The Borzoi Quarterly
Dr. Richard Meen and
Dr. John Reeve-Newson
KISHNIGA [Part III]
Campbellville, Ontario, Canada
This interview was conducted in July 1983 at Dick and John's home by Jocelyne Ivanovskis.
Do you ever sell on terms?
Dick: 99.99% of the time, it's cash. It does depend on the bitch, of course. Say someone comes to us and wants to use a stud that has not been proven. Our stud fee for an unproven male is $100 when the litter is on the ground. No matter how great the dog may be, the stud fee is $100 if it is unproven. We figure that anyone who wants to breed their bitch to that male at that time is doing us a service. If the dog is proven, that will change, of course. Some people use the rule of thumb, that a stud fee will be based on the price of a pet puppy. I don't think we've really used that as a criterion. We've gone by quality of the dogs, and what they've produced.
John: I went through a period where, essentially, I didn't want to breed to any outside bitches at all. When you're novices in a breed, and you've done some winning, people use your dog. Then when the resulting puppies don't do well, you get some negative feedback; it's all the fault of the dog. I thought, "I really don't need this in my life. Let's just close him to public stud." That's wrong, too, of course. If there are people who are seriously interested in your bloodlines, you should make your breeding stock available, just as other people did for us. I think that's a responsibility you have to the breed. I will breed a dog of ours to a bitch, regardless of the OWNER. That's a breeder's responsibility; the dogs themselves have no choice whatsoever. Who owns a given dog should make absolutely no difference; otherwise, the owners, the breeders, and the BREED all lose out eventually.
When you're planning a breeding, what do you look at first? What makes you decide to do a given breeding?
What do you mean by that? You have a good feeling...?
John: Yes, I think it's a good feeling...
Dick: You'd better say more than that! I want to know what you're talking about!
John: (laughter) In the kennel, there are always dogs that are sort of either Dick's, or mine. Not in terms of possession, but in terms of favoritism, or sentimental attachment. We have to come to terms with that. For example, I want to breed Dolly; so the first dog that she is bred to, while a joint decision, is really MY decision. Because she's sort of my dog, in terms of emotional attachment. That's very ambiguous, I know...
Dick: What John is saying is, we take turns! Dolly is John's favorite bitch in our kennel, so he has first chance at what he would like to see her produce for us. That's the fun of it. In terms of what John is saying about intuition, you just have a FEEL for what is right. But John has, and I have have, some very clear ideas in our minds as to what we want to achieve.
John: It's not usually in the current breeding, it's two or 3 breedings away. That's what Braxton says. He also said, very wisely, that you don't breed to the dog; you breed to the sire of the dog. We learned that from our first litter. We didn't breed to the top winning dog in Canada, or the top winner in the U.S.; we bred to the father of the dog, who at that time had not even finished in Canada. He was a pet. But that's where it came from; it wasn't his children, it was HIM. He produced two sons like that, and that is where the power was. The power was behind the throne, so to speak. I suppose that is putting it in rather "Renaissance" terms, but that is what it's all about. Too many people breed to a dog because it's winning, but they should look where he came from.
John: You sit and you look at dogs. I watch and watch the dogs. I may look up a dog that really catches my eye, its breeding. Every day of my life, I think about breeding. I came up with the perfect breeding, and I'm not going to tell you what it is! Then I can retire! (laughter)
We had some people here a few weeks ago. They had a very pretty bitch, which was very poorly angulated in the rear, unfortunately; it would have made a Chow look overangulated. They said, "Now, if we take this bitch and breed her to this male, we'll end up with a litter of moderately angulated dogs." Regrettably, that is the way most people think, and it's wrong. You will end up with a portion of dogs that are poorly angulated, and a portion that are overangulated. Most people think that, in breeding, if you breed A to B, you'll end up with AB, but you won't. Not at all. There are certain things that you can put on a breeding in a generation, such as strong heads.
Dick: Not a whole litter.
