An interview published in Finland:
>> What are the qualities you value most in a MS?
When evaluating a specific dog, I first look at the basic make and shape. If you shaved that dog's coat off, put the ears and tail back on and painted it tan, is it still a Schnauzer? Could it be mistaken for a Wire Fox? A Welsh? A Cocker? Or would it be so generic that you'd have difficulty identifying the breed?
After that, I probably look for the same things most do - a body that fits within a square, with leg length (at the elbow) half the height at the withers. Rib spring that comes from the spine and tapers behind the elbows. Barrel chests with shallow, flattened bottoms are too common in the breed - along with elbows that hang out from their sides, the humerus muscled up like a turkey drumstick!
If the front assembly is correctly made and placed, and the ribcage of proper shape, there will be a moderate forechest. It's one of the key characteristics that distinguishes Schnauzers from the long legged digging terriers, and one of the first things I look for. We must take care not to fall into the trap of accepting the terrier front, just because terrier fronted Minis are so often rewarded in the ring.
I place a lot of emphasis on what I call "back-to-neck ratio". Ideally, the distance from the occiput to the transition (a point just back of the shoulder tips) should be roughly equal that of transition to tailset. Achieving that outline doesn't require an extreme long neck - it's more important that the neck arch from the top of the body, with a tail set high on the croup, and plenty of buttock behind it.
It's an esthetic quality, but back-to-neck ratio is one of those qualities that moves a dog from the realm of "good" to "great". A lot of things have to go right to achieve it.
There's another aesthetic quality I look for that's harder to describe. I want a Mini Schnauzer to "hold down the ground", with weight over all four legs. Many MS appear flung forward like they were shot out of a bow - the neck projects from the front of the body, all the visual weight thrown over the front. Such dogs also tend to have steeper fronts and toplines with too much slope.
My views on movement are pretty well known. A Mini who moves like a Fox Terrier in profile lacks breed type. The breed is built to cover ground with reach and drive similar to that of a Standard. The breed standard states this very clearly, by calling for "maximum" reach and strong drive and good pickup of hocks. It's disheartening to see how many stilted, hackneyed and sickle-hocked dogs are in the ring and winning at the highest levels.
Finally, correct expression is very important me. A Mini Schnauzer should never look up at you like a spaniel! Schnauzer eyes should be difficult to see in a properly trimmed head - dark, almond shaped, deep set. A good head is rectangular in all aspects - not rounded. This requires a flat skull, high earset, clean cheeks and a strong muzzle that is equal the length of topskull.
One of the problems I"m seeing results from the fad for extreme head length. You cannot breed for an excessively long head without paying the price in head planes and expression. The eyes become round, stops lengthen, and the underjaw weakens.
Of course, a solid temperament and good showmanship are invaluable if you intend to compete at the highest levels here, but I will work with a soft, more sensitive dog if he is otherwise sane and has strong virtues in other areas.
>> Your all-time favorite MS?
It's probably most useful though to point you to the dog whose photograph has strongly influenced me over the years - the issue of Schnauzer Shorts from April, 1984 that features Am.Ch.Skyline's Storm Signal - both the cover shot, and the one on page 6. There is a dog who has the right expression, a beautiful arched neck and high tailset, is square and full of substance, but without a trace of coarseness. Plus, he stands over the ground well, with weight distributed over all four legs.
I am not saying that the dog in life typified my ideal - I saw him only once as a veteran. But that photograph does. A beautiful representation of the breed that all of us should study and consign to memory.
>> The principles you follow in your own breeding programme?
The over-riding goal at Minuteman is to build and continue a family of dogs that offers distinct traits to the breed, that conform as closely as possible to my own "ideal mental image". I breed to please myself first, but I also expect my dogs to be highly competitive, no matter where they are shown. There are other projects as well, such as preserving the now rare Skyline family in as pure a form as possible. Some of our breedings are conducted with that goal alone in mind.
It's why you don't see Minuteman bitches sent willy-nilly to the latest top winner or top producing sire. A lot of the top sires in North America are created by the "handler truck phenomenon", anyway - bitches who finish with certain breed specialists often go home bred to the dog they're promoting.
I keep a close eye on where the "dosage" is going in the breeding program. By dosage, I mean the contribution of important dogs who are now further back in my pedigrees. After a few years working within this fairly tightly bred family, I've noticed that keeping certain dogs in balance in my pedigrees tends to produce the type I prefer, while too much dosage of one or the other will push them away from my ideal.
For example - I've found that with too much close concentration of "Eleventh Hour", noise sensitivity and soft temperaments become a problem. But one must keep his contribution up across the pedigree, or side-gait begins to weaken.
A percentage of "Blue Heaven" strengthens temperament and is required to maintain upperarm length, forechest and tight elbows. Too much Heaven, and I lose tailsets.
If I push too hard on the "Benalta Batman" dosage, I'll have to work for 6 months teaching them to stop barking! But he's absolutely essential for the stallion carriage and high tailset needed to create the equal back-to-neck ratio that I seek.
