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Common Dog Breeding Misconceptions Explained

Apr 9, 2008
The breeding and keeping of dogs has been cluttered up with as much superstitious trash as has the breeding and rearing of the human animal. The care of dogs has been left largely to uninformed underlings who have wished much of their empiric nonsense upon their betters. Until a comparatively recent time, indeed, science itself has been at little pains to disprove the erroneous ideas which have persisted since the siege of Troy.

We are loath to surrender our pet superstitions. But the world does move.

The particular belief that the heredity of animals is, at least in part, derived from mates to which their dams have produced progeny at some earlier time is known technically as telegony. It is often called "the influence of the previous sire." It is entirely disproved, although it received some credence in biology until recent times.

Indeed, Sir John Millet wrote his Two Problems of Reproduction in part to prove the validity of telegony. In that work he sought to show that stripes on the colt of a certain horse mare by a horse stallion were due to her having produced an earlier colt by a quagga stallion. Not only was the experiment inadequately controlled but it has since been recognized that many true horse colts show vestigial stripes in their early life.

So-called common sense, it may be said, should have convinced us that such a phenomenon is not possible. But common sense is not to be trusted in the face of scientific credence. However, our present knowledge of the genes and chromosomes is adequate to controvert the theory of telegony.

Dog breeders would do well to ignore telegony. Long believed true, it is outmoded and discredited. There are, even now, thousands of practical breeders who yet are unconvinced of its falsity and who believe that they would mongrelize their strain by breeding from a bitch which had had an earlier litter by a dog not of her own variety. Many a good bitch is needlessly eliminated from breeding programs by such ill-founded beliefs, and breeding operations are so hampered.

The discredit of telegony does not imply that a bitch may not produce puppies in one litter some of which may be by one sire and some by another. That she may do so, however, it is necessary that she shall be mated with more than one dog at the single heat.

Another of the widely credited but mistaken beliefs is the one about "prenatal impressions." By that term is meant that the heredity of the progeny is influenced by mental or emotional processes of the dam during her pregnancy.

The world is full of people who explain their birthmarks by the fancied resemblance in the shape of such birthmarks to something which is alleged to have caused an emotional trauma to the pregnant mother. She may have craved strawberries or have seen a mouse, hence the shape of the mark.

If the mother had gone to the circus, might the child have been born with riding boots? It is useless to try to convince persons who harbor such beliefs that they are not true. But the breeder of animals should be made soundly aware that the belief in such "prenatal impressions" is rank superstition.

The ancient Greeks are known to have set up beautiful statues upon which their pregnant women were to gaze for the purpose of bettering the appearance of the children they carried. The fact is that looking at such statues had no effect whatever upon the progeny.

This matter of "pre-natal impressions" is another of the in-cubi of superstition which science lifts from the breeder's shoulders. Let him peel wands or carve statues, as many as he will, his bitches will produce neither better nor worse puppies.

Let us eliminate these two ideas from our belief system and only consider those things which are scientifically true.
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