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  • Writer's pictureTim Hackworth

Outcrossing in a Breeding Program

When I mention the predictability I get from linebreeding, or breeding close, it’s important to understand outcrosses are generally much less predictable.  I like to outcross to another FAMILY, preferably one whose pedigrees demonstrate close breeding like mine do.  Outcrosses introduce so many variables – scatter the genetics – that I personally hate them, and will only outcross when there is a trait I desire to have in my hounds that I can only get elsewhere.  Sometimes you can modify your own hounds by selectively breeding within your own lines and selecting for a particular needed trait, but a good outcross can often give you that trait much quicker, although you may have to weed through undesirables in the process.  None of us live forever, so the quick route, although often painful, may be necessary.

I spent the first 20+ years I was breeding my strain of hounds by outcrossing often.  I was collecting the bloodlines I wanted in my hounds, and these lines were often unrelated.  But these last 25 or so years, I have seldom bred outside my own kennel, therefore concentrating the lines I have, and I believe the puppies I get today are superior and more consistent in quality than those I produced years ago.  This reinforces my belief that close breeding can produce good results, if done carefully over time, with strict culling of defects.

I believe culling is never more important than with outcrosses – sometimes you may have to discard an entire litter and go another route in trying to get that trait(s) you want.  But often, if you choose your outcross carefully, including research into the background of that new line, at least SOME of the offspring will give you what you desire.

The real question is what to do next.  Planning, thinking ahead, is so important in hound breeding.  As they say, “Failure to plan is planning to fail”.  If your outcross is successful and you wish to incorporate the gains into your line, how to do that?  My method is what most would recommend, and that is to select the hound where the improvement is most notable and then breed it in the next generation right back into your old line, in an attempt to retain the new improvement(s) and yet maintain your own “type” of hound.  I generally breed back into my hounds for several successive generations, as long as things are going well and the hounds from that line continue to suit my tastes.

My favorite method for outcrossing is to use a partial outcross, in other words to use a hound related to mine in part of his/her pedigree, but containing another family whose trait(s) I desire in his pedigree as well.  This makes it easier to maintain my type, add new traits, and allows me to have enough genetic diversity in the kennel so that everything is not so closely related that I am boxed into a corner breeding-wise.  I have used this partial outcross method several times through the years and it’s really the only way of outcrossing that I like.

Good advice, I think, is to stick with a family of hounds and never outcross as long as things are going well, then do it carefully, even to the point of keeping your own lines going concurrently with the outcross offspring, in case you need to discard the outcross as a failure.  You don’t want to get into a situation where all you have in young hounds in your kennel are hounds from that outcross, only to discover too late that you have to reverse course for some reason.  Don’t put “all your eggs in one basket” so to speak, and give yourself room to wiggle out.  It can take years to fully evaluate an outcross, and you can lose the type you have spent years creating if you aren’t careful.

I knew a young fellow awhile back who had acquired a line bred female and liked her, but when he decided to breed her, instead of staying with her family, he bred he to an entirely new family, thereby creating an open pedigree and scattering whatever genetics he had.  He really couldn’t explain why he did it, except to say he liked the dog he bred to.  That’s not enough reason for me to leave what is working!  There is a difference between being a breeder and a puppy producer…

Photo: Stavemill's Roper Joe - a good example of a successful recent partial outcross for the Woodpont strain...sire of Rooster and Robin.

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