Popular Sire Syndrome

Hamiltonstovare in Sweden and in Norway do not have Popular Sire Syndrome because the sires are limited to how many litters that they can produce in their lifetime. In other countries, that isn’t the case. In the UK nearly every single Hamiltonstovare born in the UK can trace their lineage back to Fredmarkens Karat, mine are no exception. Popular Sire Syndrome does not cause any sort of disease by itself, but the potential for disease increases. UK bred Hamiltonstovare have been extremely lucky in that case. For years, the UK breed population has been so closed off from Sweden that it was scary. A few breeders have brought over new dogs or brought over semen to use to existing dogs, which probably has helped the breed from complete ruin in the UK. Those breeders in the UK that have not infused with new blood, you can tell, they look so far removed from Swedish and Norwegian blood that they could be considered a variety within a breed.

The problem with popular sire syndrome has reared its head in the breed in Australia. All of the Australian dogs are extremely closely related and none are fresh Swedish or Norwegian bloodlines. As such, epilepsy is in the breed in Australia. The breed population in Australia is in complete ruin because of many factors other than the health issues that have come up from such a closed and isolated population.

In the US, we are just starting out so we have the benefit of looking at lessons learned from the UK and Australia. I know personally, my plan is to infuse as much new blood as possible within my line. Within the US, the breed suffers from popular sire syndrome as it is based on a percentage of population. At least 6 dogs within the US are sired by Kilcavan Just William WW08, with 6 dogs sired by 1 sire in the US that is over 10% of the entire population of the breed in the US that are full siblings, half siblings or grandchildren of one sire. So my mission in breeding the future is that every single litter for the next 5 years or so will be AI litters from Swedish or Norwegian sires that are complete outcrosses to my foundation.

Hamiltonstovare are not unique in this, it is very much alive in other breeds such as Hungarian Vizsla in the UK (thanks to the Crufts BIS winner siring over 100 dogs in a very short time). It happens in show Beagles in America almost on a regular schedule and almost every show Beagle in America can trace back to Dickens, a sire that produced over 100 Champions about 30+ years ago. I have been studying show beagle pedigrees in the US since 1998 and I have noticed a few things and that is that the majority of the show beagle population is related to a few sires. Luckily, the health issues in Beagles are very low so the impact is purely aesthetically mainly. The prolific sires in beagles are Ch. Shaw’s Spirit of the Chase, Ch. Winkist A Walk in the Park (Parker), and currently GCh Ch. Bridgehill’s Mr Mason’s Misbehavin’ (Mason). All three dogs are incredible beagles and are thankfully very healthy dogs. The problem comes in the show ring if somebody brings in a dog that is sired by a rarely used bloodline it is very likely that the dog will look different from the dogs in the ring now that are grandchildren of Parker. Parker is a very distinctive looking Beagle and he typically produced dogs with characteristic front assembly and tail. So if you look at Beagle pedigrees now, the majority that are out in the show ring now are related to him directly or indirectly. Mason is being used very well. He is a nice dog that has produced incredible examples of the breed. Some of the resulting puppies that I have seen are a nice combination.

Popular sire syndrome is something that is very understandable, people want to breed to the winner of the moment to hopefully produce something like that dog or better. The problem is that maybe that sire might not suit the bitch that he is being bred to, so random faults can just crop up or things that looked amazing on him are terribly out of proportion on the puppies. I’ve noticed with Beagles especially, that popular sires don’t start off that way, they wait to see what he produces and then pounces. With Parker for example, he is famous for siring Uno (who won BIS at Westminster), so when Uno was showing and then after he won, everybody wanted another Uno. The problem with that is that Uno’s breeder did not get lucky. She bred Parker to Secret for a series of very valid reasons that really worked like magic on a lot of the puppies produced from that breeding.

Popular sire syndrome tends happen from breeders who are very well intentioned but want the easy way out. They say “well it worked here, so it should work with me…” It isn’t that easy. It takes pedigree research for both sire and dam, it means being completely honest about the bitch and the sire. For example, with Alice’s litter by Rolo, even though it was an accident they do complement each other well. Alice has a weak front in that her upper arm bone needs a bit more length, she has a slipped right hock and her stop is a bit shallow. Alice also has wonderful proportions, smooth side gait, showy personality, correct size, incredible tail carriage and shape. Rolo is a bit long, has a harsher expression, weaker feet and his tail-set is too high. Rolo also has incredible balance of front and rear angles, nice hocks, an incredible front, and a wonderful personality that is so full of life. So both have pluses and minuses in places where they can help the other out. That is very rare and generally doesn’t work that well. Most breeders will say “my bitch has faults x, y and z, but I will work on fixing x first, then y later and then z as the generations progress.” For Alice’s next litter that’s what I am doing, Lillebror has great balance and lovely temperament, he is very similar to Rolo but Lillebror has a nicer head. Sometimes, the faults hide back in a few generations and you can get blown away by them. For example, Rolo’s father is VERY long in body compared to other Hamiltons his height. That is something that one generation isn’t going to fix. That trait takes generations to fix, and very rarely do you get lucky. William’s granddaughters, Raven and Selene prove that. Selene has the body proportions of her mother almost to a T. Raven is the progression of getting to a better proportion. Raven still is a bit long but she isn’t as bad as previous generations before.

Regarding popular sire syndrome, I think the stud owner of nice stud dogs should also be a skilled breeder that has the gumption to turn down bitches that will not complement. With Rolo, that is exactly what I am doing, I want him to make the best impact possible on the breed as a whole. I know that his brother, Kilcavan Master Jemmerly, has been used a few times, so that helps in seeing what tends to dominate through the sire side of a pedigree.

The main point about breeding purebred dogs is that breeders should focus on bettering the breed in three crucial areas, conforming to the breed standard, improving on health, and improving on temperament. To me a good breeder should be able to say beyond a shadow of a doubt with every breeding that is what they are doing, if you can do that by using a popular sire of your given breed then by all means do it. However, if using that popular sire could give you puppies that are not structurally sound, which is a cornerstone of health, then never breed to that sire.

Please remember, that I am going off of my personal opinions and experiences. I decided to not touch on anecdotal evidence of the negative impacts of popular sire syndrome because that should be blatantly obvious, you breed to a dog that has a health problem and you just might get that health problem in your line.