38 years of Dachshund ownership – ask the breeder!
This month marks the 38th anniversary of us getting our first Dachshunds. It’s a neat coincidence that Sue was asked to share her experience in the Miniature Dachshund Club’s latest Newsletter in their “Ask the breeder” piece. For those who aren’t Mini Club members, here are the questions and Sue’s answers.
Ask The Breeder
- How did you first become involved with Dachshunds?
We were living in a flat and wanted a small dog that could be carried up and down stairs easily to be taken out for walks.
- Was your first Dachshund a good specimen and was he/she involved in your first breeding programme?
No. We started off with 2 Min Long litter brothers, purely as pets, but their breeder encouraged us to start showing them, and it was at our first show we saw a Standard Wirehaired Dachshund and determined to have one when we moved to a house with a garden.
- Which was your first show Dachshund and what made you want to exhibit?
Our first show dachshund was a Standard Wirehaired bitch ‘Watermans Whistling Song’, obtained on breeding terms from Sue Owen (Watermans). She was a daughter of her two home-bred Champions Watermans Whispering Pines and Watermans Bagatelle – a half-brother/half-sister mating, which would no doubt be frowned upon these days! We had enjoyed attending shows with our Min Longs, although they were not that successful. We liked meeting people with the same interest and had started to make friends in the breed. I wanted a show-quality dachshund to be able to compete successfully and with a view to breeding a litter in the future.
- In the beginning, which lines influenced you the most and why?
I admired the Watermans dogs of Sue Owen for their style, overall look, and showmanship in the ring, and also the beautifully presented Verwill Wires of Veronica Trim for their lovely breed type, conformation and correct, harsh-textured wire coats.
- Where does your affix originate from?
When I started breeding, the Kennel Club rules about obtaining an affix had just been changed and you needed to have bred a dog which had won 1st at a Championship show with CCs on offer, in Post Grad or above. The dog we kept and showed from our first ever litter was named ‘Sunsong Boy’, taking the ‘Sun’ from his father’s name (Ch. Watermans Sunburst) and the ‘Song’ from his mother (Watermans Whistling Song). I entered him in Puppy, Junior and Post Grad at SWKA Ch. Show and amazingly he won all 3 classes and went on to get the CC! This, of course, then meant that he was entered in the Kennel Club Stud Book and his name was then unchangeable as a result. Hence we abandoned all our other preferred choices and went with ‘Sunsong’ as our affix.
- What do you look for in a stud dog?
I want a dog that excels in the points the bitch I want to mate is lacking in, but he must also have a high level of overall quality. Usually that means using an existing Champion, or sometimes a young dog with the potential quality to be made up. It is all a compromise though, as the perfect dog has yet to be born! Even Champions have features that could be improved on.
Inevitably there will be dogs in the potential stud dog’s pedigree that have issues or features that I don’t like, which is where some degree of compromise is needed. It is helpful if the dog has already sired offspring which have appeared in the ring and you can see which good and less good points he transmits to his progeny.
Of course, I also want the stud dog to have a reasonable temperament and good health, although owners are not always totally honest about problems in their dogs or problems produced by their dogs, sadly.
For me, the physical appearance and quality of the dog’s offspring are more important than the pedigree. You can have the best pedigree on paper (e.g. mating 2 Champions together) but they don’t always come up with the goods in real life!
- What do you consider makes a good brood bitch?
She doesn’t need to be a top show winner. Some of my most successful winners have been produced from bitches that never hit the heights in the show ring. She should be relatively free of serious conformational faults, although if there is one feature she lacks strength in, provided you pick a dog that excels in the point she fails in (e.g. lack of hind angulation), you can correct this in some of her offspring. As with the potential stud dog, she should have a reasonable temperament and be in good health.
- How do you select a puppy for the ring and at what age do you eventually think, ‘this is the one’?
I spend hours watching the litter moving about outside in the garden, to observe how they carry themselves and pose themselves naturally when something catches their attention. You can, from 5 weeks onwards, see which ones have the best toplines moving and in stance and this is very important to me. I will not keep and show a pup with a poor topline.
