick, well-cushioned pads (not too large, though)
are extremely important, as long as pups have sufficient depth and thickness
to their pads, the strength and tightness of an adult pad is something that
will appear later. Pay attention to down-in-pastern pups. Some time on gravel
run will help.
5. Minor hockiness. Some pups with a fair amount of angulation are not altogether
in charge of their hocks. With controlled exercise and development of the
second thigh, this may improve.
6. Size. One of the more difficult things to evaluate is the final size
of a pup. We have found little correlation with birth weight. Products of
outcrosses, as one would expect, are hardest to predict. Since we do not
want anything crowding the 17' limit, we tend to avoid what looks as though
it might go too large. Be careful to evaluate size over a fairly long period.
Plateaus and growth spurts can be very misleading. Especially significant
is the 5 month pup which may seem small because he stopped growing while
teething. By 10 months, we expect the pup to have reached his height.
7. Coat. Generally flat, straight, firm coats tend to be sparser as adults.
These are lovely, easy-care, correct coats. Texture must be considered in
your evaluation. The linty, cotton wool coat is terrible to look after and
never gets a correct finish to the back jacket. If you succumb to the stone
or razor on these coats you will be doing it for the rest of the dog's life.
8. Eyes. Select for tight eyes without visible haw. Obviously during teething,
eyes are not as they will remain!
9. Short backs. This is totally bound up with my earlier comments on balance.
However, it is important to remember that if your puppy is long in the loin,
he will always be long. If he is short-coupled, he may remain so, but it is
not guaranteed! Frustrating, isn't it! Be sure to look for that pup with a
long ribcage that extends well back and that has a short coupling. He's the
one to keep.
10. Testicles. We like to find these coming down by 6 weeks, and in place
by 9-10 weeks. 3 months is about our outside limit on a pup that is VERY special.
There is too much problem with retained testicles in this breed and I don't
like to give pups much time to "see if they'll come down." Show stock is
breeding stock. Let's not promote problems.
11. Teeth. Keep checking bites. Watch for narrow underjaws especially where
lower canines come inside the upper canines and puncture the roof of the mouth.
Now you have to put all these elements together. You've chosen your puppy
on the basis of your reasons for doing the breeding, the structure of the
pup and the overall balance. Now you must nurture carefully your choice, and
ensure that he develops the right attitude, slowly but surely.
At this point I would like to pickup on three problem areas
which I have not discussed in the earlier articles.
One of the checks that must be made on young pups is that
they all hear properly. We routinely start checking a litter at 3 to 4 weeks
by conditioning the pups to a food signal. This consists of a slight tapping
of the fingers on the wooden sides of the whelping box, accompanied by a tongue
"click" or "puppy, puppy." Puppies are thereby conditioned to a food reward.
By 5 to 6 weeks you should have an immediate, positive, conditioned response
from EACH puppy. Watch for the pup which seems to be taking his cues from
the other pups in the litter. If you are suspicious of a pup, you must separate
him from the rest of the litter for more precise testing in a strange location.
Confirmation of a deaf puppy should be possible by 7 to 8 weeks. This puppy
should be euthanized and under no circumstances placed in a home.
2. BLUE EYES
Occasionally a blue eye or eyes will appear in a litter of
parti-colour English Cockers. Affected individuals may have two blue eyes,
one blue and one brown, or may have just a chip of blue in a regular hazel
or brown eye. The blue can vary from a quite pale and reflective color to
a fairly deep blue. The closest color match I've seen in other breeds has
been in the Siberian Husky. Generally by 4 to 5 weeks you can identify a "suspicious"
blue eye which is noticeably more pale than a regular colored eye. Such puppies
should, I feel, be neutered or spayed and placed in caring pet homes. I have
never heard of a vision impairment in a blue-eyed puppy.
3. ABNORMAL TOES
Occasionally a puppy of 10 to 14 weeks will develop a deformed
toe on one or both front feet. You will not be able to identify a "toe" before
10 weeks. These toes eventually curl up and elevate the nail off the ground.
The pad of such a toe will be narrow, atrophied and twisted to the side.
Usually the outside toe is the one which is affected. I have judged dogs
which have been so affected and, although I have not observed any consequences
to the deformity, I do fault it when judging because the foot is not as described
in the standard. I personally would not include such an individual in my breeding
In the preceding comments I have made no attempt to discuss the extent
or nature of these three problems in terms of inheritability. My desire
in writing about them was to alert the novice breeder to something that might
be missed in assessing a litter of puppies.
Reprinted from ECQuarterly Summer 1984