Australian Terrier Q & A


  • March 18, 2019

We asked the following questions to various experts involved with the breeding & showing of Australian Terriers. Below are their responses, which are taken from the March 2019 issue of ShowSight.  Click to subscribe.  Above photos (l-r) Cheryl Mechalke, Teresa SchreederJulie Seaton. Not pictured: Kerrie Bryan, Grace Massey, Kim Occhiuti, Alexa Samarotto

THE QUESTIONS

1. What are your thoughts on your breed’s current sustainability issues?

2. Your opinion of the current quality of purebred dogs in general, and your breed in particular.

3. The biggest concern you have about your breed, be it medical, structural, temperament-wise, or what.

4. The biggest problem facing you as a breeder.

5. Advice to a new breeder? Advice to a new judge of your breed?

6. What’s the most common fault you see when traveling around the country?

7. Anything else you’d like to share—something you’ve learned as a breeder, exhibitor or judge or a particular point you’d like to make.

8. And for a bit of humor, what’s the funniest thing that you ever experienced at a dog show?

THE ANSWERS

Kerrie Bryan

Kerrie Bryan owned her first Australian Terrier as a pet in australia in 1950. In 1991, in the America, she joined the Wismiss Kennel established in 1970 by Carol Sazama. She continues to breed and co-own with Carol Sazama and shows as an owner, breeder and handler.

I live in Colorado. Outside of dogs, I am very involved in the sustainability of the natural environment in Colorado, specifically Boulder County. I monitor raptors for the County and work with a number of nature organizations. I have an extensive garden and spend many hours with the dogs there.

Australian Terriers are not alone in facing decreasing litter registrations. I do not believe that the decreasing litter registrations are caused only by a lack of pet owners interested in Australian Terriers as to the best of my knowledge, breeders have not had a problem placing their puppies recently. In a changing society, many interests (and breeds and novel cross breeds) vie for people’s attention and demands on their spare time. Breeding purebred dogs is a serious and sometimes arduous hobby and demands an apprenticeship on not only the actual breeding process but on the nature of pedigrees and how best to preserve the structure and temperament of Australian Terriers through a planned breeding program.

The traditional role of dog shows was as a vehicle for choosing the dogs that best portrayed the innate traits of the breed. To some extent that remains a subsidiary object of dogs shows but the overall nature of shows has changed, and the competitive nature of shows is in the ascendency. That can be daunting for new owners and would-be breeders.

A small number of dedicated breeders are committed to breeding Australian Terriers exhibiting the structure and temperament innate in those terriers. Before Australian Terrier were show dogs, they were working dogs. Uniquely, because of the topography of Australia they were also bred as a companion to the far-flung homesteaders. Australian Terriers are well suited to being companion dogs and performance dogs. They love a job. I do believe that most of our breeders ai for well-rounded dogs.

The biggest concern I have about the breed is a decreasing gene pool.

The biggest problem facing me as a breeder is finding the time to devote to a long-term serious breeding program as one ages.

A new breeder should discuss the breed with a number of experienced breeders. Mentoring is so important for new breeders. Take the time to observe not only your breed but other breeds, movement and structure. Go over a lot of dogs with experienced breeders who will be honest about their dogs- both Australian Terriers and other breeds.

Judges should reward the innate qualities of the breed and above all terrier temperament. Terriers were not meant to be judged only as a pretty picture. What are the characteristics that make an Australian Terrier essentially and Australian Terrier rather than a generic dog ? There is a point to that topknot and ruff.- defense against the snakes they were bred to kill.

The most common fault I see when traveling around the country: if you mean in Australian Terriers, I would say that it would be too long in loin, lack of keel and length of jaw—all qualities essential to this working terrier. Often grooming has depleted the topknot and ruff which are the essential characteristics of an Australian Terrier.

Another point I’d like to make is that breeding happy, well-structured Australian Terriers is a serious task and that one must aim for a well- =rounded dog as well as for a winning dog in the show ring.

My young male had won Winners Dog and was competing in Breed. We were all lined up in front of the judge when his sister (held—or not held—by a friend), dashed into the ring and went straight to her brother. I was mortified. The judge laughed and said, “Good choice. He is my Best of Winners.”

