Ask a USKBTC Breeder

Carl Ashby, Blujac

Jaimie and I having been breeding and showing Kerry Blue Terriers under the Blujac prefix since 1972. Our foundation bitch, Ch. Kilmarley Irish Imp, CD, produced Ch. Blujac’s Afternoon Delight, ROM, who was a multiple Best in Show winner and always owner-handled. We have bred and owned two other Best in Show Kerry Blues and continue to breed and show today, focusing on Specialty weekends. Jaimie is active in the Carolina Kennel Club and is its AKC Delegate. I am currently Vice Chairman of the American Kennel Club.


Nancy Han, Kallehan

Nancy Kallenbach Han, NCMG, CAH and her husband, Sang Bong Han, DVM, have been breeding Kerries since 1990 under the kennel name of Kallehan. Nancy has also bred Bedlington Terriers in the past. Nancy has owned Dog’s Best Friend and the Cat’s Meow, Inc. in Albany, California, since 1982. She is a Certifier for the National Dog Groomers Association of America, Inc.


Reita Nicholson, Kerrisel

I started in Kerries in 1991. Before that I showed and bred Doberman Pinschers and English Springer Spaniels. Along with my husband, Craig, we have shown and bred some of the top-winning Kerries with Best in Show and Best in Specialty Show wins under the prefix Kerrisel. We are AKC Breeders of Merit and are mentors to judges for our breed. I am past Recording Secretary, President and Executive Officer of the Kerry Blue Terrier Club of Chicago, and also past Vice-President of the USKBTC and a former Board Member for six years. I was a founding Board Member for the Kishwaukee Kennel Club. We are actively competing with our Kerries in AKC and UKC conformation and performance events.


Nancy Westbrook, Everglory

My husband, Lynn, and I got our first Kerry Blue Terrier in 1987. I had been raised with dogs, horses, and cats, but never had I owned a Terrier. I had never seen a Kerry Blue Terrier until a week before we purchased our foundation bitch. I will tell you that my love affair with Kerries started at first sight. It has been 27 years since then and, though I am now one of the old timers, I still feel like I have so much to learn from others who have been in the breed longer than I have.

How has the sport of exhibiting changed during the time you have been involved with Kerries?

Carl Ashby: The number of dogs in competition today is considerably less than when we started in the 1970’s. This has made it much more difficult to find points and to finish a dog if you are unable to do extensive traveling. Entry fees are four times what they were when we started and this is limiting many exhibitor’s ability to compete on a regular basis when the travel costs are considered. The Internet has changed everything in that the record of judges is readily available. This has resulted in exhibitors doing considerable research prior to investing in attending a show. The number of judges who come from Terriers has decreased significantly and this has resulted in many judges not really understanding Terriers—and Kerry Blues, in particular. Professional handlers continue to dominate at the Breed level, but we still believe there is room for the owner-handler (especially in class judging and in the National Owner-Handled Series, which opens up new opportunities to compete at the Group and Best in Show level.) We feel you must know how to present a Kerry Blue to really be competitive at large shows. The process to learn is time consuming and, unfortunately, frustrates new people. Seeking out mentors is critical for a new person and we were fortunate to have those when we started. We don’t see people as engaged today or, frankly, as willing to learn from people who have demonstrated success both in the ring and in the whelping box.

Nancy Han: In my opinion, judging and breeding dogs is an art as well as a science, but the art has taken a back seat to the science these days. Experience has now been overshadowed by book knowledge, and judges that had an acute eye for the “fancy” have now been replaced with people who rely on only technical aspects. The whole of what makes a special dog is more than the shear schematics. The sum is greater than the parts, so to speak. Also, it seems to me that there are too many show weekends. I think too many shows diminish interest and too much of a good thing makes it an ordinary thing.

Reita Nicholson: There are more avenues in which to work or show your Kerry; conformation, obedience, agility, along with barn hunt, nose work, dock diving and dock jumping, herding, therapy, weight pulling—the list grows every day. We also have the choice of several registering bodies in which to compete, making for an even broader area to participate and spend time with
your Kerries.

