I was born into a family of dog people. My parents owned Lhasa Apsos that were bred for conformation, and they managed to earn various obedience titles with these dogs (quite a feat for work with that breed!). When I was 10 years old, they allowed me to take in the first of two seeing-eye guide dogs puppies. I raised each pup for the first year of its life, after which they were returned to the guide dog school. I made plenty of mistakes on those guide dogs, but I also learned how to handle large, powerful puppies and how to train using the "jerk and release" method that was the standard of the era. After I had raised a Labrador and a Golden Retriever for the guide-dog organization, I was allowed, at the age of 12 years, to choose a dog for myself, on the condition that I chose a small breed.
Well, that constraint limited my options, given that I was already an avid fan of AKC obedience, and I wanted a dog who would be a good prospect for that work. I finally settled on Shelties, a breed of hardy, happy little dogs that enjoyed work (or at least did well with it). It never occurred to me that I should look for a breeder whose line of dogs was specifically developed to excel at obedience; in reality, pups selected as "obedience dogs" were usually those in a given litter who were not "show quality," as judged strictly by conformation (looks). So, my next few dogs were Shelties, with whom I earned various obedience titles and awards. With my final Sheltie, I switched my training methods also, to use more motivational techniques — I was pleased with the increased enthusiasm that resulted. In 1992, cancer claimed that Sheltie, and I was without a dog for the first time in many years.
By then, I owned a house, and I was ready for a large dog. I had always admired animals who could do "work," so I began my search by eliminating any breed that I did not think could excel in at least one or two dog sports. I was fascinated by the protection sports and herding looked like fun too. I read through the AKC's "Complete Dog Book" with care, and concluded that the only suitable breeds for me — the only ones that met all my requirements for appearance, health, and working ability — were the Belgian Shepherds. I began my search for either a Belgian Sheepdog (the Belgian with a long, solid black coat) or a Belgian Tervuren (brown coat with the black overlay) puppy. I sought a dog bred for work, rather than show; the only breeders I was able to locate who emphasized working ability in their breeding program had Belgian Tervuren. I eventually purchased my first dog, Justin, from Sharol and Sean Hathaway (HR Belgian Tervuren). Thus began my love affair with the Belgian Shepherd, Tervuren variety.
Justin set my standards for what I expect in a Belgian Shepherd. He performed well in every sport I offered him, and he was a joy to live with. I now realize how lucky I was to find such an excellent working dog, as many Tervuren that I have met since do not work well, and are unable to do the protection sports that I enjoy.
When I brought Justin home, I decided to use the motivational training techniques I had adopted with my last Sheltie. Justin thrived on a thoughtful combination of motivation and occasional light force.
Justin helped me to recognize that my goal in breeding would be a "jack of all trades" dog with a strong emphasis in the traits valued for protection sports. Initially, I had hoped to find suitable breeding stock from show line breeders. After many years of searching, I concluded that the temperament I wanted would be difficult to find or reproduce consistently from dogs bred primarily for the show ring, so I turned to working-line dogs.
My current competition dogs, Cisu and Raika, both carry 100% working pedigrees. Cisu, a Finnish import from kennel Tarkatan, is 2.5 years old and titled in schutzhund, tracking, and obedience while also competing infrequently in AKC agility. Raika, my homebred two year old girl, is well on her way to becoming my next competition dog. Both dogs will play a significant role in my breeding program.
In addition to training professionally I've teamed up with a fellow Belgian lover to start a small business called The Dog Athlete, which specializes in canine nutritional supplementation and physical conditioning products.
Given my intense interest in breeding and competing with Belgian Tervuren, I am fortunate to have a spouse who loves the dogs.
I've had dogs all of my life, of various sizes, shapes, and colors. My family almost always had a dog who served as our companion, but showing and competing with dogs does not particularly interest me. After I retire, I look forward to training one of the Sprite puppies to be a Search and Rescue dog. In the meantime, my role in our breeding program is to expose the dogs to as many situations as possible to help them become well-adjusted adults.
I bring the viewpoint of a "regular person" — I'm well aware of the temperament that a dog needs to have to be a great companion. I expect a dog to be obedient, willing to please, and eager to try new things, and I have little tolerance for skittish, nervous dogs. I love having the dogs, and look forward to each litter of puppies.
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