Breeding a Westminster Winner

Winning the Westminster Kennel Club Dog Show takes luck, money, training, conditioning, handling talent, advertising – and at the center of it all, a good dog.

By | Posted: February 9, 2012, 1 p.m EST

Before that dog stands next to the famous purple-and-gold Westminster Best-in-Show rosette, before it can even stride around Madison Square Garden’s green carpet, it has to totter around a whelping box. How do you breed a Westminster winner?

Making Mick

In 2002, a Kerry Blue Terrier named Mick (Ch. Torum’s Scarf Michael) took the American Kennel Club show world by storm when he came to the United States. Fresh from winning BIS at Crufts in England, he quickly became the No. 1 dog of all breeds in America, capping his career with the 2003 Westminster BIS. Both Mick’s sire and dam traced back to an influential male (Torum’s Mr. Dooley) and, in the words of Ron Ramsey of Birkenhead, Merseyside, U.K., who breeds with his wife, Carol, “We felt that the connection could produce something good!”

By 6 months old, Mick already “had a presence, even on the grooming table,” Ramsey says. “On the ground, he moved with great drive and purpose.” In addition to Mick, the cross produced a brother that was Finland’s No. 2 dog of all breeds and another that was the U.K.’s top terrier and reserve BIS at Crufts. Both he and Mick are behind many champions and top-winning lines in Ireland, the U.K. and America. Mick has more than 60 champion offspring and is the No. 2 all-time top AKC Kerry Blue Terrier sire.

Rufus the Bull Terrier

Revved-up Rufus

In 2006, Rufus (Ch. Rocky Top’s Sundance Kid) the Colored Bull Terrier strutted away with the big prize. Rufus was from an outcrossed litter (from frozen semen from Germany) in which four of the five puppies earned their Register of Merit (ROM) titles. His owner, Barbara Bishop of Holmdel, N.J., says she knew he was special at first sight: “That puppy was magical.” 

Rufus has continued to work magic as a sire, twice named the Bull Terrier Club of America stud dog of the year with many champions worldwide and a son that’s the top sire in the U.K. Bishop cautions Bull Terrier breeding isn’t just about show wins. “Since the breed originally came from a very small gene pool, Bull Terrier breeders must be conscientious about health problems. Breeding stock must be tested and monitored.” Bishop’s advice for winning Westminster is practical: “It’s a rough road to travel, especially in a breed like Bull Terriers. For blue-collar people like ourselves, if we didn’t have our backer [who provides financial backing for a dog’s show career], Dottie Cherry, to help with advertising and handler’s fees we never could have kept going. Dog showing is expensive; it’s easy to breed a good dog, it’s the other costs that are hard – especially when you get up to the Westminster level.”

Sadie the Scottish Terrier

Splendid Sadie

Rufus and Mick were the first of their breeds to win BIS at Westminster, but the 2010 winner, Sadie (Ch. Roundtown Mercedes of Maryscot), was the eighth Scottish Terrier to go to the top. Her breeder, Cindy Cooke of AnStamm Scottish Terriers in Kalamazoo, Mich., points out that breeding Scottish Terriers involves some special challenges.  “First is temperament,” she says. “A Scottie must be willing to challenge any dog, but not be aggressive with people. Breeders walk a fine line to breed such a dominant spirit without breeding dogs no one can live with.”

According to Cooke, the front comes next. Scotties must have well-laid-back shoulders, long upper arms, short (and preferably straight) forelegs, tight elbows and a deep, wide chest. 

“The third challenge,” Cooke says, “is to resist the urge to breed ‘square’ ultra-short-backed dogs which are popular with many judges, when our standard calls for a rectangular dog.”

To meet these challenges, Cooke weighed both pedigree and phenotype. “Sadie’s dam, Ch. Maryscot Painted Black, was an outcross, so we selected a linebred dog for her,” Cooke says. “We chose Sadie’s sire, Ch. Anstamm Like A Rock, because he was linebred on the grandsire of Painted Black, and because he was such a super show dog himself.” Offspring from repeat litters have finished their championships with multiple specialty wins.

Cooke reports Sadie dazzled everyone as soon as she could walk. “It was partly her conformation – beautiful head, correct outline and sound movement – and partly her personality. She was a very independent spirit, confident and full of herself.”  Sadie has had one litter to date, with the offspring still young, but “very promising,” according to Cooke.

Cooke’s shares advice for breeding a Westminster winner: “In the words of Vince Lombardi, ‘Perfection is not attainable, but if we chase perfection, we can catch excellence.’”

Hikory the Scottish Deerhound

Hickory’s Victory

In 2011, another Scottish lass, the Deerhound Hickory (GCh. Foxcliffe Hickory Wind), won the big one – the first Scottish Deerhound to do so. Her breeder, Cecilia Dove, says both careful selection, along with a vision of a perfect Deerhound, were behind her litter.

“We had greatly admired Hickory’s aunt, Ch. Thistleglen Margot, a very special bitch who won the Hound Group at Westminster in 2006. Dove discovered Margot had a brother, Thistleglen Newell, who turned out to be the perfect compliment for Hickory’s dam, Foxcliffe Summoning Charms.” Dove also took into consideration the inbreeding coefficient – a relatively low 7.5 percent – which most geneticists believe should be low for health reasons.

“It was obvious at an early age that the puppies had lovely type and perfect movement,” Dove says. “These proved to be Hickory’s great strengths.” Several littermates are champions, with a brother winning a regional specialty. Both he and another sister have produced champion offspring. Hickory recently birthed her first litter, so time will tell if another superstar is afoot.

Breeding Scottish Deerhounds takes planning beyond choosing mates, Dove says. “Most important is having the time, space and resources required to grow out large breed sighthounds. It requires a tremendous amount of dedication to raise Scottish Deerhounds to reach their full potential.”
Dove’s advice for winning Westminster is simple: “Breed the best to the best and hope for the best. It’s a lifetime commitment of hard work that is worth every minute.”  That’s true even if you never get to Westminster.

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