 

Grace Massey

My name is Dr. Grace Massey and my kennel is Firewalker Australian Terriers. I have been involved in Australian Terriers for over 16 years as owner/handler and over ten years as a breeder. This is my second year as Vice President of the Australian Terrier Club of America, and I served on the Board of Directors previously for 7 years. I contribute to the ATCA as the columnist for the AKC Gazette Australian Terrier Breed column (since 2007) and as the editor of the ATCA Calendar (since 2014). I am currently the chairman of the ATCA Scholarship Fund Committee and serve on the Australian Terrier Breed Sustainability committee.

I live in Gloucester, Virginia. I am a Marine Research Scientist at the Virginia Institute of Marine Science/ College of William & Mary, studying hydrodynamics and sediment dynamics in the Chesapeake Bay and its tributaries. I am also a Motorcycle Safety Federation RiderCoach at Thomas Nelson Community College, teaching basic and safe riding motorcycle skills.

As a member of the Australian Terrier Club of America’s sustainability committee, I would have to say I am most concerned about the decrease in the number of litters registered each year with AKC. The committee is currently conducting a study of the 2008-2017 global number of Australian Terriers to find out if this trend holds true worldwide. We are also looking at the number of Aussies that are imported/exported between countries as well as the average number of puppies born per litter each year as an indicator of the health of the breed.

My biggest fear, as we move forward in addressing the sustainability of our breed, is that we begin to breed for quantity and breed diversity at the sacrifice of quality. We still need to breed to the standard while choosing for temperament and health. It will be a fine line that our future breeders will have to walk.

I believe that one of the biggest problems facing Australian Terrier breeders today is the limited recognition of our breed as a wonderful pet by the general population. We need to advertise our breed so it is better recognized. Most of the people that contact me about puppies for a pet have previously owned or presently own an Australian Terrier. By no means do I want the Australian Terrier to become one of most popular pet breeds. However, I would like to have people who have never owned an Aussie to call and visit so I can have the opportunity to further educate them about our wonderful breed and give them a chance to experience them firsthand.

My advice to a new breeder or new judge would be: “Breed to the Standard” and “Judge to the Standard”. We have a Standard to describe the ideal Australian Terrier. Read it often! As a new breeder, one should, as often as possible, be going over other breeders’ dogs and asking them to explain what they see as their dogs’ attributes and faults. The more hands-on experience you have, the better you will get at seeing the structure that should underlie our beautiful Aussies. Once you feel the structure, watch them move. You will see how the structure affects the movement. An Aussie is a working terrier, and the Standard describes him as more than a pretty face or profile when standing still. Of course, even if an Aussie moves well but doesn’t have type, i.e., doesn’t “look” like how the Australian Terrier as described in our Standard, then he isn’t any better than the one that looks good but can’t move. Both, however, can be useful with careful planning in a breeding program: one to help improve structure and the other to help improve type. To judges I would ask: Please don’t judge only faults, but look at the overall quality of the Aussie. No Aussie is perfect, but we should be working toward it!

Breed for temperament and health. Our Aussies are pets first and foremost. No matter how close to the standard they are, if they cannot live long healthy lives as members of the family then we are doing a disservice to our breed!

I was walking my Aussie Flame, BISS CH Aussome Cherokee Firewalker, into the building at a show site after taking him out to relieve himself, and as we got in the door a very little, very fluffy Pomeranian puppy came bouncing out in front of us, making cute little squeaky noises. This puppy was so fluffy you couldn’t tell which end was the front! My big bad Australian Terrier male, who was not afraid of anything, took one look at the little Pom, jumped back and tried to climb my legs to get away from him. I could not stop laughing at his reaction! From that day, till the day he died at 14 and-a-half years old, he would RUN from fluffy squeaky toys!

 

Cheryl Mechalke

I live in Colorado. I am a Data and Configuration Manager for an Aerospace Company.

This is a real concern in our breed and our National Club has created a committee to address the issue. I personally believe that getting Australian Terriers out and about in the general public eye is one of the best ways to generate interest in the breed. I am always happy to see Australian Terriers doing many things and I am always willing to stop and visit with people who come to shows and want to learn about the breed. I have been fortunate to meet some wonderful people and they now have Aussies living in their home, even if their puppies are not of my breeding.

I don’t feel qualified to answer regarding the quality of other breeds.

Regarding Australian Terriers, I have noticed that the overall quality of the dogs is improving and the breeders that I associate with are striving to breed dogs that are sound of body and mind.

The biggest concern I have about your breed: this is a difficult question to answer as it is complex. I am concerned about the overall dog, as a complete package. I firmly believe that one must strive to breed sound dogs by doing research and selecting dogs to breed to that compliments, enhances or offers improvements to the faults of the the dam you are breeding.

