Interview with Cathy & Mike Dugan | Aviator Portuguese Water Dogs – AKC 2021 Breeder of the Year Working Group Honoree.
1. The Portuguese Water Dog is an old breed that enjoys a new fan base. What is it about the breed that has sustained your interest for so long?
We have bred other breeds, but PWDs are truly unique and are great family dogs because of their loyalty, intelligence, and adaptability. We have bred dogs that have excelled in conformation and performance events around the world. We have several dogs working in service and therapy jobs. They are great with kids, other dogs, and even cats. Because they are not territorial or predatory, a PWD pup placed with a cat or another older dog will let the other pet be in charge. Because they only care about their people, their focus will be about how to be in charge of their owners. They make great family dogs for the experienced owner. A PWD is not for a rookie dog owner, not for someone who is not willing to do the work and training with a PWD, and definitely not for an absentee owner who isn’t around as much as possible. If you fail to train a PWD fully, they will be ordering out for pizza whether you want one or not! We enjoy the community of PWD owners who have become lifelong friends and fellow breeders who work in collaboration to preserve the PWD’s form and function.
2. Breeding dogs requires the vision of the artist, the curiosity of a scientist, and the commitment of a philosopher. As breeders, do you view yourselves as artists, scientists or philosophers? Maybe a combination of all three?
All three. We use the PWDCA and OFA to maintain a health data base so that potential breeding can be researched. Good PWD breeders are committed to testing and to maintaining and improving the health and wellness of the breed. That requires study, diligence, and awareness of which health and disease issues exist for dogs in general and PWDs in particular. PWDs almost ceased to exist in the US, and breeders had to develop heath-testing techniques and protocols to salvage and maintain the breed. Art and philosophy follow naturally because of the love and commitment of breeders to these wonderful creatures; they are not just dogs, they are lifelong members of the family. PWD owners never give up their dogs, any more than they would give up their children. In decades of breeding PWDs, only three dogs have been returned; two for serious health issues for the owners, and one where a wife made a choice between her PWD or her new husband. (We suspect she made the wrong choice.)
3. In dogs, selection is key. How do you select your sire and dam combinations? How do you select which puppy will enjoy a career in the show ring?
As we evaluate a new litter, we can begin to see differences in temperament, structure, type, and assertiveness. The great show dogs, like “Ladybug,” the top-winning female PWD of all time, have a “look at me!” attitude very early on, often at three to four weeks! Potential show dogs love attention; that the applause is for them, of course. By six weeks, the differences between pups become pretty clear; they have already begun to develop a pecking order. We watch how they play, who eats first, who climbs out of the pen first, and who hangs back. At seven weeks, the pups are evaluated for conformation.
As for our choices for breeding, because we have bred so many dogs for so long, we know the pedigree and background of every dam and sire we breed. Cathy assesses the health and potential issue of every dog we breed.
4. The breed standard is the preservation breeder’s most essential tool. What are your thoughts on the importance of breeding to the standard and presenting the breed in the ring accordingly?
Our breeding program has been blended into several lines. We therefore can utilize linebreeding to solidify breed type and temperament, and to minimize problems. Because Cathy is an AKC judge and Mike has worked in the ring as a ring steward, for many breeds, we can assess the small differences between outstanding dogs in the ring, using the standards to make hard decisions.
The standard is our blueprint for type, conformation, and temperament. Almost ten years ago we were given the opportunity to breed to one of the original dogs that helped revive the breed “back in the day.” PWD “Keel Tonel’s” sperm was 39 years old, but still very potent! Ladybug produced eight “olde school” PWDs with substance and type. We referred to this breeding as the “Bygone Era Litter.” We sent three young female PWDs to fellow breeders we know well; in England, Germany, and Portugal. Their dogs had been dominant in Europe and we knew that their pedigrees were consistent to the PWD breed standards. We planned to get offspring pups back from these breedings and we did just that a few years later. It also reintroduced one of the original breeding lines for PWDs that had been lost in the Portuguese Civil War of 1975, and it expanded the tight gene pool for PWDs in the US.
5. Today’s breeders have found themselves to be on the defensive from public criticism and from legislative proposals that would restrict breeding practices. What can preservation breeders do to counter the anti-purebred rhetoric that has taken hold in this country?
First of all, the current mood of the country is full of conflict and misinformation; that will require systemic change over time to correct the mood. Ironically, during COVID, many people decided to get a dog to hang out with and they “cleaned out” the animal shelters. Of course, many of these same new pet owners, who had no business having a dog in the first place, soon returned these unwanted pets to shelters all over again. The best thing that a purebred preservation breeder can do is to maintain the course. Our duty and obligation to our breeds, fellow breeders, our owners, and to the sport cannot be based on a desire to pander to the lowest common denominator. Ultimately, there is room in the pet universe for preservation champions and strays from the pound and shelters. We counter ignorance with centuries of adherence to standards and a desire for excellence.
Aviator Portuguese Water Dogs | Cathy & Mike Dugan, featured image from https://www.aviatorkennel.com/