An Interview with Linda
By Kathy Mornane - Maydinoz Great Danes
Linda Arndt has been involved in breeding Great Danes for 27 years, having produced champions in both conformation and obedience. She is the author of "Watchword" a column published in Dane World and The Great Dane Reporter as well as articles in other breed magazines (Mastiff, Kuvaz, Komondor, Irish Setter, Bull Mastiff, Irish Wolfhound). The primary focus of her articles is canine nutrition and diseases plaguing the large and giant breeds.
As well as being a respected author and nutritional consultant, she is an accomplished Artist and Professor at Ball State University. Her artwork has national and international recognition and she is listed in Who's Who of American Women and Who's Who of American Artists.
The following is a dialogue between Linda Arndt
and Kathy Mornane.
Q:Kathy: Linda - thank you for taking time for this interview. I know you have been educating and assisting breeders not only in great Danes, but other large and giant breeds for several years now.
A:Linda: Thank you Kathy, I appreciate your willingness to participate in this conversation.
Q:Kathy: First of all I would like to ask you about your philosophy as a professional breeder.
A:Linda: Well, I am no longer actively breeding Great Danes, although I have been co-breeder on some litters in the last 3 years. When I get calls for puppies, I direct them on to Phil and Jane Gray at Owlwatch Great Danes (BISS Ch. Owlwatch Aztec Sun). We have co-bred and co-owned several animals over the years. I can't see having any litters in the near future as I am concentrating on writing, lecturing, seminars and having a personal life.
However, I will exhibit "vicariously" through the Gray's and their dogs! I own 3 Danes, a Sheltie, rescue beagle and some cats, so I am certainly not without animals. I will always have a Dane.
As for my breeding philosophy, it is simply this, "my concern as a professional breeder is the improvement and preservation of the breed through a "designed" and limited breeding program with a emphasis on temperament, intelligence, health, longevity and classical beauty."
I say a limited breeding program because one does not need a kennel full of animals to produce something beautiful and correct. One just needs to take the time necessary to be educated about the breed and make intelligent choices when selecting the next generation. And basically "like begets like"! You stick two ugly dogs together you don't get gorgeous animals. It doesn't take a rocket scientist to figure that one out.........well on second thought, maybe it does.
Q:Kathy: Is that a comment about the current condition of the breed?
A:Linda: No, not necessarily, but it is just very frustrating for me as a visual artist to watch breeders make choices with an uneducated eye for form and shape, and put animals together that do not compliment or compensate each other.
In fact I should hold a seminar on teaching dog people how to see line, shape and form and how that information translates to the animal and the selection of a mate. But we are so hung up on "pedigrees", top dogs, politics etc. we make poor choices as far as preserving and improving the breed. But then I am afraid that idea might be too involved for most people.
Q:Kathy: I think that sounds like a terrific idea, if you ever offer a seminar, I for one would be very interested. During a National would be the ideal time.
Q:Kathy: How do you stay neutral or objective in working with breeders?
A:Linda: It is important to understand up front that my own sense of worth nor my income are generated from my involvement with showing/breeding Great Danes. I support my animals they do not support me. I no longer actively show or breed, therefore I am in a better position to be viewed as neutral when working with breeders/owners and their dog problems.
Their welfare is in our hands and it is important to rise above our own personal issues and attend to the needs of the animal.
I will never turn any breeder/owner away who needs help I simply handle dog people like my students, I love the dogs and we have a job to do and the animal's welfare comes first.
The other way in which I remain neutral is to not be affiliated with any breed clubs. This allows me the "comfort zone" needed when one has to be honest and upfront with breeders.
Q:Kathy: Do you belong to any dog clubs?
A:Linda: I do not belong to any breed clubs because I never found the focus to be in the right place, too much politics and lip service, no action. I am a "get the job done" kind of gal or I would have never lasted within the University system. I am a member of our local Kennel Club and contribute though that organization.
Q:Kathy: What do you see as the major pitfall of someone just getting into showing and breeding?
A:Linda: A couple of things, one is getting involved in co-ownerships without contracts. Make sure everything is spelled out, each parties responsibilities. It will save you the potential loss of a friendship, great stress and considerable money.
The other main pitfall is not being able to apprentice with someone. It is difficult to find a mentor in this breed that is willing to take someone under his or her wing. Then as soon as the novice finishes their first dog, they tend to become all knowing and start making breeding decisions without educating themselves. I believe it takes much self-motivated research to begin to understand what is going on in the breed. What's happening in this breed as a whole may have nothing to do with what is happening in the local show ring.
When dog breeding was done strictly by the aristocracy there were less animals and more in control. Now these animals are accessible to individuals regardless of economic or educational back ground. Many individuals mistakenly think the way to fame and fortune is through their "champion".
