Monday, December 2, 2013

Stop and Think a Minute....for the sake of our breed.

I know it is early, but Kate wants me to tell all of you to please have yourselves a Merry Christmas season. This photo was taken by Janet Gray, who graciously gave us permission to use it on our Christmas cards and other marketing materials back in 2002, when Kate was just a "tot". Hard to believe that adorable pup is eleven years old now.

Getting a puppy is such a happy time, when we look forward to all the dreams we have of what we will do with our dog. But, things don't always work out just "perfect".  After all, just like people, most dogs aren't perfect, and most of all, life isn't least it does not always go the way we have planned.

With Kate, since her half-sister had not turned out to be show quality, my hopes were that Kate would be, finally, a Poodle whom I could show in some venue.  We had gotten our first Standard Poodle back in the late 80s and I had always wanted a Poodle to show, since I loved showing my Siberian Huskies and had even shown a few other breeds through the years, mostly for other people, but I had finished championships on my Australian Shepherds.  Kate broke a leg while at the handler's, when she was only six months old, when she went for a groom.  Then she had other health problems, so she also was not to become our Poodle show dog. One might think that we would then just keep her to love,or even find her another home and find another Poodle to show, just like we always did if a Siberian Husky didn't "turn out".

But Poodles are different. Or perhaps I should say, Poodle people are different. Just the other day, another Poodle fancier and I were discussing this. She said, before she and her husband got their first Poodle years ago, they thought that Poodle people would be likely to "be like their dogs".  Most people know that Poodles are smart, entertaining, and overall, just plain FUN.  Just like my friend, I think I thought that when I really jumped "deep into the Poodle world", that I would meet some fun people.  After all, I had a network of Siberian Husky friends who had become close friends through the years.

I wish I could tell you that if you want to start showing Poodles, or have a goal of purchasing and even eventually breeding quality Poodles, that you will travel a road that will bring you a lot of joy. There is one part of the picture that WILL definitely bring you joy, and that is your relationship with your Poodle. 

But as for the rest of it, learning about the breed, learning which bloodlines are the most clear of hereditary problems, getting people to open up and teach you how to groom, how to research health issues, etc...I have owned Standard Poodles now for almost 25 years and I still cannot honestly tell you that learning about this breed has been fun. It has been a path that has been EXTREMELY different than the one that I took in my younger years, when I started showing Siberians back in the 70s.

For example, in Siberians, I had been in the breed only a year or so when someone volunteered to take me and one of my friends on a "kennel hopping tour". She took us to visit all of the matriarchs of our breed, at least those on the East Coast at the time. We went to the homes of people like Peggy Grant (Marlytuk), Jean Fournier, Adele Gray (Tawny Hill), Peggy Koehler (Alakazan) and more. I believe the year was 1978, maybe 79. We did not just visit show kennels but also visited racing kennels, both small and large (plus some of the breeders mentioned above had ran their dogs when they were younger, so they were still breeding multi-purpose dogs). While visiting Ms. Grant, she picked up the phone and called her friend Rachel Page Elliott, who came over for lunch and talked to us about structure (Ms. Elliott wrote the book and did the video called "DogSteps" so she was an expert on structure and movement in all breeds). We took turns moving Peggy's dogs while Ms. Elliott told us their good points, and their faults. Over the next few years, I also met people at specialties who actually were responsible for developing the breed in our country, such as Lorna Demidoff, who "held court" at specialty in New Hampshire while we sat around and asked her questions. It was not just educational, it was great fun.

I moved back east, and was welcomed at the home of Kathleen Kanzler, and her daughters Trish and Sheila, of Innisfree Kennels. I bought a pup from them in 1980, who became my first champion.  They allowed me to breed to their most famous dog, Ch. Innisfree's Sierra Cinnar, who was the top winning Siberian Husky of all time at that time, and who is still the only Siberian to have won Best in Show at Westminster. Anytime I went to visit, Kathleen would get the photo albums out, and sit on the couch and talk for hours about the dogs she had owned and loved.

