An Interview with Richard Eichhorn of Drakyi Tibetan Mastiffs. Showsight Magazine, September 2018 Edition. Click to subscribe.
1. Where did you grow up?
I was born in the Southern California community of Glendale, and grew up in the adjacent bedroom community of Eagle Rock. College years at UCLA. I’m a third-generation Los Angelino on my mother’s side. I have always lived within an hour of where I was born.
2. Do you come from a doggy family? And if not, how did the interest in breeding and showing begin?
Yes, I come from a dog-loving family, raised on stories of generations of the family dogs that included Dachshunds, a white German Shepherd, a Jack Russell, an Irish Setter, a Basset Hound, a Miniature Poodle, a Labrador mix and an Elkhound/Shepherd mix. I even walked the neighbor’s Beagle. There was always a companion dog in our home and “Big Red,” “Old Yeller”, “Lassie” and “Rin Tin Tin” enriched and encouraged my early, formative canine fascinations. My mother always insisted that our dogs be neutered/spayed, much to my dismay. She frequently said, “When you have your own home, you can have ALL the dogs you want.” Little did she realize! In the absence of litters of puppies, I bred tropical fish, hamsters, rabbits, parakeets and cockatiels. My first jobs as a 13 year old were at a tropical fish store and a pet shop.
3. Who were your mentors in the sport?
My dear friend, the late Rita Boget, was a Hall of Fame Tibetan Terrier breeder (Shampa prefix). She was the groomer at the pet shop I worked at and I was her assistant. We became lifelong friends. She encouraged me in purebred dogs, taught me how to groom, and introduced me to Tibetan Mastiffs. Linda Larsen of Dragonquest Tibetan Mastiffs became my friend, mentor and partner, teaching me the value of reading a pedigree and establishing a genetic-based breeding program. We amalgamated her kennel prefix with my Dokyi to become DRAKYI (“Dragon dogs”) in 1982. She went on to raise her own family and I continued with developing a signature line of dogs.
4. Your Tibetan Mastiffs are internationally known, highly successful and well respected. What breeding philosophies do you adhere to?
I rely on instinct, most of the time. I just get a gut feeling about certain pairings, with physical compensation foremost in my mind. Generations of linebreeding have given me my best and most consistent results and I have used inbreeding and outcrossing selectively. Like a chef with a pantry full of ingredients, I create my own recipes for producing that perfect puppy. That being said, I have done much genetic research and have a library full of breeding and animal husbandry books by the greats. About every five years, I reread Onstott’s The New Art of Breeding Better Dogs and my cherished copy of Brackett’s Planned Breeding. Both Old Testament worthy and inspirational. Also important is playing well with others. It can take a village to keep the breed on track when it comes to health, temperament, type and structure. You never know when a puppy trade or an outside stud service is going to be exactly what the veterinarian ordered. Drakyi Tibetan Mastiffs would not have continued to be what we are today without the support and inspiration of my partner Efrain Valle (since 1998) and our co-owners, PHA handlers Michael and Linda Brantley. Blessings all around.
5. How many TMs do you typically house? Tell us about your current facilities and how the dogs are maintained.
Since moving to a five-acre spread in the high desert mountain community of Acton, California in 2004, the numbers vary between 30 and 40 dogs. These consist of retired show and breeding dogs, active Specials and prized producers, occasional rescues for rehoming, up-and-coming juniors and small-breed house pets. As preservation breeders, a healthy pack of generations of diversely-pedigreed dogs is a necessity. The dogs are kept in Grade A facilities, in natural settings of spacious yards and runs, usually in family groups. Daily chores and interaction keep the two of us working full-time with the dogs. Tibetan Mastiffs are very loyal and particular about who cares for them. A 2017 YouTube breed documentary on the Dogumentary channel was filmed here and shows our setup. With all the care and commitment it takes to maintain and develop a breeding program, we often find ourselves “trapped in paradise,” a phrase I coined that describes decades of hands-on living full-time with our dogs. A holiday is a working judging trip abroad.