Nancy Westbrook: For me, the biggest change in the sport of exhibiting since I first started is that it is not a “sport” any longer. It used to be fun to go in the ring alongside other breeder/owner-handlers and show our Kerry Blues. Now it is more of a business; there are many more “professional” handlers in the Kerry ring today than when I first started. I truly believe that what used to be a sport and a place to help “grade” (if you will) the merits of your bitches and dogs for breeding stock is no longer. It seems to me that dog shows are big money and IF one is to have success then, to some degree, that big money better be in your pocket.

I am not saying that handlers do not have their place or that they don’t do a good job, but I am saying that this is one of the major ways the dog show world has changed. There are more shows now, which means more opportunities for points. However, this is only if you are willing to travel a lot or hire a handler to cart your Kerry around to take advantage of the availability of those points. Most dogs, whichever the breed, stand more of a chance to get their championship if with a handler—not just because they do a better job, but because they are at shows every weekend.

In fact, I believe that in many situations the owner-handler does a better job because they have one dog or two to prepare and show. They have more time to concentrate on their own dog/dogs and not a whole string of dogs. The owner-handler can become a specialist, because they are working on one or two dogs in one breed.

Handlers would provide a great service to those who present them with an animal to show by being honest with their evaluation of that animal as a show prospect. Many will just take on the animal and show it. To the detriment of the breed, some of these are not show quality, but will end up with their Championships. It seems we are seeing many more professional handlers, some with animals that are just not show animals. Judges should help here too, by being honest and telling the exhibitor the truth of the animal’s merits as a show dog. I once overheard a judge say to the person who was showing the last placed animal: “My advice to you is for you to find something for which your dog would be better suited, maybe obedience?”

How many times have we all heard: Not every animal should be bred? So, I am adding to that: Not every animal should be shown, and not every Champion should be bred.

How have the Kerries you see in the ring changed over time? How would you assess the quality of the breed? Are there any overall strengths or weaknesses or any trends?

Carl Ashby: In general, we believe that the Kerry Blue Terriers today are better than when we started; but they are so because of the generations before them. Movement is not as strong as we recall when we started, but temperament is more solid, and showmanship, without snarling, is better. Good dogs and bitches show equally well today; tail up and happy to be in the ring. Size has gone in cycles; our preference has always been for more elegant dogs that are within the standard in terms of height. That said, we don’t dismiss a dog out of hand because of size as long as the dog maintains type. Coats continue to be challenging to some because of improper preparation. Dogs shown by professionals often reflect improper coat conditioning, as packing makes it much easier to maintain over a cluster.

Nancy Han: I think that the Kerries have improved from when I got started in the show world. I believe that Mick’s influence helped bring back better balance, type, and movement. However, I think that there is much confusion on the proper coat texture and color of the Kerry Blue Terrier coat. The proper Kerry coat is important. It seems that a lighter color is preferred by many judges, and that texture is overlooked. The coat texture in many of these lighter dogs is a dull, stand-away, Poodle-type coat, with no wave or softness. Not my idea of the proper Kerry coat.

Reita Nicholson: The quality seems to be better and the owners are doing more with their Kerries, expanding into more areas that showcase how versatile our breed can be. One thing that hasn’t changed is that they are still the same intense, funny, beautiful breed that I fell I love with. I believe the quality overall is very nice. There has been improvement since I first began showing Kerries. Some of the strengths I see are well-balanced dogs—both physically and mentally—Kerries that are up on leg and very striking in appearance that have freedom of movement and cover the ground. I see happy, healthy dogs that enjoy what they are doing and who they are with. With the health testing that is available, it opens up more breeding possibilities, helping us to produce an even healthier Kerry. Some of the weaknesses, in my opinion, would be long backs, long loins, and the straight shoulder with short forearm that restricts the movement of the dog, and also coats that are blown-out and not properly prepared, which I believe comes from not understanding the proper care of a coat.

