Seven Secrets of Show Dog Success

Part 6: Be a Kennel

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More than once at a dog show, an owner would approach us and ask, "When are you going to let me win?” Typically, it’s a dog owner who has one dog that they have purchased and they are trying to show it themselves in the ring.

One woman was persistent and Cathy tried to explain that we had been doing this for 25 years and we had several dogs competing in the ring, including dogs belonging to other breeders who had been bred to our dogs. At a recent dog show, nearly 40 percent of the Portuguese Water Dog entry were Aviator dogs or the product of Aviator dogs. This didn’t happen overnight.

There have been examples of owners having one great dog that did very well in the show ring and then disappeared from view. They were owners, not dog breeders or a kennel. One great dog will not produce generations of great dogs unless you have a breeding plan, some sense of what you want to produce, mentors to guide your way and a kennel that supports and promotes your breed and your brand.

When you watch Westminster or any big dog show, you’ll notice that the winners are almost always descendants of many other champions developed from breeders and kennels working together for years.

Patricia Craige Trotter’s fabulous book Born To Win, Breed To Succeed is the bible of dog breeders who are serious about their craft. We highly recommend it. Pat’s comprehensive approach to breeding and competing is informative and funny, too. She has the sense of realism and humor about our sport that comes from decades of success.

In her book, Pat talks about the days of dog kennels, even here in the US, that were reminiscent of thoroughbred horse farms in their grandness and expense. Those days are largely gone as the sport has expanded and brought in new owners and breeders. Few of us can afford that level of cost and new models of successful kennels have been developed instead.

What does it mean to be a kennel?
Today, most dog breeders operate small kennels that may have one litter every year or two and raise their litters in their homes. Many of these dog breeders are exceptional and have produced many champions over the years. This is a popular model that will produce the occasional champion. It’s also a fairly low-cost way to be involved in the show dog business. Most homes can be adapted to provide safe, sanitary conditions for dogs to be whelped and raised.

There are also dog breeders who have developed more elaborate facilities to allow them to broaden their dog breeding horizons. In our case, we got lucky. A friend of Cathy’s was a canine research veterinarian at UC Davis. She built a 2-acre property that includes a house and boarding facility with multiple dog runs, dog-proof fencing (mounted in concrete), bathing and exam areas and kennels that could accommodate up at 80 dogs.

Although Cathy had been involved in breeding before, having the right facility helped her become a real kennel. While we have only a few dogs on the property (not even close to 80, thank God!), the facility gives us a lot of flexibility in housing, whelping and training our dogs.

A successful kennel is not just a facility. It’s better defined by the goals and attitudes of the dog breeder who has decided to work long-term to produce outstanding dogs whether they are destined for conformation, water trials, obedience, therapytracking or just being a great pet.

A good definition of a successful kennel would include:
• A planned dog breeding program.
• Generations of successful dogs with each generation building and improving upon the previous ones.
• Multiple champions over the years that provide good choices for future breeding decisions — not just one dog, no matter how great.
• A winning tradition; what does your kennel stand for?
• A facility that supports and enhances the goals and aspirations of the dog breeders and the kennel.
• A marketing program that uses multiple platforms to advance and advertise the kennel to the public and to the fancy.
• Being an AKC Breeder of Merit and adhering to all ethical and professional standards of your breed club and the AKC.
• The personal ability to not think too much about the time and money your program is costing you. (We believe this is called "denial.”)

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