The biggest problem facing me as a breeder is ensuring that the puppies that have been bred are placed in wonderful homes.

Advice to a new breeder and to a new judge: read and understand the Standard for the breed. Then find breeders at shows or online, and visit with them to learn about the breed and put your hands on the dogs to feel the structure. Much can be done with grooming to distract from faults that all dogs have, but your hands can feel much more than the eye can see. It is better to feel the dog and know the “whole package”, as a really good dog may not have an owner who grooms really well, or is new to the breed and needs some practice/advice regarding grooming. I have been blessed to have met other breeders, handlers and judges who offered me grooming tips! This is much appreciated!

The most common fault I see when traveling around the country is Australian Terriers that lack bone/forechest, round eyes/lack of pigmentation, have poor toplines

Love your dogs! Strive to breed to the Standard! And ignore the bullies!

The funniest thing that happened to me at a show was I lost my half slip in a show ring and threw it out of the show ring and it landed on the ring fencing!

 

Kim Occhiuti

I live outside of Boston. I work a full-time job and a part time job. I am more active with my family and friends than I am with my dogs, though dogs are a major part of my life.

I’m very concerned, all counts are down dramatically from when I started, breeders, litters, puppies, Regional Aussie clubs and parent club membership. We have always been a less popular breed, but I feel that we are heading toward being rare.

The quality of dogs overall has not changed dramatically over the years. There are a few quality dogs and many average dogs, the best dogs are not necessarily the top winners. I’m guessing that Australian Terriers are no different in this than any breed.

Being so passionate about this breed, I see problems in every area mentioned (structure, temperament, health), but I believe our biggest issue is breed type. There are so many factors that are important to our breed type, the outline of this breed from head to tail, is unique to the short legged terriers. Our heads should be long and strong, the neck should slope and blend beautifully into the laid back shoulder and there should be structure beyond the tail. I see all three of these things lacking, yes the front and rear are ultimately about structure, but without them the dogs lack true breed type.

My biggest problem as a breeder is the lack of quality stud dogs. Breeders tend to keep bitches as they are easier to run together. Aussie breeders also tend to limit their breeding programs to their region and their friends which has resulted in a lack of consistency in breed type across the country further limiting choices for breeding partners.

My advice to a new breeder is to travel and see Aussies beyond your breeder’s stock and to study the breed standard from an impartial source, for instance, with breed mentors or long-standing parent club members active and inactive. Without consulting those “inactive” breeders one loses the history and depth of knowledge regarding the breed. In addition, “inactive” breeders have no skin in the game and will offer unbiased opinions on anyone’s dogs or breeding practices. As far as judges go, I wish that they would judge the breed as if it were their own and to really evaluate for breeding. Because this breed is not common, it is easier to fault judge versus judging the entire dog. The mediocre Aussie often wins the most because the faults, while many, are not dramatic. As a breeder, I would breed to an overall excellent dog with some obvious fault (e.g. size, eye color, pigment, etc.) over a mediocre dog any day.

Most common fault is breed type, but if we are talking breed standard faults, I’d have to say straight shoulders.

Integrity and patience are key. The people I respect the most have ethics which they have adhered to through slow winning and big winning times. The wins will come and go, so persevering and sticking with what is best for the breed is best for the sustainability and longevity of you and your breeding program.

The funniest moments for me are not publicly shareable, but a favorite moment was a Tarheel circuit about 20 years ago when my then 4 year old daughter was big on listening to ABBA and had us all singing to the hits of ABBA, we all think of that circuit when we hear ABBA to this day.

 

Alexa Samarotto

I live in Staten Island, a suburban part of New York City.

This is a breed that should be more well known and desired as the best features of the breed really suit the way we live today. We want a dog with an easy care coat, easy going personality, good size and activity level often for apartment living and with few health issues and frankly, the Australian Terrier meets those requirements. To some extent, those features do not meet a certain modern taste for “exotic” looking breeds that are in fashion. This is unfortunate in that when a pet person discovers the Aussie, they often say they would never change breeds again. I have heard this so many times in my many years (over 50) in the breed. The problem is often access to puppies from good quality breeders. So many potential buyers who sound like the homes we want for our puppies can’t find a puppy in any viable time frame so they end up with another breed. This was considered heresy years ago, but in today’s climate with regard to purebred dogs, I believe we need to produce more, good quality puppies rather than fewer. More puppies sold to good homes are the public relations ambassadors we need to show the public how great a breed we have. More Aussies out there are our best advertising for the breed ultimately adding to the potential pool of new exhibitors and breeders if we explore that interest with our puppy buyers and encourage them. Even as pets, our Aussies speak for themselves as purebred quality dogs and that is the asset.