I recommend new exhibitors/breeders read, listen, and watch and learn long before they get involved in showing and breeding. Without the right perspective on the game, showing dogs can take the joy out of owning these animals. When we get a hold of the standard we start out on a negative focus. We are taught to become aware of "the faults" of the animal first and we start seeing the dogs in "parts", or as objects, and not as something living or our best friend.
Q:Kathy: In your opinion, what does it take to be a good breeder?
A:Linda: The best breeders I know have what I call the "Sybil Syndrome". They have a split personality when it comes to the dogs. One personality, to be, "in their head" and totally objective in making showing and breeding decisions. Then they switch over to the other personality and are "in their hearts" realizing the dogs are living, feeling beings. When we lose sight of that idea, the "dog business" will simply take the joy out of living with these wonderful companions. Then we miss the point of why these animals have come into our life in the first place.
Q:Kathy: Are there many breeders you respect?
A:Linda: Yes, there are some, but I base my opinion on how breeders take care of their animals and the way they deal with their puppy buyers rather than the number of champions they have finished.
This is going to seem very harsh, but I have been in it long enough to realize there are very few heroes/heroines in the breed. But I know who they are; I have dealt with literally thousands of people. I am the one who gets the desperate, "please help me" phone calls when the breeders have abandoned them or and are not willing to assist with problems.
Q:Kathy: So how do you handle the situation when someone calls you with a problem from an established kennel that refuses to help?
A:Linda: The breeder is not my concern. I simply want to get the facts so we can re-direct the feeding program. In many cases I work with the individual's veterinarian to solve the problem be it nutritional or a specific disease. I have had some wonderful experiences in working with breeders. In one particular situation we were not only able to save the dogs life and reverse the disease, the animal (another breed) went on to be the top ranking bitch in 1995-6. There is a tremendous amount of gratification in being able to help owners and their animals. For me that is what it is all about.
Q:Kathy: Do you only deal with nutritional problems?
A:Linda: That is how it all started- but we discuss whatever problem people have at the time. Most calls are for nutritionally caused diseases. I do not diagnose but we discuss options and possibilities. The decisions are the owners and their veterinarians. I also recommend the vets give me a call if they are in doubt.
Q:Kathy: You actually get veterinarians calling you?
A:Linda: Yes, many calls, however, it is fair to say those who call me are not ego-challenged and are willing to speak with a lay person regarding nutritional or health issues. It is usually a terrific exchange of information. I too have learned a great deal in the process.
My vets are wonderful. I could not have been in this business without Kent Wisecup and Rob Rich and the staff of Country Acre Animal Clinic in New Castle, Indiana. They have been there for a lot of Dane breeders/owners from birth to death and all the stuff in-between. I owe them a debt of gratitude not to mention usually a pretty good balance on my bill!
Q:Kathy: You must get many calls per week.
A:Linda: Yes, I average 15-20 calls per week especially when an article has been published. Of course I never know when they are going to be printed, so I am not always prepared for the many calls. The Bone Survey Update was published in the Irish Setter Memo. One day I was asked to come to the post office to pick up my mail. There were 63 letters from breeders' -all on one day- not to mention the phone calls!!! Eventually I got everyone answered and I always call immediately if it is an emergency.
Q:Kathy: Do you think some people get into large breeds for the wrong reasons?
A:Linda: Yes, often this is true. The giant breeds are notorious for drawing folks who live "though" their big dogs - as if they are an extension of their ego. Animals should be a compliment to ones life, not a substitute for something one has not achieved.
Q:Kathy: Do you think many people think they are going to make money at breeding these dogs?
A:Linda: Most people I know have been dog poor for years. And some make money by producing large numbers of animals. I am not sure it is actually making money; it is just more about moving monies through. This type of breeder is without conscience and is responsible for the sub-culture of backyard breeders or satellite kennels we have to contend with in the breed.
For some there is the stupid notion they are going to be rich, famous, and make some kind of mark in history, as if this business really has anything to do with the big picture. But the majority of individuals have a deep love for these animals and keep the right perspective knowing that showing dogs is just a man made sport.
It is important for the beginner to remember, "Just because their dog wins doesn't make them a winner and just because their dog loses doesn't make them a loser. It is just a game, it is not real life."
Q:Kathy: For many people it seems winning is all that matters.
A:Linda: Ah, yes the Grays and I laugh about the early days when we'd come home from a show "totally bummed" because we didn't win. It wrecked the rest of the day for us. After 2 years of this misery, we changed our perspective; we started to focus on "food" instead of winning and losing. The plan was to find the best place to eat after the show. Friends and socializing is the real reason for showing, which is our current philosophy. "To win is great, to lose a bummer.......hey you guys, where we going to eat?"
That about sums it up - makes showing much more enjoyable.
Q:Kathy: When well known owners/breeders call you are they ever reluctant to discuss their animals problems?
A:Linda: Yes, this is very common. They have this fear, "I don't want to discuss this health problem with you because my kennel or dog's reputation is at stake".
