Interview with Christine Robinson, PH.D, Breeder of Black Beard Black Russians
Where do we live? How many years in dogs? How many years as breeders?
Christine Robinson: My husband and I were both born and raised in sunny Southern California, and we both had the privilege of living in a few other states during our youth. Stewart is a Gulf War veteran. Although I am doing the interview, rest assured that he is a 50/50 partner in breeding.
The year 2022 marked 37 years that I have bred AKC registered dogs, beginning with Herding Breeds (German Shepherds and Australian Shepherds) before moving into the Working Group in the late 1990s. I have been showing and breeding Black Russian Terriers for 13 years.
What is our kennel name? How many dogs do we currently keep?
Christine Robinson: Our AKC prefix is Black Beard. Our kennel name is Black Beard Black Russians. I wish there was another word to use in place of “kennel” because these are our family dogs. The name Black Beard is an homage to our first BRT, “Thatch,” who was named for Black Beard, the English pirate. We keep four dogs at home, two males and two females. A few of our girls live close by and visit almost daily.
Which show dogs from the past have been our noteworthy winners?
Christine Robinson: Our first BRT is Bronze Grand Champion Ya Black Beard Iz Chigasovo TT, “Thatch.” I think your first always has a special place in your heart, and I remain in awe of this now 13-year-old patriarch.
Thatch is Group-winning and Group-placing; he first appeared in the Breed Top 20 when he was just a puppy. We brought him out later as a veteran and competed in the Best of Breed Class. At seven years old, he finished No. 5 in the country and earned an invitation to Westminster Kennel Club Dog Show.
Thatch is the oldest Black Russian Terrier invited to Westminster. He was invited to the breed’s Top 20 competition as a Veteran Dog. Right now, he spends most of his days swimming, sleeping, and eating; he is a great-grandfather many times over.
The second dog I think about is now six-year-old Bronze Grand Champion Odessa Ter’ Avalon for Black Beard. “Odessa” finished her championship very young. I brought her out and competed in between litters.
Odessa is Group-winning and Group-placing. She has ranked in NOHS multiple years and has ranked in Top 10 for Breed for two years, and she was invited to the breed’s Top 20 competition. She has a beautiful litter of six puppies right now, her last, and she just turned six years old.
Odessa is going to enjoy some time lounging about the pool and then will come out again as a Veteran. I am so grateful to her breeders, E.E. Lyubnitskaya and Yp.P Latyshev, who trusted me with this beautiful, healthy, successful girl!
Which have been our most influential sires and dams?
Christine Robinson: Influential sires for me have been strongly related to one of the best kennels in Russia, Yuri & Irina Morozov’s Chigasovo Kennels. Thatch and his son, “Michael,” as well as Michael’s mom, “Fleur,” have all contributed significantly to our sires and dams. CH Innokentiy Iz Chigasovo, owned by Lucy and Dan Rakers, is a dog from Chigasovo Kennels; “Inno” is Fleur’s sire. We have also used CH Kaliostro Iz Chigasovo in a few breedings. All of these dogs lived long, healthy lives and are some of the best breed representatives I’ve had the privilege of using in our breeding program.
Can we talk a bit about our facilities? Where are our puppies whelped? How are they raised?
Christine Robinson: We work very carefully to make sure each of our dogs has a quality life. These are our housedogs. They live with us, swim in the pool with us, and sleep on our bed. It’s important to raise puppies in the same environment. This is an indoor breed that is very bonded to its family. It’s not a breed that will thrive in a “kennel“ environment, left alone outside, or in a large pack. The Black Russian is exceptionally intelligent (sometimes smarter than its owner) and needs to be engaged regularly.
We have a room dedicated to puppy raising. I literally sleep in the whelping box with our babies until at least three weeks old. I use every imaginable science and technology available to me, to raise happy, healthy puppies. We use Early Neurological Stimulation (ENS) and Early Scent Introduction (ESI) to give our puppies a good start in life. We follow advice and use techniques that most breeders are familiar with, including Pat Hastings’ Puppy Puzzle and Puppy Development programs along withextensive socialization exposure to different environments and different animals.