Nancy Westbrook: To me, the inconsistency of type is a major concern. A quote from E.K. Gammil states, “The best dog you ever bred may be the hardest dog you ever finish.” This means that if you have a number of entries and your dog (though more to standard than the rest of the entry) is different, then it must be wrong. This statement hits the nail on the head with type and trends. Judges are afraid to put up the different dog, even IF it is the correct dog. This is how many a “style” or trend gets started.

Type for me is the overall general conformation of a dog, and will dictate balance. Does it have Kerry type? We seem to have fallen into a fad of extremes. With this desire to produce a dog with that extra-long neck and extra-short back, we are seeing some dogs that are essentially caricatures of the breed; and the movement has suffered for these unbalanced extremes. The leaning toward a Kerry to have an ultra-short back, and extra-long neck and foreface has led to the shortening of the upper arm; and a short upper arm leads to things going so wrong in movement. In my mind, a Kerry should move with ease, with a low sweeping of their feet to the ground. I have seen way too much suspension and bounce in the Kerry ring. Many do what I call “climbing in the front.” This is not proper movement; it might look pretty, but I think this type of movement is more pretty and proper in the sighthound ring. The sad thing here is that I see our breed is losing what makes it a very special and unique breed, which is the good strong overall balance, good substance, strong easy movement, and moderation. Remember, a great “show dog” does not necessarily translate to being a great Kerry, and this goes for any breed.

Size is not to be construed as type, but is just one facet of type. Height, substance, and overall general profile can give a good idea of type. I believe that our standard does give us a bit of a leeway for size, but not for overall type. The one word that is used most often in our standard is “moderate.” While no dog will meet the standard in every point, we should strive to work toward that and not give up the very structure of our beloved dogs while trying to jump on a bandwagon of the latest trend or style.

I also see much trouble with the coats of the Kerry. Color is and can be any color of blue/grey, ranging from navy, dark gunpowder to a light grey. But the issue that I think should truly be addressed is the “soft, dense and wavy” part of the standard that
describes coat.

When speaking to my friends about this, we all came to the conclusion: With the influx of unfamiliar foreign pedigrees into United States/Canadian lines, the creation of a not so tasty stew of diverse types has evolved. A fellow breeder brought up a good point with her comment to me, “Perhaps those overseas are seeing the same phenomenon.” I believe that this trend has created some confusion for many judges, and for the novice breeder. I think that we must remember that the Kerry should, first and foremost, be of Kerry type; moderate and as close to the standard as possible.

Regarding strengths, I think that one of our main strengths is the versatility of our breed. I love the fact that more and more people are diversifying and showing their Kerry Blues in obedience, agility, barn hunts, etc., highlighting the many sides of the Kerry Blue Terrier to the world.

Have you seen changes in temperament? If so, what?

Carl Ashby: Kerry Blues, with a handful of exceptions, are much more stable today. Breeders in the United States have worked hard to keep the “show” in the dog while taking out as much “reactive” nature present in Terriers as possible. Bitches show much better today than in our early days. It is important to continue to emphasize reasonable temperament and understand that you can have a show dog without having an overly reactive dog.

Nancy Han: I see more attitude and Kerry spirit. When I started in Kerries, the temperaments were too sweet and lacked sparkle. I love to see the attitudinal Kerry show off in the ring.

Reita Nicholson: Kerries should act like a Kerry; they should be up and interested in their surroundings. They are extremely intelligent, capable of learning many different things and, given proper training and socialization, they adapt well in many different environments. I have always believed this, and went into the breed with the idea that they would do whatever you ask of them. There are more areas where your Kerries can shine, so take advantage of having your dog learn as much as possible.

Nancy Westbrook: Regarding temperament, I do think that when the Kerry became so popular after the Westminster BIS win, we started having an issue of temperament coming back to the forefront. Whether this was because of all the unknown elements of the foreign pedigrees, or if it is more of a problem with people not understanding the breed, I do not know. I remember a breeder once saying, “Not every dog should be bred or shown, not everybody should breed or show Kerry Blues unless they understand the volatile nature of a true sporting Terrier with fire and an independent nature.” Breeders have to be more selective and careful with picking those animals to breed and also in placements of puppies. I think that it is so important for breeders to mentor their new puppy buyers, especially if these are first-time Kerry owners. Today, those dogs that proved to have questionable temperaments have either been excluded from breeding programs or have been judiciously blended with more compatible lines. The temperaments and trainability in Kerry Blues today is, with few exceptions, quite good.