One thing I do differently than most, is that I keep a lot of males intact to be used should it be necessary. In addition to the top producing sires I have here at the house, others dogs are placed in companion homes after making up their titles, on the stipulation that they not be neutered. I may only use the dog once or twice, when I need specific ingredients or an alternate sire to increase dosage of a key ancestor. So many good dogs are lost to the breed because they don't quite make the grade to be consistant winners or popular sires. It's a mistake to neuter them, in my opinion. Keeping these dogs available for later use means I can breed away from one of my dominant sire lines for a generation or two without being forced to seek an outcross.
I avoid outcrosses as a general rule, and find the best way to bring in new blood is to let other breeders who are using my family line to do the experimentation. I can then choose from their successes and introduce the outcross by utilizing dogs that are half my breeding already!
Of course, all of these considerations are balanced by health risks - some real, and others that I'd like to avoid. However, I'm willing to accept certain faults - even health risks - to preserve more elusive virtues.
>> Your advice to novice breeders?
It's not possible for your dogs to be all things to all people without becoming generic. Focus on the traits that are important to you and then set about capturing and producing them in your dogs.
Set clearly defined, attainable goals, dedicate yourself to achieving them. Some of those goals must be competitive in nature. Not being all things to all people is not a license to breed dogs who please only yourself! The show ring is an imperfect place to test the quality of our animals, but it is all there is. Show your dogs, and demand success of yourself. If they don't win with some consistancy in typical competition, you have improvements to make. (If they do, set your sights higher.) Perhaps it's the grooming, or handling or a faulty dog. Figure it out and fix it.
Work at developing an "ideal mental image". Save photos of dogs you admire, and put them up where you groom, so you can constantly refer to those animals and compare them to your own progress. (It goes without saying that you must have a mirror behind your grooming table.) Be aware that your ideal mental image will evolve as you gain knowledge. Don't be afraid to take pictures down as you learn.
Go to the show early and stay late. Watch, study and examine good dogs in as many breeds as you can. Not only will you expand your understanding of Miniature Schnauzers, it will help you develop objectivity. You cannot improve on your dogs if you cannot find or admit their faults. Learning to evaluate dogs with which you have no personal attachment is useful in developing the skill to look at your own with clearer vision.
Seek out a mentor, but be discriminating. No mentor is better than a bad mentor, and bad mentors are more common than good ones. A mentor in a different breed is often far more helpful than one in your own - their advice isn't clouded by breed peeves and personal feuds. They must have accomplished something in their breed over several generations, or they are of no use to you. Who in their right mind seeks guidance from an underachiever?
Breed towards the good, not away from the bad. ^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^
It is better to breed from a dog with obvious virtues and obvious faults, than it is to breed from one of overall mediocrity. What does that mean? When faced with a choice between a beautiful bitch with a bad bite and an ordinary bitch with a good one, I'll take the one with the bad bite in a heartbeat. Breeding out a bite problem is simple. Breeding in quality is hard.
Strictly limit the number of bitches you keep - this is important for all of us to remember. My advice to novices is to start with one of good quality and an excellent pedigree. Breed only one litter at a time and grow out the best, develop them into young adults and show them for a few months before even considering another.
It does not take a lot of investment to breed very, very good dogs. What it takes is a lot of devotion, study and work. So, keep only your best, give them your best, and you'll be amazed at how quickly they become better.
>> What are the most important health issues in the North-American MS >> population today?
In terms of specific threats, I believe Avium TB poses a serious challenge for both North America and Europe. Outcrossing is going to bury this devastating immune deficiency for a few generations, now that people have become aware of the risk. That, of course, is only going to transform AVTB from a familial into a breed problem.
There is also attention being given recently to kidney disease, and that's going to be another difficult one, as it appears that many affected dogs are capable of living relatively normal lifespans.
Eye problems are always an issue, but more so because the highly successful test breeding program for CJC, along with revelations about PRA in leading stud dogs, has sensitized us so. Plus, CERF exams are easy to do, easy to read, easy to understand - and easy to condemn. It puzzles to me how many breeders will discard a dog over a relatively mild eye defect, and continue breeding from those who have bladder stones or heart defects in their immediate pedigrees!
Health defects are a normal part of breeding, because all dogs carry genetic disease genes. There is no such thing as a "clear line", only dogs who don't carry A, B, or C disease, but who do carry D, E, and F. There are only two types of breeders - those who understand that all dogs carry defects, and that discovering and controlling them in their lines is just a normal part of breeding - and those who are in states of denial.
My biggest concern isn't so much the prevalence of defects, but that better testing and developments in DNA research will be piggybacked onto old "slash and burn" attitudes towards eradicating defects.
This is very dangerous stuff for a breed's gene pool. DNA testing is a tool to identify the best clear descendants of quality carriers, to help preserve those family lines while a gene is being bred out.