Our puppy families can tell you that I’m just a bit obsessed with everything that these babies do. Every litter is special, and every puppy is special. We make sure they get the very best of everything, including individual attention. All of our puppies go home with a prepaid AKC microchip, wellness exam and clear fecal sample, OFA eye exam, completed Embark DNA testing, and a nomograph for their vaccine schedule. In addition to all of that, we Volhard test the puppies at seven weeks and begin structural evaluation at eight weeks.
What is our “process” for selecting show puppies? At what age do we make our decisions?
Christine Robinson: That process really starts from birth. Based on experience, I can often see which puppies will make the shortlist for show prospects when they are born. After that, personality traits and characteristics develop over the next several weeks.
We can see true personalities developing as early as five weeks. A real determination begins with our Volhard evaluation at seven weeks. Using that tried-and-true puppy aptitude test, we can accurately predict what that puppy’s tendencies may be as an adult given the right environment to thrive. Between our observations, results of the puppy aptitude evaluations, and structural evaluations by our breeder-veterinarian and at least one other breeder and a judge, we are able to select which puppies would be suitable for a show home.
Every breeder strives to produce the perfect puppy. In a low-entry breed almost any dog can finish, but this is not my goal as a breeder. I don’t think the breeder who produces the most champions is the best breeder. Recognition goes to the breeder who produces the best dog. If I am honest, my threshold for a show quality prospect is exceptionally high. I hope to identify one exceptional puppy in each litter; sometimes I do find more than one.
How do we prepare our pups for the show ring? Does our breed require any special preparation?
Christine Robinson: Preparation for a show dog begins at about three days old. Black Russians require extensive grooming. I introduce an electric clipper in the whelping box at three days old. Before puppies can see or hear, they experience the vibration of a clipper on their body in all of the places where they will be clippered in the future. No, puppies can’t hear the clippers, but the sound is the vibration. By the time they have functional hearing at close to 21 days, they have been “hearing” the clipper for nearly three weeks.
As soon as they can stand, we begin stacking them on the table. No, this is not a table breed, but grooming is done on the table and, pet or show prospect, they will be groomed for the rest of their lives, likely on a grooming table. It’s important to get them used to standing still on a grooming table at as young an age as possible. Just a few seconds a day can make all the difference for the dog down the road. I don’t make a puppy stand for two to three hours like an adult might need to, but we have to start somewhere. So, starting small and starting young is a great way to prepare a puppy for the show ring.
I don’t like to use bait in the ring with a young dog; I prefer the puppy to show because it’s enjoyable. Treats may be used in the initial leash training, but toys, squeakies, and praise are my best tools to encourage young puppies to enjoy the show process. I love the AKC 4-6 Month Beginner Puppy Class, and we utilize it as often as we are able.
Can we share our thoughts on how our breed is currently presented in the show ring?
Christine Robinson: Show presentation is pretty varied. Even though we have been in the Working Group since 2006, we have a pretty shallow breed history. You may see two or three different coat types, and each breeder, handler, and groomer has a preference on presentation and preparation. If there are three different dogs in the ring, you may see three different grooming styles and presentations.
Ultimately, with the correct coat type, we are striving to use our grooming to outline the silhouette of the dog. In any case, whether the groomer likes to shave the muzzle or prefers not to cut in the cap,every dog should be clean, mat-free, and tidy. Dogs should demonstrate the ability to have full furnishings, including a fall, beard, and leg furnishings, although the length of that hair may depend on the age of the dog, whether or not it has whelped, or how a groomer chooses to present.
Are there any health-related concerns within our breed? Any special nutritional needs?