Q:Kathy: How do you respond to that kind of comment?
A:Linda: Well I say " darling' how do you think I know about these things anyway? If you are in dogs long enough, between you and your friends, you experience it all - we're all in the same boat."
I remind them these dogs did not pass directly from their womb, nor is the dogs' hardware directly related to theirs! If you want to solve this health problem you have to be honest with me or we can't get the job done. If you think the university research community is going to solve our problems, you are naive. Since they refuse to work in cooperation with experienced breeders, they aren't going to be able to solve our problems. Look how far we are on the bloat/ torsion issue. It's 25 years later and nothing is new. Gawd do not get me started on that topic. (Go to my Index Of Articles and read my Vegetable Soup Article)
Q:Kathy: Well I can tell that is a sore spot with you. Then are most of your calls from professional breeders?
A:Linda: Anyone and everyone including veterinarians and research people wanting to learn more about bone diseases or specific topics like enzymes and anti-oxidants. I am interested in all things related to the dogs and human health.
Q:Kathy: I have to go back to the comment about dog clubs - we got off the subject and I am not sure you were done commenting on your involvement in clubs.
A:Linda: Out of past experiences I choose to steer clear of breed clubs except as a guest lecturer. I do belong to the local kennel club where I am primarily involved in organizing educational seminars and I am one of the founders of a local humane organization in our area.
Actually the "marker event" in my life in the dog business, revolved around my membership application to the Great Dane Parent Club. This was several years ago. That event, though traumatic at the time, was the impetus for me continuing my research and educating the dog fancy through publishing my articles.
This was the opposite result hoped for by the local breed club, which at that time was "intellectually and ethically challenged". But ah yes, out of the ashes, the "phoenix rises" (she says with a smile on her face) Dare I tell this story?
Q:Kathy: If you think that it may help young breeders - then it is important to tell.
A:Linda: This incident is the primary motivating factor behind my decision to stay in the breed and contribute through writing articles.
Several years ago, I bred my black bitch to a well-known black champion, 6 generation of black-to-black breeding. The results of the litter were 3 blacks (two that finished) and 4 fawns, which I sold on, spay neuter contracts. Because these bloodlines were old Jocopa/Thornrun lines, it was possible to have fawns in a litter. We thought it highly unlikely being 6 generations black-to-black breeding. But genetics and recessives being what they are, I ended up with 4 fawns in the litter. When the local club got wind of the fact that I would not euthanize healthy fawns puppies they were, shall we say, considerably "bent out of shape". It was even said my brindle male was the sire of the litter, which was neutered at that particular time.
Fortunately I'm full of spunk and tenacity so I decided to write an article on the topic of mixed color breeding. I asked for an open discussion on the pros and cons. Now mind you, I was not taking a stand on this issue and I had not done a mixed color breeding, I was simply interested in starting an enlightened dialogue with other knowledgeable breeders. (Article available on request.)
When my article was published, I received threats on the lives of my animals and I was "blackballed" from the local breed club (no pun intended).
Some years later when I applied to the parent club for membership, the powers that be in the local club made a special trip to New York to stop my membership from being approved. My sponsors Phyllis Bronson-Willowrun and Phil and Jane Gray, Owlwatch went to bat...but to no avail. I could not believe they would turn down the membership of someone with so much to offer the breed.
The depth to which these individuals went was unreal. I was crushed and almost defeated and all of this because I wrote an article on a taboo subject.
When the dust settled, I re-assessed my situation and decided that education and the pen were mightier than these individuals who occupied the " low rung of the evolutionary ladder". Coming from the University environment I was accustomed to questioning and discussion, which is critical to learning and enlightenment.
Q:Kathy: How disheartening, what did you do? Obviously you stayed active in the breed.
A:Linda: Yes, after a great deal of soul-searching and a wonderful letter of inspiration and encouragement from Lina Basquette, I decided I could continue to contribute to the breed without being involved in any organization. That is when I really put all my energy into personal research, feed trials and writing articles about my findings. Out of this have come many wonderful friendships and rewards. How ironic I was asked to be a speaker at the National a few years ago. It gave me the opportunity to share this story with the audience.
So that is where we are today. I found my own path, my own way to contribute through education not only in my career but also in my dog involvement. Thousands of dog cases later, we now have a handle on the growth problems in this breed.
Q:Kathy: That is a very inspiring story. I can tell it was a painful time for you but positive things came from that experience. You say you see your self as a teacher first and that is your primary interest?
A:Linda: Yes, I am a full professor at Ball State University in the College of Fine Arts. Gathering information, problem solving and disseminating information is my life, whether it be in the Fine Arts or Dogs.
Q:Kathy: You are also known as an artist.