Along the way, I made many friends who are still close friends to this day,such as the "Carolina girls" and my friends from the Tidewater area of Virginia. We worked in breed clubs together, worked at hospitality suites at our National specialty, worked together at the race in Hampton Roads years ago, back when there was a Siberian club in that area, and had great fun at Fall and Winter cart and sled outings in the Carolinas.  We sat together and studied pedigrees. When one of our dogs turned up with something like juvenile cataracts, we cried together. We clapped for one another when our dogs won, even as we competed against each other. We became acquainted with people from all around the world, as our dogs became well known, or as we ourselves did things like serve on the boards of national and international dog clubs of various types.  

And along the way, somehow we all got older. When one of our acquaintances became ill, we rallied together to find homes for their dogs and do everything we could to support them in their last months or years of life (one friend was gone in months, a few others were ill for several years).  We worked together on rescue committees, and also in rescuing individual dogs when we found out about dogs of our breed in need. Over thirty years later, most of us are still friends. Yes, there are a few breeders we avoid, for various reasons. But quite a few of us are as "tight" as any sports team or college buddies could ever be, even though perhaps the only true thing we have in common is our love for a certain breed of dog.

I guess I thought that becoming a "Poodle person" would take me on a similar journey. It has not. The good news is, I am still learning and I will never give up on this breed, because I love them so very much. I have never, to this day, bred a litter of Poodles. I have put in my years doing Poodle rescue, and I have loved and trained numerous Poodles. In addition to Kate, pictured above, who is now 11, I also have a beautiful parti-colored boy, my "Hudson". Branching out into the world of multi-colored Poodles has allowed me to be able to show a dog on my own, because the grooming for the UKC ring  is not as difficult and we easily accomplished his UKC championship. At one time, I did own a Standard Poodle who was shown AKC by a handler. But I cannot say that I enjoyed that experience, since the majority of our time together was spent on his hair. Even at the UKC shows, much more informal than AKC, I did not discern that Standard Poodle exhibitors were "friends", instead I heard so much badmouthing of other breeders, I was quite turned off by the entire environment. Met some lovely people who showed other breeds however.

There are many health problems in Poodles. There are some people who are fighting hard to breed healthy Poodles and I applaud them.  But there are very few people who will admit that they have ever encountered any health issues in their dogs (and believe me, if they have bred more than a couple of litters of Poodles, they have encountered something!)  People seem a bit paranoid, I guess they are afraid that their bloodlines will be bad-mouthed if they admit to anything. Instead, they are badmouthed because they are dishonest, because people buy their dogs and talk among themselves when problems start popping up. Poodle people have some excellent resources, such as the Poodle pedigree website, and the Poodle Health Registry, but not nearly enough people use these websites to share important health information.

What about things other than health? Are you interested in a dog of a certain color?  Best wishes with that. Because in the AKC ring, a VERY large percentage of the dogs are dyed. So you cannot even tell which bloodlines hold their color, because even black dogs are dyed blacker. Most red and brown lines fade, not all of them, but it is rather hard to figure out when a breeder will not show a faded dog but instead they stand at ringside discussing the best dyes to use on various colors of dogs. A good dog should be a good dog, and if your AKC Standard promotes only "color", change it.  That's what I said, change it.  Add diversity in order to add better health, allow your breed to become known for their excellent movement, structure and temperaments, instead of the amount of hair they can carry around the ring. Color isn't everything. Sure, I wish my first Poodle had held her gorgeous dark brown color, but she did not, and it did not hurt her one bit when we did our therapy dog visits for years. It was her temperament, and her special soul, not her coat, that brought us the joy she brought us.

Want a dog with a good coat? That is pretty hard to figure out also, since, at AKC shows, not only are the majority of the Poodles being shown full of various grooming products, but they even have "wigs" in their topknots and necks. Yes, that's right. The dog who seems to have a very thick, gorgeous coat may have artificial hair stuck in there!  I was so totally shocked when I heard this, that it was an accepted practice in the AKC ring....that I was at first, actually angry. But then later on, I almost found it humorous. I just couldn't imagine wanting to win enough that I would fake it, as far as whether or not my dog had the needed amount of hair. It seemed bad enough that Poodle people ignored all the rules, standing at ringside with their comb and a bottle of hair spray (not concerned at all that the judge might excuse them from the ring for having foreign substances in the coat, since almost all their competitors were doing the same). But to find out that they actually took the time and effort to make "wiglets" and add hair down into those huge topknots? Good grief, I've seen good moving Siberian Huskies win when they are OUT OF COAT.  For those of you who don't own dogs with undercoats, out of coat means NAKED, the way a Siberian looks when they have blown their undercoat and it has been brushed out.  

