The Seven Secrets of Show Success: Be A Kennel


  • November 27, 2018
  • by Michael and Cathy Dugan

From the monthly column "The Seven Secrets of Show Success". ShowSight Magazine, November 2018 Issue. CLICK TO SUBSCRIBE.

Be a Kennel: You Can’t Compete With Just One Dog

More than once at a dog show, a dog owner would approach us and say “When are you going to let me win?” Typically, it’s a dog owner who has one dog that they have purchased and are trying to show it themselves in the ring. One woman was persistent and Cathy tried to explain that we had been doing this for over 30 years and we had several dogs competing in the ring, including dogs that belonged to other breeders that had been bred  to our dogs. At a recent dog show, nearly 40% of the PWD entry were Aviator dogs or bred to Aviator dogs. This didn’t happen overnight.

There have been examples of owners having one great dog that did very well in the show ring and then disappeared from view. They were owners, not breeders or a kennel. One great dog will not produce generations of great dogs unless you have a breeding plan, some sense of what you want to produce, mentors to guide your way and a kennel that supports and promotes your breed and your brand. When you watch Westminster or any big show, you’ll notice that the winners are almost always descendants of many other champions developed from breeders and kennels working together for years.

Patricia Craig Trotter’s fabulous book “Born To Win, Breed To Succeed” is the bible of dog breeders who are serious about their craft. We highly recommend it. Pat’s comprehensive approach to breeding and competing is informative and funny, too. She has the sense of realism and humor about our sport that comes from decades of success. In her book, Pat talks about the days of dog kennels even here in the United States that were reminiscent of thoroughbred horse farms in their grandness and expense. Those days are largely gone as the sport has expanded and brought in new owners and breeders. Few of us can afford that level of cost and new models of successful kennels have been developed instead.

What does it mean to be a kennel?

Today, most breeders operate small kennels that may have one litter every year or two and raise their litters in their homes. Many of these breeders are exceptional and have produced many champions over the years. This is a popular model that will produce the occasional champion. It’s also a fairly low-cost way to be involved in the show dog business. Most homes can be adapted to provide safe, sanitary conditions for dogs to be whelped and raised.

There are also breeders who have developed more elaborate facilities to allow them to broaden their breeding horizons. In our case, we got lucky. A friend of Cathy’s was a canine research veterinarian at U.C. Davis in California. She built a two-acre property that includes a house and boarding facility that included multiple dog runs, dog proof fencing (mounted in concrete), bathing and exam areas and kennels that could accommodate up at eighty dogs at its peak. Although Cathy had been involved in breeding before, having the right facility helped her become a real kennel. While we only have a few dogs on the property (not even close to 80, thank God!) the facility gives us a lot of flexibility in housing, whelping and training our dogs.

A successful kennel is not just a facility. It’s better defined by the goals and attitudes of the breeder who has decided to work long-term to produce outstanding dogs whether they are destined for conformation, water trials, obedience, therapy, tracking or just being a great pet.

A good definition of a successful kennel would include:

  • A planned breeding program.
  • Generations of successful dogs with each generation building and improving upon the previous ones.
  • Multiple champions over the years that provide good choices for future breeding decisions; not just one dog, no matter how great.
  • A winning tradition; what does your kennel stand for?
  • A facility that supports and enhances the goals and aspirations of the breeders and the kennel.
  • A marketing program that uses multiple platforms to advance and advertise the kennel to the public and to the fancy.
  • Being an AKC Breeder of Merit and adhering to all ethical and professional standards of your breed club and the AKC.
  • The personal ability to not think too much about the time and money your program is costing you (We believe this is called “denial”).

    What is a formal breeding program and why does it make a winning difference?

    The answer to this question has been very eloquently defined and refined by Patricia Trotter in her book, and by Dr. Carmen Battaglia in many articles. They are among the best experts in terms of practical experience and knowledge. They really drill down to the genetic issues and questions that arise in successful breeding programs.

    When Cathy first became serious about breeding PWDs, she had a long time PWD breeder ask he why she never bred to dogs other than her own. Cathy’s response was simple; she needed to define what an “Aviator” PWD looks like before she could outcross to other lines.

    Our foundation stock consisted of dogs that were from other breeders. We admired the health and temperament of their dogs and, of course, their excellent conformation. These foundation dogs, all loosely related, allowed us to create a line bred dog that showed quality and consistency. Once a type was set and health was assured, then we could begin adding different pieces of pedigree.

    Today, we continue to move forward with new pedigree components to strengthen our program. Typically, we’re planning three years into the future about what we hope to achieve from breeding and what we want to avoid. Because we have several bitches in the queue all the time, we can mix and match breedings to constantly improve our line. The goal should always be to try to produce a better dog every time a breeding is done.

    What does building breed champions every year do to find the great dogs who will take you to the highest level of competition?

