My goal is to produce physically and mentally sound, intelligent, talented Labrador retrievers who conform to the historical standard of the breed. I have elected to try to produce Labs that possess all of the traits required to make a great all-around Lab rather than to breed for show or field trials where success is predicated on a group of highly specialized physical or behavioral traits with little regard to the remaining traits one would expect in a good Lab. If you intend to compete in dog shows or AKC field trials, I recommend that you seek a puppy from someone who specializes in breeding Labs for those specific competitions. On the other hand, if you would like a good looking hunting companion, a hunt test dog, an obedience dog, or a great buddy for you and your family, I think you should come visit us and see what we’re about.
As a hunter, I appreciate drive and desire in a Lab. On the other hand, I don’t think that the average hunter needs the extreme level of drive that is often present in Labs from many of today’s AKC field trial bloodlines. As a Lab lover I appreciate a handsome Lab as much as anybody, but I believe that many of today’s show Labs are so exaggerated in their conformation that the dogs neither resemble the Labrador retriever as he was historically, nor can they function physically in the manner he is intended. As an independent breeder who is not constrained by the opinions and expectations of show judges or field trial judges I am free to create a strain of Labradors who meet my own requirements.
The original AKC field trial bloodlines that I began with go back to two influential dogs of the late 1960’s and the early 1970’s. Blaze’s father was line bred on ’67-’68 NAFC & ’68 NFC Super Chief, while Blaze’s mother was line bred to ’72-’75 NAFC & CNFC River Oaks Corky. Physically, Blaze was very stocky and handsome with a nice head, great otter tail, and a super double coat. Temperamentally, he was self-confident, friendly toward everyone, and a driven retriever. I continued to breed within these lines for a several litters as I was generally well pleased with the results.
Over time I began to realize that the dogs I was producing had too much GO and not enough WHOA for the average amateur trainer, especially those of us who would prefer not to use an electronic training collar. I decided that I should try to outcross to another strain of Lab to moderate the drive and to strengthen some of the physical traits, such as a good dense coat and an otter tail, which I was having trouble maintaining in my line. I was tempted to use show lines to improve the physical traits, but I had concerns over losing hunting desire and scenting ability which is not a priority for most show breeders. Instead I elected to go to the British field bred Lab which has a reputation for being a calmer dog than his American counterpart. British Labs also tend to more closely conform to the breed standard than do many American field Labs.
The outcross with the British field Lab gene-pool resulted in biddable dogs with great noses and game finding ability. There were also some improvements in their physical conformation. But along with these improvements I found that we lost some ground in other areas. My Labs had always been superb marking dogs and I found that I lost a degree of excellence in that area. However, what was of greater concern to me was the loss of a degree of self-confidence which resulted in a tendency for the dogs to be shy or skittish around new people or new situations. My role as a forester takes my dogs into many new and different situations so I value a dog that can take everything in stride, whether it is livestock, farm machinery, barn cats, chainsaws, logging equipment, or my clients and their children or grandchildren.
In my breeding selection I exclude bitches that fail to demonstrate the traits that I value and I seek stud dogs who exemplify my vision of an Orion Labrador retriever. I have not excluded the British field Lab gene-pool from consideration, but I understand that I must be careful to insure that they demonstrate the self-confidence that I believe a Lab should have. Nor have I excluded Labs from AKC field trial bloodlines, but it is not the title I seek; it is natural ability along with proper conformation and common-sense. Typically I look for honest hard working hunting Labs who are hunt test titled. These Labs are arguably the backbone of the breed. They may be less heralded than field trial titled retrievers, but one thing I have learned as a breeder is that we aren’t breeding titles, we are breeding DOGS! As long as a dog can pass his health clearances and demonstrate that he possesses and produces the traits I value there is no reason to exclude him from a breeding program simply because his name isn’t preceded by field trial titles. My goal isn’t to produce Labs for field trial competition, but to produce Labs that can excel in the duck blind, in the upland field, or as a child’s companion. From my perspective, excellence isn’t demonstrated on paper, it is demonstrated in the dog and his ability to meet my expectations of a proper Orion Labrador. In a nutshell, my breeding philosophy is to mate Labs who possess the physical and behavioral traits that exemplify the breed as he was intended, prior to the breed’s divergence into separate strains of “show Labs” and “field trial Labs”. In addition to meeting these criteria the parents must pass health screenings for hips, eyes, elbows, exercise induced collapse (EIC; a genetic disease), and centronuclear myopathy (CNM; a genetic disease). I often select breeding partners with similar physical and behavioral traits, but who are not closely related, rather than breeding related individuals (line-breeding or inbreeding). This method, called Assortative mating, reduces the probability of pairing hidden recessive genes for undesirable traits and tends to produce the desired physical and behavioral traits for which the pair was selected. Using these guiding philosophies I have been producing Labs with great health and longevity who possess the physical and behavior traits that have made the Labrador retriever the favorite breed of hunters and families for decades.