6. Who were/are some of your most significant dogs, both in the whelping box and in the show ring?
I had to really think on this answer for a week. Too many dogs came to mind in the complex mosaic of 40 years of breeding and showing. I would be remiss not to mention my start... the first... the dog that inspired my journey. That was Ch. Langtang Kalu Kutra of Dokyi, a black female from Ann Rohrer’s 1979 breeding of Kalu x Lola. A refined dog by today’s standards, she is some 20 generations behind almost every Drakyi dog. As producers who were also accomplished in the show ring, Multi Ch. Formosa-Drakyi Simba, and his grandson Ch. Timberline Barni Drakyi, “Barnes” were unsurpassed. Accomplished in the ring and out, they were both bred to a variety of bitches and produced the type of consistent quality that founds breeding programs. In the whelping box, Denali’s Tsunami, Ch. Bernagchen Sundari, “Chen Chen,” Drakyi Ebony Noire, Drakyi Leona and Drakyi Red Sonja are some of our best bitches, their quality seen and coming down through generations. As for the show boats, MBIS Ch. Formosa Dreamer was that “stallion of a dog,” according to judge Bill Shelton. Dreamer demanded his wins and set type for many generations of Western lines, both in the US and throughout Europe. BIS/SBIS Multi Ch. Edgi Ganden Monge, “Senge,” was the dog that got me back in the ring, stride for stride joyfully beside me. The show dog of a lifetime who is always missed. Saving one of the best for last, MBIS Ch. Drakyi Gold Standard, “Midas,” was the right dog at the right time, blazing the AKC show circuit when the breed gained full status with the AKC. A multi BOB winner at Westminster, he holds the record as the only Tibetan Mastiff with a Group placement at the Garden (2009).
7. Please comment positively on your breed’s present condition and what trends might bear watching.
I never thought I would live to see the day when the Tibetan Mastiff would hold such a global center stage. There was such a scarcity of bloodlines in the ‘70s and ‘80s, then a boon of new lines in the ‘90s via Taiwan, only to experience a genetic deluge of DNA out of China/Tibet in the last decade. Combine that with the social media access and international exchanges of bloodlines and the feared extinction of the breed, post-1959 Chinese occupation of Tibet, that did not come to pass. New genes and a bounty of lines are everywhere to be found and now it is the job of dedicated and educated breeders to sort through it all while embracing the historic Tibetan ideal. The pendulum is swinging back to a more balanced and functional working dog.
8. The sport has changed greatly since you began as a breeder-exhibitor. What are your thoughts on the state of the fancy and the declining number of breeders? How do we encourage newcomers to join us and remain in the sport?
Breeds and organizations go through seasons of change and people get involved and participate at different levels. My first 27 years in the breed were in the rare-breed world, while the last 13 years have been filled with all things AKC and FCI. That has been a huge change. When it comes to Tibetan Mastiffs, there has been a steady increase of breeders and involvement, especially in the last decade. The international, explosive phenomenon of the breed in China has gone beyond anyone’s wildest dreams. Russia has embraced the breed fully, and has risen to top levels of competition and production of top-quality dogs in the last five years. The breed is becoming mainstream, and it is not uncommon to see Group and BIS placements on any given AKC or FCI show weekend. When it comes to this breed, it is all about encouraging the right type of newcomers, those qualified and experienced with very large, willful, independent dogs. Using all social media platforms to satisfy the public demand for photos and information about purebred dogs needs to be fully taken advantage of. Mentoring and forming relationships is vital to providing the support that breed enthusiasts need to continue on, especially during the tough times.
9. Where do you see your breeding program in the next decade or two?
I plan to do more of the same: Producing my signature top-quality dogs that founded breeding programs and that are competitive and successful on international levels; providing healthy, temperamentally sound family companions to those seeking a large guardian breed; and influencing the future of the breed through my judging placements. It took a long time to get here and I’m going to continue riding the wave.
10. Finally, tell us a little about Rick Eichhorn outside of dogs... your profession, your hobbies.
I used to have quite a diversified life as a professional cosmetologist (35 years), a professional singer (commercials, touring groups, wedding singer), and a dog fancier and hobbyist. That changed dramatically after our Barnes won the breed and made the final cut of six dogs in the Working Group at Westminster in 2008, the first year the breed became eligible to compete. It was then that we decided to go whole-hog-dog, if you will, moved to a ranch in the country and entered the next phase as full-time preservation breeders. I also keep a couple of outdoor flights of English budgies/parakeets, have a large Koi pond and enjoy family times and karaoke on occasion. My “Big Red” childhood dream of having a kennel in the country came true and I am so thankful for it all.