    I was once told by a judge and fellow breeder, “You show the dogs you 
    have!” If that’s all you are prepared to do, you will go nowhere fast. In the last fifteen years, Aviator Kennel has produced six to ten new PWD champions every year producing a formidable “bench” with over 110 PWD AKC Champions to date. Prior to that we produced over 70 Dalmatian and Brittany champions. This gives us the option of knowing when a dog should begin competition and when a dog will be ready for breeding in the future. We never want to put a young dog out in the show ring until we really feel that the dog is ready to be competitive and get their championship.

    Because of this, our dogs generally finish their championship in 12-20 shows, making the experience much easier and less costly for their owners. In our experience, the cost of finishing a champion is about $5-8,000 with entry fees, grooming, handling, and other costs, so we want to make this process as efficient as possible. If you only have one or two dogs to work with, you limit your options for show success. We’ve seen dogs dragged around 
    for many months trying to get a championship and years after that because it was the only dog the breeder or owner had available.

    Typically, we will take a potential show dog to a dog show once they’re at least six months old. That gives us the chance to observe the dog in the hectic chaos of a show and see how they react. We’ve noticed that the really strong show dogs are instantly curious, watching everything going on around them. At ringside dogs like Ladybug, even as a puppy, watched the other PWDs intently, learning from the process. Because we always have several dogs coming of age at different times we have the chance to plan when and what dogs will be showing two years ahead of time. We try not to compete against ourselves and with multiple dogs available for showing we can phase in new dogs as others finish their championships. Sometimes, we have to hold a dog out for a while because they’re simply not quite ready for the ring. We’ve had boys who had to wait until they were almost three until they had grown into their show bodies.

    Why do your co-owners really matter, whether for pets or show dogs?

    We sell all of our dogs on contracts whether for show homes, pet homes or fellow breeders. As a responsible breeder this should be a required part of the process and is required by most national and regional clubs. Since Mike is a lawyer, he has worked hard to fine-tune our contracts adjusting to new conditions and people as they arise. If a new buyer is reluctant to sign a contract, that should be a big “red flag” for a breeder. The best way to get rid of a “friend” is to do business without a contract. With a well-written contract everyone knows what the requirements and expectations are for owning a pure bred dog.

    Co-ownership is the best means as a breeder of ensuring that the owner will do what we want with the dog. Once a pet has been spayed or neutered or a show dog has finished their career, then the breeder can sign off AKC Registration solely to the owner. More important, having co-owners creates partners in the show dog world. If you have done your job as a breeder and worked fairly and supportively with new owners you will build a cadre of people who love their dogs and support their breeders as well.

    The only way we can grow and survive as a sport is to recruit, train and mentor new pure bred dog owners. Co-ownership is a great vehicle for that. We also stay in touch with our owners, show or pet, even after we’ve signed off on their papers. They are our best friends in the dog world and our best sales people for Aviator Kennel. Most of our sales come from referrals from past owners. More than once, we’ve gotten a call from a new buyer who has met an Aviator dog taking a walk. There is no better advertising.

    How do you create a winning tradition for your kennel; a “buzz” for your brand?

    First, you have to have enough dogs year after year competing successfully in dog shows. Having one or two dogs is fine but that won’t build longevity and consistency that displays your breeding program. We’ve had many judges and competitors talk about the fact that they can recognize an “Aviator” dog in the ring. Cathy breeds to consistency that displays the best attributes, movement and type of PWDs. It is our goal that we create a common “look” for our dogs that keeps them competitive and desirable. Recently, “Jedi” a dog we bred who lives in South Korea, sweep several shows in the Philippines. The owner/handler told us that several of the American judges immediately spotted Jedi as an Aviator-bred dog; they recognized the “type.”

    Second, you have to be willing to use multiple marketing tools to make people aware of your kennel. You have to think about yourself as a “brand” and not just a breeder. We use advertising, our web site, emails and mailings, going to dog shows and seminars, being active in dog clubs, and working as an AKC judge and as a ring steward. In all of these situations you have the chance to network and interact with other people in the dog world.

    Does it pay off? We have placed dogs in China, Korea, the Philippines, Australia, France, Brazil, Portugal, Croatia, South Africa and Germany, as well as all over the United States and Canada. Why would we do that? It’s a lot of extra work, but it expands the footprint of our brand immeasurably. For example, when the international standards for PWDs began to restrict the amount of white that can be exhibited on a PWD, we got inquiries from Australia, where they have a lot of white dogs.

    An established breeder there purchased a male and female from different litters and breeding lines so she could start her new program there. We keep the dogs here until they were almost a year old, trained them and finished both of their AKC championships and then sent them to Australia where they both have achieved their championships. We do this in an effort to enhance the quality and consistency of PWDs with our own special imprint. As a breeder, what else is there to strive for? Be a kennel! 

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