In selecting a show dog, what are the primary traits you
look for?

Carl Ashby: The late Ray Perry told us once, “Remember, they are show dogs.” We evaluate conformation, first looking for a well put together dog. We strive for good reach and drive, and a dog that is good coming and going. Tail set is crucial; and a poorly set tail both inhibits a dog from carrying its tail erect and can influence movement. Overall outline is critical. The judge has two minutes to go over a dog; they spend the bulk of the time seeing the dog’s profile. We like a typey, pretty dog that makes the most out of what nature gave them. We don’t keep any dog as a show prospect that won’t show. Our standards are high, and there are very few Blujac dogs in show homes other than our own. Our puppy people get some pretty nice dogs, but only because they don’t meet
our standards.

Nancy Han: Balance, type, movement and attitude.

Reita Nicholson: As a breeder selecting a show prospect, I look at a variety of things. I want a Kerry that I intend on using in my breeding program, not just the flashiest one in the litter. I look for a well-balanced dog in structure that has a lot of presence and attitude, one that is outgoing and very friendly. I want a dog as close to the standard as they can be. A Kerry should have an air of confidence and a presence about them. They should own the ground they stand on; Kerries are truly a beautiful breed.

Nancy Westbrook: When looking at a litter, I am always drawn to that upstanding and independent personality, the one that is the trail blazer, so to speak. Of course, I look for conformation, bites, etc. I want to see a shiny, wavy coat, and bright, dark eyes. If I have been correct in my assessment of the puppy’s conformation, then the movement will be there. I don’t think I will ever forget my breeder’s comment about show dogs: “You can have the most beautiful Kerry in the world, but if it shows like a piece of dead dog meat, then it will look like a piece of dead dog meat.” This was from Bernie Kusch. So for showing, there must be that little something special; that spark.

As you watch Kerries being judged today, what one or two things would you like judges to keep in mind?

Carl Ashby: Judges need to understand type. There is no more beautiful dog than a Kerry Blue Terrier. It is a special breed. They must show, be proud, and demand a look. Judges need to understand this; they must also understand movement. A poor moving dog isn’t going to be effective at farm work and this breed is a natural on the farm. Coat…what makes Kerry Blues special is their coat, and rewarding poor coat and/or coat improperly presented is simply wrong.

Nancy Han: Balance, movement and type—the whole picture. I hate to see insecure judging; judges who need to see who the handler is to choose the winner, or those who remember only one aspect of the standard that they read the night before the show.

Reita Nicholson: Remember, this is a working Terrier. It should be able to move. The dog should be square or nearly square, with a nice short back, short loin, and a high tail set. The Kerry’s head should be moderately long, and clean from cheekiness. The backskull and muzzle should be of equal lengths. Ears should be nicely shaped and placed. Eyes should be small and dark with an “I am here” look in their eyes. The teeth should be a scissors bite, with sufficient underjaw to be a powerful mouth. [The Kerry should have] good length of neck, with nice clean shoulder layback with the forearm and elbow set well under. The rear should have nice angulation with a powerful action to match the front when the dog moves. Coming and going, the feet should be forward with no turning in or out. From the side, they should be a free-moving dog with a level topline, feet coming off the ground effortlessly; not high stepping. Their coat should be soft, dense and wavy, not kinky or harsh. The coat of an adult Kerry can be anywhere from a deep slate blue to a lighter silver gray—all are correct and should be judged that way. Judge on the merits of the Kerries, not the faults. Please ask, if you have questions about our breed.

Nancy Westbrook: I have just one thing that I would want the judges to keep in mind: the standard. Moderate, balanced, with good substance. I would love for judges to remember, “Pretty is nice… pretty and dead sound is the ticket!!”

What do you enjoy most about breeding/exhibiting/judging Kerries? What do you like the least?