Okay, so a lot goes on in the AKC Poodle ring. What about UKC? Many AKC breeders will say that a UKC championship doesn't mean anything. I know where they are coming from, it certainly is easier to finish a UKC championship than an AKC championship on a Poodle. But Poodle people everywhere have a choice RIGHT NOW.  You can change your breed by simply changing the venue in which you are showing. UKC is wide open right now. You can make things about structure, movement, and good health, instead of who is the best groomer or has the most well connected handler. Because things such as wigs and hairspray are not allowed in UKC events, and neither are professional handlers. Get your BEST dogs out in the UKC ring, show them in a bit less coat (and keep in mind you won't have to worry about all hairspray and wigs, etc, since they aren't allowed), and you can make the UKC a place where good dogs are shown and win. If you happen to own dogs that will still look good without their hair dyed and their wiglets in, then get them out in the UKC ring and show them to us! I think you will find that there are many ethical dog people who would love to purchase a Poodle, even to show in obedience, rally and things such as agility, from an honest Poodle breeder.

If you would like to compete in a venue that is going to be evaluating the dogs on what they ARE, versus who is at the other end of the lead, give UKC a try. If you see dogs that you think shouldn't have finished their championships, you can change that by adding more quality dogs to the competition in the UKC ring. No, professional handlers are not allowed, however, you CAN have a friend take your dog in the ring for you if you are not well enough to do so yourself.

Right now, what I have seen, in the few (only 4 circuits) UKC shows is that there are a good many novice people showing, who are not being particularly nice to one another, at least not when they turn their backs.I have seen experienced breeders help others groom their dogs, but then have had people come up to me for the pure purpose of badmouthing that breeder, about something that was none of my business.  Sure, I have met a handful of nice people at UKC, mostly in other breeds though, such as the English Springer folks who set up beside us and watched my dog so I could go rest for awhile one day when I wasn't feeling well.  I've had some nice things happen, such as a wonderful junior showman who even helped me groom my dog and stood at ringside in case I was not well enough to take my dog back in the Group ring (and she rescued me one day when I was NOT well enough). Thank you Cheyenne Maggart, for your help.

But as far as seeing the type of sportsmanship that I have experienced showing my other breed, Siberians, AKC, I haven't seen that yet in Poodles.  I am finding that people who pretend to be "friends" are not really friends, not of mine or anyone else.  It is like they are copying the AKC Poodle environment, on a smaller scale.  It makes me sad.  Because I was told that UKC was a pleasant environment, friendly people helping one another.  I have met some friendly UKC people who show other breeds (in fact, I have some friends who are UKC judges, whom I consider to be very nice people; some of them are the very ones who encouraged my interest in UKC). Many of the people showing Poodles UKC are very young, and they have years ahead of them where they can make a difference, if they can stop the backbiting and learn to work together. Why do I call it backbiting? Because you cannot even tell fact from fiction! One will tell you one thing, another tells something else the moment that person's back is turned. They even waste time talking about me, and I am a nobody in Poodles, so they truly are wasting their breath!  But yes, I admit, I miss the fact that in Siberians, people are there to congratulate me and celebrate when I finish a dog's championship. We do things like clap for one another when it is obvious that one of our dogs is about to take a major win. They don't waste time trying to figure out what they can think of to say bad about me if they don't know me. Those that do know me, in Siberians, don't have to say it behind my back because we have the type of relationship where we can talk things out in person if we are aggravated about something!  

