Where did you grow up?
I am originally from St. Louis Park, Minnesota, a suburb of Minneapolis. I had always wanted to live in a warmer climate and ended up moving to San Francisco. That was not the California climate I was hoping for! I lived there for four years, from 1980 to 1984. After a quick visit to Los Angeles, I decided that Southern California had the climate and lifestyle more to my liking and during the Summer Olympics of 1984 I moved south.
Do you come from a doggy family? And if not, how did the interest in breeding and showing begin? Did you get into Tibetan Terriers from the start?
My family was not doggy at all but I was for as long as I can remember. My introduction to this world was through obedience with a mixed-breed dog that we got from the local humane society. They offered obedience classes and when I won first place in my puppy graduating class, I was hooked! Earlier my father had taken me to the Minneapolis Kennel Club benched dog show and I knew right away this was something I would want to do.
My first purebred dog was a Sheltie from a breeder in the Midwest named Shirley Valo. I took him to that same obedience class and eventually put a UD on him. I showed him fairly extensively around the Midwest and I believe he was the No. 1 obedience Sheltie in the country in 1972. Around that time I started to want to compete in conformation and ended up getting a Golden Retriever puppy from Dick and Ludell Beckwith. I got very lucky as that first conformation dog, purchased as an eight-week-old “hopeful,” turned out to be a multiple Group and all-breed BIS winner. I competed in Juniors with him and ended up in the final cut at the Garden under Annie Clark! I won several Groups with him and around 1976 Connie Gerstner (now Miller) took him for about a year and ended up putting that elusive BIS on him, under Louis Murr. I took him home from that show and that was my last show for more than ten years. After graduating from high school I lost interest in dog shows and pursued my career. Around 1987, while living in L.A., my father came out for a visit. I remember it was a rainy Sunday and that morning, while trying to figure out something we could do, I looked in the paper and saw an ad for the Kennel Club of Beverly Hills dog show. It was held downtown in those days, at the Sports Arena, and I said, “Hey, there’s a dog show in town, do you want to go?”
I walked in and one of the first dogs I saw was a Tibetan Terrier. I wasn’t sure what breed it was as they had only been recognized by the AKC in 1973 and none were ever shown around the Midwest at the shows I had attended. I talked to a couple of breeders, watched the breed judging and was hooked right back in! I began trying to find a show-potential puppy, met Sue Vroom, and she and Corky helped me get started back in the sport. It was not easy. It took three or four attempts at training different dogs to finally find something to at least finish. After that, it took more time to find something to breed. I really only ever intended to breed something I would be proud to show and never intended to set a type or begin any sort of extensive breeding program. I always said I was an exhibitor first, then a breeder. But I had a vision of what I wanted this breed to be and in order to accomplish this, I needed to breed it myself. I don’t think we give enough credit to our rank-and-file exhibitors; those who may not have bred their dogs themselves but put the time, effort, blood, sweat and tears into raising, training and conditioning their dogs themselves. It seems to me this is one reason we may be failing. Praises are often given to breeders, handlers and even owners, but owner-handlers are often overlooked. Having said that, I was taught in the beginning that I would need a better dog, that was better trained and conditioned than the professional handler’s dog to be recognized and be competitive, and I took that advice to heart.
Like I said, I went through the heartache of raising several young TT puppies before ever setting foot in the ring. I didn’t just show what I had; I set out to find a good one to start with. Then I had to learn to groom. I received a lot of advice from people like Roberta Lombardi who knew far more about coat care than I would ever hope for. There was lots of trial and error, lots of mistakes along the way. I now consider myself a decent, not great, conditioner. I look at and admire many of my competitors’ work in this area, as well as training. I realize I will never know everything and always try to keep an open mind and eye as far as self improvement goes. For me, the challenge and the fun come from molding and shaping a young dog that I like, whether I bred it or not, into the full adult version of the breed that I hold in my mind’s eye. That is what has kept my interest going in the sport for more than 50 years.
Who were your mentors in the sport?