I also start standing the pups on a table every few days, from 5 weeks onwards and I ask Ian to photograph them weekly for me when they are posed like this. It is somehow easier to see both good points and faults when looking at a photo rather than just observing them in real life. When standing them on the table, if they fidget and constantly need either the front legs or hind legs re-positioning, that tells me quickly if they are faulty in front or behind. For example, if they constantly plant one front foot out of line or keep stepping forward with the hind legs they are faulty in this respect and will have this in adulthood. While you can stand an adult carefully in front and hide a problem here, it is difficult to do this with an under-angulated back end, so I would not keep a pup with faulty hindquarters. I feel that faulty hindquarters have a major effect on the topline so this is important to me.
I usually have my eye on a pup I like as early as 5 weeks, and don’t often change my mind. I make the final decision by 8 weeks, but when I have occasionally changed my mind about which one to keep at this age, I quite often find subsequently, that I should have stuck to my original choice!
Of course, in Wires, we have the added complication of the quality of the coat to consider when choosing a pup to keep. Pin Wires and soft fluffies are a ‘no-no’ for the ring!
- What do you feed both your puppies and adults?
Puppies are reared on Royal Canin Mini Starter and then Mini Junior from 7 weeks until about 6 months when they go on to adult food. The adults are currently on ProPlan salmon and rice. Everyone has to eat whatever my Norwegian boy ‘Foxy’ eats, as he is the fussy one!
- Which Dachshund, bred by you, whether successful in the ring or not, is/was your favourite and why?
Sunsong Serendipity, born 1987, pet name ‘Dumpling’. Definitely not show quality, but was one of a litter we hand-reared when the mum died during a caesarean. She had the most fantastic temperament – great with all people, including children, good with other dogs and so loving and affectionate. She inherited the “smiling” gene that some Wires had in those days. She lived until 11 years of age and is behind all my current home-bred dogs.
- How important do you feel presentation is for both the exhibitor and Dachshund?
Not that important for the exhibitor, but best to wear something tidy and comfortable in a colour that complements your dog. When judging, I couldn’t care less what the exhibitors are wearing, to be honest – too busy looking at the dogs!
For the dog, yes, presentation is extremely important, especially in Wires. I am always shocked by how many badly presented and poorly handled dogs appear in the ring when I’m judging. These points are easily fixed and can enhance even average quality dogs. As a judge, my eye is immediately drawn to a beautifully groomed, fit, muscled exhibit handled to advantage. Obviously, the quality of conformation and movement also have to be in evidence for the dog to be a top winner, but good presentation and handling can mean a higher placing when decisions are close between 2 dogs.
- What advice would you give to novice and sometimes experienced handlers when showing their dachshunds?
Practice standing your dog at home in front of a mirror or glass doors to see how the dog looks to the judge. Alternatively, get a friend to take photos of you handling your dog. Try not to fuss the dog too much by constantly re-positioning it. If you are able to stand in front of the dog and show the outline off to the judge, either with bait, or unobtrusively holding the head, this is so impressive. The judge wants to see the dog stood as naturally as possible, unobscured by the handler. Encourage the dog to move out smartly, with the head up to show the movement off to best advantage. Again, practice this at home or even in your local park. Maybe get a friend to video this too.
- What other kennels do you admire both here in the UK and abroad and why?
In Wires, I have admired some of the dogs from the Silvae, Tendrow and Derochaise kennels. All 3 have a distinct, recognisable type and exhibit dogs with a high level of quality of conformation and movement. In my 2nd variety (Min Smooths) I have admired dogs from the Carpaccio and Siouxline kennels, again for the reasons above.
Abroad, I admire the Wires from the Larhjelm kennel in Norway (breeder Lars Hjelmtvedt). They have a high level of quality of conformation, excellent coats and correct breed type. No over-exaggerated hindquarters in these dogs!
- What is the secret to maintaining your bloodlines? What is the maximum number of dachshunds you have ever had?
I never keep more than 6 adults as I can’t walk more than this number (2 off-lead walks with 3 at a time), and they all live in the house. I try to have one, or at most two litters from my current show bitches to keep my line going, and will only breed when I want something new to show. I do retire some of my bitches into pet homes to be able to keep showing and bringing on youngsters, and I have made some great friends with people who have had older ones from us over the years.
- Which, in your opinion, was the best Dachshund bred by you and why?
