Puppy Puzzle: The Hastings approach to evaluating the structural quality of puppies

By: Staff  Date: 01/9/2012 Category: | Canine Issues |

Good breeders make breeding decisions based on a number of criteria: they consider what each dog has produced before, what strengths and weaknesses they bring to the breed and the breeding program, and how the potential puppies will carry on the line. In each of these areas, they look at health, breed type, and structure, for it is counterproductive to breed structurally sound animals that have serious inherited diseases in their backgrounds, to produce puppies that look good but cannot move well enough to do the job they were designed to do, or to accept temperaments that are atypical of the breed. Once the litter is on the ground, breeders must evaluate each puppy with a critical eye to determine whether the choice of sire and dam resulted in offspring that will in their turn contribute to the breed. However, evaluating puppies with a critical eye is difficult, for the heart often gets in the way.

Enter Pat Hastings and Puppy Puzzle, almost-an-hour of techniques and instructions for telling which puppies in the litter have the most potential to become the future sires and dams of the breed. The Puppy Puzzle has been acclaimed as a long-awaited gem by judges, breeders, and other fanciers, and as an invaluable tool for beginning and established breeders..

A long-time breeder of Dobermans and a student of canine structure, Hastings and her husband Bob talked to veterinarians and structural engineers to find out how to determine whether a puppy's structure is sound and to understand the ramifications of poor structure occurring in any part of the body. The result - the video tape - has gained kudos from long-time fanciers, judges, and breeders, including Gerald Schwartz, Ed Gilbert, and Patti Strand.

Hastings advises breeders to evaluate the puppies as they meet the breed standard, not just to choose the next champion. She constantly emphasizes the importance of breed integrity and of using the evaluations to add the best puppies to a breeder's own program. If none of the litter will advance the program, she said, none of the puppies should be kept as potential breeders. The evaluations are done in a strange place when the puppies are eight weeks old, and are done by someone who is unfamiliar to the puppies.

"The shape of a puppy at eight weeks is the shape it will grow back into as an adult,"  Hastings tells viewers, and she goes on to show breeders how to examine each portion of puppy anatomy to judge soundness and breed type. She discusses topline problems in relation to front and rear structural weaknesses and movement as a function of front and rear assemblies; and describes skull growth and tells how to predict whether the head will meet the breed standard; and demonstrates how to determine if the neck is too short or too long, how to make sure the puppy is balanced in bone and muscle, and how to identify the beginnings of a broad spectrum of potential problems as the puppy becomes a dog.

In closing, Hastings reminds breeders that the evaluation has three purposes: to determine whether there are structural problems in the litter so they can be avoided in future breedings; to decide which puppy to keep as a potential addition to the breeding program; and to determine the best type of home for each puppy in the litter. It is not, she said, to determine which puppies will grow into future champions, but which will enhance a breeding program that will produce puppies that are genetically, temperamentally, and structurally sound.

I don't breed dogs, but if I did, the Puppy Puzzle would be in my tape library to be watched over and over until I got it right - just as it will be watched by serious breeders all over the country.

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All Authors Of This Article: | Norma Bennett Woolf |
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