What does the word “IN-BRED” mean in dogs?

I bet this conjures up a visual image of an extra toe or tail – but it’s MUCH deeper than that if you ask the professional breeder what that term means – and what they mean Yes, really means. Buckle up your “knowledge hungry” part of your brain and here we go into my world!


As breeders, we spend a lifetime building our bloodlines to not only have the AKC breed standard, but health clearances that go back at least 5 generations.

But just like the word “over-bred”, we often hear “in-bred” too! Questions like “You’re not inbreeding, are you?” … oh god …

So there’s the obvious – father bred with daughter, brother bred with sister, mother bred with son, or two dogs bred with a relative in the last 1-2 generations – if done accidentally or on purpose, you can make the most of the best qualities, but you’ll get the worst of the worst most of the time.

Have you ever wondered HOW on earth did humans evolve the tons of races we know today as “thoroughbred”? How did the process take and how did professional breeders revise pedigrees until we practically memorize them? Well, it’s mostly because we know it’s our bitch line (sorry, it’s the exact term for a bitch that is openly used in the show and breeding world, no offense!) this is the most important thing for your breeding program. Especially these days when you can get freshly shipped semen from every champion dog around the world. So this is the purebred breeder’s first job. From these girls the breeder will then select the best of the best stud dogs, who COMPLICATES this girl BEST. For example, if your girl has a slightly soft topline, you need a male with a strong topline to feast on! (I was actually told that once by a breeder judge – funny comment! But still flattering)

As you may know, many breeds have been combined over many years to selectively keep puppies away from the traits they want and breed that generation after generation until you get what you want – CONSISTENTLY. The goal of any professional reputable breeder is predictability and consistency. A throw should not be “all over the board” in terms of size, type or build.

As I attend conferences at Labrador Specialties across the country, I hear seminars from these breeders who have been breeding for over 40-50 years, and some are even second generation – so they did it even longer under the guidance of a parent or mentor. Over and over again we hear the magical “mixture” is Grandfather to granddaughter! That would fall under what we call “line breeding”. Well, obviously this isn’t needed all of the time – or even always possible … and only reserved for the best of the best dogs out there that you really want to keep traits away from. It really is something that is left to the most experienced breeders (and even with 35 years of age under my hat there are others with DOUBLE experience! So I will never stop learning !! and I rely on them for breeding too!)

The problem with the “ideal” is that the girl is sometimes too old before she can mate with her grandson – if we turn the cards over – (also acceptable), just not that easy. It is easier to breed granddaughters with their grandfather because both of them are most likely still alive and in the best age and form of breeding. Or frozen semen can be stored.

But in general we try to breed “type to type” which means that we are not breeding two dogs that are very different. We try to match the “type” or combine characteristics that will produce even better dogs for the next generation! Many of us take notes about puppies we see from stud dogs that we can purchase – AND MATING OUR OWN BREDS, most importantly – to keep detailed records. Or, in our case, we often breed our own stud dogs at Endless Mt. Labradors, as well as selectively and very carefully, by only bringing in certain lines that we know are proven, trust, we have seen their offspring and we know we us off! We don’t want to “confuse” ourselves with the Labrador “guy” here at EML. It is the signature for our kennel. So that takes a lot of planning and thought …

Although it’s great for me to sit down and write about the “theory”, How you do that?

According to veteran, historical, and professional Labrador breeder Mary Roslin Williams, “I think one thing every top breeder will agree on and that is that to produce a good variety of ‘good guys’ you have to graduate of line breeding. “

Mary (left) shows her laboratories in the UK after World War II

We breeders almost hate to step outside of our limits because we never know what another breeder will “let go” and then we would deal with it (really! It’s hard to trust!). This is called “outcrossing” because you are introducing a male dog who does not contain any line or “type” of his own and who does not appear in the bitch’s pedigree for the first 4-5 generations. So you can get the GREAT features you want but not see the hidden “surprises”.

For example, if you breed a field dog with an English lab, you will get purebred labs, but the “guy” would be anywhere. On average, it would take on American laboratory characteristics most of the time, with a few in the middle and maybe one or two resembling the English lines.

Mary continues, “Line breeding is a collection of lines that will result in a known good male or female in 3-4 generations, with the rest of the names being outcross names. A line breed can go back up to 5-6 generations. This is the best practice of all, as long as you are sure of the goodness of the selected male or female you are breeding with. ”(Page 79,“ Reaching for the Stars, ”by Mary Roslin Williams) Mary also mentions, that in the development of many races half a sister was crossed with a half brother, but that too is very rare nowadays! (And not something we would necessarily do)

One of the breed’s most consistent producers, historically.

Inbreeding takes place so seldom more than during the establishment of the purebred breeds. I never hear of this – especially with a breed like the Labrador, which has the largest gene pool of any breed. You’d really have to TRY to breed. It just isn’t necessary and you risk these negative traits to persist.

The mistake of the breeder of the “middle rung” is to breed the “Flavor of the Month” stud dog who is currently winning in the show ring, but has not seen any offspring and has no offspring that were also detected in the show ring (like Mary categorized) Breeders into ‘Beginner, Intermediate and Advanced’) In my experience this brings terrible things with it – often this dog is ONLY bred because it wins – you never hear of the hidden things like its mother’s temperament, entropion, the Color column and so on … Well, I chose the narrow path and don’t do that often at all, unless I’ve known the stud dog’s pedigree for at least 5 generations and it’s LADEN with champions and grand champions.

The following are so sacred words from Mary that I couldn’t just type them – here they are in her own voice: (click the images to enlarge and read)

In summary, I imagine you’ve seen the word “multi-purpose labrador” on our website (www.Pin a Dog) and wondered what it means. That means the Labrador should be able to too All a Labrador does it (and form has to fulfill function). It should look like a labrador should look. His temperament should be classic Labrador. No ifs and ands or (dog) asses about it!

-Donna Stanley, Founder, Endless Mt. Labradors, Aug. 20, 2021

Copyright: Donna Stanley, Endless Mt. Labradors, 2021. Images of Endless Mt. Labradors must be used, noted or referenced with permission. All links in the article must be included when citing any of the EML blogs.

Mary Roslin Williams book “Reaching for the Stars” is available on Amazon!

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