Breeding with a Purpose: Diane and Luke Ehricht, of Hallmark Jolei Shih Tzu, are still true to their breed
In March of 1972, I attended my first dog show. I was 11 years old and went with family friends to be company for their son who was bored at dog shows.
When I entered the coliseum, I was mesmerized. I had no dogs at this time and this arena full of dogs was heaven. I loved the dogs; I loved the excitement; I loved the competition. I loved it all.
I soon immersed myself in the world of conformation. I met a local veterinarian who showed dogs. She asked me to come to her clinic after school to help socialize her puppies. Next I was asked to accompany her to some shows. I read every book about any and all breeds I could get my hands on. I watched judging of any breed I could, and asked questions of all the people who would talk with me about their dogs. Soon it became obvious that I had a passion for showing dogs.
That Christmas, the vet I helped at shows invited me to her clinic. Out she came with a wonderful ball of fluff: my first dog, a Lhasa Apso puppy. I was over the moon. My parents were not so thrilled, but that is a different story. So that is how I got my start. Breeding dogs was not in my mind at that point, but breeding was the next natural progression in this world.
Diane's story is different. When Diane was a teenager she had a passion for horses. This is an expensive hobby, so to divert her attention to a more affordable interest, her mom and dad steered her toward dogs. Her mother had studied the Shih Tzu and felt that it would be right for their family. It was. Diane, her mother, and her father then started Jolei kennels and began to show and produce on a small scale; however, with great success. They produced an all-breed Best in Show winner and a national-specialty winner. Diane began handling and discovered it was something she loved as much, if not more, than the horses.
When Diane and I met we had 30 years of Shih Tzu experience between us. After we married and created our own kennel name "Hallmark" we decided to add the Jolei out of respect for Diane's parents. Thus our kennel name Hallmark-Jolei.
Diane and I have strong and sometimes differing opinions about our dogs. This has been a real asset to our breeding program. This leads to great discussions about who we will breed to whom and our personal reasons. While we do differ, we also have the same basic ideas about what our breed should look like. We each have our preferences, but those preferences are still within the same realm of what we think is correct in the Shih Tzu. The result of this is our line, which we feel has developed over the years with a very distinctive look. Watch, Ask, Read, Breed
So what does one do who is hoping to begin a breeding program? First, study the breed standard. Go to shows and see what appeals to you within that standard. Read, read, read about your breed. Educate yourself about not only the current information available, but read about the history of the breed. Learn about canine structure and movement. This is a necessary tool to understand soundness and how it relates to your breed's specific traits.
When you purchase your foundation dog, be prepared to use this dog as a learning experience. Many times, in spite of all your diligent research, your first show dog may not develop in the way you hoped. Your eye may change when you gain that hands-on experience. For example, after I spent two years raising and showing my first Shih Tzu bitch, I learned that although she became a "Champion," she was not the best I could have.
If I proceeded down that path, I would be wasting both valuable time and my money. Therefore, I had to start over and used that knowledge and experience from my "Champion" to start over. I had to learn more about pedigrees and paid attention to where the dogs I liked came from, and who produced those dogs. Both Diane and I believe that paying attention to pedigrees is important. Know the dogs in your pedigrees for as many generations as possible. This important tool provides the knowledge of the strengths, and weaknesses, of your foundation. Avoid "kennel blindness."
Talk to breeders; they are a wealth of information. Here are three tips on approaching a breeder. 1. Be respectful; ask if this is a good time to talk. 2. Don't discuss breeder's information with other breeders. 3. Appreciate the information an experienced breeder shares with you, even if it doesn't feel right for you. In the end you have to make your own choices. Naturally, it is always nice to find a mentor. If you feel you have found a like-minded experienced breeder, ask them to help you. This is an invaluable asset. The Long Path
Here at Hallmark Jolei, Diane and I breed for one purpose: to breed something that will improve our line. We never breed just because a bitch is in season. We never breed for the sake of having dogs to sell. If we don't have the right male for our bitch or one isn't available, we skip her. If we are not ready to add another dog to further our breeding program, we do not breed. We only breed with the hopes that we can add another steppingstone down this long path.
We choose who we breed our females to by their own attributes and their pedigrees, never by a winning show record. We own the top-winning Shih Tzu in history, Ch. Hallmark Jolei Raggedy Andy. Until five years ago, he was only used twice. We did not feel we had the right bitches for him at the time; therefore we waited a few generations to go back to him.
Naturally we heard rumors, "He could win, but you never see any of his puppies." He was almost 8 years old and that suddenly changed because we had reached a point in our breeding program that we felt was right to use him. Since then, his get has more than proven him to be a wonderful producer. It's about timing. Too many breeders get caught up in the winning dogs rather than what is the best dog for their bitch.
We seldom do outcross breedings: only four in the past 19 years. Two were successful, two were not. The puppies that came from the two litters we consider unsuccessful were champion quality; however, they did not improve on what we were looking for. They were sold and not introduced into our breeding program. Every breeding for us must have a purpose.
Diane and I believe that a kennel's strength lies in its bitches. They give you the solid basis to work with, and a great bitch can be bred to any dog that is available. If you breed a mediocre bitch to a high-quality stud dog, you may end up with a nice puppy. However, those undesirable traits from the bitch will haunt you in generations to come. In our experience, a good bitch is a breeder's best asset. Consider the Cake, Not the Icing
In Shih Tzu and perhaps other breeds, breeders can get distracted from breeding for type and conformation by breeding for color and markings. In our breed, color and markings are unimportant. I have seen too many breeders breed for this fad. It does nothing to help our breed.
Several years ago we were at an outside dog show, and we had a 4-month-old litter travelling with us for socialization. Some breeders walked by and stopped to admire our litter. One said, "I guess that one is a pet?" I asked, "Why do you say that?" She replied, "He's almost all white." We chuckled and said to each other later, "She must be kidding. She didn't look at his head, his outline, his topline and tail-set, his pigment or his movement." He was our pick. This dog turned out to be the top-winning Shih Tzu of all time, Ch. Hallmark Jolei Raggedy Andy. He won 84 all-breed Bests in Show.
Therefore, our advice is: Look at the overall dog, look at what matters in your breed standard, ignore the "icing on the cake." Color is a fad, a passing fancy that can distract a breeder from what is important in the breed. Look for the best Shih Tzu, not the one that is the best for their particular color.
Be true to your breed, be patient, listen to the experts, and you will be successful. Diane and Luke Ehricht of Hallmark-Jolei Shih Tzu were the Toy Group representatives for the 2008 American Kennel Club Breeder of the Year award.