A:Linda: Yes, I'm nationally known in my field, very few dog people know about my other life except for Anita Dunn (Dundanes) as her daughter and I knew each other from Cranbrook Academy of Art in Bloomfield Hills, Michigan, where I did my graduate work. How I have ever found time for the dogs I do not know. Well, yes I do, for many years I had no personal life, but that's changed drastically. (She smiles again)
Q:Kathy: How does your interest and knowledge in nutrition come in to all this?
A:Linda: Two of my Artist mentors, an established potter and well-known filmmaker from college days, had doctorates in nutrition/biochemistry from Cornell University. They remained on the cutting edge of nutrition until their retirement a few years ago and they have really taught me a great deal. Being involved in a university environment allows me to network in a way that most individuals are not able to do. Couple that with an innate curiosity, creative problem-solving skills and access to resources and professionals in the field, I have been able to continue my personal research on health problems in our breed.
One of my best resource people is Professor Eugene Wagner, Ph.D. biochemist and Assistant Director for the Center for Medical Education for the I.U. Medical Center here at Ball State University. His research in anti-oxidant enzymes in humans and animals has made a tremendous difference in extending the life expectancy. I have learned much from this very generous man and have incorporated his knowledge and research efforts into my feeding program with great success. I have been fortunate to have several dogs from different lines live 10-14 years.
Q:Kathy: Your articles on nutrition have really become important for breeders to pass on to their buyers. Have the articles been published in other breed magazines?
A:Linda: Yes, I started out writing for the Reporter but then breeders of other large breeds took an interest in the articles. I feel like the Ann Landers of dogs at times. David tells me I need to write a book. Maybe that will be a retirement project in 20 years. To communicate with other breeders has been very revealing. It has helped confirm my suspicions that most of our problems start with poor nutrition. I have found health problems are seldom breed specific. We seem to share the same problems and the two common denominators are diet and vaccines.
Q:Kathy: Oh, vaccines........do you want to talk about your thoughts on the subject.
A:Linda: Things are never black or white and I tend to be a moderate common sense oriented individual when making decisions (except in love). Yes, I believe vaccines are a problem. But I am not willing to go without them. My solution is to space them apart, separate the parvo vaccine from the others and support the system with antioxidants i.e. Nzymes Antioxidant Treats during the first 6 months of their life. These work to neutralize toxins in the body. We have had no problems so far.
I also hold off on rabies as long as I can - usually at a year of age. I am not suggesting anyone do this, you must assess your particular living situation. I know some kennels that have almost been wiped out because they basically slammed the dog's immune system into a complete holistic approach overnight. Sounds great in theory, but in truth this must be done slowly, over multi-generations.
Q:Kathy: Have you kept track of the numbers of calls over the years?
A:Linda: Yes! In the beginning and of the Bone Survey I had to keep track but now - well I quit counting! It is now into the thousands, calls and letters. This thing just kind of snowballed.
When the first article on nutrition came out in the 80's "Calcium and Phosphorous Imbalance - Are We Crippling our Dogs?", I could not believe it. It was totally out of control for over a year. I felt like I had no life of my own. It made me realize I certainly was not the only breeder with questions and problems.
From that came the original "Bone Survey" and later followed by the "Bone Survey Update", and "Vegetable Soup" (which has nothing to do with soup) recently reprinted and very relevant for new owners and breeders in this breed. And basically it has just continued from there. I think the last article on "Bloat and Torsion" needs to be looked at very carefully by breeders. I think it is the closest thing to "being on the mark" about this problem. I mailed a copy to Purdue - of course I got no response.
Q:Kathy: We've talked about your involvement in the educational aspect of the breed, now I'd like to know about how you actually got started in Great Danes.
A:Linda: I always loved dogs, my first recollection of being alive is with a black dog at my side, it seems we always had black dogs growing up. This was no doubt a great influence when it came to getting my first great dane, which was black - hence, the kennel name - Blackwatch. I have always had a love of horses - the old type Morgan's and Draft horses... love those "big ones", so when I saw my first Great Dane I knew when I was out of school and had a job, I would own one of these magnificent creatures.
My first teaching job was at Edinboro University in Pennsylvania and that is where I purchased my first black (Jocopa x Honey Hollow lines). I waited so long for this dog; I loved and mourned her like a child when I lost her at 3 years to bloat/ torsion. The clinic I was dealing with at that time (not my current vets) knew nothing of the disease and she suffered a long agonizing death, of which I still feel guilty for 25 years later. I basically dedicated my time in dogs to finding answers to our questions regarding these kinds of health issues. After her death I set out to find another bitch of similar lines and actually only bred two black litters in my breeding career.
Q:Kathy: I know you also had fawns and brindles. These were separate lines?
