When we produce puppies the following list is what we are working toward. We strongly believe this is the key to having the strongest and best pointing dogs. The results can be found on our Champions Produced page.
Maintain a balance of sires and dams
Understand and monitor the coefficient of inbreeding
Pay attention to the trend in COI
Calculate the number of unique ancestors
Know the genetic load but don't obsess about it
Use pedigree analysis
Conserve sire and dam-line diversity
Practice assortative mating
Avoid repeated poor breedings
Ensure sibling contribution
Monitor fitness indicators
Attempt founder balancing
Consider outcross matings
Monitor population growth
Seek balanced traits
Avoid unfit breeding stock
Avoid reproductive technology
Restrict artificial selection
1. Temperament and Personality
We start with each parent's temperament and personality. Look for dogs that possess similar energy levels, willingness to please, style, etc. Picking a dog from an amped-up sire and lackadaisical dam only adds to the randomness of genetic assignment -- will it get mom's lack of drive and dad's large size, or dad's high prey drive and mom's diminutive structure? Will it be aloof like mom or willing to work and learn like dad? You won't know until the dog matures, which is likely too late to do you much good if you have a specific task in mind for it.
2. Pedigree and Performance
If you're just looking for a pet, a purebred's pedigree probably won't matter to you a whole lot. However, if energy level is an important attribute for you, it can serve as a clue (i.e., field dogs will likely have a higher energy/drive compared to conformation dogs).
The pedigree serves as a biological record of a litter's ancestral purity and accomplishments. No matter the role you want that dog to fill, you can look to its pedigree to see if its ancestors had the genetic fortitude to carry out the task. If you're looking for a conformation dog for the show ring, look for those titles. If you're looking for a field dog, look for those titles -- be it in retrieving, upland, tracking, digging, etc.
Ancestors in a pedigree that lacks titles didn't necessarily lack the instinctive traits required to carry out a task -- they might just not have been campaigned for a multitude of reasons. But too many untitled dogs should send up a red flag. Unless the dog(s) in question has/had a reputation for producing puppies that successfully completed, how are you to know whether or not it/they have the genetic makeup to produce offspring that can perform?
This is all about stacking the odds of performing (prey drive, tractability, scenting ability, etc.) in your favor. Too many question marks could, but not necessarily, mean that all those other good genes from titled dogs have been watered down. With that said, remember to keep the mother's pedigree and accomplishments in mind -- people tend to focus too much on the sire -- because she's contributing half the genetics to your future pup.
3. Health and Wellness
There is a difference between a healthy dog and one that possesses sound health. If you're breeding, you should be screening both the sire and dam for genetic health defects. If you're buying a puppy, you should be demanding a genetic health certificate that documents the parent's results (clear, carrier or affected).
You are about to fork over a lot of money to the breeder, and then invest much more into the dog over the course of its lifetime, especially if you campaign or hunt the dog, and you're going to spend countless hours training that dog (time is money), not to mention the emotional bond you (and your family) will form with the animal.
Some mutations simply impact the ongoing quality of life of the dog (no small matter for the dog, you or your wallet). Others such as EIC, CNM, DM and PRA are debilitating and can end a dog's hunting career and/or its life. To compound the matter, someone producing puppies without testing simply because the same sire and dam have produced seemingly healthy puppies in the past is acting in ignorance - some diseases, such as degenerative myelopathy, are late-onset and don't present until the dog reaches maturity.
In addition to genetic mutations, good breeders will also screen their breeding stock for physical issues common to their breed - for instance, hip or elbow dysplasia.
Bottom Line: Pick a puppy from a litter that has had both the sire and dam screened for genetic and physical issues common to your breed of choice.
So what makes a good litter? The answer is simple: Good parents -- it's all in the genetics.
The tricky part is identifying and prioritizing what you really want/need. After that, it's simply a matter of looking for a breeding where both parents embody those physical and mental qualities, as well as health clearances.