But, back to Poodles, good golly Miss Molly....our breed is in trouble.  And if we cannot learn how to work well together, being honest when a problem shows up in a litter, instead of eating one another for lunch, Poodle people will never be able to breed away from health problems. And we will never have quality competition at the UKC shows, if we treat newcomers as if they are idiots. Yep, that's what I said.  When an experienced dog person decides to show a Poodle, in addition to their other breeds, why not realize that they may bring a wealth of experience and they may actually HELP the breed in some way?  Instead, if they are treated the way I've been treated the few times I ventured into the conformation world of Poodles, they probably won't waste their time becoming involved in our breed. I think I am the exception to the rule, as far as keeping on keeping on, for years, until I found a nice Poodle to show. 

Also, as far as the arguments about solid color Poodle people versus multi-colored Poodle people, get over it. Take a look at the articles on websites like, that even show photographs of some of the oldest paintings of Poodles. And guess what? They were NOT solid-colored dogs. 

People are not unethical simply because they choose to breed dogs of different colors. I would rather have a sound, healthy dog who might be a parti colored dog with a bit too much "ticking" or a brown who has faded by the time it is two years old, than to have a jet black dog who is full of dye and hair spray and who cannot obtain any titles unless I pay a fortune for a professional handler. Plus one that is so heavily linebred that it is having seizures or has come down with Addison's disease before it is two or three years old.  And in addition to being sound and healthy, I'd like a dog who is sound in mind as well. One that can learn anything I want to teach it, whether or not I ever wish to show it in a performance venue or not. After all, isn't that what ALL Poodle owners want?  The majority of Poodle owners are not those of us who care about titles on either end of the dog's name. Instead, they are people who want a sweet, smart, healthy canine companion. I have been fortunate with most of the temperaments on the Poodles I have owned. I have not been so fortunate as far as health. As much as I love him and would like to put another title on him some day, my biggest wish for our young boy Hudson is that he will live a long, healthy life. Hopefully he will.

But don't get me wrong, I admit that I am a dog show person at heart, I've shown dogs in obedience, rally and mostly, in conformation, since 1976. They just don't happen to have been Poodles, since I like to show my dogs myself. There is nothing wrong with owning a Poodle who is shown AKC, in conformation by a professional handler.  If you want AKC titles and you are not extremely talented at grooming, you will probably HAVE to pay a handler, but also, you may, like me, have health problems that prevent you from running around the ring or it may simply be more convenient for your lifestyle to send dogs off with handlers instead of showing them yourself. That is your choice. But you can still make a difference, if you swim against the current. 

For example, stop and think about the fact that a good dog should NOT need to be dyed, or full of hair spray, to obtain a title. Sure, it will take a bit longer to finish his championship but if you have a nice, sound dog with proper type, he or she can achieve an AKC championship if you are willing to hire a professional handler.  And you might also, if you are looking for a sound, healthy dog, forget worrying about how many championships are in the pedigree.  Look instead at what health clearances the breeder can present to you, or what information they will share with you about the dogs in the puppy's pedigree. If you have the luxury of traveling, go see the parents, and even grandparents, so you know what the temperaments are like.  When I was breeding Siberian Huskies, I always had photos of practically every dog in a six generation pedigree, and many times I had personally met the first 3 or 4 generations of dogs in the pedigree!  But I was young, without many other responsibilities at the time so I had plenty of time to do the research. But now, in this day and age, we are blessed to have great cameras and even our PHONES can usually take short video clips! So if you are buying a dog site unseen, ask for video clips of the dogs moving, or interacting with people and other dogs. If the breeder doesn't want to take the time to answer your questions and send you this type of information, do you really want to buy a dog from them? 

All of the things that people in other breeds have been doing for years can be done in Poodles. People can get together and share information, even plan breedings together (it certainly gives one a lot more peace of mind if they are doing a breeding and know that there are good homes already lined up for the puppies). And these things can be done not just by a handful of people, it can be done by anyone who wants a good dog, or wants to become an ethical breeder. One can research (I don't mean gossip, I mean research by writing to owners of dogs in the pedigrees, for example, write the people who owned dogs in the pedigree and ask about the health of that dog and what he produced).  Yes, I know that seems impossible in Poodles and it may always be impossible to get people to work together. But it CAN be done, if people will open up and decide it is worth the effort to work with others instead of just criticizing one another.