In Aussies, the quality has increased nicely overall in more than fifty years but that said, some of the truly great Aussies from the past would still be outstanding today. On the other hand, bar has raised enough to make the breed more competitive against other breeds which is very good for the future of the breed. What I have seen overall in purebred dogs is a very nice level of presentation which I feel makes the sport look more professional, in the good sense of 
the word.

Temperament is one of the strong features of the breed and should be bred for and maintained. This will ensure the breed’s future and when I see doubtful temperament, I feel strongly it should not be bred from or perpetuated; remember most puppies no matter whether primarily show or pets, are pets as well and must be able to function in a home environment. Type is also a concern; we all need to keep the breed’s image in mind.

The biggest problem facing me as a breeder is trying to find the right sire to breed to is more challenging in a rarer breed for sure. The gene pool is small and even when dogs are imported, care must be taken to examine the pedigree. I try to linebreed with the right outcrosses and I am not alone in finding this such a challenge.

My advice to a new breeder reflects my experience when I was new: learn from the standard and view with skepticism any information you get from other breeders. Let me explain before you jump to conclusions! When I started I was a kid and in those days, very little was available to read about the breed nor were the older breeders as helpful because I had not bought a dog from them. Sound familiar now? My mother and I were actually freer to read the standard and watch dogs in the ring and learn without biased advice coming our way. I learned more and faster because we read general books on structure and movement, watched not just Aussie judging but watched judging all day, especially the older great judges of that era. I feel I learned to evaluate dogs better that way than I see from some newcomers who are being led in all directions by those touting their own breeding. This advice applies to new judges: read the standard and apply it. If something someone tells you is contrary to the standard, re-read it and come to your own conclusion.

We need to keep our eyes on proper front and rear structure to create proper movement. This is a breed that needed to cover more ground in their environment, needed to be athletic, agile to be able to hunt. Hunting snakes as they did requires the ability to jump up and away when they needed to. We need to keep the long, strong head in mind as well which adds to their functionality.

I have had the breed since 1963 and started showing in 1965 and still love every minute of being in and around the dog show world. The friends you make are the truest supporters in any time of need, or success, based on our mutual love of our breed and dogs. It is that aspect that is the most important message we need to spread: love of dogs conquers all.

 

Teresa Schreeder

I live in Northern California close to many shows. I work as a Physical Therapist.

I co-breed Aussie’s with Susan Bachman under the moniker of Ryba Australian Terriers. I am an Australian Terrier Club of America Board member, the Health Chairman as well as a board member of the Australian Terrier Trust. I participate as part of the judges education for the parent club for local shows, meet the breed and at National specialties.

Thoughts on the breed’s current sustainability issues: Australian Terriers in the last five years have reduced in the numbers of litters produced and lower registered dogs. The issue is multi-factorial one being the age of the breeders; many are no longer breeding and only showing dogs occasionally. New people interested in the breed are more interested in showing and performance events and not breeding. Another issue could be external pressure from the county to limit the number of dogs in the households, pressure from people to rescue and not breed. In order to change the problems one option could be co-breeding with older breeders or with your breed mentor. Leasing a female to have a litter is also an option, once the puppies are gone mom goes home. We all still have to deal with external pressures of family, work, and financial. Taking the time to have a litter and enjoy the process from start to finish and end with a wonderful dog at the end is amazing.

In general I have found dogs seen in the ring very nice, there are always a few that you shake your head and ask why. In my area owner handlers are very conscientious about breeding to the standard for their breed. Australian Terriers these days are overall better than five years ago. The dogs being presented are identifiable as an Aussie. We have a distinctive outline and are able to keep the look of number of dogs with issues is less each National. Breeders are working hard to correct fronts and body length.

Biggest health concerns of the breed: front structure is an issue, getting the correct keel, depth of rib cage and correct upper arm length is challenging. When we achieve all of these factors and all other things are equal ,movement is a thing of beauty.