John: No, but if you breed to a dog with a strong head, he will throw that head very quickly. When we got into breeding, Dick thought that temperament was mostly environmental, whereas I had always felt that it was genetic. We have come to compromise - it's genetic! (laughter)
Dick: I'm a psychiatrist - it's both! (laughter) If a dog has a basically good temperament, he can be ruined. But also, if he has that good temperament, he can be brought back around, always. We went through that whole number with our first litters. We do make a great effort at socialization. Fortunately, my office is in town, so the puppies that we are going to keep to show are brought into town every day. They are walked around with the noise and the traffic from about the age of 5 to 8 months, which is wonderful exposure. They get over the culture shock. It's interesting, because if they get that exposure at that age, you can take them out at two years, and it's just there. They will not be traumatized by anything if the basic foundation is layed. They may be confused at first, until they get used to the routine, but they will always have that basic solid temperament.
What about bringing puppies in the house?
Dick: A lot of our puppies are whelped in the house. But all of them, once they are weaned, start taking turns coming in, and living in the house. When I say living in the house, we built the kitchen such that it's dogproof.
Yes, I've seen it - it's great!
Dick: Yes, it's a place where dogs can run around, and not get into any trouble. It's a place where they're not always going to be slapped because they're chewing on Grandma's coffee table; and they can pee on the floor, because there are no Persian rugs, and so forth. Then they have a kennel on the back of the kitchen, and there is grass. When they come in, we try to get them fed.
John: Fortunately, our housekeeper likes puppies, and will go out and look after them, and feed them tidbits, and play with them. I think that currently, all the puppies are eating sandwiches that were left over from the USA shows. They've been living on egg salad sandwiches for the first three weeks! (laughter) They all come in and chitter-chat with our housekeeper.
Dick: And watch television.
John: Right. We don't bother to do any leashbreaking here. When they are ready for that, we take them into town.
Do you do this only with the puppies you are going to keep?
Dick: With all the puppies in all the litters, because of course we don't always agree. So they all come in. It depends on how many puppies we have. We only have 5 right now, and they're all in the house.
John: Most of our requests now are for show pups, or show potential, I guess you should call it.
When you sell a puppy, how do you decide about show potential?
John: This varies, for what we consider different show potential.
Dick: I've never sold a show quality pup under 6 months. And I've never sold one, of any breed, dog or bitch, as show quality that I myself would not be proud to take in the ring. The issue is not really show or pet quality, it's what I personally would be proud to take in the ring. There are a lot of dogs being shown today that I consider absolute pets. I don't want a dog of ours, with our kennel name, in the ring, if it's not really good. So that's how we make the decision.
When I say show quality, I mean a dog that can finish its American championship. Realistically, it's probably more difficult to get a Canadian championship in Borzoi than an American one, especially in this area. We have some of the best breeders in Borzoi in Canada in this area. You may only have 4 dogs in the class, all very good. So a Canadian championship in Borzoi is NOT a cheap title; but there are still people who are convinced otherwise. Then there are the people who say, "Oh, he's 7 months old and hasn't finished his championship!" Borzoi are dogs that may not be mature and ready to show until they are much older.
When you sell a dog as show quality, does that also mean breeding quality?
John: Yes. Show rings are a place where you exhibit your stock for breeding purposes, to let other breeders know the quality of your stock. A judge's opinion does not in any way change MY opinion.
Has someone ever come up to you and said they were looking for a BIS puppy?
John: Dick has a wonderful answer for that!
Dick: I got a phone call at 7:00 in the morning, and I'd just gotten home at 4, after driving for 12 hours. All I heard on the end of the line was, "Dr. Meen?"
I said, "Yes?"
"I'm looking for a Best in Show Borzoi puppy."
I said, "So am I! When you find one, call me!" And I hung up!
You cannot buy a specials dog at 6 or 9 months.
John: Campaigning is a whole different thing, though. I don't know if I could live through another campaign.
Dick: People are always carting around dogs that neither John nor I feel are really specials quality. A specials dog, to me, is one that will win the Breed regularly, and will be great competition. That is a specials dog. A lot of champions are not specials at all. They may have won their championships, but they are NOT specials.