Christine Robinson: I’m not aware of any special nutritional requirements. If your dog is fed a well-balanced diet, you will see it in the coat. Having a dog with an extensive double coat makes it easy to see when there are deficiencies in nutrition, which I don’t see often. I think this breed experiences the same types of health issues that other large breeds experience. BRTs have similar conditions that appear in the canine population as a whole. I believe the only real breed-specific problem we experience is JLPP, and that is detectable through a simple DNA saliva swab test.
In our opinion, is our breed in good condition overall? Any trends that warrant concern?
Christine Robinson: Education and knowledge are tools that I value highly. The pursuit of higher education, even in dog breeding and showing, is a labor of love. One of the most exciting areas of study is canine genetics. Science has opened up numerous opportunities to study how genetics affect population diversity, disease, recessive and dominant conditions, coat color, and other phenotypical traits. Using diversity studies, genetic coefficients of inbreeding, pedigree analysis, veterinary science, theriogenology, and guidance from mentors, I believe that our breeding program is poised to improve genetic diversity, working ability, physical characteristics, and genotype while preserving the breed through selective and purposeful breeding.
We have successfully produced five frozen semen breedings. We have had three litters sired by dogs long deceased, resulting in litters from six to eleven puppies. Recently, we successfully exported semen to New Zealand in an effort to expand their limited gene pool. We look forward to puppies “down under” early next year.
I believe our breed is in pretty good shape right now. As with any rare breed, we will be more subject to common breeding problems like popular sire syndrome and genetic bottlenecks. But, I believe we have enough breeders who are consciously focused on breed preservation and genetic diversity.
Is our breed well-suited to be a family dog? Who are the best candidates to own our breed?
Christine Robinson: It’s debatable that the BRT is well-suited to be a family dog. I think it depends on the individual family and the personality of the dog. Some puppies are clearly going to be well-suited to a family with active children, and other puppies will thrive better in an adult-only home. This breed is highly adaptable and capable of living in a variety of conditions, but individual dogs will definitely thrive in the environment that encourages their natural tendencies.
I love families with adult children and grandchildren. Very active, young families may find it difficult to put in the necessary time to develop a well-socialized Black Russian. We can only do so much from the whelping box… the next two-to-three years are critical in the development of a stable and balanced dog.
Do we feel that our breed is supported by a sufficient number of preservation breeders?
Christine Robinson: I wish I could answer yes. The truth is, there are a few exceptional preservation breeders, but there are only a few. I think this is something that is developing, as the breeders (particularly newer breeders) are discovering the science that benefits preservation breeding. It’s not about outcrosses.
We have scientific tools that look at our genetic coefficient of inbreeding, our genetic diversity compared to the canine population, and a breed-specific genetic diversity study available through UC Davis; in addition to individual evaluation and pedigree and COI tools. It’s expensive and time-consuming to research and import sires and/or semen from foreign dogs, and not every breeder is willing to take the risks. I applaud those who do.
For a bit of fun, what’s the most amusing thing we’ve ever experienced with our breed?
Christine Robinson: Amusing… I was new to the breed and showing my first Black Russian who was about nine months old at the time. The AKC show was held in a public park where some very nice and friendly people complemented my dog and then asked, “How can he see?” and I proudly stated, “Oh, he can see through that fall” as my puppy simultaneously walked into the side of a park bench.
One of my other most enjoyable moments with this breed was as a breeder-judge in the 2021 Top 20 Competition at Purina Farms. For the first time, I got to put hands on some of the most impressive and intimidating dogs in the breed. As I carefully approached one of the dogs in the same manner that I teach in judges education, the dog took a step forward and gave me a big lick. My heart leapt with joy.
Are you looking for a Black Russian Terrier puppy?
The best way to ensure a long and happy relationship with a purebred dog is to purchase one from a responsible breeder. Not sure where to begin finding a breeder? Contact the National Parent Club’s Breeder Referral person, which you can find on the AKC Breeder Referral Contacts page.
Want to help rescue and re-home a Black Russian Terrier dog?
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