A:Linda: Yes, very separate lines. My first Dane was a pet and my third Dane was purchased as a foundation bitch specifically. When I went to pick her up from the breeder, I fell in love with a litter out of Von Raseac's & Guerin's breeding and purchased a brindle bitch named Blackwatch Thisizit. Tizzy was the foundation for my fawns and brindles. This bitch was bred to Ch. Bodane's Tourister and her daughter was bred to Ch. Don Tomas de Chia and then two litter sisters from that litter were bred to Ch Calico Rock's Frazier. (A pregnancy test said the one sister was not pregnant so I bred the other sister two weeks later.) Guess who ended up with 21 puppies! And as a matter of fact those two litters were the last litters I had in my home, it really did me in - it was back to the typewriter for me.
I really have done very limited breeding and was listed as co-breeder on 3 others. That is not very much for 25 years - but gosh it is hard work if it is done right and then finding appropriate homes... that is another difficult task. I believe if you bring these lives on the face of the earth you are responsible for them till the day they die and that means finding homes that take care of them. I have been very fortunate in my homes only a couple of problems over the years.
Q:Kathy: How do you know you are finding a good home?
A:Linda: Well, it is not an educated guess at all. Fortunately I have been blessed with the gift of a strong sense of intuition and dealing with people all the time, one knows very quickly if a person's heart is in the right place. When money is taken out of the equation, and income isn't generated from these animals, I am prepared to hang on to the puppies for as long as it takes to find good homes. It is when people panic, run short of cash, get tired of cleaning up poop and don't have the equipment to do this, that they are willing to sell to anyone.
Q:Kathy: Are there any situations you definitely will not sell to?
A:Linda: Yes, much of our better fawn stock was lost to Japan in the late 70's to 80's. Now shipping frozen semen, I have no problem with that; heaven knows we need some new blood. But selling grown stock and treating these dogs like "livestock", that angers me. I don't do the "kennel dog" thing. I want my animals to be part of a family unit, with a crate and fenced in yard.
To some people, this is strictly a business. These animals are viewed as livestock and for making a living. This is exploitation and basic lack of respect for living things - real indication of the "quality of character" of an individual.
Q:Kathy: Did you ever get calls from overseas to buy one of your dogs?
A:Linda: Oh yes, usually at 3:00 a.m. in the morning. One time someone called wanting to buy "Bear", Ch. Lore's Bravado of Blackwatch. You know, some things have no monetary value; there is not enough money on the face of this earth to buy them. They kept insisting I name my price; little did they know Bear was retired and neutered!
Q:Kathy: So you have produced some Champions? What colors?
A:Linda: Yes I have produced a handful in conformation and obedience champions (black, fawn and brindle) and I owned a pug champion that was specialed by the co-owners.
I am not the least competitive, so I have no interest in showing, handling, and sitting ringside holding a dog. That was never one of my favorite things to do. I guess you wouldn't call me a real show person in that respect but I really like to go watch and study just to see who is producing what offspring.
Most of the animals that I produced were finished through the efforts and resources of other individuals. And I do appreciate their efforts. Mostly I appreciate the fact that they were excellent loving homes.
I produced two black champions - Ch. Blackwatch Mien Liege Thor and Ch. Blackwatch Kit-N-Kaboodle and produced a brindle Ch. Calico Rocks Luv V. Temira owned by Colleen and Winkie Assell and then fawns Ch. Blackwatch Catlin C.D. and we finished Ch. Lore's Bravado of Blackwatch. I had two girls with C.D.'s and then I am the co-breeder on Ch. Lore's French Cheesecake.
Q:Kathy: Then your primary interest as a breeder is in nutrition and not necessarily in breeding or showing?
A:Linda: My primary interest is in education with the focus on nutrition and diseases of the large and giant breeds. I have done my fair share of breeding and showing and for me, continuing my own stock was important, but showing was not that big a thrill.
I suppose the politics played a part in the decision to steer clear from showing. I had enough to do with politics working in a University environment. It just made no sense to carry that over into my other interests. The past 3 years I am the happiest I have been with owning these animals. I never look at them in terms of top line, rears or headpieces any longer - they are just my companions.
Q:Kathy: How many Great Danes do you currently own?
A:Linda: I have two fawn girls 4 years, one out of my Champion "Bear" owned by Janie Bennett and Kay Thompson's Champion Calico Rock's Pure Mischief. The other girl is from Susan Yotive - she was a gift to me when my Liza died. Then there is Uno, a 203 lb. goofy brindle male, 3 years old, also a gift from a breeder friend.
Honestly, bless his heart he is sweet as they come, but the light is on and no one is home. Frankly I'm not sure this guy is even wired! I call him my "special" child. I had a litter of 5 week old rescue kittens and one day they wandered into his crate. I came home and he was belly up and they were crawling all over him. He has a gentle soul, but is a true Marmaduke if there ever was one.
Q:Kathy: How many actually live with you?
A:Linda: Just three Danes live with me, I have some I co-own that live with friends. I am working on Jane Gray (Owlwatch) letting me co-own her pick bitch, "Leah" (Ch. Sandales Type Cast X Ch. Owlwatch Aztec Star of Maitau) we'll see.
