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  • Writer's pictureDennis Hammett

Are you a gambler?

My father was a competent small wager gambler his entire life. So, when I was growing up I was taught many gambling games. One game was draw poker were the dealer shuffles, then “cuts” the deck of cards before dealing each player a “hand” of five cards. So statistically each player has initially a set of random cards. You may have a winning hand or a losing one depending on “luck”. What happens next involves experience and knowledge of the game. Each player is allowed to select card(s) to continue holding in his or her hand, discard the others and then is dealt replacement cards by the dealer. So luck of the draw is still significant, but good poker players improve their chance of winning by discarding and adding cards, retaining higher valued cards (or combinations) and removing less worthwhile cards. This is similar to historical animal breeding.

For centuries, top breeders used a similar strategy of selection, always evaluating progeny, practicing strict culling of less desirable producers, retaining the higher valued breeders, and replacing with greater value brood stock. And the great breeders of the English setter practiced this strict selection for at least two centuries. But, today there is a fundamental problem of breeding dogs without any selection. In another words, producing of puppies is a random draw.

No longer do we have many sophisticated big” kennel breeders, but almost entirely breeding is done by “backyard” breeders. That term is commonly used, but what does it mean? These are people that have a small number of setters, maybe just two, a bitch and dog or a handful. So there is no flexibility in breeding decisions. Worse, production is never evaluated by a knowledgeable handler. In fact, many never spend significant time in the field, and in some cases, no field work. In a few cases they tout “health tests” such as “good hips”, which have no predictive importance with respect to inheritance (these traits must be evaluated with entire families). And close to zero are involved with actual genetic testing for mating decisions.

So, do you want to bet on the random hand dealt? Or do you want to substantially increase the odds of getting a healthier, field superior hunting companion?

Twenty one years ago I started with few high quality foundation setters, and the knowledge that in order to produce top shooting dogs, I would need to develop over time a big kennel with a strict selection program that closely evaluated each mating. That means considering every aspect, including conformation, style, intelligence, and in the field; gait, sagacity(efficient field coverage), range, speed, and scenting ability. In addition, the setters needed to naturally honor, retrieve, and hold a point until the bird was flushed. Many times the evaluation was done with entire litters and always accomplished with setters from all breedings. This is the reason for our “field ready” program.

More recently I initiated genetic diversity testing with the top nonprofit veterinary genetics lab in the country-UC Davis Veterinary School. More on that in another commentary.

No bitch or stud dog is retained for breeding unless they have meet our strict selection criteria beginning as whelps, through development to two years of age. And doesn’t stop there! The most important evaluation is a stud dog or brood bitch producing desirable offspring. They can as individuals, be meeting our selection minimums, but donot pass that on to progeny. Secretariat was maybe the greatest race horse of all time but not a great producer. So progeny of every mating is closely watched by us to see if they are going to meet our strict selection goals.

So, our you as most gun dog buyers a gambler, betting you get a good one, winning or losing by chance or are going to substantially increase the odds in your favor by using us for your next bird dog purchase?

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