Advice to a new judge of the breed: get your hands on as many dogs as possible. The more dogs you have your hands on the better sense of how the dogs will feel. Understanding structure is a must. Ask questions when you are mentoring. Aussies are a low entry breed; check the Australian Terrier Club of America breeder referral to find someone with dogs in your area. Attend a National the ATCA has a strong judge’s education, with hands on and education for many days. As a new judge do not go through the motions just to add another breed. Breeders know when you are not interested in the breed and the Aussie will be an even lower entry for you.

Advice to a new breeder: develop friendships with other Aussie people, look for a mentor to help you understand pedigrees and dog breeding. Your mentor can assist you with issues that come up with puppies or issues with dogs. In my area we are all interactive, new people are included in puppy grading and show set ups. We are all competitive but still very supportive of all Aussie accomplishments.

The most common fault I see when traveling around the country: short upper arm is the most common issue, resulting in a short striding front. The same issue all over the country, despite effort by breeders it is a tough fix.

 

Julie Seaton

I live in Muskego, Wisconsin and outside of dogs I am involved in photography and having fun with the grandkids which are up to four now with another one on its way!

I have been a Breeder of Australian Terriers for 25 years and have been dedicated to the breed since that time. I am a member of the Australian Terrier Club of America and am currently on the Board and have been the Newsletter Editor for the club since 2011. I am also involved and serve on the board for Australian Terrier Rescue.

Thoughts on the breeds current sustainability issues: our breed is in trouble and luckily our parent club developed a breed sustainability committee in 2018 to tackle the issue. We want to see the breed thrive and I hope that every reputable breeder takes what needs to be done to heart and helps whether they are a member of the ATCA or not! We need to band together to make sure our breed survives!

I think the quality of the Australian Terrier is really good at the moment. Yes, you will see some in the ring that are not-so-good and do not conform to the standard, but they are few and far between.

Honestly one of our biggest health issues is the fact our breeders are aging out and the breed is dwindling in numbers. We need to promote the breed and breeders need to put differences aside and work together to secure our 
breeds future!

The biggest problem facing me as a breeder is making sure I always do the right thing. I have worked really hard on my breeding program over the last 25 years. I have people wanting dogs from me all over the world. One breeder from Australia wanted a dog and knowing the money she was spending, she had to wait almost three years until I made sure she got the right dog. I wanted to send the best I could breed to her, not the second or third best. That dog within three months of arriving at the age of a year and a half won the Australian National Specialty and last year was the top Aussie in the country. I tell myself all the time I should have kept him, but I know he is doing good over there, is loved and cherished and adding to the breed gene pool as well. That was more important to me, as his breeder, that I did the right thing not only for myself and my kennel, but for the breed.

Advice to a new breeder, slow down! Know what you are doing before you dive into breeding. A breeding program is built on good bitches, not flashy stud dogs. Get the best bitch you can and start your breeding program with that bitch. Don’t settle for second best. Also, get a breeder/mentor that will guide you to make the best decisions you can about your breeding program.

Advice to new Judges, know the standard, judge to the standard. It is there for a reason. Read it the night before you judge and have it on hand in case you need to reference it while judging.

Don’t award a dog with points if they do not meet the standard. Remember, they may be used in that exhibitors breeding program! You are not helping the breed when you do this! You are judging breeding stock! Points are not mandatory to award, nor are ribbons! I hear too many times that if the dog has points or an AKC Championsip that must mean it is worthy to be bred. When points are awarded to inferior dogs, you are, for that exhibitor, confirming to them, that you feel the dog is worthy of being used to reproduce.

The most common fault you I when traveling around the country: dogs that have no bone and are high in leg. This breed is longer in body then they are in leg length and should have some substance to them, they are not Silkys! The balance is off when you look at a dog with no bone and is high in leg, you should see balance.

As a breeder, I have learned that the most important thing you can do for the breed is make sure you breed happy, healthy, well-rounded puppies and that you screen prospective buyers carefully no matter what they are buying the dog/puppy for. You brought them into the world and started them on their journey, so it is up to you to make sure that they go into homes to continue that journey. A happy, healthy well-rounded puppy will turn into a happy-healthy well-rounded adult. The new owners will love and cherish them as much as you do. In the end, that is a win-win for everyone involved.

When I was fairly new in the breed I was to show under a judge that a friend knew. She said to say hello. So while on the table, I said hello to the judge by name and said my friend said to say hello. (I was the only entry). The judge said she would pass the message along. I had the wrong judge! 

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