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  • Writer's pictureRebecca Elder

Mentorship 101 #1 Go Learn Stuff

This is one in a series of posts that will be focusing on mentorship - some subjects beginners may find useful and some ways to gain more knowledge.

Depending on which group you fall into, there are two common and related complaints:

Dogs these days aren't as good as they used to be;

No one will mentor a novice anymore.

I am a veterinarian and my start in dogs was being transfixed by working border collies. Before I ever considered breeding, I had a background on how dogs are put together and what working function was and the athletic demands of work. Most people come to this through their pets turned show dogs and without a science background which leaves them with a steep learning curve in front of them as they face learning about breeding and maintaining a breed.

Mentors are a thing of the past because back when they were heavily utilized we didn't have the internet. Now everyone is an instant expert. There is, certainly, still much value in discussion and hearing opinions, it is our responsibility, however, to sift through anecdotal evidence and recognize when that varies dramatically from what science, and even common sense, shows. The oft quoted staple of "the dogs don't need testing because I have never seen a problem" or "they have to be big enough to take a kick from a cow" or "they have to be docked so the cows don't bite their tails off" are all anecdotal "truths" easily dismissed by actual education and experience.

It is important to identify what you need and then work to fill in your gaps in knowledge and experience.

You are your best mentor.

Seriously. This is the 21st century. The world is at your fingertips. Too much of the world is at your fingertips, that’s true. Learning to filter the world is vital. Choosing good sources of information is also vital.

Don’t go believing anything you read online, even if someone you have known for months! on facebook tells you this is how it is. Don’t believe it because some google search on that subject pulled up some other people who say the same thing.

Do you want to know about breeding show dogs? Study structure – that’s anatomy, not what a facebook group bickers over. Want to breed healthy dogs? Study health, that’s biology and physiology, genetics and that anatomy again, not what a facebook group tells you is the only acceptable way. Want to learn about whelping and puppy rearing? Again, your best bet is a foundation of normal, easily researched, basic reproductive science topped off with experience. For those without experience, you can start with an experienced friend and the reproduction groups on Facebook are invaluable for problem solving but do not neglect the scientific foundations for the how and why.

There is a lot more to it than can be found in blogs and sound bites. Get a foundation in the basics with a little reading list. Some of these, especially the breed specific ones, are out of print but occasionally turn up if you keep an eye out. You want to be mentored and learn? This is real life, it needs real, accurate information not a pseudo expert because I read about it once on the internet and some group told me some things.

Puppies will live or die based on what you know and what you do. Use accurate, science-based sources supplemented with help from those with practical, successful experience but do not let them convince you to disregard the foundational science.

Your breeding program will move forward or not depending on your choices which depend on both your knowledge and your experience as you adapt and adjust and continue on. Learn about the foundations of structure in anatomy and the reason for the structure in the function of the breed.

A successful breeding program will also depend on your ability to internalize what you want, your picture of the breed, and your practical and artistic ability to move towards that picture - along with some luck. The more study you put into the basics, the more you will stack the odds in your favor. If you lack goals, you will never achieve them. If you lack a vision, you will never move forward.

There are so many books and articles to supplement and round out knowledge but here are a few that can get you started. I don't love all of these books but they will give you a foundation to start building your vision and goals while giving you also some of the tools to work towards them. Breeding is science plus art. You need both to succeed.

Reading list.

Basic dog stuff

The Ultimate Encyclopedia of Dogs, Dog Breeds, and Dog Care by Peter Larkin amd Mike Stockman

Dogs: A New Understanding of Canine Origin, Behavior and Evolution by Raymond Coppinger

The Genius of Dogs by Brian Hare and Vanessa Woods

The Domestic Dog by James Serpell

Structure and Type

Canine Terminology by Harold Spira

A must have for explanations of terms found in breed standards with drawings of examples.

Horse + Dog Anatomy coloring Book

A lot of popular dog structure maxims are based on horse structure and function. It is a whole other subject on whether that is a valid comparison but it will help to see the anatomy of both.

Solving the Mysteries of Breed Type by Richard Beauchamp

Exceptional book. A thorough overview of type.

Dog Steps by Rachel Page Elliott

structure and movement

An Eye for a Dog by Robert Cole

Tricks of the Trade by Pat Hastings


Book of the Bitch by Evans and White

A classic

Canine Reproduction and Neonatology by Martina Greer

Complete and detailed.

The Dog Breeder's Guide to Successful Breeding and Health Management by Margaret Root Kustritz

She wrote the book on canine reproduction. No, really, she wrote the canine reproduction textbook used by vets. This is a layperson's version.

Breeding programs

Reaching for the Stars by Mary Roslin Williams

The author bred Labradors but the book is exceptional for developing and maintaining a breeding program. Out of print.

Born to Win, Breed to Succeed. by Patricia Craige Trotter

Breed history

Australian Barkers and Biters by Robert Kaleski

Yes, he is dated and a bit cuckoo but it is the earliest writings we have on the breed which means you can get cuckoo theories in print with some breed history vs cuckoo theories from a random friend at a dog show who heard it from someone else that was told it by someone else that maybe read about it somewhere, can't remember where.

The First Five Years by Donn and Deborah Harling.

American dogs the first five years after AKC acceptance

Oldtimers by Cheryl Edwards

A nice compilation of breed history and photos and information about Australian breeders.

A Dog Called Blue by Noreen Clark

A well-researched compilation of the history of the ACD including color coat genetics

The Complete Australian Cattle Dog by John and Mary Holmes

The Holmes had the first ACD litter whelped in the UK and many years with the breed.

Training and Working Dogs for Calm Confident Control of Stock by Scott Lithgow

The Kelpie by Tony Parsons

Yes, a kelpie book but also touches on cattle dog history and a lot of good information on breeding for work.


Thanks to Sam Adams, Charlotte Hince and Erin Eckert who provided feedback and book recommendations!

Part 2, Get You Some Friends, coming later.

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