When you sell dogs or puppies, is it strictly on a cash basis?
John: No, a check's okay!
Dick: That's true, we've never had a check bounce.
I meant in terms of puppy back agreements, or anything like that.
John: Not usually. Life is complicated enough.
Dick: There are 3 exceptions, usually with friends, people we know and respect in the breed.
Why did you make any exceptions?
Dick: Oh, there may be really good people in the breed, who just don't have the money at a given time, and it's not fair to them to tie it all up. So we may sell on a co-ownership. But we've never gone beyond that. I don't believe these kennels that sell (or send) their bitches out on these incredible contracts. They flood the market, and yet they haven't actually bred at all, except for the original litter(s). But they keep getting all these puppies back.
Because of all the strings attached.
Dick: Right. We've never sold a dog (male) on a co-ownership. If people are interested, we've said, "Hey, this dog really should be ALL yours. You're the one doing all the work, spending the time and money. You should get all the credit. You should be able to say that you own it when it goes Best in Show,"or whatever.
What's a fair price for a show quality puppy?
Dick: $800 or $1000, and up. It depends on the age. We've increased our prices. We don't make any money at all in breeding; that's impossible. We lose money.
John: You have to think of how many you have to breed to get one that is show potential. We feel that if you buy a show quality dog from us, as someone did recently -they paid a good price for the dog, and they finished it quickly. It used to be, what, $100 a point for an American championship? That was a starting point for figuring. But these people finished that dog in very few shows. They were lucky, and it probably cost them maybe $100.
Dick: That's right, no gas, since it was the same location. Of course that's the key to showing: wait until the dog is ready.
Do you screen buyers?
John: You can usually tell (I'm terribly snobbish!) by the letters they write; by their grammar. I'm never really interested in people that call on the telephone; I usually tell them to write me a letter.
Dick: Yes, when they call, I listen, and then tell them to please just write it all down and send it to me.
There was one exception, where I knew the people very well. They called, and we encouraged them to come out and have a look. I knew exactly which puppy they would take. They came out, and I said, "Why don't you go and muck around in the kennel?" They wanted a bitch, and I told them they could have any bitch that they wanted in that kennel. They were out there for 3 hours; it was a husband and wife. They came in 3 hours later carrying that same puppy I'd said they would take! You get a feel for people. You want people to be happy with a dog; they're going to live with it a long, long time.
How would you describe the ideal Borzoi, not just conformation, but overall?
John: You want it in words? Basically good conformation, grace, symmetry, harmony, balance. To quote Robin Hernandez, a Borzoi should be one graceful line from the point of the nose to the tip of the tail. I think that describes a Borzoi probably the best of any I've heard. One long, flowing continuous line; no abrupt interruptions. A strong head, dark eyes, beautifully shaped; I don't like round eyes. Small, fine ears. A long tail. Good angulation. BALANCE is extremely important. Moderately exaggerated hindquarters in terms of angulation, but not overangulated; WELL-angulated.
Flow, I think, is a better word. If I had to put into one word what I like in a Borzoi, that would be it ---flow.
What about temperament?
John: There are several that I like to live with. I like them to be a bit outgoing, like Whipped Cream and Varnish. I like that outgoing attitude; I like it in people. If you've got it, flaunt it, you know. It's a bit pushy. I like people that are a bit pushy, too. I can't stand hysterical ones. I also like them to be a bit conniving, with a sense of humor.
Who do you have that you like best for that last trait?
Dick: We've got one called Buttons that is wonderful. She's heaven. She verges on the "tartish," which I really like.
John: I like that in people, too. Just the slight edge of "sluttiness" about them!
Dick: A little sleeze!
What about the feet?
John: We differ on that. I like different feet than Dick. The feet I like are not the ones described in the standard, necessarily, per se. I like a bit shorter foot, more a cat foot. I have a few hangups, like eyes. I like a good, long tail, carried well.
