Fri, 02/17/2023 - 5:53pm

The Definition of Success

There's no universal answer

In our world of purebred dogs, with conformation as the focus:

How do you describe being successful?

When friends in my generation and I started breeding dogs, the aim and main ambitions  were to create future stars and of course prove to the entire world that we knew exactly what we were doing …

Which of course at the time we didn’t! But although benefitting from a mission and tradition started in most cases some 100-plus years ago when breeds were created, we were still able to move forward. For the original creators, looks were supposedly not the most important features. Be it for hunting, pointing, retrieving, going to ground, chasing foxes or rodents, herding anything from sheep to cattle, protecting herds from predators, guarding, etc., etc., – and then finally, simply, as pets, lapdogs or “comforters”! They were all to fulfill a purpose! But for us it was all about looks and attitude.

At the time I got involved, for a variety of breeds you could not achieve any conformation title in Scandinavia without having proven that the dog also still had the instinct and capability to perform tasks as intended by those “founding fathers and mothers” generations ago. Something we simply had to accept.

Very specific tests were created and required, which in my breed at the time, Wire Fox Terriers, and most terriers only applied to the International title. Same for my (English!) Cockers in Norway, but in Sweden at the time a tracking or retrieving test was required to have any title approved. Most of these required tests by now have been removed.

In retrospect I realize that all these restrictions, which some of us then considered a waste of time, in reality were of huge value in order to get proper understanding of and be able to fully comprehend why certain elements figured so prominently in the original standards. Unfortunately, I think that a number of those coming into our world of dog shows as breeders and exhibitors and even aspiring judges nowadays seem not to have the slightest interest or inclination to dwell on these issues.

Those who know me well — in some cases, too well — are totally au fait about my obsession with the front assembly on any breed supposed to go to ground. And in combination with my constant risk of “drowning” in an expression (which of course is an exaggeration), it illustrates how significant those features are to me. Which I think at times have led to decisions not readily obvious to the ringside. But if you know a breed well, you should be able to identify them by eyes and expression alone.

I think every dog I have owned in my life has been an individual learning experience for many reasons. The first Wire Fox Terrier bitch I owned was born exactly 60 years ago. My first male was born in 1959. The female was not by any means a superstar, and when I first showed her as a very young puppy to a very prominent Airedale breeder, she put her on the table and told me: With the right training, you can shape her to become a showable dog. Her best feature was a really wonderful expression. Of course, I followed instructions, spent hours and hours – and I always remember the words: “Have you ever observed the difference in carriage and style of a horse before and after being broken in? You can achieve similar success with dogs ….” I still to this day believe I proved her right — transforming a dog of typical pet class into an animal full of confidence and “self-belief.” Ingredients that would not necessarily pass on to the next generation.

And Lady Lou, supposed to found the Lou-line, in her own opinion was a world beater — to the extent that I felt sorry for her whenever she was beaten. Which happened most of the time …

The male, Terry, already came to me as a champion with a working certificate, and eventually many years later came back to the ring and at seven got his International title.

In his case, the contribution to my education was more about form and function.

Terry was BIG, measuring in at something like 17 inches, which is more than an inch above the ideal. Many were the comments made about his ability to go to ground. So we did another test just to prove things — and he was flying through the artificial set with no difficulty! Which to many came as a surprise, as another dog of perfect size had to be “rescued” when he got stuck in what we call “the eye of the needle,” which measures 12 by 17 centimeters (less than five by seven inches) due to an incorrect, very wide front!  (I remember reading some of his critiques, one saying lovely front and forechest!) These tests were performed using artificial sets, which fortunately had lids all over in case dogs got stuck and needed help. Which was lucky for this guy — in a natural set, he would either have died there or had to be dug out.

Terry’s secret was that he had a clean, rather narrow (in other words, perfect) front without any excessive muscles or forechest — in combinations with a rather wide, strong rear — which with he without difficulty wiggled through any obstacles … But of course, in my opinion, the instinct imprinted in their brains is the main ingredient for any talent and ability. There is only one way to find out.

In those days for most breeds designed for hunting of any kind, for approval to judge the breed it was mandatory that you could show proof of having attended the appropriate trial — which to me really makes sense.

I have always claimed that to fully understand breed type and essential features of Wire Fox Terriers you will also have to study and hopefully understand closely related breeds like Lakeland and Welsh Terriers. As closely related they are, and even more so in the olden days when DNA wasn’t invented — or at least used by the kennel clubs as a requirement for registration. And not only by exterior, which should be easy to comprehend if explained properly, but also the serious difference in temperament, despite in effect being “created” for the same purpose. Although in different parts of England where not only topography was different, but where also the mentality, temperament, dialect and sense of humor of the population were definitely “area sensitive”!

What I found most interesting when visiting breeders on my crusades to England in the early days was that most “smaller” breeders seemed interested in their own breed only, while basically all the more well-known and successful breeders and exhibitors both in Cockers,  Terriers and other breeds clearly had a wider perspective. And I personally think that was of major importance for their own success — and their eyes were probably opened and their horizons widened by observing and listening to what happened in other breeds.

But returning to my opening question about defining success as a breeder:

I think number one to me was when a couple came back to purchase their fourth WFT, after buying their first some 40 years ago — all with a 13-year-plus lifespan!

Another very satisfying experience is when some of the people you consider your original mentors buy dogs from you — or even consult you regarding planned future combinations … Which not only proves their magnitude in general, but also the quality of their minds – which is what I felt from the very beginning.

But maybe what has given me the most pleasure, pride and satisfaction over the years is not any individual wins, but standing ringside watching a class of great, healthy dogs who all have one or more dogs with my prefix in their pedigree. Even if these days you will have to look back quite a few generations.

So maybe this obsession wasn’t just a waste of time and effort after all …

Until next time …



© Dog News. This article may not be reposted, reprinted, rewritten, excerpted or otherwise duplicated in any medium without the express written permission of the publisher.

Stay Connected



YES! Send me Dog News' free newsletter!