Interview with Herding Group Breeder Karyn Cowdrey
Where do I live? How many years in dogs? How many years as a breeder?
Karyn Cowdrey: I live in Bellingham, Washington. I have been in dogs for 55 years. I have been a breeder of Belgian Tervuren for 22 years, but I’ve bred and co-bred Airedales and German Wirehaired Pointers, starting when I was 10 years old.
What is my kennel name? How many dogs do I currently keep?
Karyn Cowdrey: My kennel name is BlackFyre. I currently have three full-time residents and eight dogs that I co-own that come and go. I am a professional handler, so I also usually have 1-4 client dogs living at the house.
Which show dogs from the past have been my noteworthy winners?
Karyn Cowdrey: There are several, but ABTC National BISS/Multiple Group-Winning/AM/CAN CH Belmaba Paramour and her grandson, Multiple Group-Winning CH BlackFyre Absolutely Wyld CBAR, are two of my biggest-winning dogs of note.
Which have been my most influential sires and dams?
Karyn Cowdrey: Both of the dogs mentioned above have been influential, and also “Wyld’s” daughter, GCH Arlequin My Wyld BlackFyre Jitterbug, aka “Jitterbug,” and a dog I purchased, Multiple Group-Placing GCHS Blackwater Peloton Heads I Win, aka “Nick-L.”
Can I talk a bit about my facilities? Where are my puppies whelped? How are they raised?
Karyn Cowdrey: I live on five acres with my partner, Roger, the dogs, and three purebred Arabian horses. All of the dogs, including client dogs, live in our home, generally right in the dining room so that they can be in the thick of all that goes on in the house from day one. Puppies are raised in my home and are brought up with a lot of the Avidog program principles, although I have been doing it long before Avidog became synonymous with early stimulation and training. As a Herding breed, Belgians are naturally, acutely aware of their environment and are thinkers and problem-solvers. So, as a breeder, my job in raising puppies is to make sure they have a solid foundation that builds confident individuals before they depart to their new homes.
What is my “process” for selecting show puppies? At what age do I make my decisions?
Karyn Cowdrey: I start watching puppies from birth forward, looking for those puppies that stand out structurally and still have correct type, and also the right attitude. You can be the most stunning prospect, but if you are not comfortable with a lot of chaos, you won’t enjoy being a show dog. I make my decisions at 10 weeks.
How do I prepare my pups for the show ring? Does my breed require any special preparation?
Karyn Cowdrey: Puppies come and just “hang out” at dog shows from a young age, to get them used to the crazy environment of a dog show. I work on stacking at home in the kitchen at meal time, and also condition them to stand and wag their tails for treats. All breeds need a solid foundation of trust in their human, but Herding breeds definitely need to have the focus game and trust in their human that they don’t have to control the environment 24/7 to settle and enjoy showing.
Is my breed hand-stacked or free-stacked in the show ring?
Karyn Cowdrey: We like to say Belgians should be a natural breed, without excessive posing. So we primarily free-stack, but you definitely want to train them to accept hand-stacking because, if nothing else, it helps getting a great photo when you win! Why is it presented in this manner? The parent club did not want judges to expect a more exaggerated stance like you see in some breeds.
Are Performance and Companion titles important to me as a breeder? Are parent club titles?
Karyn Cowdrey: All titles are awesome, but as a breeder, I honestly do not use titles as my focus for breeding decisions. Having a dog that is capable of having the correct instinct and biddability to do performance and companion events and compete in conformation is important to me. Our parent club only offers Breeder Achievement Titles and these are an honor for that dog to be awarded. But again, they don’t tend to come into my decision-making process.
In my opinion, is my breed in good condition overall? Any trends that warrant concern?
Karyn Cowdrey: I would say that compared to some of the other breeds I’m involved in, we are in decent shape. Like so many breeds, we are seeing too much exaggeration and a lack of strong structure. Stomach cancer is a rising issue in Belgians and something that we need to be very careful about.
Is my breed well-suited to be a family dog? Who are the best candidates to own my breed?
Karyn Cowdrey: The Belgian Tervuren CAN be super as a family dog, if the dog is well-matched to the family. Belgians are highly devoted to their humans, but they are a Herding Dog with the Herding Dog tendencies of trying to keep the flock under control. So to be successful in a family, you need adults who understand that both dogs and children need to be trained in how to respect one another. People who enjoy doing EVERYTHING with their dog and want a very “thinking” breed are the best candidates to own a Belgian. They are not happy to be tossed in the backyard and ignored for hours and days on end.
Do I feel that my breed is supported by a sufficient number of preservation breeders?
Karyn Cowdrey: Currently, yes, I do.
For a bit of fun, what’s the most amusing thing I’ve ever experienced with a Herding Dog?
Karyn Cowdrey: Hmmm… there are so many times when they keep me laughing. Probably the most recent was when my current specials dog, “Coaster,” (Multiple Group-Placing GCHB BlackFyre Absolutely Wyld ATT CGA) decided he was tired of Roger working, and ran into his office and grabbed the back of his office chair and started dragging it. Not sure if Roger was as amused since he was on a conference call, but I was cracking up.
Anything else I would like to share about myself?
Karyn Cowdrey: I have been involved with Belgians since 1987 and have been an owner-handler, but also a very dedicated professional handler. Team BlackFyre Handling allows me to be a breeder/owner-handler and also a professional handler for those who can’t show their own dogs for whatever reason OR serving as a coaching/mentorship service for those who CAN show their own dogs and just need a bit more support. I’ve been honored to have dogs from my program that have worked successfully as ranch dogs, SAR dogs, Service Dogs, and Therapy Dogs.
Any special message I have for all of us in the fancy?
Karyn Cowdrey: Be the person your dog thinks you are. Try to smile as much as possible at shows, and help people just because everyone can use a friendly, helpful hand to make their day better. In return, you’ll start to find yours is too.