Page 244 - ShowSight - November 2019
P. 244

                AKC Breeder of the Year 2019 Q & A
“I don’t have much trouble finding good homes for pet and performance dogs but I do go to a lot of trouble to vet the owners. As for show, I would rather place a lovely dog in a pet home than have it go to a show home I feel doesn’t have their priorities straight.”
 show in conformation. I don’t want to see any split arise between working dogs and show dogs as has happened in so many breeds. Our breed is built the way they are because of the unique job they did as wilderness herders. The double-suspension gallop and ability to scramble over rough terrain pre-adapted them for agility. Their alertness and wariness are what make them so fast, so responsive in so many performance events, so ready to change course and think at high speed while working with their human partners. And why they tend to bond to their family to the exclusion of others outside their pack. When novices spend so much in travel costs, etc just to have their exhibit dismissed for correct breed-specific behavior and correct rustic appearance, they quickly become disillusioned and go back to more familiar territory, or simply go home. It’s a vicious circle because the fewer novice/ordinary people compete, the more the judges see only professionally presented dogs or those presented by very experienced breeder/owners, so the higher the bar gets for how slick a dog has to look to compete. I see this not only in the US but in France as well where I’ve seen several super typey dogs in recent years showing only in agility. When I ask why the dog isn’t in conformation, they say they’re not interested in throwing money away.
Do I use a handler or prefer to show myself? This is the first year since breed recognition that I haven’t campaigned a dog with a han- dler. Usually I have at least one out since I can’t get to enough shows. But I do like to go see the dog shown fairly often and this year I’ve spent almost as much time out of the country as in and gave it a break! I do enjoy seeing a dog in his prime so well presented! And of course it’s a pleasure to see them do so well in higher competition! Though I have won the occasional Group myself, everyone knows handlers are more likely to achieve top honors—and not only for political reasons but because they are gifted at bringing out the dog’s best qualities both physically and behaviorally.
I enjoy showing my own dogs and am often in and out of the ring with at least half a dozen at any given show, but the dogs that live with me just aren’t trained to give that extra performance it takes to compete at the highest levels. I also do enjoy presenting them in the traditional manner where the dog isn’t baiting but is at the end of the lead looking alertly off into the distance in any direc- tion—often with one rear foot further back than the other, which adds to the rise over the loin. That gives the true look the breed should have. But it does look a bit hodge-podge to judges less versed in Pyrenean lore. I feel I’m always doing a bit of judges education every time I take a dog in. I was so gratified to win BOB at West- minster this year showing my own dog and the highly respected herding breed expert judge specified “she’s not the best “show” dog, but she’s the best dog!”
How many dogs do I normally maintain? I usually have about 15 at the house but I’m lucky to have been able to work with many others to help cultivate a kind of consortium of people working together to maintain quality in the breed over the past 30 years. A substantial effective breeding population size is required to produce the variation needed—not just to address health issues but so you can maintain quality though selectively breeding to dogs that are typey and produce well. Not only conformation people participate but performance and even pet people. I frequently retain the right to breed even to dogs placed in pet homes if they are of high quality.
I often place otherwise top show quality dogs in pet homes where they will have undivided attention, etc. Why keep a dog for four years just to breed it one time. That way they live great lives and bring so much joy to people and yet aren’t lost to the gene pool.
When do I pick a show prospect and what’s the most important attribute in my choice? Perhaps one of the best individual dogs I ever bred went to a pet home and was neutered. When the people brought him to visit at age four, my jaw hit the ground. But I can’t complain, he had a great life. And I’m lucky enough to have plenty more where that came from! The littermates were nearly as good. If it ever comes down to one single dog being the saving grace of the breed’s future, then that future is not to be. (And for that reason I have stopped freezing semen as well.)
I generally pick top show prospects at birth. The national spe- cialty winner kind of dog that exudes type and is built the way they should be with head and neck and shoulder and length of body. After that it’s a waiting game to see if they grow up the way they should, which they generally do. Another important moment for me is five weeks. If they don’t look absolutely super at five weeks, then they move on. Not necessarily out of the gene pool, but they don’t need to live at my house.
Do I have trouble placing pets and show prospects? I’m spoiled. I don’t have much trouble finding good homes for pet and perfor- mance dogs but I do go to a lot of trouble to vet the owners. As for show, I would rather place a lovely dog in a pet home than have it go to a show home I feel doesn’t have their priorities straight. I do make mistakes but I’m content to err on the side of caution. I have a website and also maintain both a personal FaceBook page and one for the kennel—which has 2,000 followers. I also put the occasional ad on AKC Marketplace. But mainly it’s word of mouth and owners who come back for multiple dogs.
Who was my most impactful Mentor? In the US, Whitney and Nancy Coombs. I’ve been so lucky to learn so much from them. Not only about dogs but about caring for the sport. They opened their home and hearts to this breed early on and that has made all the difference. I may not always achieve it but their message is loud and clear: have a plan and follow through. The most memorable moment was rather Socratic. I remember it like it was yesterday. In a quiet moment the day after I won my 10th National Specialty, Nancy named off the three most spectacular dogs I ever produced, and she asked in her solemn, searching way “How are you going to follow that? Where do you go from here? What exactly are you going to do next?” I felt humbled. I had to admit I simply didn’t know. When it came down to brass tacks, I had no plan. Those dogs were widely acknowledged internationally as nearly perfect. There was no room to go up, only lots of room to go downhill. It was scary. And that moment galvanized my resolve to maintain that level and expand it to more dogs and share them more widely. To not let that quality slip.
My primary mentor, the man I got my foundation stock from and have probably thought about nearly every day of my life since I was 14 years old, is Guy Mansencal in France. Now 90 years old, he was at one point one of only six FCI all round judges in France. But more than that he is a world treasure. Someone who really under- stands the essence of breed type as an abstract concept. I have prob- ably learned as much from hearing him discuss the unique type
242 • ShowSight Magazine, noveMber 2019

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