John: Low, my dear! It makes me crazy to see a Borzoi carry its tail over the level of the back, or even over the level of the hocks.
Dick: It should be carried like a Russian sabre. I also like dark eyes.
There are two things that are really important to me: One is that a dog to be typey. Whatever that word is, it certainly means something. You don't want it to look like a Terrier, or a Doberman, or a Setter. It should like like a Hound. A sighthound, a Borzoi, has got to look something like a Greyhound. A Hound that kind of stands over the ground, and has a presence, as though it's looking for game, as though it's ready to go like a bat out of hell when it sights something. It's got to have that presence.
I remember going to a workshop a few years ago on the Afghan Hound, and they spent 3 hours talking about Afghans. At the end, I said, "The only problem is, you haven't discussed anything about HOUNDS yet." Above all, the individual sighthound breeds must first of all be HOUNDS. A Borzoi must be a hound; the word Borzoi means hound, windhound, or running hound. A Borzoi more so than any other hound must have a continuous, flowing line. Everything must blend in together. The head must flow into the neck, the neck into the topline; the topline must flow into the tail. The legs have to fit into the overall balance. And it should be a moderate-sized dog; it is not a huge dog.
I know when a picture hangs right on the wall, I don't have to go up and measure it to see that it's two inches from here and two inches from there; I KNOW when it's balanced. I guess it's something like an artistic eye, and nine times out of time, if the measurements are right, the balance is right. It feels right. You have to develop that eye. Borzoi are one of the few breeds that lend themselves to artistic design. What I do know is that the rear angulation must match the front angulation. I'd much rather see that than a dog that has a lot of rear angulation, and a very straight front. That just doesn't lend itself to the overall image of a Hound.
I think a lot of people in the breed get into trouble by thinking "Well, I cannot have a dog that has this fault," becoming obsessed with one thing.
John: Right: "Oh, but it has all of its feet," so what? I mean, that's fine, it's basic, but...!
Dick: I don't like a yellow eye.
John: Well, a Borzoi should be like the Mercedes. It should be very dynamic and very sound. And if you look at a good one, it is the lines, the blade, the bone, the shape of the body, the shape of the head.
How important is the head in terms of the overall dog?
Dick: The head is very important. Once again, to me, the head has to be a continuous flowing line. Whenever you're talking about any parts of the Borzoi, you have to think of the function. The head should be long; essentially narrow and refined. It must NOT be dish-faced. The standard is clear on that, because if it is not as stated, the dog cannot function. Sometimes people get confused by Roman-headed and Roman-nosed. The nose is quite specific, as is the head. The nose is not the muzzle. The muzzle is filled in and that's a Roman-headed dog, which is wrong. It should have ears that lay tightly, that are set well.
John: Very tight.
Dick: The eyes should be almond-shaped.
John: With very dark pigment around the eyes, because they were bred to run in the snow. You know, the Eskimos always paint their eyes with coal before they go out in the snow to hunt. It's for a very specific purpose in terms of function of the breed in the snow and ice, with bright sunlight. In the history of the breed, the dark pigment has a very specific function, so that's what we like to see. Almost Egyptian looking. I want a very strong under-jaw. I don't like weak, slack under-jaws. When you get into missing teeth, your jaws become weak. I like a strong underjaw. When you look at the profile of your dog, I like to see the underjaw sitting there, not hidden by the overflow of the upper lips. There should be strong back jaw. Parallel planes.
Dick: When you're talking about parallel planes, you should explain what you mean.
John: I mean the side planes. There should be very good veining in the head, too, because veins serve as a sort of air conditioning system in the dog. The veins should be pronounced, in much the same manner as a thoroughbred race horse. Some people who are headhunters say the head must be long, long, long. It should be long, yes, but it must be in proportion to the rest of the body. I hate to see a dog with a great, huge head and this teensy-weensy little body behind it, lugging along this great big head. I also hate to see a fine, narrow little head, with a body behind it like a Great Dane.
To be continued...
Scan and OCR: Dan Persson
Editor: Sue Vasick