Just once more, let me bring it back to the world of Poodle breeders.... please consider this article my plea for the dogs who cannot speak for themselves. When a dog has a seizure, he or she suffers. When they are dying of bloat, they are suffering.  I'm sure they suffer emotionally if they are losing their sight at a young age, and can no longer see the ball they love to retrieve. Not to mention the suffering of their owners, some of whom spend thousands of dollars keeping their Addisonians alive, or having diagnostic tests done on dogs with weak immune systems and allergies. This article is already too long, so I won't even try to list all of the health problems our breed faces. I urge you to go to the Versatility in Poodles website to read about the various health problems in each size of Poodle.  If you are interested in a multi-colored Poodle, then you may wish to visit the website of the Multi-Colored Poodle Club of America. Members of this club must sign a Code of Ethics, so you are more likely to find an ehtical breeder there than elsewhere. I love parti colored Poodles, but there has been such an explosion of popularity of "rare colors" than it has allowed many unethical breeders to pop up on the internet, selling puppies for large prices but not bothering to have any health clearances done on the parents.

My plea is for Poodle breeders and owners to start working together to solve problems. After all, at the end of your life, when you look back at your life in dogs, I bet those red, white and blue Rosettes won't mean a hill of beans. The fact that you know what brand of hair coloring will not fade as quickly won't mean anything either.  Owning the world's best pair of shears won't mean anything, it will mean NOTHING in comparison to having made just one good friend who keeps putting a card in the mailbox to cheer you when you are down.  Having a healthy, happy Poodle at your side, who can bring joy to your loved ones even after you are gone, THAT might mean something  In fact, it might mean a lot to you, especially if you are fortunate enough to have that special dog at your side when you draw your last breath. 

Knowing that you bred healthy dogs for other's enjoyment, or that you gave to causes that promoted good Poodle health (if you yourself are not a breeder, you can still help by supporting research)....these things may leave a lasting legacy. You might even be able to help the breed you love for years after you are gone. Isn't that a wonderful thought?

Thanks for listening. Kate, the pup featured in the photo, may not still be with us at Christmas, but we have our hopes.  Every day with her has been a gift, but a Poodle who would live even longer, and be healthier, would have been a greater gift.  It can be done....I know it can, if people will consider changing.  It would be nice to think people will change because they believe in the Golden Rule, because they believe in treating others like they would like to be treated. But even if you don't like people, consider doing it for the sake of the dogs you love. After all, Poodles are worth it, aren't they?

Wishing you and your Poodles the very best of the season,

Melanie, Kate, Hudson and the rest of the Schlaginhaufen family

Melanie Schlaginhaufen, guest blogger

December 2013

Quick update:  It is now June of 2014, and Kate will be 12 next month!  If your Poodle does have health problems, be sure to investigate things such as supplements and proper diet. I have found these things to have more of a positive effect on an older dog's health than all the medication in the world. I also believe that adding Hudson, who came to me around the age of 8 months, actually has given Kate a reason to get up in the mornings and play. Hudson will soon be 2. I don't know if another Poodle will take Kate's place when she is gone, but I will continue to love Standard Poodles for as long as I live. I hope the somewhat negative tone of this article will not discourage you from looking for a healthy Poodle. The breed does have lots of problems (especially the Standard and Toy varieties) but honest, ethical breeders do exisit. Keep searching.

1 comment:

  1. Thank you so much for this informative article. I was never a dog person until I got my first poodle which kinda happened by chance because of my son. He was allergic to cats and dogs so no pets until my sister-in- law gave us one of her poodle puppies with the assurance that the poodle would not cause any allergies. That was way back in 1985. Since then I had two other toy poodles too, but they have also after a long and happy life crossed that rainbow bridge.To say the least they have forever changed me into a dog person. I still miss them very much. we have moved recently which makes it impossible to have another one but I still like to read about them, especially your blog.
    To me it is just so sad that the show circuit and breeders are not sharing information, I think that will help so much to promote the breed. Poodles are such special animals and once you have loved a poodle it is so difficult to love another breed again.
    I wish you and the whole family a very festive and blessed Christmas and only the best for the New Year.
    Lots of love
    Elza Bester,Cape Town, South Africa. xxx