Carl Ashby: We love the breed. Kerry Blues are people dogs. They are clowns; loving, and devoted. They may not always play nice with other dogs, but they always play nice with their humans. Watching pups develop, determining the special one or two, and taking them through to their championship against the best competition, it just doesn’t get any better. What we like the least is to see judges do the breed a disservice by not respecting it through a lack
of understanding.

Nancy Han: I love the art of grooming a beautiful Kerry and then watching him move around the ring. I love that energetic attitude and beautiful movement. Kerries have such style and presence in the ring. I love watching them, especially in large numbers.

Reita Nicholson: I love the excitement that still comes from knowing that a new litter will soon be on the ground, and to interact and watch them develop and grow, knowing that when they go to their new homes the owners will have a lot of years or enjoyment with their Kerry. If they are being shown, I love seeing the owners with them in the ring, and how proud I am that they are out there enjoying something I had a part in. To have people return to you for their next Kerry is a true testament to your breeding program. I love having top-winning Kerries in the ring, but I truly love that they are a part of our family and other families, and that they are very stable and well-adjusted dogs that will be able to do everything with
their owners.

Attending the shows with my husband, Craig, our Kerries, our friends, and the exhibitors is truly special. Being able to take a new young dog out and see how they grow and mature as they are showing, giving them time to mature—not pushing them as quickly as possible to finish—is so enjoyable. It is a fantastic journey that lasts for many years. When in the ring, it is a thrill knowing that all the conditioning, training and grooming has paid off and you are a team. I enjoy how they really love being with you and working with you, and watching as they grow older and are still vibrant, beautiful Kerries that live their life with you.

I miss how people used to spend a lot more time talking and sharing information about grooming, breeding, and other aspects of our Kerries. I learned so much from the people who have been in the breed for a long time; information that will be lost if we are not careful. People are so busy now, you don’t see that as much.

I consider judging to be a great honor and, when judging, I try to find the best dog on that day. I love going over the dogs and to see how our breed is doing. I appreciate the exhibitors bringing their Kerries to me, and it’s always exciting for me.

Nancy Westbrook: The Kerry Blue Terrier is one of the most wonderful, fun-loving and loyal breeds, and it is just a pure joy and privilege to have them as part of our lives. I enjoy whelping puppies and watching them mature. It has been great fun to exhibit and, on a few occasions, judge. Getting involved in showing Kerry Blues has enriched my life with wonderful dogs and great friends. My major dislike is shared by my friends, Susan and Heather; the political side of this world. Seems that too many people cannot separate the shows from “real life.” I think that many get too “invested” in the win and forget all else. When this happens, it is winning at all costs.

What words of advice would you give today’s breeders/exhibitors/owners?

Carl Ashby: Listen to those who have gone before you, and recognize that success is a marathon and not a sprint. We have noticed that some new folks don’t always listen to or seek mentors. We did. Margo Steinman (Kilmarley), Ray and Lou Perry (Tontine, where we spent several weeks over several summers in their kennel), and Roger Macha (Machaven) all mentored us unselfishly, and the results have been demonstrated in the show ring. We would have never had the success we have had without their coaching. Conformation is “black magic” in many ways, and without a mentor you are likely to either dropout or, simply, not be successful.

Nancy Han: Balance is key. Breeding is not just science, but it is an art as well. Keep an open mind, and respect and listen to those who have years of experience and are willing to share their knowledge. Keep in mind that, in the future, you will need to mentor others in the same way. So, learn well and keep the fancy thriving.

Reita Nicholson: Breeders, remember what wonderful resources we have available to us today as far as health testing. Do your homework; why risk having trouble in the future when you can reduce or eliminate it from your lines with simple testing? Have a vision and know the breed standard, do not breed for only one part of the dog, breed for structure, balance, temperament, and health. Read and understand the breed standard. Spend time with your dogs and the new puppies, expose them to new things, and have them learn as much as possible before they go off to their new homes. Track your puppies, see how they grow up and learn from this. Help mentor the people who have your puppies, whether they are pets or show prospects. You, as breeders, are the future of
our breed.