Q:Kathy: You have been in this a long time, what major changes do you see in the breed.
A:Linda: I'd like to believe that I am not one of those individuals who always think things were better in the old days. Strengths and weaknesses in the breed vary at different times. We make strides in one area and fall behind in another. It more than likely will always be that way. Today we have much better rears than in the 60' and 70's - eek they were awful! If you look at old Dane Dispatch magazines you will see the difference. Frankly some of the old head types were pretty prehistoric too.
In the 70's, there was a larger selection of beautiful fawn males to choose from, more than we have available today. (1977 Dane Dispatch Stud Issue).
In the mid 80's it really seems we lost some size, bone and muscle mass. The 80's also brought us some serious temperament problems. Temperament should come before all considerations and knowingly offering an ill-tempered dog up for public stud is unconscionable.
Our front assembly still needs work. I think that area is the most complex because it involves so many factors when trying to evaluate and correct a problem. A few years ago I did an article on "Fronts", complete with illustrations. (Copies available).
I suppose right now my particular bone of contention is head type. It's particularly weak these days. It's not that I am a head hunter, but without a correct head your really lack breed type.
Once you live with beautiful head type, you know the difference. This is not to say nothing else matters, it is not an issue of heads over soundness, and you can have both. But everyone has his or her own interpretation on head type - it usually goes like this - whatever is in my house is the correct head type, that is why we have so much variation in the breed.
I really like a correct head but I fully appreciate the need for an overdone head type in a breeding program when you are trying to maintain correct heads. Head type, more than any other trait, can be very fleeting and can be lost in one generation and it takes more than one generation to get it back. But I must say I am forgiving on head type if expression is present.
Being an artist and teaching people "how to see", has its disadvantages. When I get to the show ring or receive the Dane magazine, I find it very frustrating. We have a standard to use as our guide, but if a person can't see - what the heck good is it.
Knowing proportion, balance and harmony comes naturally to a few individuals but there is no formal education for exhibitors, so everything is left to interpretation.
Q:Kathy: Maybe you could do a series of articles on "How to See" and how it applies to the standard.
A:Linda: That needs to be a hands-on seminar to do it justice. The problem is we are trying to interpret a 3 dimensional object (the dog) from looking at a 2 dimensional drawing (the standard). Anyone with a visual art, architecture or engineering background should not have a problem in this area.
Showing dogs is a beauty contest and often we make breeding choices for beauty and forget about the function of these dogs. There should be more emphasis and respect given to animals with obedience titles or duel titles in conformation and obedience.
One of my favorite animals of all times was Am/Can Ch. OTCH Danehaven's Rolling Thunder UDT, UDTDX, WDX, HC, TDI. Not only was he beautiful, he had titles out the wazoo thanks to the efforts of Marta Brock. Yet no one ever used this animal in their breeding program - now that was a damn shame - very short sighted.
Q:Kathy: What type of dog do you prefer?
A:Linda: The correct type. That should be our goal. But I understand the importance of the extreme animal in a breeding program. If you keep breeding moderate to moderate, you end up with less than moderate - you won't even maintain moderate type. If you breed extreme to moderate, you might get one extreme but mostly you maintain your moderate type. Less than moderate, well they should not be breed at all - period. It takes too many generations to breed up.
When breeding extreme to extreme it takes a very knowledgeable individual because often there are problems with lose skin and limp ear leather.
If we keep in mind this breed (danes) is a blend of mastiff and greyhound, the physiology of the Dane moves back and forth between these two breed types. It is visibly apparent when looking at stock over the years and is often the underlying reason why some animals are sensitive to wormers, flea preparations, inoculations and anesthesia ~ much like the sensitive sight hound system.
I believe it is important to move back and forth in your breeding. When your animals begin to get a little soft and sloppy but may have stronger head type, you need to go in the direction of a tighter skin, tighter bodied animal. If you will notice, it is difficult to get a large boned, heavy headed male with tight skin who is not a sloppy mover. Oh, they do exist, they are just difficult to find.
Q:Kathy: Did you breed your bitches to finished champions?
A:Linda: No, that was never an issue. In fact, most of the dogs I bred to were not finished or hardly known until later in their careers. I choose my studs on what best fit my girls. Temperament was of primary importance. Health was important but we all suffer from the same stuff so that is a shot in the dark most of the time. I wanted parts to compensate the parts that needed to be strengthened and then if I bred to the "type" I wanted, that is the type we got.
Q:Kathy: Are you saying you didn't look at the pedigree?
A:Linda: Oh yes, I looked but that was not my most important issue. In fact I think breeders get into trouble when they breed based strictly on a pedigree. I am always hearing "well he is a great grandson of so and so" as if that is going to really make much difference.
I look carefully at the parents, their littermates and grandparents and any littermates. Then I never count on anything good carrying from the pedigree but can be guaranteed the negative traits will rear their ugly heads. So if you have two nice, healthy animals then it is likely you are going to get some nice puppies. Like begets like, the majority of the time. That is my experience.