Ch. Sunsong Wish Upon A Star (born 2010). She comes closest to my ideal for size, correct length to height ratio and good ground clearance. Her angulation in front and behind was correct and in balance, she had a firm, level topline, and an attractive, feminine head and expression, all topped off with a good, harsh coat. The only thing I would have liked to improve on was her temperament (a bit nervous, and sharp with other dogs), but you can’t get it all in the one dog!
- With your knowledge and experience, what is your view on the Dachshunds of today compared with when you first started?
In general, I think we see fewer over-long, low and heavy dogs, lacking in ground clearance and with laboured movement. We have a more middle-of-the-road type which compare favourably to Dachshunds in other countries now. New bloodlines have been brought in and have improved the quality of conformation and movement in all varieties.
- How do you see the future of the breed?
I think the future of the breed is bright, as it is now possible easily to introduce new bloodlines from abroad that can improve on features we lack in this country. However, some caution needs to be exercised in this respect too. In my own breed (Wires), we are in danger of one kennel from overseas dominating every breeding line in this country, and it will soon become impossible to find dogs without this particular line to use for breeding, as this kennel has also exported dogs to Europe and Scandinavia and it is throughout the breed in these countries too.
- What piece of advice would you consider most valuable to someone new to the fancy?
Try to make friends with lots of different people in your breed and don’t get closely involved with one little clique. That way you will get a variety of different opinions on the dogs being shown. Watch all the judging of your breed, and ask about anything you are unsure of or need explaining. Most experienced breeders are happy to help newcomers, but choose a moment when they are not about to go into the ring! Regarding handling and presentation, again, watch what the most successful exhibitors do and try to copy them. Don’t be afraid to ask for advice. Take any chance you are offered to go and see litters of pups, especially if you can view them with an experienced breeder. This is great for learning how to grade pups according to quality, and helps develop your ‘eye’ for the breed.
- What was your proudest moment with your Dachshunds?
Making up my first ever Champion at Crufts 1995. Ch. Sunsong Witching Hour.
- What ambitions remain?
It would be lovely to achieve a General Championship show Hound Group place with one of my Wires.
- How many Champions have you bred and which one would you single out as having contributed most to the breed?
3 home-bred Champions (& 1 Norwegian import). By virtue of being a male, my chocolate boy Ch. Sunsong Whisper A Promise (Cadbury) has contributed most to the breed, with a Champion daughter and other CC and Reserve CC winning progeny. He has also helped to re-introduce the chocolate and tan colour back into the Wires.
- Name three Dachshunds that, in your opinion, were the finest specimens that you have seen and why?
From my early days in the Wires I remember Ch. Jarthley Nabob. Built on flowing lines, he was so correctly constructed throughout, with a beautiful head and expression, long neck flowing into correctly placed shoulders, lovely body shape and correctly angulated hindquarters with a good bend of stifle. He excelled in correct parallel action up and back and held a lovely shape in profile movement also. He was ahead of his time, I feel, as this was at a time when many Wires lacked angulation at both ends, especially hind angulation. I think he could still win well today.
Also from my early days in Wires I was very impressed with Ch. Verwill Oakholly. Although she was on the large side for a bitch, she was also beautifully constructed with a clean, reachy neck and correctly angulated shoulders and upper arm. Another who impressed for her harmonious and balanced angulation at both ends, and all topped with an immaculately presented, correct, harsh coat that is increasingly rarely seen in the breed today.
Finally, coming up to date, with an outstanding dog I awarded Best of Breed to when I judged Wires at Crufts 2014, Multi Champion Treis Pinheiros Matisse. Another beautifully constructed dog built on flowing lines and of absolutely correct size (not too big). This dog really excelled on the move. I will always remember him powering round the ring with effortless movement, striding out on a long lead ahead of his clever handler. He had such an impressive outline in stance also, with well placed shoulders, good body shape and topline, with excellent hind angulation. A big winner in Scandinavia and Europe, it was a privilege to be able to judge him.
- Where in the world have you judged this breed and do you think that our Dachshunds here compare favourably?
Although I have received invitations to judge abroad, I have not been able to accept them as I have had 5 big operations on my spine and am unable to sit for long periods of time to be able to fly overseas sadly.