Exhibitors, have fun! Do your best when you are showing and learn from your errors. Remember to praise your Kerry for a job well done; even if you’re not in the ribbons, they did what you asked of them. Learn as much as you can from the people who have been out there showing and training Kerries in conformation and performance events—most will be more than willing to share information with you. Remember, you always take home the best Kerry from the show! Congratulate the winners; if it wasn’t your Kerry today, it may be tomorrow!

After showing, sit at ringside and watch the Groups; there is so much you can learn from watching different breeds move. Talk to other exhibitors; there is a wealth of knowledge out there that is available to you. Watch the people handling their dogs; you may pick-up some pointers, plus it is very entertaining to watch all the gorgeous dogs.

Owners, enjoy your Kerry; they are such loveable, intelligent and loyal dogs that will do anything and everything for you. Take your Kerry to classes; you will both enjoy it and your Kerry will be a better family member. Be consistent, but not overbearing in your training; make it fun for the Kerry. They are very inquisitive, but can become bored quickly; so break-up the routine and have
different things to do with them. Give your Kerry a job; small or big, they will enjoy every minute of it. Bogey loves bringing my slippers to me when I come home from work. My Kerries know their toys by name and will hunt until they find the one you asked for. Each one is an individual and enjoys different things.

All of our dogs are part of our family; we show them, but they spend a lot more time in our home. I encourage you to take classes with your dogs. Kerries that we have bred show in conformation, all types of performance, herding, barn hunt, nose work, therapy dogs, weight pulling—there is no limit as to what your Kerry can do. Our foundation bitch was herding sheep in the early 1990s, before it was popular. She loved it. You don’t have to compete to do these things with your Kerry, just do it for the fun of it! The best thing is when they curl up next to you, and the wonderful bond that you have with your Kerry.

Nancy Westbrook: Learn as much as you can about your breed. And always breed to the Breed Standard, not the flavor of the month. Enjoy your dog, first and foremost. If you are going to breed and show, go to someone who has been in the breed for a while and ask for advice. Learn from what the “old timers” say; there is wisdom in their years of experience. Learn to “see” the standard. Listen to other’s thoughts, and go to as many shows as possible to see the Kerry Blues. And please, be honest with yourself about your own dog. Learn to see your dog’s faults and true strong points, and
breed accordingly.

If you intend on breeding then you should attend as many Breeders Seminars as possible. This is an excellent way to stay up to date on medical advancements. Many offer classes in breeding and whelping. Also, learn about the new DNA testing available. While these tests are not perfect or 100% accurate, they are so much better than guessing. We owe it to our breed to try and do our utmost in producing healthy puppies. Learn to groom. Find a mentor who can help you. Ask someone in the breed, a breeder of some years, to mentor you. You will find most are very willing to help, if you are willing to listen and learn.

I really thought that the statement made by another breeder summed it all up, “Breed what you believe is the best, according to the standard, and don’t fall prey to fads, because they come and go.” After over 30 years around the rings, I guarantee it. Oh, if you do see something as a very bad turn in the breed, do not let it become ingrained in your breed; speak out against it. Some will condemn you. You may lose friends, but you will have protected a breed you hopefully love!

Which books/articles would you recommend for the novice pet owner and/or for someone wanting to get started in
showing Kerries?

Carl Ashby: If you can find E.S. Montgomery’s book and/or Edith Izant’s book, you will find that both are good texts. In reality, though, reading is great, but being mentored and learning by doing is the ultimate teacher. However, it all starts by loving dogs and the Kerry. Without this passion, you will never succeed
in dogs.

Nancy Han: There are many very good books on movement, handling and showing, but I think for starters that Edith Izant’s book, The Kerry Blue Terrier, is a great book for new Kerry owners. It is very easily understood and explains the basics of the standard very well.

Reita Nicholson: Kerry Blue Terrier by Bardi McLennan. It has a wealth of information about health, training, showing and the history of our Kerry Blue Terriers.

K-9 Structure & Terminology by Edward M. Gilbert, Jr. & Thelma R. Brown. This is a wonderful book about structure and terminology in an easy to read, easy to understand format. It explains all types of structure, and why form follows function.

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