If it takes 3 - 4 - 5 generations of testing to sift a recessive gene from a breeding program, what is the harm? If you occasionally produce a puppy who must be euthanized, well - it's not the end of the world. The species has litters for a reason - in the wild, a feral dog would be lucky to see one out of 4 puppies survive to reproduce. Now, most puppies survive, and instead of starvation, injury and predation, modern dogs live long enough to enjoy the luxury of cataracts or allergies.
These genes have been with us for uncounted generations and the breed has survived. There is no need to "cure Rome in a day" to avoid the criticisms of the uninformed and just plain vindictive among our peers.
That's not to say a dog who carries a serious genetic defect should be used widely at public stud to sire dozens and dozens of carriers. Such dogs should be used only sparingly and with specific goals in mind. A few good sons or daughters might some day produce puppies who are tested clear - but we must have those quality descendants, or there will be nothing to test.
It worries me when breed clubs write mandatory "codes of ethics" or breeding prohibitions to control genetic disease. It's not important that we all do the right thing. It is only important that we don't all do the _wrong_ thing.
Programs that tell all breeders to follow the same strict protocol risk forcing everyone to do the wrong thing.
I spent many years doing archival research in the breed, cataloging the Canadian Champions and sire lines back to the 1930's. While researching those lines, something became apparent. Most of the lines of winners of the past have become extinct. Breeding programs that were successful for 10 years would quietly disappear, replaced by more successful ones.
Looking at the dogs, their photos, their show records, and knowing something about the various problems in the lines at the time, something became very apparent that turned my thinking upside down.
Beauty is more important than health.
That will come as a shock to some people who have been indoctrinated in the conventional wisdom that the opposite is true. Well - our breed's history says something different.
Health problems may cause breeding program to stumble, or a breeder to change their plans, but ugly is _fatal_. The lines that prevail in the ring survive. Those that don't win, die out.
Those who sacrifice beauty on the altar of health will achieve neither.
>> How do you see the future of the breed (threaths/possibilities)?
I think one of the biggest threats is the loss of distinct families. The goal of creating a distinct and identifiable kennel line seems to be fading away in the pursuit of the generic champion.
So many people breed with only the faintest understanding of genetics. I must say, this is also a problem in European countries, where colour crossing is banned. I read a great deal of "opinion" on colour crossing that has been long proven wrong by studies in molecular genetics, if only the rule makers took the time to upgrade their knowledge.
It goes hand in hand with another problem - new breeders are not studying the origins of the breed. If one mentions pivotal dogs from the 1950's or 1970's, they don't know what you're talking about. That's negligence. One cannot know where a breed is going if you don't know where it's been.
I've touched on this under the section for novices, but I'll do so again. The breed is being dragged down by the tendency of breeders to keep too many dogs, produce too many puppies. They dilute the quality of their breeding programs by keeping not just their best bitches, but the second and third rate ones they should have sold as pets. The occasional good ones that come out of such directionless breedings are inconsistant producers, because their mothers and grandmothers lack quality. We see the consequences in the ring - classes full of mediocrity, both financed and compromised by the pets in their pedigree.
On the positive side, I think there are a few very promising new breeders coming over the horizon here who have a keen interest and the will to work hard at it, and they're competing with the professionals and succeeding.
By and large, temperaments in the breed are excellent - this will always be the saving grace of the Miniature Schnauzer, no matter what other problems may come and go. We are truly blessed with one of the most endearing dispositions in dogdom. As damaging an influence the pet market can be, it is also a cushion that allows us to breed for the ring without the worries of unsold puppies.
While it is very difficult for the novice to learn the skills needed to compete in a breed with high grooming demands, ours is a breed where it is still possible for the owner handler to succeed. Not as often as deserved, and it's saddening to watch those who know better use their reputations and influence to promote dogs who really don't merit the effort. But it is what it is. Winning faults come and go like any other fad, and usually, a swing in the wrong direction is countered by a correction a few years later.
In closing, I'll add something I tell people at my seminars. As breeders, we have been entrusted with something very precious - a bitch line. Every time one of us fails to produce dogs of sufficient quality to carry it forward, we fail that trust. When we become lazy and indifferent about promoting our good dogs to others, we fail again.
Most of our male lines are beyond restoration - as they once collapsed on Dorem Display, they are now collapsing around Sky Rocket's First Stage. In 20 years, we may find they've collapsed again, with nearly all leading sires descending from Rampages Representative.
On the other side of the chart, we are also losing bitch lines. The daughter of the daughter fails to produce a daughter that carries on, another branch of the line dies and the gene pool narrows a tiny bit more.
Every time a line dies, the breed skips a heartbeat.
If you love this breed, it is imperative that you understand the forces that move it forward - since the earliest days of the breed, their proving ground has been the show ring. It is our version of "Darwinian selection", and no amount of good intentions will help your line survive into the future if you do not make the commitment to breed better and smarter, groom with precision and present them at their best.