My original mentors were Dick and Ludell Beckwith, Sue MacMillan and Connie Gerstner (Miller). In Tibetan Terriers, besides Corky and Susan Vroom and Roberta Lombardi, my early mentors were Bette LaPoca, Laurel MacMinn and Diane DeLaRosa. We all competed together and were a tight-knit group in the late ‘80s and ‘90s around Southern California.
I would also like to thank all my co-owners and co-breeders who were involved in the beginning, as well as currently. None of this would have been possible without a group of dedicated, like-minded people to share the experience with. Some of those people were Len and Cathleen Schweitzer, Judi and Louis Krokover, Laurel MacMinn and, most recently, much appreciation goes to my co-owners Janet Krynzel, Brian Leonard and Anthony DiNardo.
Your Tibetan Terriers are internationally known, highly successful and well respected. What breeding philosophies do you adhere to?
My breeding philosophies are pretty simple and straightforward. I try to keep some pedigree compatibility, breed type to type, try to offset faults and enhance virtues.
How many TTs do you typically house? Tell us about your current facilities and how the dogs are maintained.
I have only ever kept a very small number of dogs. I have a full-time job as a hairstylist and so I need to live near the city. Three dogs are all I have right now. I live in a typical, residential neighborhood and all three are house dogs. Two of those are intact bitches.
Who were/are some of your most significant dogs, both in the whelping box and in the show ring?
My most influential stud dog was also one of my top winners. His name was Ch. Players Prodigy, call name “RJ.” He was the No. 1 TT three years in a row; a three-time Westminster and back-to-back National Specialty Best of Breed winner. He retired from competition after winning the Non-Sporting Group at the AKC Invitational and a Group 4 at Westminster. I have no idea how many champions he sired but among those were all-breed BIS winners, multiple Group and National Specialty winners. He was a very influential sire in his day. I have a young son of his produced by frozen semen that I am hopeful will be campaigned down the line. His sire, Ch. Sim-Pa Lea’s Ragtime Cowboy, was also a very influential sire for a lot of people. He, too, was a National Specialty BOB winner and produced countless numbers of champions.
As far as bitches go, my top-producing bitch was an RJ daughter named Ch. Players Protocol, call name “Bailee.” She is the dam of many champions and the grand dam of top winners, some of whom are out competing today. She is 14 years old, as healthy as can be and is the matriarch of my home.
Please comment positively on your breed’s present condition and what trends might bear watching.
I think the breed is in decent shape right now. At our National Specialty this past spring there were mostly dogs of proper size and balance, with pretty sound movement overall, and presentation for the most part was not overdone or underdone. There were several promising puppies from different breeders that give me hope that people are on the right track.
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 numbers of breeders? How do we encourage newcomers to join us and remain in the sport?
One of the major differences I see is that many people want to just hire someone to do the difficult work of training and conditioning their dogs. They want instant success and don’t want to take the time to learn and develop their eye over time. Also, along the same lines, the general public just wants to hire a trainer rather than taking their own dog to obedience school like I did and that was a big way that I know people got started back in the 1970s. We also had handling classes where we could go and learn to show our own conformation dogs. People were available to help us learn to groom and condition. I think those types of people are still available to newcomers but the emphasis seems to be on hiring professional handlers rather than doing it themselves. This is particularly the case in high-maintenance breeds that may be more difficult to get into proper condition. Also there are breeds that are far more competitive in the ring than others. TTs can be difficult to show not only with coat care but getting them mentally prepared can be a challenge. For me that’s the fun part of the challenge but not everyone has the aptitude, patience or experience to train them properly.
Where do you see your breeding program in the next decade or two?
I would say that in the next decade or two, my breeding program will be phasing out. I have a couple of people who are interested in the breed and my breeding program, and I am hopeful they will continue down the line and keep the pedigree alive.
Finally, tell us a little about David Murray outside of dogs… your profession, your hobbies.
As I said before I have always maintained a career as a hairstylist. I also enjoy dabbling in the real estate market, on a small scale. I’ve been fortunate to be able to make a little money on the sale of my home purchases. I am currently rehabbing the property I live in and I’m still deciding whether to keep it as an investment or maybe sell it since our market here is strong right now. But I think as anyone else who does this as a lifestyle, the dogs play the major role in my day-to-day life.