Q:Kathy: How about line breeding and inbreeding vs. out crossing? Which direction have you tried to take in your program?
A:Linda: These dogs are already too tightly breed. I have always tried to stay away from breeding too tight. It is almost impossible to outcross in fawns and brindles unless you have import stock available .You may not be able to see it in a 6-8 generation pedigree, but our fawns and brindle come from a small handful of original stock. Some people swear by inbreeding - they say it sets type, but it also sets the bad qualities too.
The inbred animals I've seen are usually small, fine boned, more sensitive to everything from food, diseases, inoculations, the ability to handle stress and are often hyper-sensitive to movement and sound.
Inbreeding in agriculture is common but they are short lived and it isn't a requirement for them to adapt to a home and the human living situation. An individual who is not a student of genetics and bloodlines should never do inbreeding.
Q:Kathy: Do you think inbreeding has any effect on longevity?
A:Linda: Oh my yes. I am sure there are isolated animals that have lived past 6-8 years. But animals are part of the family; I want them around a long time so vigor and longevity are very important to me.
This breed (giants) are a heartbreak and I think I have been pretty fortunate having several dogs live 10 -14 years. However, I have known breeders who view longevity as an undesirable trait because they want the dog finished, bred, then dead so they don't take kennel space for their next show prospects.
Q:Kathy: People actually feel that way?
A:Linda: I know a handful of breeders who have expressed that notion.
Q:Kathy: One of the health concerns I am particularly interested in is hip dysplasia. What are your thoughts on dysplasia and do you see the need to O.F.A.?
A:Linda: Oh, I was hoping we could get through these interviews without discussing that topic. I am not the gal to ask - really. Here is where I am going to ruffle feathers.
I have three stories. Not hearsay, but personal experiences, which brings me to my current "mixed feeling" about dysplasia and OFA.
First, it is very important to preface my three stories with a few comments on the disease. We know so little about canine nutrition as well as human nutrition. It is still unknown what specific nutritional requirements are necessary for each species. We are aware of the importance of nutrition and the part it plays in disease and disease prevention. So how do we know a disease is caused genetically or nutritionally? I answered that question with a question, I guess. I honestly believe there can be one or multiple factors in dysplasia, poor nutrition, genetics, injury (if not bi-lateral) and the one cause that gets overlooked is "poor structural design".
The first example: my current male pet was diagnosed as dysplastic at 3 years, yet this dog can scale a fence like a monkey and run like a gazelle. I raised this animal from 4 months on, however I do not believe this animal's problem is due to nutritional deficiencies. I do believe this animal's disease is caused by a problem of structural design. Due to an incorrect topline and croup. The parts simply don't fit, causing excessive wear on joints.
A good example of poor design is the German shepherd with hip and elbow dysplasia. They are a perfect example of a breed that was re-designed in the past 25 years. The excessive extension of the elbow at an early age puts great trauma on those joints. Same with the croup. When you breed away the croup, where are the joints supposed to go? If you are really interested in this idea of the "design" of a canine body, there is an excellent thesis written by Dr. H Riser, DVM, MS, DR.Vet Med, MA called "The Dog: His Varied Biological Makeup and Its Relationship to Orthopedic Diseases". It was published by the American Animal Hospital Association, P.O. Box 768, Mishawaka, Indiana 46544. There is a terrific section on the "Effects of Man's Manipulation on Orthopedic Soundness - Ouch!!!" It hits very close to home.
Q:Kathy: That is an interesting idea, most breeders' think of dysplasia in terms of genetics. So how about O.F.A.? our thoughts?
A:Linda: Well let me tell you another story about hips. Years ago I purchased a dog, he came to me at 4 months with bordetella and HOD. When he was x-rayed for HOD they informed me that he was severely dysplastic. I was devastated. To make a long story short, surgery was done, they clip the muscles to take pressure off the hip joint and I placed him in a pet home. (Neutered)
Years later I saw the dog at 6 and he had to have tonsil surgery. Just out of curiosity, I wondered about the condition of his hip joints so they x-rayed while he was under anesthesia. Guess what... the orthopedic vet said his hips were terrific. He could pass OFA. Now you tell me how can that be?
The lesson I learned from this is to keep in mind when x-raying a puppy, which I feel should only be done in the case of real emergency, that cartilage does not show up on an x-ray and those joints at 12-16 weeks are in a growing state and not a true indication of the future condition of the hip joints.
Q:Kathy: That must have been upsetting to lose a nice animal for your breeding program. I know you are saving the best story for last I can just tell by the expression on your face.
A:Linda: Yes, there is even a greater lesson to be learned in this one. I can now tell the story because the animal has expired. I co-owned a Champion male and the owner wanted him OFA'd because of stud inquiries. He was x-rayed and they were sent to OFA for reading. When the results came back the dog was rated as grade one hip dysplasia. Needless to say the owner was absolutely hysterical.
I rarely see things as strictly black and white so I called an orthopedic vet who had read for a mid-west university. And this is what he advised us to do. "Linda", he said "first, make sure the x-rays are taken by an orthopedics vet... you increase your chances considerably".
"Then each breed has a monthly quota. Make sure your x-rays are mailed in at the first of the month because once they reach their quota you are S.O.L. regardless of the condition of the hips".
He recommended re-submission of new x-rays. We waited the designated time period, repeated the x-rays and re-submitted to OFA - and guess what - they came back OFA good.
Now you tell me, how can a dog be dysplastic and then a few months later he is free of hip dysplasia? So, don't ask me about OFA, I am the wrong person.
If this was not my dog, I'm not sure I'd believe the story. And if you are thinking they took in another dog for the second x-ray, no, this was a one dog household. And no, the vet that gave me the advise was not the vet who re-read the x-rays, he had retired. So take that bit of information and use it how you see fit but I am the wrong person to ask on this subject. I am not saying you should not OFA, I am saying, once again, nothing is absolute.
Q:Kathy: That is amazing. Would you talk to me about your feeding program and of all the nutritional components you discuss in your articles? What one is the most important?
A:Linda: There are two. First a quality commercial food (if not strictly a natural diet). Second, of everything I talk about in my articles, I believe the most important component is the Daily Greens Plus (1-765-287-8288). I cannot emphasis enough the importance of this product for filling the wholes in all commercial foods, no matter what you feed. It is the one thing I will never go without. The Grays (Owlwatch) and Patrice and Jeff Lawrence (handlers) feel the same way. We just think it is critical and will not go without the Daily Greens in our animals diet.
Q:Kathy: Do you have a list of recommended foods?
A:Linda: Yes, I have a list of better quality foods recommended for breeders and I add and delete based on evidence I see or experience. We are fortunate to have a half dozen quality foods available to us if one does not have the time or inclination to feed totally naturally. I try to design a simple feeding program for people to use because of busy lifestyles.
Q:Kathy: Can people write you for that list of foods and suggested additions? Do you tell them what brand you feed?
A:Linda: Yes, I will send them a list of better feeds, a feeding program and other articles they wish to have for their files. I also tell people exactly what I feed and why, as well as make suggestions specific to their pets needs. I encourage them to photocopy the information and share with friends and puppy buyers. I have recently updated my "Puppy Buyers Guide and Feeding Program" and this includes the recommended amounts to feed at specific ages and activity levels. Anyone interested can just send me a SASE and I will get it to him or her right away. They can also copy it directly from this website by going to the Index Of Articles.
Q:Kathy: Is it true that one of the best commercial dog foods on the market actually came about because of your National Bone Survey published in the Great Dane Reporter?
A:Linda: Yes, that is right. I took all the information from the Bone Survey, over 700 Great Dane cases of veterinarian diagnosed bone diseases. I included all nutritional background on each animal and I sent it to companies asking for help. I told them we needed a quality tri-protein based, but moderate protein, moderate fat diet to raise the giant dogs. A food that allows the dogs to grow slow and even, yet get the nutrients necessary for growth.
I mailed, at my own expense, packets of information to Iams, Eagle, Science Diet and Nutro. The only company that responded was Mr. Joe Cocquyt of Eagle Co. Joe called me and asked me to meet him and John Marsman in Kokomo at the Denny's restaurant. Four hours later they left with an idea of what the giant breeds need in a food.
Out of the meeting was born the Eagle Natural Pack (23%/12%) and Joe let me set up feed trials across the nation using Dane litters before the food was put on the market. I did an interview with the owner of Eagle Dog Foods and it can also be accessed from this website by going to the Index Of Articles.
As a matter of interest, when Natural Pack became available to breeders, I received calls from two major companies wanting to talk about the bone problems in the giant breeds and how it related to calorie dense diets.
One company even offered to fly me to their research facility. Now, all of a sudden, years later, we see "feeds for the giant breeds" all over the market. But I won't support them on principle alone. They wouldn't give the breeders involved in the original Bone Survey the time of day but they sure are scrambling to get a chunk of the giant breed market now!
Q:Kathy: Do you sell any of the products you talk about in your articles?
A:Linda: Oh, absolutely not. It is critical I remain neutral when doing my own feed trials and personal research. Besides I don't have the time or inclination. You know artists are generally lousy business people and could care less. No I just use the stuff I write about. All the nutritional information and products I write about are human grade products that apply to dogs, cats and humans.
Q:Kathy: This has been an interesting and informative talk. Before we end is there anything else you would like to say?
A:Linda: Yes, lately there are many new exhibitors and potential breeders coming on the scene. To them I would like to say, I am not sure you realize just how much responsibility for this breed lies in your hands. I offer you this advice: